The heartbeat and lifeblood of motor racing is competition. When the winner of that competition is decided on the final corner of the final lap, those races are remembered the most. Lucky for us, those types of finishes were plentiful throughout the history of USAC Thunder.
9. 1986 Rich Vogler & Mel Kenyon at the Indianapolis Speedrome
A rare fantastic, memorable finish that wasn’t to decide the winner of the race, but rather for second place. However, more than that was at stake with winner Mack McClellan, Rich Vogler and Mel Kenyon in a tight-knit battle for the 1986 Speedrome USAC Regional Midget championship. With Vogler appearing to have the championship in hand on the final lap, Kenyon put his bid in on the outside. The two made contact off turn four which allowed Steve Lotshaw to slip underneath both and send them back a spot. With that, race winner McClellan was declared the champ when the final points were tallied. Can’t draw that one up any more crazily. Is that a word?
8. 1998 Tracy Hines & Jason Leffler at Indianapolis Raceway Park
Tracy Hines, frosted tips and all, had the last word in his last lap triumph over Jason Leffler at the 1998 Mel Kenyon Classic. With a right rear tire going down in the waning laps, Hines made the strategic move of backing off, letting Leffler go by, then countering back underneath for one of the more spectacular victories in his amazing career.
7. 1995 Brian Gerster & Dan Drinan at Winchester Speedway
A narrow groove after a recent repaving made passing a tough chore. During the last half of the event, Gerster had stalked Drinan all around the half-mile, high-banked oval with not much room to maneuver. Off turn four on the final lap, Gerster ducked low and Drinan stuck to the top behind Tony Stewart on the tail end of the lead lap. Gerster had the momentum and, in the end, had the win.
6. 1981 Warren Mockler, Joe Saldana & Mel Kenyon at the Terre Haute Action Track
In racing’s version of "Hot Potato" at the 1981 Hut 100, it seemed as if none of the frontrunners were going to make it to the end. Joe Saldana, then Mel Kenyon encountered issues with the win in reach. However, Warren Mockler was waiting in the wings back in third, ready to pounce, and he did to capture one the stranger, head-scratching finishes we’ve seen.
5. 1999 Ryan Newman & Jason Leffler at Pikes Peak International Raceway
In a battle of who could strike last at the wide-sweeping one-mile track, Ryan Newman prevailed in a furious fight with Jason Leffler, two of the most prolific racers to emerge from the USAC Thunder era. Furthermore, a young Thomas Meseraull in his first career USAC start made it interesting as the third car in the battle at the end.
4. 1987 Tony Elliott & Steve Butler at Santa Fe Speedway
The young lion vs. the champion. Similar tales have been told throughout the history of racing, and life, but this was USAC’s version on the stage of Thunder back in 1987. Tony Elliott was seeking his first career win and had to hold off the previous year’s USAC Sprint Car champion Steve Butler on the final lap. It was no easy task, but this marked Elliott’s breakout performance in a career that featured two USAC National Sprint Car titles and a National Sprint Car Hall of Fame induction, along with Butler.
3. 2000 Michael Lewis & Kasey Kahne at Anderson Speedway
Is there anything closer than a dead heat? After all these years, we still don’t know for sure who won. In baseball, the tie goes to the runner. In racing, it may revert to the previous completed lap. But in either case, Michael Lewis was declared the winner, his first career USAC National Midget feature win coming in a most spectacular way.
2. 1996 Mike Bliss & Kenny Irwin Jr. at Indianapolis Raceway Park
Kenny Irwin Jr. seemingly had this one in the bag in the waning laps. That is, until lapped traffic reared its ugly head. As Irwin tiptoed through turns three and four, Bliss was on the hammer and tracked down Irwin to score what is the most memorable finish in Thunder history.
1. 1979 Ken Schrader, Stan Fox & Steve Lotshaw at Winchester Speedway
This race may have occurred pre-thunder, but as an ESPN-televised USAC race, this one counts just the same. It was so wild, we’d be hard-pressed to pass it up. Ken Schrader and Stan Fox were each burgeoning stars at the conclusion of the decade of the 1970s. In this one, neither one was going to give an inch toward the other coming to the checkered. It turned into the USAC Midget series’ version of the Richard Petty/David Pearson Daytona 500 finish of 1976. Fox nearly “drove” his mount backward across the line to win, but came up snake eyes about a foot from the line as Steve Lotshaw passed both, took the win and, apparently, took the trophy queen’s breath away as you’ll see here.