By Richie Murray
Winchester, Indiana (May 4, 2021)………Sunday afternoon’s 30th anniversary of the inaugural Rich Vogler Classic is special in a myriad of ways.
First, Sunday again brings to the forefront our remembrance of the winningest driver in USAC’s history at 171 victories.
Furthermore, Sunday brings about the long-awaited return of USAC racing to the Winchester (Ind.) Speedway high banks for the first time in a decade.
Additionally, Sunday brings about something that our eyes have never seen before – USAC Silver Crown cars roaring around Winchester Speedway.
Constructed in 1914, these 37 degree banks have hosted the most courageous and lionhearted drivers throughout the past century. This Sunday, May 9, the bravest of the brave put their mental and physical focus to the test for 100 laps, a distance a USAC event at Winchester hasn’t traveled in a half-century.
The lone four USAC main events with a 100-lap duration were sprint car races held between 1965 and 1968 and won by some of the all-time greatest names in the sport in any area: Johnny Rutherford (1965), Al Smith (1966), Sammy Sessions (1967) and Larry Dickson (1968).
While none of the drivers of today have 100 straight laps of experience at Winchester under their belts, many do have on-track exposure in racing conditions. While the bulk of the first two decades of the Vogler Classic were held at Winchester, with recent stops at the Indianapolis Speedrome, and throughout the past decade, has been an annual USAC Silver Crown event hosted by Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg, Ind. Among the winners of the Vogler race expected to be part of Sunday’s field are Bobby Santos (2012 & 2017), David Byrne (2014) and Kody Swanson (2016 & 2019).
In fact, a total of 22 different drivers have acknowledged their intentions to compete on Sunday. Some of them will be seeing Winchester Speedway in person for the first time ever. Others have some experience. Some have massive amounts of experience.
One of those drivers who nearly laps the field in terms of USAC experience at Winchester is Eric Gordon (Fortville, Ind.). Gordon’s Winchester USAC career dates back to 1989. Since then, he’s made 49 career USAC Sprint starts and 3 career USAC Midget starts at the track. Two of those 49 USAC Sprint races have resulted in winning performances, in 1991 and 1995, which are among his 35 top-tens and 23 top-fives there and includes 4 runner-up finishes, 6 thirds, 5 fourths and 6 fifths. His car owner, Brad Armstrong, also has winning experience at Winchester, scoring a USAC Sprint victory there as a driver in 1998.
Speaking of winning experience at Winchester, Brian Gerster (Fishers, Ind.) has that too. He won the King of the Wing Sprint Car round there in 2013 and was victorious in a photo finish during an ESPN televised USAC National Midget race in 1995. His stat line reads 22 USAC Sprint Car starts and 17 USAC Midget starts at Winchester dating back to 1992. Nine of his midget starts resulted in top-tens along with three top-fives. His best performances in the midget realm, outside of his win, were a 4th in 1994 and 1996. Gerster put 17 USAC Sprint Car top-tens and 9 top-fives on the board at Winchester with a best of 2nd in 1999 while earning three quick times with the series between 1999-2000, the first of which came during the Rich Vogler Classic.
Aaron Pierce (Muncie, Ind.) has made seven USAC Sprint starts and two USAC Midget starts at Winchester dating back to 2000. Pierce earned three USAC Sprint top-tens with the best being an 8th in 2011. In winged sprint car competition at Winchester, he finished 2nd with the Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series in 2012 to go along with a 4th in 2013 and a 5th in 2014. His most recent Winchester outing resulted in a 4th without the wing with the Auto Value Super Sprints in 2019.
Bobby Santos (Franklin, Mass.) finished in the 3rd position, just ahead of Pierce in the 2019 Winchester race. The first of Santos’ three USAC Sprint starts at Winchester came in 2011 with his best result being a 6th in 2011.
Shane Cottle (Kansas, Ill.) finished just behind Santos and Pierce in 2019 at Winchester, taking 5th. His three most recent appearances prior to 2019 at Winchester came in the seat of a USAC Sprint Car in 2008 where he collected results of 14th, 10th and 13th.
Kody Swanson (Kingsburg, Calif.), the all-time USAC Silver Crown king with 30 wins, 31 fast qualifying times and five driving championships, has won on the similarly high banked track in southern Indiana, Salem Speedway, in five consecutive years between 2016-2020. At Winchester, the experience level is less plentiful with a pair of USAC Sprint Car starts to his name, a 10th in 2010 and a 4th in 2011.
The Winchester experience of Travis Welpott (Pendleton, Ind.) goes back to the late 1990s with the USAC National Midgets. The 1993 UMRA TQ Midget champion finished 11th & 20th in 1998 as well as 17th, 13th and 11th in 1999.
Winchester, Indiana’s own Matt Goodnight finished 5th with the King of the Wing Sprint Car Series at Winchester in 2016. Meanwhile, Kyle O’Gara (Beech Grove, Ind.) won his heat race, led the opening 7 laps and finished 6th with the Auto Value Super Sprints, without the wing, at Winchester in 2019.
Several drivers will be making their first career visits to Winchester on Sunday. Justin Grant (Ione, Calif.) took to the track just as well as one possibly could in last Sunday’s open practice, recording the only lap in the 14 second bracket, a 14.997 second run, which translates to a 120.024 mph average.
David Byrne (Shullsburg, Wis.) is a past Rich Vogler Classic winner in his own right back in 2014 at Lucas Oil Raceway, which remains his lone victory with the series. Fellow one-time series winner Kyle Hamilton (Danville, Ind.) is prepared for his first run at Winchester on Sunday, after mastering pavement tracks such as Lucas Oil Raceway to score his only Silver Crown win in 2019 as well as the tight quarters of Anderson (Ind.) Speedway as the winner of the Little 500 in 2017.
Joining them will be a slew of first-time Winchester visitors, including 2020 Silver Crown Rookie of the Year Bryan Gossel (Fort Collins, Colo.), Patrick Lawson (Edwardsville, Ill.), Kyle Robbins (New Castle, Ind.) and Austin Nemire (Sylvania, Ohio), whose grandfather, Jerry Nemire, competed at Winchester regularly between the 1960s through the 1990s, plus Mike Haggenbottom (Levittown, Pa.), Dave Berkheimer (Mechanicsburg, Pa.), Toni Breidinger (Hillsborough, Calif.), USAC D1 and STARS Midget champion Jim Anderson (Joliet, Ill.), Derek Bischak (Angola, Ind.) and first-time Silver Crown competitor Jake Day (Abilene, Texas).
On race day, the pits open at 9am ET with the drivers meeting set for 10am, practice at 11am, Fatheadz Qualifying at 1pm, a driver’s autograph session at 2pm, opening ceremonies at 3pm and the 100-lap main event at 3:30pm.
Reserved seats are $30 apiece, while general admission tickets are $20, and just $10 for children aged 6 to 12.
The race will be shown LIVE on FloRacing at https://bit.ly/3frPoW6.
ENTRY LIST FOR THE RICH VOGLER CLASSIC: (22 DRIVERS)
06 BRYAN GOSSEL/Fort Collins, CO
1 KYLE O’GARA/Beech Grove, IN
2 PATRICK LAWSON/Edwardsville, IL
6 KYLE HAMILTON/Danville, IN
7 KYLE ROBBINS/New Castle, IN
16 AUSTIN NEMIRE/Sylvania, OH
18 TRAVIS WELPOTT/Pendleton, IN
22 BOBBY SANTOS/Franklin, MA
24 MIKE HAGGENBOTTOM/Levittown, PA
26 AARON PIERCE/Muncie, IN
31 DAVE BERKHEIMER/Mechanicsburg, PA
39 MATT GOODNIGHT/Winchester, IN
40 DAVID BYRNE/Shullsburg, WI
42 JAKE DAY/Abilene, TX
77 KODY SWANSON/Kingsburg, CA
80 TONI BREIDINGER/Hillsborough, CA
81 SHANE COTTLE/Kansas, IL
91 JUSTIN GRANT/Ione, CA
92 JIM ANDERSON/Joliet, IL
94 BRIAN GERSTER/Fishers, IN
99 ERIC GORDON/Fortville, IN
131 DEREK BISCHAK/Angola, IN
RICH VOGLER CLASSIC WINNERS:
1991: Robbie Stanley (Sprint) & Don Schilling (Midget)
1992: Jim Mahoney (Sprint) & Kenny Irwin, Jr. (Midget)
1993: Robbie Stanley (Sprint) & Stevie Reeves (Midget)
1994: Robbie Stanley (Sprint) & Mike Bliss (Midget)
1995: Kenny Irwin, Jr. (Sprint) & Mike Bliss (Midget)
1996: Andy Michner (Sprint) & Tracy Hines (Midget)
1997: Andy Michner (Sprint) & Tracy Hines (Midget)
1998: Chet Fillip (Sprint) & Ricky Shelton (Midget)
1999: Dave Steele (Sprint)
2000: Ryan Newman (Sprint) & Ryan Newman (Midget)
2001: Dane Carter (Midget)
2002: Dave Steele (Sprint)
2003: Michael Lewis (Sprint)
2004: Teddy Beach (Midget) & Bryan Clauson (Kenyon Midget)
2005: Dave Darland (Sprint)
2006: Bryan Clauson (Sprint)
2007: Marc Jessup (Sprint)
2008: Darren Hagen (Sprint)
2009: Tracy Hines (Sprint)
2010: Shane Hmiel (Sprint)
2011: Tracy Hines (Sprint)
(Indianapolis Raceway Park)
2012: Bobby Santos (Silver Crown) & Tracy Hines (Midget)
2013: Tanner Swanson (Silver Crown) & Tracy Hines (Midget)
2014: David Byrne (Silver Crown)
2015: Tanner Swanson (Silver Crown)
2016: Kody Swanson (Silver Crown)
2017: Bobby Santos (Silver Crown)
2019: Kody Swanson (Silver Crown)
2020: Not Held