By Richie Murray
Terre Haute, Indiana (September 14, 2020)………Justin Grant remembers going a long way in his first visit to the Terre Haute Action Track in 2010.
In September of 2019, the Ione, Calif. native showed he’s come a long way in another aspect since his humbling introduction to the famed western Indiana half-mile nearly a decade earlier, winning the 20th running of the Jim Hurtubise Classic for USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Cars, which at the time was his first Sprint Car win of any kind at the track.
“In my first race here in 2010, I sailed it out of the park in turn one and I smashed a guy’s Buick or Plymouth, or something, whatever it was,” Grant recalled. “I made it a long way out there too. Terre Haute had my number for quite a while and it’s taken me nine years to finally get a win here, but we did it, and it feels really good. At one point, it was probably my worst track on the tour. To come here and win, it means a lot to me personally.”
Grant, a 2018 Sumar Classic Silver Crown winner at Terre Haute, won again with the USAC Sprints in the series’ most recent trip to Terre Haute in late July of 2020. Grant had experienced the Hurtubise Classic top-five on just one other occasion prior to 2019, a 4th in 2017. He enters this Friday’s race aiming to claw his way back into the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car title hunt after leading the standings for much of the year. Grant now sees himself in 5th coming into the week but is still just 79 points back.
The 2019 Jim Hurtubise Classic, however, presented him a topsy-turvy turn of events to begin his night. Shortly after racing from 5th to 1st to win the first heat race, on his cooldown lap, Grant encountered trouble, without warning, that nearly spelled complete disaster.
“We had a left front radius rod come apart, and you can’t steer,” Grant explained. “The axle rolls back and falls off the arm. I lifted off of (turn) two, and halfway down the back stretch, it started squirrelling all around and I thought ‘Whoa, we got a problem here.’ I knew the front end was falling out, and when you get on the brakes, it just folds them up. I was just trying to coast it to a stop; I got it whoa’d down pretty slow, then it dropped, and the frame rail dug in and it just turned me right into the inside wall. Luckily, it just front-bumpered into it. No harm, no foul. We brought it back, put a bolt in it and we were ready for the feature.”
If the incident would’ve occurred one lap earlier, the outcome and the progression of the night could’ve been disastrously different. However, on that particular night, in the first ever USAC National event held simultaneously on Friday the 13th and with a full moon hovering overhead, good fortune was on his side.
Other drivers expected to compete in this Friday’s 21st running of the Jim Hurtubise Classic who’ve also experienced good fortune in the event include past winners Chris Windom (2011-16-17), Brady Bacon (2014 & 18), Chase Stockon (2012) and Robert Ballou (2015).
Windom (Canton, Ill.) is second in the series’ point standings entering Friday’s event, just nine points out of the lead. He’s tied with 1990’s inaugural event winner, Jack Hewitt, as a three-time Hurtubise Classic winner. With one more, he’d become the all-time winningest driver of the event. His five career Terre Haute USAC Sprint wins are tied with the namesake of the event, Jim Hurtubise, for sixth all-time. Windom has procured six top-fives in his Hurtubise Classic career with three wins, plus a 2nd in 2015, a 3rd in 2018 and a 4th in 2019, the same night he also notched the fastest qualifying time. He was also the victor of a mid-August MSCS Sprint race at Terre Haute.
Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.) leads the point standings following his series-leading 5th win of the year last Saturday night at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Ind. A pursuant of a third USAC National Sprint Car title, Bacon’s Hurtubise Classic prowess shows four more top-ten results in addition to his two victories, a 2nd in 2013, a 7th in both 2016-17 and a 9th in 2015.
Ballou (Rocklin, Calif.) has been behind the wheel of some of those spectacular moments at Terre Haute. He’s been a fast qualifier for the Hurtubise Classic on three occasions in 2010-17-18. The 2015 USAC National Sprint Car champ has also finished as the runner-up in the event three times in addition to his victory; he was 2nd in 2012-14-18 and also had top-five rides in 2010-11 where he finished 5th.
Stockon (Fort Branch, Ind.), along with Windom, are the only two drivers to win the Tony Hulman Classic, the Don Smith Classic and the Jim Hurtubise Classic USAC Sprint events at Terre Haute in their careers. Stockon bagged a Hurtubise victory during late in the 2012 season. He’s finished inside the top-ten of the Hurtubise Classic in eight consecutive seasons with a 4th in 2016, 5th in 2014, 6th in 2017, 7th twice in 2015 & 19, 8th in 2018 and 9th in 2013. He was also the fastest qualifier in 2016.
Dave Darland has won nearly every single big event on the USAC calendar in his National Sprint Car Hall of Fame career. Darland owns the record for most Hurtubise Classic feature starts, appearing in the A-Main lineup 15 times between 1992-2019. The 1999 series champion has been oh-so-close to a victory in the event on numerous occasions, but has eluded his resume thus far, which includes a pair of USAC Sprint wins at Terre Haute in 1993 and 2014. He finished runner-up in the “Hurtubise” in both 1998 & 2010, was 3rd in 1997 & 2015, 5th in 2012-13 among his six top-fives. Darland also possesses a total of 12 top-tens in those 15 starts.
Shane Cottle (Kansas, Ill.), who has had a resurgent year with victories in both USAC Silver Crown and National Sprint competition, owns three career top-ten finishes at the Hurtubise Classic with a 4th as his best in 2014 along with a 6th in 2018 and 7th in 2010.
Kevin Thomas Jr. (Cullman, Ala.) had three solid results last weekend with a trio of top-seven runs in three starts. He was the runner-up to Grant in the 2019 Hurtubise Classic, which was his best career finish in the event. He ran 5th in 2018 and was also 6th in 2015 and 10th in 2012. He was the fastest qualifier for the “Hurtubise” in 2013.
Reigning USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car champ C.J. Leary (Greenfield, Ind.) has climbed himself right back into the mix for the series title, trailing by just 40 points now in fourth. A past Sumar Classic Silver Crown winner at Terre Haute in 2016, Leary has finished inside the top-five of each of the past two Hurtubise Classics, taking 4th in 2018 and 5th in 2019. His string of top-tens in the event is five years running with an 8th in 2015, and 9th place results in 2016 and 2017.
Logan Seavey (Sutter, Calif.) aims to make his first Hurtubise Classic start this Friday. His first career Terre Haute appearance in late July was a successful venture, winning the semi-feature and finishing 7th in the feature. Jadon Rogers (Worthington, Ind.) and Anton Hernandez (Arlington, Texas), likewise, are both Hurtubise Classic Rookies. Hernandez won his heat and finished 10th in July’s Hulman Classic at Terre Haute. Rogers leads the Rookie standings, however, by a 41-point margin entering the weekend’s events.
Meanwhile, Nick Bilbee (Indianapolis, Ind.) earned his best Hurtubise Classic run of 8th in 2019 while Brandon Mattox (Terre Haute, Ind.), 11th in points, is looking for his first top-ten performance in the event after a top-ten run last Saturday at Lincoln Park.
The event honors the late, great Jim Hurtubise, the 1993 National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductee who achieved what seemed nearly impossible, winning five consecutive USAC National Sprint Car feature events at Terre Haute between 1960 and 1962.
Hurtubise, of North Tonawanda, N.Y., stood the racing world on its ears in 1960 when he flirted with the 150 mph barrier at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He was that year’s Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year. National Championship wins for Hurtubise came at Sacramento, Calif., Langhorne, Pa. and Springfield, Ill. (twice), before suffering serious burns in an accident at Milwaukee, Wisc. in 1964.
He was the last driver to wheel a front-engine car at the Indianapolis 500 in 1968. A spectacular Sprint Car racer, he won 14 USAC features and was also an accomplished stock car veteran. He won the 1966 Atlanta 500 NASCAR Cup race.
Pits open for Friday’s Jim Hurtubise Classic at 3pm Eastern with grandstands opening at 4pm, the drivers meeting at 6pm and hot laps at 6:30pm.
Adult grandstand tickets are $25 while adult infield tickets are $15. Kids 11 and under are free when accompanied by a parent. Pit passes are $30 for members, $35 for non-members.
You can watch Friday Hurtubise Classic LIVE on FloRacing at https://bit.ly/2Zs7zFP.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Brady Bacon-1,384, 2-Chris Windom-1,375, 3-Chase Stockon-1,351, 4-C.J. Leary-1,344, 5-Justin Grant-1,305, 6-Kevin Thomas Jr.-1,139, 7-Carson Short-1,061, 8-Dave Darland-979, 9-Kyle Cummins-969, 10-Logan Seavey-909.
PAST JIM HURTUBISE CLASSIC WINNERS: 1990: Jack Hewitt, 1991: Jack Hewitt, 1992: Rusty McClure, 1993: Robbie Stanley, 1994: Tray House, 1995: Jack Hewitt, 1996: Kevin Thomas, 1997: J.J. Yeley, 1998: Tony Elliott, 1999: Tony Jones, 2010: Jon Stanbrough, 2011: Chris Windom, 2012: Chase Stockon, 2013: Jerry Coons, 2014: Brady Bacon, 2015: Robert Ballou, 2016: Chris Windom, 2017: Chris Windom, 2018: Brady Bacon, 2019: Justin Grant
JIM HURTUBISE CLASSIC WINS:
1. (3) Jack Hewitt (1990-91-95) & Chris Windom (2011-16-17)
3. (2) Brady Bacon (2014-18)
4. (1) Robert Ballou (2015), Jerry Coons, Jr. (2013), Tony Elliott (1998), Justin Grant (2019), Tray House (1994), Tony Jones (1999), Rusty McClure (1992), Jon Stanbrough (2010), Robbie Stanley (1993), Chase Stockon (2012), Kevin Thomas (1996) & J.J. Yeley (1997)
TERRE HAUTE ACTION TRACK USAC SPRINT CAR WINS: (164 Points Races)
8-Gary Bettenhausen & Jack Hewitt
6-Bubby Jones, Sheldon Kinser & J.J. Yeley
5-Jim Hurtubise, Levi Jones, Jon Stanbrough, Rich Vogler & Chris Windom
4-Bud Kaeding & Roger McCluskey
3-Don Branson, Steve Butler, Pancho Carter, Daron Clayton, Jerry Coons, Jr, Tyler Courtney, Jay Drake, Cary Faas, Tracy Hines, Rick Hood, Joe Saldana & Chase Stockon
2-Brady Bacon, Robert Ballou, Rollie Beale, Tom Bigelow, Dave Darland, Justin Grant, Cory Kruseman, Johnny Rutherford, Dick Tobias, Kevin Thomas, Jr., Bruce Walkup & Greg Weld
1-Billy Cassella, Steve Chassey, Bryan Clauson, Mel Cornett, Larry Dickson, Ed Elisian, Tony Elliott, Aaron Farney, A.J. Foyt, Richard Griffin, Chuck Gurney, Tommy Hinnershitz, Tray House, Chet Johnson, Tony Jones, Doug Kalitta, Frankie Kerr, Steve Kinser, Eddie Leavitt, Andy Linden, Bobby Marshman, Charlie Masters, Rusty McClure, James McElreath, Jim McElreath, Jim McWithey, Jan Opperman, Terry Pletch, Larry Rice, Eddie Sachs, Sam Sessions, Ron Shuman, George Snider, Robbie Stanley, Brad Sweet, Kevin Thomas & Bobby Unser