By RICHIE MURRAY
TERRE HAUTE, IN – Few races on the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car trail conjure up the history, the memorable moments and the prestige that the “Tony Hulman Classic” brings.
Since 1971, many of the sport’s best have added the traditional “Hulman” rifle to their trophy collection. Names like Bettenhausen, Pancho, Opperman, Hewitt, Shuman, Kalitta, Yeley and Kruseman are among the proud few who have graced victory lane in previous 46 runnings of the famed event at the Terre Haute Action Track half-mile.
However, no driver has ever won the “Hulman Classic” three years in a row. This Saturday night, October 14, one driver has an opportunity to add the unprecedented feat to his resume.
In the second half of the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car season, few drivers have run up front as consistently as Robert Ballou. Ballou has captured the last two “Hulman Classics,” both of which came in a fairly spectacular manner.
In 2015, Ballou ran down Chris Windom with just three laps remaining to earn one of his 13 wins on his way to a series title. Last season, Ballou swapped the lead with Thomas Meseraull numerous times with each exchanging sliders back-and-forth before Ballou surged ahead with eight laps left to score the victory and become just the third driver to win the race in consecutive years, joining Steve Butler in 1987 and 1988 as well as Levi Jones in 2008 and 2009.
However, Chris Windom has the hot-hand right now at Terre Haute. He’s attempting to become the first driver since Levi Jones in 2005 to win three USAC National Sprint Car features in a row at Terre Haute dating to last season.
In fact, Windom has won the last three USAC events of any kind at the Action Track in two different types of cars. In April, the versatile Canton, Illinois driver won the Silver Crown season-opening “Sumar Classic.” And, just a few weeks ago, Windom took his fourth career USAC National Sprint Car victory at Terre Haute, emerging with the win after a late-race restart with four laps to go, backing up his victory from last fall at the “Hurtubise Classic” where he outdueled Chad Boespflug, who’s finished second in the two most recent Terre Haute USAC Sprint stops behind Windom.
The final USAC National Sprint Car race in the Midwest will also be crucial toward the championship race as Windom trails season-long leader Justin Grant by a mere 45 points heading into this Saturday’s event.
Ballou and Windom are among five past winners expected to compete in Saturday night’s race. National Sprint Car Hall of Famer Dave Darland has the longest span between “Hulman Classic” victories, winning his first ever USAC feature there in 1993 before returning to glory 21 years later to get his second in 2014. The Lincoln, Indiana USAC Triple Crown champ has seen a resurgence in recent weeks, recording ProSource Fast Qualifying time and running consistently and knocking on the door of victory at both Montpelier and Lawrenceburg.
Jerry Coons, Jr. (2010 and 2013 winner) and Jon Stanbrough (2002 and 2007 winner) are two-time “Hulman” winners vying for their third in the event that also honors famed Terre Haute businessman Don Smith, a man vital to the success of the Terre Haute Action Track from its formation in the early 1950s through its first three decades.
Pit gates open for the “Hulman Classic at 2pm. A free, open pit party will take place from 3:30 to 5:30pm, allowing fans to walk through the pits, meet the driver, get autographs, take pictures and win prizes. Cars hit the track for hot laps at 6pm.
Adult grandstand admission is $25 while infield admission just $15. Children age 11 and under are free!