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"Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” It’s a creed you hear repeated all throughout the sports world. However, what the quote doesn’t tell you is that, more often than not, it’s consistency that wins championships.
If an athlete’s final product of results is “boom or bust,” and met with the unpredictability of highs and lows throughout the duration of the campaign, the short-term reward may pay its dividends, but the ultimate result will find you behind the one who’s always in the hunt, always has a chance, and never, seemingly, has a night off.
Over the past decade, that’s been the mantra of Chris Windom. Yes, of course, he’s won his fair share of feature events in his USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car career. His 23 series victories equal that of A.J. Foyt and Roger McCluskey for 22nd all-time entering the 32nd edition of NOS Energy Drink Indiana Sprint Week July 18-27.
The beginning of his 2019 season came with a different set of circumstances. After two highly successful tenures at Baldwin Brothers Racing, which resulted in a pair of ISW titles in 2011 and 2018, plus a USAC National title in 2017, the team unexpectedly shuttered its doors. Although this could’ve proven to be a major setback, at least in the short term, for Windom, the core of the group, namely Windom and crew chief Derek Claxton stuck together when they signed on with Goacher Racing, winning the first race out of the box in February of 2019 at Ocala, Fla.
Throughout the season, the team has been consistent, rattling off 11 finishes inside the top-ten through the first 12 races of the season, including becoming the first team to reach multiple wins with a May triumph at Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Ill. Consistency is of utmost importance in winning a title, and Windom has done just that during ISW with 45 top-ten finishes in 68 starts, a percentage of 66%. He’s also finished in the top-five on 24 of 68 occasions, or 35% of the time.
Those are pretty solid numbers considering his most recent Indiana Sprint Week win came eight years ago, in 2011, at the Terre Haute Action Track. But, to win a title, it takes more than victories alone. In fact, it takes more than consistency too. You’ve got to have driver, crew chief and all facets of the team in perfect harmony.
“It’s a week of consistency, that’s for sure, between driver, crews, owner, everything,” Windom explained. “You’ve got to be on point that week. It seems the last few years that (Crew Chief) Derek Claxton and I have jelled together during those long, grueling weeks whether it’s Indiana Sprint Week, Eastern Storm, or anytime we have a long stretch, we seem to enjoy it. So far, we’ve had success with it. You have to have a little luck thrown into it too.”
To illustrate the fact of how tough it is to succeed on the national tour, or in a shorter spurt such as ISW, consider this. Windom’s two wins and nine top-fives in 12 season starts only have him fourth in the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car standings. The standards have changed on what is considered a “good” or “bad” night at the track in recent times. Riding out an ill-handling car, having a driver error or getting caught up in something not of your doing and finishing mid-pack on just one of the eight nights of ISW, could prove to be the fly in the ointment. Driver and team have to be engaged and locked down to get every spot and point possible.
“The competition is so tough right now,” Windom pointed out. “A bad night at Sprint Week may be a 10th place. Anymore, you’ve got to be in the top-five every night, I feel like, to be in contention. That’s a tough feat when you’re running against 10-12 guys who can win every night. We seemed to have capitalized on it the last few years. So far, I’ve been really happy with our speed this year. I think we’re going to be in good shape to get another one this year.”
The difference between a team sport and auto racing is start. The main ingredient in team sports, or even individual sports like tennis and golf, the objective is clear. Do the best you can, beat the competition and tally up the score in the end. In auto racing, drivers are in competition with the track, themselves, drivers who are aiming to win a title as well as those who are out there just to simply win the race without any points connotations. Yet, in Windom’s eyes, it doesn’t change his perspective much, but there is a balance you have to possess from the start of the week to the end of the week.
“You definitely go out to win races every night,” Windom reiterated. “You’re not going to go out and just set a mark you think you need to be at; you’re still going to try to win the race. I would say, toward the end of the week, if you’re in a tight battle for the points come Saturday feature time at Haubstadt, you race a little bit differently than you would if you’re going out to win and nothing else mattered. I would say there’s a happy medium between that. When it comes down to that final night, you might approach it differently. But you’re still running as hard as you can and they’re still running as hard as they can too. You’re going to be competing with guys who are racing for wins and guys who are running for the championship. You got to beat both of them.”
When Windom won his first ISW title in 2011, he was the new kid on the block, just making a name for himself. By the second title in 2018, he was the established championship-winning veteran, the one every driver is gunning to defeat. Yet, the contrast is much the same despite the seven years between the ISW championships. It still takes a ton of work, dedication and, yes, even a little luck on your side every now and then.
“The first one was really cool,” Windom remembered. “I was 20 years old and Derek was a young crew chief then too. It was pretty cool for us kids to go out there and beat all those who we’d been racing against since we came into the sport. We really kind of put our names on the map after that.”
“We had a few off years between the first one and the second one,” Windom continued. “But I think when we came back and won the second, we felt just as good as we did the first time because it’s a lot of work to get one of those. I wouldn’t say it’s as hard as winning a national championship, but it’s definitely right up there. There’s stiff competition for eight days straight against guys who have just as good of equipment and a good crew and you have to go out there and figure out how you’re going to beat them every night.”
2019 NOS ENERGY DRINK INDIANA SPRINT WEEK SCHEDULE
Thursday, July 18: Gas City I-69 Speedway (Gas City, IN)
Friday, July 19: Plymouth Speedway (Plymouth, IN)
Saturday, July 20: Kokomo Speedway (Kokomo, IN)
Sunday, July 21: Lawrenceburg Speedway (Lawrenceburg, IN)
Wednesday, July 24: Terre Haute Action Track (Terre Haute, IN)
Thursday, July 25: Lincoln Park Speedway (Putnamville, IN)
Friday, July 26: Bloomington Speedway (Bloomington, IN)
Saturday, July 27: Tri-State Speedway (Haubstadt, IN)