By Dick Jordan
One of America’s longest-running auto racing traditions is renewed Saturday night as O’Reilly Raceway Park in Indianapolis, Ind. hosts the 65th running of the NOS Energy Drink “Night Before the 500” USAC Mopar National Midget race.
Former “Night Before the 500” champ Bobby East of Brownsburg, Ind. enters Saturday’s race as the series point leader, 28 ahead of Bryan Clauson, who stands on the verge of USAC history. Clauson, with a win Saturday, would complete an unprecedented consecutive sweep of all four of the USAC Midget races with tradition dating to pre-1980. He won last year’s Belleville Midget Nationals and Turkey Night Grand Prix, then added this year’s Hut Hundred. Only East and Jason Leffler can claim victories in all four but nobody has ever won all four back-to-back!
Bobby Santos III of Franklin, Mass. led all but one lap to win Saturday’s 30-lap Casey’s General Stores USAC Triple Crown Pride of Iowa feature event at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. Santos’ victory in the USAC Mopar National Midget race on the 7/8-mile paved oval came in the Santos Motor Sports/K & N Air Filters Beast/Esslinger Ford. He led laps 1-4, then yielded to Darren Hagen for lap five, but returned to the lead the next lap and led the rest of the way for the victory.
Brad Sweet, driving for car owners Kasey Kahne & Mike Curb, finished second, followed by Hagen, East and Henry Clarke, East came from 20th starting position! Santos won the pole with the fastest lap during qualifications.
Saturday’s “Night Before the 500” program also includes USF2000 and Star Mazda competition and the Midget race is 50 laps around ORP’s challenging .686-mile paved oval.
Defending “Night Before the 500” winner Chuck Gurney Jr. is expected to compete Saturday, trying to become the first back-to-back race winner since Kasey Kahne in 2000 and 2001. He was 15th in Saturday’s race at Iowa Speedway.
USAC MOPAR NATIONAL MIDGET SERIES POINT STANDINGS
1-Bobby East-362, 2-Bryan Clauson-334, 3-Darren Hagen-326, 4-Brad Sweet-322, 5-Tracy Hines-320, 6-Dave Darland-311, 7-Jerry Coons Jr.-289, 8-Brad Kuhn-237, 9-Henry Clarke-232, 10-Zach Daum-207.