By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Terre Haute, Indiana (May 4, 2023)………The largest USAC Silver Crown field for the Sumar Classic in 27 seasons is set to tantalize the senses this Sunday night, May 7, at the famed Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track, the only half-mile dirt oval in the Hoosier state.
Since 1995, the Sumar Classic has been unpredictable with 16 different drivers taking the top honors and nary a winner starting from the pole in the past 15 years. This year’s group mirrors the history of the Sumar with a wide-open victory lane ready to accept any taker who meets the challenge and the demands of 100 laps and 50 miles on this western Indiana beast.
The drive to make the show will be hotter than ever with only 24 slots available in the starting lineup for drivers and teams putting it all on the line to secure a spot in the main event. The top-16 on time make the straight-up starting field through qualifying while another eight more will race their way in through the qualifier to lock themselves into the field.
Just thinking about it makes one feel exhilarated, tense, thrilled and frenzied. This is what we live for.
On Sunday, we race, but for now, we can talk about it. So, here’s six storylines to keep in your pocket as we speed toward race day.
In 2022, Justin Grant was forced to endure a wait of four years to receive an opportunity to defend his Sumar Classic victory from 2018.
Four years later, in the ensuing edition of the event, the Ione, Calif. native retained his throne to become the first driver ever to reign victorious in consecutive runnings of the event.
No driver has ever won three Silver Crown races at Terre Haute, let alone three-in-a-row, which Grant intends to accomplish this Sunday. Donnie Beechler captured the 1995 and 1997 Sumar Classic while Tony Elliott took 1998 and 2002.
In fact, only seven individuals have collected three or more consecutive victories within a single USAC series over the years at the Action Track, all are either USAC Hall of Famers or soon to be Hall of Famers.
In the sprint cars, Jim Hurtubise scored five-in-a-row between 1960-62. Roger McCluskey took three in 1966. Gary Bettenhausen collected a trio in 1968-69. Bubby Jones (Justin Grant’s father-in-law) notched four consecutive in 1979 and Levi Jones bagged all three in 2005.
Two drivers have won three or more straight with the USAC National Midgets at Terre Haute, namely Rich Vogler with an astounding six-straight between 1983-86 as well as Tony Stewart who took the brass ring on three-straight occasions across 1995-96.
It would be a great boon for Grant, the 2020 USAC Silver Crown titlist, whose only series win of the 2022 season came at Terre Haute.
4 WINNERS, 4 STORIES TO TELL
As a matter of fact, there are four past winners scheduled to partake in the Sumar Classic this Sunday at Terre Haute: Kody Swanson (2014), Shane Cockrum (2015), C.J. Leary (2016) and Justin Grant (2018 & 2022).
Any win at the Terre Haute Action Track is a big one, and this group has proven that fact. For Swanson, it was his first career dirt win with the series after being tabbed early on as a “pavement specialist.” Swanson has dispelled and discarded that myth with 14 career dirt victories with the series, second all-time behind Jack Hewitt with 22.
For Leary (Greenfield, Ind.), he became the first second-generation Silver Crown winner, scoring the Sumar with a late-race pass to get the dub. His father, Chuck Leary, was a Hoosier Hundred winner back in the 1997 season at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. C.J. led the first 45 laps of last year’s Sumar before being faltered by the misfortune of a flat right rear tire.
Cockrum (Benton, Ill.) displayed his versatility with a Sumar win in 2015, which was his first on a half-mile dirt track after previously capturing his first victory the year before at his home track, the Du Quoin (Ill.) State Fairgrounds, in 2014. He enters Sunday’s race at Terre Haute as the most recent dirt Silver Crown winner, tallying a big win on the Springfield Mile at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in October of 2022.
Grant currently has the deed to the Terre Haute Action Track with the Silver Crown series, having raked in the past two editions of the Sumar Classic in 2018 and 2022. The 2018 event was specifically special as it was his first career USAC victory at Terre Haute.
NEW HOMES FOR VETERAN STARS
Several top contenders find themselves in new rides for the 2023 USAC Silver Crown season, chiefly three of whom have all found their way to victory lane with USAC at Terre Haute in their careers.
In a way, Kody Swanson (Kingsburg, Calif.) is among that group. The seven-time Silver Crown champion and 2014 Sumar Classic winner has driven for Doran Racing on the pavement, collecting six wins on the asphalt over the past two seasons. This year, with the newly rechristened Doran-Binks Racing team, the driver/team duo will also tackle all the dirt races for the first time.
Swanson’s former dirt ride belonged to the Chris Dyson Racing stable for which Brady Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.) has now taken the reins. Bacon won twice with the USAC National Sprint Cars at Terre Haute in 2014 and 2018. Now, he wants to add a Silver Crown win to that bunch after finishing in the third spot during the 2022 Sumar Classic. He’ll try to get the job done in Dyson’s potent No. 9, which has Sean Michael on the wrenches, who has had four Silver Crown winning efforts on dirt over the past three seasons with drivers Kyle Larson, Tyler Courtney and Kody Swanson.
As the dominoes fell, Bacon’s 2022 ride with Five Three Motorsports is now occupied by Kevin Thomas Jr. for the half-mile dirt ovals in 2023. Like Bacon, KTJ has won twice in USAC Sprint action at the aptly named track in Terre Haute. Thomas’ most recent Silver Crown start at Terre Haute came back in 2015 with a top-ten run. After nearly a decade in the series, Thomas and the FTM share the hunger to strike series win number one this Sunday.
SEAVEY – A HALF-MILE MAGICIAN
The last time Logan Seavey (Sutter, Calif.) finished outside the top-five in a dirt USAC Silver Crown race, I believe it might’ve been during the Richard Nixon administration. No, actually, it was June of 2021, but it just sort of seems like that with how strong he’s been of late.
To put it into numbers, Seavey has now finished no worse than fourth in his last nine series starts on the dirt with five of those being victories! To be precise, his performances on the half-mile dirt ovals have been magnificent. In his past five half-mile dirt starts, Seavey has won four times. The only aberration in that run was a fourth at, funny enough, Terre Haute.
Breaking through at Terre Haute this Sunday would be two-fold for Seavey. For one, it would present another notch in his belt with a win at yet another dirt track in a Silver Crown car, albeit one he’s previously tamed in a USAC Sprint Car feature in 2021. But, foremost, it would give him the jumpstart he’d need to put him in the driver’s seat toward a coveted first Silver Crown title after finishing as the runner-up to Kody Swanson during each of the past two seasons in 2021-22.
IT’S LADIES NIGHT
In the previous 19 runnings of the Sumar Classic, only one woman has started the main event. This Sunday, there are two who are making a bid to be among the field of 24 for the 100-lapper.
The lone woman to make a Sumar Classic start is Taylor Ferns (Shelby Township, Mich.) who returns to the event this year for her first dirt car appearance with the series since that night in 2014. The 2011 USAC D1 Midget champ finished on the podium twice with the Silver Crown series in 2022 and owns the best finish by a woman on both pavement and dirt with a third at both IRP and Winchester and a fourth at Eldora back in 2013.
She’s joined by first-time Sumar Classic participant Kaylee Bryson (Muskogee, Okla.) who was named the 2022 USAC National Most Improved Driver. Her most recent dirt appearance in a Silver Crown car came at the Springfield Mile where she wowed the crowd by becoming the first woman to lead a lap in a Silver Crown race – 72 of them – before finishing 5th.
Both Ferns and Bryson are chasing the full USAC Silver Crown schedule on dirt and pavement this season as they pursue their respective quests to become the first woman to win a USAC National main event.
A WISE ROOKIE CLASS
USAC Silver Crown rookies abound in this crowd with 11 of them set to take on the Sumar Classic this Sunday. The eclectic batch of Silver Crown newbies aim to become the first to win in their first Sumar Classic start since Josh Wise in 2006.
There is plenty of potential in this group not only for Sunday, but throughout the season, to collect their fair share of wins.
Bryson is among the “Rooks” as is Mitchel Moles (Raisin City, Calif.) who nearly won in his first career USAC National Sprint Car start, which just so happened to be at Terre Haute in May of 2022. There, he led 21 laps before finishing second, and aims to give a similarly solid ride in the Hans Lein machine this Sunday.
American Sprint Car Series and 360 Sprint Car master Wayne Johnson (Oklahoma City, Okla.), likewise, will be stepping foot in a Silver Crown car for his first time in competition with the series on Sunday.
Tyler Roahrig (Plymouth, Ind.) has finished on the podium in two of his three career Silver Crown starts, but those all came on pavement. The dirt will present a new task for the 2021-22 Little 500 winner who has won on the dirt before in a modified.
Matt Mitchell (Yorba Linda, Calif.) is a recent USAC CRA winner who’s new to the Crown cars as is the diverse and driven Trey Burke (Alvin, Texas) who owns both a dirt experience in a sprint car and top-ten runs with the Road to Indy on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. as recently as this past March.
Plus, you’ve got USAC Sprint winner and former Terre Haute track record holder Dave Peperak (Clinton, Ind.) in the field and 1976 Knoxville Nationals runner-up Gary Dunkle (Lincoln, Neb.) making his first foray into the “big cars,” both of whom it seems obtuse to be calling a Rookie. However, with less than four starts in their Silver Crown careers, they possess Rookie status for 2023. Local Indiana Sprint Car pilot Ryan Thomas (Indianapolis, Ind.) will be in the Silver Crown field for the first time as will John Tosti (High Ridge, Mo.).
Not exactly a Sumar rookie, but still retaining Silver Crown Rookie status is Emerson Axsom (Franklin, Ind.), who made a spirited run from the tail of the field to finish 5th in his series debut in 2022 at Terre Haute. With a full 100 laps under his belt, it’ll be interesting to see if he can add to his USAC resume after previously taking wins in the National Midget and National Sprints.
PROMOTION IN MOTION
In a very different kind of double-duty, it’s quite a rarity for the race promoter to be competing in his own event, but Bill Rose plans on doing just that this Sunday at Terre Haute.
Rose (Plainfield, Ind.) was named the new promoter of the famed half-mile in late March and will conduct three events at the track this season, including a pair of USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship events on May 23 (Tony Hulman Classic) and on July 26 (Indiana Sprint Week).
The veteran racer, who has competed with USAC since the late 1980s, turned in his best Silver Crown performance in more than a quarter century in the most recent Sumar Classic in 2022. His sixth place result in the event was his best series finish since a run at Eldora Speedway in 1996 – 26 years earlier!
The 20th running of the Sumar Classic features the USAC Silver Crown National Championship along with the UMP Modifieds this Sunday, May 7, at the Terre Haute Action Track 1/2-mile dirt track in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Pits open at 1pm Eastern, grandstands open at 3pm, drivers meeting at 4pm and practice at 5pm followed immediately by qualifications and racing.
General admission tickets are $30 for ages 11 & up and free for kids age 10 & under. Infield tickets are $20 for ages 11 & up and free for kids age 10 & under.
Sunday’s Sumar Classic can be watched LIVE on FloRacing at https://flosports.link/3ZjeooQ.
2023 SUMAR CLASSIC ENTRY LIST: (39 CARS)
06 BRYAN GOSSEL/Fort Collins, CO (Bryan Gossel)
07 (R) JOHN TOSTI/High Ridge, MO (John Tosti)
08 KYLE STEFFENS/St. Charles, MO (Gordon Steffens)
5 (R) MATT MITCHELL/Yorba Linda, CA (DMW Motorsports)
6 C.J. LEARY/Greenfield, IN (Klatt Enterprises)
8 DAVEY RAY/Davenport, IA (Cornell Racing Stables)
9 BRADY BACON/Broken Arrow, OK (Chris Dyson Racing)
10 JAKE SWANSON/Anaheim, CA (DMW Motorsports)
11 (R) TREY BURKE/Alvin, TX (Davey Hamilton Racing/SRG)
12 (R) WAYNE JOHNSON/Oklahoma City, OK (Two C Racing)
15 CHRIS FETTER/Troy, MO (Chris Fetter)
16 AUSTIN NEMIRE/Sylvania, OH (Nemire-Lesko Racing)
18 TRAVIS WELPOTT/Pendleton, IN (Welpott Racing)
19 (R) TYLER ROAHRIG/Plymouth, IN (Legacy Autosport)
20 (R) EMERSON AXSOM/Franklin, IN (Nolen Racing)
22 LOGAN SEAVEY/Sutter, CA (Rice Motorsports)
25 CASEY BUCKMAN/Chandler, AZ (C-Buck Motorsports)
26 (R) KAYLEE BRYSON/Muskogee, OK (Sam Pierce)
31 DAVE BERKHEIMER/Mechanicsburg, PA (Berkheimer Racing)
32 GREGG CORY/Shelbyville, IN (Williams Racing)
34 (R) GARY DUNKLE/Lincoln, NE (Gary Dunkle)
49 BRIAN RUHLMAN/Clarklake, MI (Brian Ruhlman)
51 RUSS GAMESTER/Peru, IN (Gamester Racing)
53 KEVIN THOMAS JR./Cullman, AL (Five Three Motorsports)
66 BILL ROSE/Plainfield, IN (Bill Rose Racing)
69 CHASE STOCKON/Fort Branch, IN (Pink 69 Racing)
71 SHANE COCKRUM/Benton, IL (BLS Motorsports)
74 SHANE COTTLE/Kansas, IL (Hodges Motorsports)
77 KODY SWANSON/Kingsburg, CA (Doran-Binks Racing)
81 MATT WESTFALL/Pleasant Hill, OH (BCR Group)
91 JUSTIN GRANT/Ione, CA (Hemelgarn Racing)
92 MARIO CLOUSER/Auburn, IL (Kazmark Motorsports)
95 PATRICK BRUNS/Champaign, IL (Full Throttle Racing)
97 (R) MITCHEL MOLES/Raisin City, CA (Hans Lein)
99 KOREY WEYANT/Springfield, IL (Scott Weyant)
111 TOM PATERSON/Argos, IN (Tom Paterson)
118 (R) RYAN THOMAS/Indianapolis, IN (Wingo Brothers Racing)
555 TAYLOR FERNS/Shelby Township, MI (Taylor Ferns Racing)
777 (R) DAVE PEPERAK/Clinton, IN (Dave Peperak Motorsports)
(R) represents a USAC Silver Crown Rookie of the Year contender