By Richie Murray
Speedway, Indiana (July 12, 2019)………There are a number of Indiana Sprint Week traditions that have become staples of the mid-summer Hoosier state tour of the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship.
Perhaps none have become as significant and more meaningful than the hand-crafted Bridgeport rocking chair awarded to the NOS Energy Drink Indiana Sprint Week owner champion each year.
The tradition began more than a decade ago by Air Force veteran John Youngs and his wife Terri of Vincennes, Ind. The upcoming installment of ISW marks the 10th year of the tradition, but the process began several years before that as John discovered and learned the craft.
“I started making rocking chairs in 2000,” John recalled. “I took a seminar when I was in Texas and got the know-how on how to do it. I started making them and thought they were pretty cool.”
John began making his custom rocking chairs for his family members and even a pen-pal he had in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s.
But, in the mid-2000s, an idea came to, John, an avid sprint car racing fan, when he saw a legend of the sport receive a gift that caught his attention. At that point, an idea was born, and a new tradition began to be put into motion.
“We were at Eldora Speedway when (track owner and promoter) Earl (Baltes) retired,” John remembered. “They gave him a rocking chair for a retirement gift, but it was one of the Cracker Barrel ones. I looked at my boys and said, ‘man, I could’ve done better than that!’ Greg Staab, who worked for USAC at the time, I went up to him and showed him my pictures and said, ‘I can do this. I can make a rocking chair for Indiana Sprint Week.’ It turned out to be a pretty good deal. We figured, let’s just give it to the car owner because he puts a lot of effort into it and it gives him something to strive for too.”
John spends approximately 200 hours crafting his rockers. The sculpted joints and countless hours of sanding and shaping produces a flow of smooth lines that can be viewed from any angle. A finish of five coats of Tung Oil is applied by hand to highlight the beauty of the wood. Each rocker is signed and numbered for authenticity under the right arm.
Each chair is made from Indiana Ash with Walnut highlights in the back slats and incorporated into the rocker, which is valued at $4,000. Ash was chosen again because of the declining numbers of Ash trees due to the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive beetle that threatens thousands of Indiana trees.
With all the effort put into it, the main reward for John is the satisfaction the recipients get from receiving the unique “trophy.” One of the memories that sticks out is how much the chair meant to car owner Richard Hoffman of the famed Hoffman Auto Racing team, who won a record 11 USAC National Sprint Car titles and more than 100 series races before his passing earlier this April.
“One of the best things to ever happen was when the Hoffmans won it up in Terre Haute,” John said. “I didn’t make the chair that year because I was working too much and couldn’t get to it. So, I gave him one of my chairs and I said he could have this one or you can have whatever you want, and I’ll make you another one. He saw that one that Kevin Thomas, Jr. got (in 2017) and said, ‘I want a walnut one.’ I said, ‘you got it.’ We went ahead and made him one and took it over to him. He told me, ‘you know, this is one of my most prized possessions right here.’ That meant a lot to me coming from Richard.”
2019 NOS ENERGY DRINK INDIANA SPRINT WEEK SCHEDULE
Thursday, July 18: Gas City I-69 Speedway (Gas City, IN)
Friday, July 19: Plymouth Speedway (Plymouth, IN)
Saturday, July 20: Kokomo Speedway (Kokomo, IN)
Sunday, July 21: Lawrenceburg Speedway (Lawrenceburg, IN)
Wednesday, July 24: Terre Haute Action Track (Terre Haute, IN)
Thursday, July 25: Lincoln Park Speedway (Putnamville, IN)
Friday, July 26: Bloomington Speedway (Bloomington, IN)
Saturday, July 27: Tri-State Speedway (Haubstadt, IN)