As I’m prone to do when I have something on my mind and really just need to think things through, I typically find myself at the place I consider my “safe haven” — the Kokomo Speedway.
Sunday afternoon I ventured to the one place where I can lose myself, no matter how bad things are or even good for that matter. I found myself sitting in the totally empty parking lot of the local oval. Most times when I visit the track I find myself recollecting the days when as a kid I would pester my poor dad and mother to no end each Sunday morning from the time they awoke about whether or not we would be able to go the track that evening.
Back then I was in third grade and was be awestruck when the likes of Allen Barr, the late Dick Gaines, Bobby Kinser, Ron Fisher, Don Fisher, Red Bledsoe, Ed Angle, Louie Mann, Don Walker, Jim Elliott, whose son Tony would go on and become the winningest sprint car driver in track history to date. There was also Dave Phillips, Swede Bolander, Jon Casbon, Chuck Piker and countless others that would take the track each race night.
While sitting there I was contemplating the book that is my goal on the old facility and debating exactly how I wanted to go about writing this book, which would satisfy the dream I’ve had since I began covering the goings on at the track all these years.
The tough thing about getting the forthcoming book (that is if some publisher is willing to take a chance, though I’ve been told it’s a very good possibility) is the lack of official records that were kept in the primitive years.
I’ve spent countless hours going through micro-film studying sports sections that are 50-plus years old. At this rate, to finally track down all the events that have ever been run at the old bullring is akin to finding a needle in the proverbial haystack.
The micro-film has to rate right up with a root canal in trying to find all the winners in all the different divisions that have competed locally all those years ago. Therefore, my plans on the book I’m hoping to complete is to pretty much draw from the more recent history. It’s hopefully going to be a read that will help even the most adamant fans get to know a little bit more about their favorite drivers over the last 20 or so years and hopefully a lot of those drivers and fans from back in the day can recall special events that made the famed track special to them.
My reasoning for taking on such a daunting task is really pretty much twofold
First, in my opinion, I think it would be pretty special for a lot of the long-time fans to harken back to the days when life seemed so much simpler. Those days when open trailers were the rule rather than the exception.
I’d love nothing more than to hear the likes of Bob Kinser recollecting those days when he and Dick Gaines would fight tooth and nail each and every race night. The same with Elliott and Dave Darland and the rivalry those two put on week in and week out.
More recently a couple intense rivalries that come to mind was watching 2011 Thunder Car track champion and Chris Hunter and those spirited dog fights that he and the always-tough James Headley put on a couple of season ago. Just this last season, watching Craig Walker, Lee Hobbs and Landon Miller scrap with the Street Stock “Superman,” Lee Hobbs, and his domination of that division the last two years.
As a matter of fact, during the entire 2011 campaign, Walker and popular veteran Glen Gamblin were the only drivers aside from Hobbs to find Victory Lane.
Let’s face it, according to several internet on-line polls, Kokomo is rated among the, if not the best race track in not only the state of Indiana, but across the Midwest as well.
My other hope is that if, and when, this book is published it might well be the catalyst that brings out a new breed of race fans. With so many different forms of entertainment out there vying for folks’ hard-earned money, it seems like it is pretty much the same crowd that frequents the track each and every week.
My hope is that many of us, the die-hard fans who attend the races at the track each week, rain or shine, cold or hot, can introduce some new folks to the sport we all care for so dearly. Over the years dirt track racing has taken a bad rap and to be honest, some of the criticism has been justified. Years back it wasn’t a bit uncommon to see the beer flowing and in a lot of cases fists flying.
The comment I can’t help but chuckle about each time I hear it is how those who don’t attend dirt track events perceive those who do. I’ve been called everything from a “hilljack” to a “redneck” by folks who have no clue as to what they are missing out on by not visiting any of the local tracks. Yet those same people will go on and on about how great NASCAR is and how much they follow the sport.
Just a couple of weeks ago when NASCAR was at the Martinsville Speedway, I looked over the starting lineup it was amazing to me how many of the drivers who were taking part in what is considered the pinnacle all the up and coming drivers strive for were at one time or another regular competitors at Kokomo, Gas City, Eldora, Lawrenceburg and just about any other dirt track in the country.
Right now, the closest thing to a professional sport here in Kokomo is the Kokomo Speedway. Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Dave Blaney, Mike Bliss, Ken Shrader, Kenny Wallace, John Andretti and J.J. Yeley are just a few drivers who are now NASCAR regulars that used to compete regularly here at the local oval. Another driver, 2009 sprint car champion at Kokomo, Cole Whitt, was in the points battle for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series last year before signing with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to pilot NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver’s Nationwide Series entry. Kyle Larson, who competed with Jeff Walker early in the 2011 campaign at the track, just recently signed a deal with the Ganassi/Earnhardt team and could very well be the next Jeff Gordon, gauging by his success in whatever he gets behind the wheel of.
So, to the fans who make the local tracks a weekly ritual, thank you for all your support. For the NASCAR fans who tend to look down your nose at the local bullrings, give it a try. In all likelihood, one or more of the drivers you see on the track will probably be on your television competing at the next level very soon.
• Brett Bowman is the Tribune’s lead auto racing columnist. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the sports department.