By Richie Murray
Terre Haute, Indiana (May 24, 2021)………The Beatles may have told us that happiness is a warm gun. However, the ultimate happiness very well may be the image of a driver holding the traditional rifle in victory lane after a hard earned win at the Tony Hulman Classic.
We know that’s how it’ll end on Wednesday night, May 26, following the conclusion of the 51st running of the Hulman Classic for the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship, but who will be the driver with both hands on the coveted rifle?
That’s the question that remains to be answered when the series arrives at the famed half-mile dirt oval for the 165th points race held since the USAC Sprint Cars’ 1957 debut at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds track.
The Hulman Classic is the longest annually-held USAC National Sprint Car event, being contested every year since the 1971 season with George Snider winning the inaugural edition. Over the past half-century, only two drivers have won the event three times: Levi Jones (2005-08-09) and Cary Faas (1992-94-98). Two drivers have a chance to join the exclusive club this Wednesday.
Chris Windom’s first win of the USAC season in 2020 came during the Tony Hulman Classic. To date, through 11 races in 2021, Windom finds himself in a similar place, sans a victory. However, the Hulman Classic could very well be the site of his breakthrough. After all, Windom has notched six top-fives in a row in the event: 2nd in 2015, 5th in 2016, 2nd in 2017, 4th in 2018, 2nd in 2019 and 1st in 2020.
Windom (Canton, Ill.) won twice with the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Cars in 2020 at Terre Haute, the first of which captured his second career Hulman Classic triumph. He leads all expected entrants with six career series wins at the track. The 2017 USAC National Sprint Car champ has also tasted victory with the USAC Silver Crown division at Terre Haute in the 2017 Sumar Classic. At the Hulman, though, his prowess dates back more than a decade with a 5th place run in 2009. In 2011, he became the youngest ever Hulman Classic winner at the age of 20, a record that still stands to this day.
It’s difficult to win the Hulman Classic in consecutive years with only three drivers going back-to-back during the first 50 years: Steve Butler (1987-88), Levi Jones (2008-09) and Robert Ballou (2015-16). Ballou also comes in as the series’ most recent winner, on May 8 at Eldora. Ballou, the 2015 USAC National Sprint Car titlist, has won both of his Terre Haute USAC Sprint Car races during the Hulman.
In 2019, Chase Stockon (Fort Branch, Ind.), broke through to capture his first win in the Tony Hulman Classic. The win gave the veteran driver, who grew up in nearby Sullivan, Ind., the rare trifecta at Terre Haute by winning the “big three” USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car races held there in his career: the Jim Hurtubise Classic in 2012, the Don Smith Classic in 2016 and the Hulman Classic in 2019, an exemplary feat that only he and Chris Windom (Canton, Ill.) have accomplished in their careers.
Stockon has been consistently consistent, so to speak, at the Hulman Classic in recent years with a 5th in 2014, then stringing together a current run of top-five finishes in each of his past four starts in the event: a 3rd in 2017, a 5th in 2018, a win in 2019 and a 3rd in 2020.
Kevin Thomas Jr. (Cullman, Ala.) won the 2017 running of the Tony Hulman Classic and has had his share of front running efforts over the past decade in the event with runner-up results in both 2014 and 2018. He also won once more at Terre Haute back in 2013 during Indiana Sprint Week in a tenacious last lap battle with Dave Darland. In the 2020 event, Thomas earned a 7th place result.
Current point leader Brady Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.) recorded the fastest time ever by a USAC Sprint Car driver at Terre Haute during the 2014 Hulman Classic, a 19.225 second lap around the half-mile. He also set the quickest time at the 2016 and 2020 Hulman Classics. As fate would have it, every time Bacon sets quick time at the Hulman Classic, he goes on to win the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car championship that same season. The three-time series champ and two-time Terre Haute USAC Sprint winner (2014 & 2018), however, is seeking his first Hulman Classic triumph after four career top-four runs: 2nd (2013), 3rd (2014) and 4th (2016-2017).
Like Bacon, Justin Grant (Ione, Calif.) has won at Terre Haute, but a win in the Hulman Classic still eludes him. Grant won the Jim Hurtubise Classic (2019) and Don Smith Classic (2020) USAC Sprint Car features at Terre Haute in recent seasons and he’s also a past Silver Crown winner at Terre Haute, capturing the headlines in a 2018 Sumar Classic victory there. He earned his best career Hulman Classic finish with a 2nd in 2020. He was also 5th in 2019.
C.J. Leary (Greenfield, Ind.) is seeking his first Hulman Classic score as well. He was the fastest qualifier at the Hulman Classic in 2019 but has yet to record a top-five feature finish in his Hulman Classic career. The 2019 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car champion knows how to get around the place as evidenced by his 2016 Silver Crown win at the Terre Haute Action Track as well as his 4th place finish last July during the Don Smith Classic.
Jake Swanson (Anaheim, Calif.) had a fine run in his initial Hulman Classic start in 2020, winning his heat race and finishing 4th in the 30-lap feature, which was his best career series result at the time, since eclipsed by a 2nd at Pennsylvania’s Big Diamond Speedway in June of 2021. Tanner Thorson (Minden, Nev.), the winner at Big Diamond, likewise, made his Hulman Classic debut in 2020, picking up 6th in the A-Main. Max Adams (Loomis, Calif.) was a top-ten runner in his first Hulman Classic experience in 2020 as well, taking home 8th.
One-time USAC National Sprint Car winner Matt Westfall (Pleasant Hill, Ohio) took 11th in the 2020 Hulman Classic while last year’s USAC National Most Improved Driver, Brandon Mattox (Terre Haute, Ind.) was just one spot behind Westfall in 12th. Mattox made his very first career USAC National Sprint Car feature start at the 2010 Tony Hulman Classic.
Kyle Cummins (Princeton, Ind.), a winner on the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car trail this season at Haubstadt, Indiana’s Tri-State Speedway, also recently won with the Midwest Sprint Car Series at Terre Haute during the first weekend of May. He finished a best of 9th at the Tony Hulman Classic in 2017.
Logan Seavey (Sutter, Calif.) enters Wednesday’s Hulman Classic on a hot streak, winning at the local level in Indiana with the Baldwin Brothers Sprint Car, first on Saturday at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, and again on Sunday at Kokomo Speedway. Baldwin won the Hulman Classic as an owner in 2011 with driver Chris Windom. For Seavey, Wednesday will mark his first career Hulman Classic appearance.
The 2020 USAC National Sprint Car Rookie of the Year, Jadon Rogers (Worthington, Ind.), aims to make his first Hulman Classic start on Wednesday. Rogers took 3rd with MSCS at Terre Haute in May of this year.
One piece of the USAC National Sprint Car Rookie class for 2021 is Paul Nienhiser (Chapin, Ill.), who is also making his first Hulman Classic appearance. He currently stands 9th in the series standings, two spots behind fellow Rookie Tanner Thorson in 7th. Nienhiser, the 2019 MOWA winged sprint car champ, recently captured his first career sprint car win without a wing earlier this month at Jacksonville Speedway in Illinois.
This group, and many more, will duke it out for the prize and prestige of winning the 51st Tony Hulman Classic at Indiana’s Terre Haute Action Track on Wednesday, May 26, which will also have the Scott’s Custom Colors DIRTcar Modifieds at the event.
Pits open at 2pm EDT, grandstands at 3pm, hot laps at 6:30pm with racing to follow. Adult general admission tickets are $25. Infield admission is $15. Pit passes are $30.
Advance tickets for both the Tony Hulman Classic and the following night’s Sumar Classic USAC Silver Crown race at Terre Haute on Thursday, May 27, are on sale now at www.tracpass.com. Tickets will also be available at the gate on each race day.
The Tony Hulman Classic will be streamed live on FloRacing at https://bit.ly/3dgONXz.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Brady Bacon-763, 2-Justin Grant-734, 3-Kevin Thomas Jr.-697, 4-Robert Ballou-659, 5-Chris Windom-635, 6-C.J. Leary-628, 7-Tanner Thorson-602, 8-Jake Swanson-591, 9-Paul Nienhiser-449, 10-Chase Stockon-440.
TONY HULMAN CLASSIC WINS:
1971: George Snider
1972: Bruce Walkup
1973: Joe Saldana
1974: Gary Bettenhausen
1975: Pancho Carter
1976: Jan Opperman
1977: James McElreath
1978: Dick Tobias
1979: Pancho Carter
1980: Eddie Leavitt
1981: Sheldon Kinser
1982: Chet Johnson
1983: Jack Hewitt
1984: Rick Hood
1985: Ron Shuman
1986: Rich Vogler
1987: Steve Butler
1988: Steve Butler (Indianapolis Raceway Park)
1989: Rich Vogler (Indianapolis Raceway Park)
1990: Jeff Bloom (Indianapolis Raceway Park)
1991: Eric Gordon (Indianapolis Raceway Park)
1992: Cary Faas
1993: Dave Darland
1994: Cary Faas
1995: Jack Hewitt
1996: Doug Kalitta
1997: J.J. Yeley
1998: Cary Faas
1999: Terry Pletch
2000: Jay Drake
2001: Tracy Hines
2002: Jon Stanbrough
2003: J.J. Yeley
2004: Cory Kruseman
2005: Levi Jones
2006: Daron Clayton
2007: Jon Stanbrough
2008: Levi Jones
2009: Levi Jones
2010: Jerry Coons Jr.
2011: Chris Windom
2012: Bud Kaeding
2013: Jerry Coons Jr.
2014: Dave Darland
2015: Robert Ballou
2016: Robert Ballou
2017: Kevin Thomas Jr.
2018: Tyler Courtney
2019: Chase Stockon
2020: Chris Windom
TONY HULMAN CLASSIC WINS:
3-Cary Faas & Levi Jones
2-Chris Windom, Dave Darland, J.J. Yeley, Jack Hewitt, Jerry Coons, Jr, Jon Stanbrough, Pancho Carter, Rich Vogler, Robert Ballou & Steve Butler
1-Bud Kaeding, Chase Stockon, Chet Johnson, Cory Kruseman, Daron Clayton, Dick Tobias, Doug Kalitta, Eddie Leavitt, Eric Gordon, Gary Bettenhausen, George Snider, James McElreath, Jan Opperman, Jay Drake, Jeff Bloom, Joe Saldana, Kevin Thomas Jr., Rick Hood, Ron Shuman, Sheldon Kinser, Terry Pletch, Tracy Hines, Tyler Courtney & Bruce Walkup
2020 TONY HULMAN CLASSIC FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Chris Windom (1), 2. Justin Grant (5), 3. Chase Stockon (7), 4. Jake Swanson (8), 5. Carson Short (14), 6. Tanner Thorson (10), 7. Kevin Thomas Jr. (4), 8. Max Adams (2), 9. Brandon Morin (18), 10. Anton Hernandez (9), 11. Matt Westfall (11), 12. Brandon Mattox (15), 13. Chris Phillips (19), 14. Kendall Ruble (12), 15. Nate McMillin (20), 16. Steve Thomas (21), 17. Dustin Smith (16), 18. Brady Bacon (6), 19. C.J. Leary (22), 20. Nick Bilbee (13), 21. Mitchell Davis (17), 22. Mitch Wissmiller (3). NT
TERRE HAUTE ACTION TRACK USAC SPRINT CAR WINS: (164 Points Races & 1 Special Event)
8-Gary Bettenhausen & Jack Hewitt
6-Bubby Jones, Sheldon Kinser, Chris Windom & J.J. Yeley
5-Jim Hurtubise, Levi Jones, Jon Stanbrough & Rich Vogler
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
TERRE HAUTE ACTION TRACK USAC SPRINT CAR WINNERS:
1957: Ed Elisian (6/16) & Andy Linden (8/18)
1958: Eddie Sachs (6/22) & Tommy Hinnershitz (8/17)
1959: Don Branson (6/21) & Jim McWithey (8/16)
1960: Don Branson (6/12) & Jim Hurtubise (8/21)
1961: Jim Hurtubise (6/11) & Jim Hurtubise (8/13)
1962: Jim Hurtubise (6/17) & Jim Hurtubise (8/12)
1963: Roger McCluskey (6/16) & Bobby Marshman (8/11)
1964: A.J. Foyt (6/14) & Don Branson (8/9)
1965: Johnny Rutherford (6/13) & Johnny Rutherford (8/15)
1966: Roger McCluskey (6/19), Roger McCluskey (6/19) & Roger McCluskey (9/14)
1967: Bobby Unser (6/11), Greg Weld (6/11), Rollie Beale (8/13) & Greg Weld (9/10)
1968: Gary Bettenhausen (6/16), Larry Dickson (8/11) & Gary Bettenhausen (9/8)
1969: Gary Bettenhausen (8/10) & Gary Bettenhausen (10/19)
1970: Jim McElreath (6/21), Dick Tobias (8/9) & Bruce Walkup (9/13)
1971: George Snider (5/1) & Gary Bettenhausen (8/8)
1972: Bruce Walkup (4/30), Charlie Masters (6/11) & Rollie Beale (8/19)
1973: Joe Saldana (5/5), Mel Cornett (6/9) 7 Sammy Sessions (8/5)
1974: Gary Bettenhausen (4/14) & Sheldon Kinser (8/4)
1975: Pancho Carter (5/4), Joe Saldana (6/1), Gary Bettenhausen (8/3) & Tom Bigelow (9/21)
1976: Jan Opperman (5/1), Tom Bigelow (6/6), Gary Bettenhausen (8/1) & Chuck Gurney (10/31)
1977: James McElreath (5/7), Sheldon Kinser (6/5), Bubby Jones (7/31) & Pancho Carter (9/25)
1978: Dick Tobias (5/6), Billy Cassella (6/4) & Bubby Jones (9/24)
1979: Pancho Carter (5/5), Bubby Jones (5/6), Bubby Jones (6/3), Bubby Jones (8/5) & Bubby Jones (9/23)
1980: Eddie Leavitt (5/3), Steve Chassey (5/4), Joe Saldana (6/29), Rich Vogler (8/3) & Rich Vogler (9/21)
1981: Sheldon Kinser (5/3), Rich Vogler (8/9) & Sheldon Kinser (9/7)
1982: Chet Johnson (5/9), Sheldon Kinser (6/20), Steve Kinser (8/8) & Larry Rice (9/5)
1983: Jack Hewitt (5/8), Rich Vogler (6/19) & Jack Hewitt (8/28)
1984: Rick Hood (6/10) & Steve Butler (8/26)
1985: Ron Shuman (5/5), Rick Hood (6/9) & Rick Hood (8/25)
1986: Rich Vogler (5/4) & Sheldon Kinser (8/3)
1987: Steve Butler (5/3) & Steve Butler (5/23)
1990: Jack Hewitt (7/8)
1991: Jack Hewitt (7/7)
1992: Rusty McClure (7/12) & Cary Faas (10/11)
1993: Dave Darland (5/2) & Robbie Stanley (7/11)
1994: Cary Faas (5/1) & Tray House (7/17)
1995: Jack Hewitt (4/30) & Jack Hewitt (7/16)
1996: Doug Kalitta (5/12), Kevin Thomas (7/12) & Jack Hewitt (10/5)
1997: J.J. Yeley (6/27), J.J. Yeley (7/23) & Jack Hewitt (10/4)
1998: Cary Faas (5/29) & Tony Elliott (8/14)
1999: Tracy Hines (5/8), Tony Jones (6/17), Jerry Coons, Jr. (6/18), Frankie Kerr (6/19) & Terry Pletch (7/21)
2000: Jay Drake (6/15), Richard Griffin (6/16), Jay Drake (6/18) & Jay Drake (7/28)
2001: Tracy Hines (5/19), Bud Kaeding (10/20) & Bud Kaeding (10/20)
2002: Jon Stanbrough (5/11), Cory Kruseman (7/27) & J.J. Yeley (10/5)
2003: J.J. Yeley (5/17), Tracy Hines (7/26), J.J. Yeley (8/14 Special Event) & J.J. Yeley (10/4)
2004: Cory Kruseman (5/22), J.J. Yeley (7/24) & Bud Kaeding (9/4)
2005: Levi Jones (7/22), Levi Jones (9/30) & Levi Jones (10/1)
2006: Daron Clayton (10/6) & Daron Clayton (10/7)
2007: Jon Stanbrough (5/19)
2008: Levi Jones (5/22)
2009: Levi Jones (5/21), Brad Sweet (7/15) & Jon Stanbrough (9/12)
2010: Jerry Coons, Jr. (5/27), Jon Stanbrough (7/14) & Jon Stanbrough (9/11)
2011: Chris Windom (7/13) & Chris Windom (9/10)
2012: Bud Kaeding (5/24), Daron Clayton (7/18) & Chase Stockon (10/12)
2013: Kevin Thomas, Jr. (7/17) & Jerry Coons, Jr. (8/31)
2014: Dave Darland (5/21), Bryan Clauson (7/16) & Brady Bacon (9/18)
2015: Aaron Farney (7/15) & Robert Ballou (9/18)
2016: Robert Ballou (5/25), Chase Stockon (7/17) & Chris Windom (10/15)
2017: Chris Windom (9/15) & Kevin Thomas, Jr. (10/14)
2018: Tyler Courtney (5/23), Tyler Courtney (7/25) & Brady Bacon (9/14)
2019: Chase Stockon (5/22), Tyler Courtney (7/24) & Justin Grant (9/13)
2020: Chris Windom (7/1), Justin Grant (7/29) & Chris Windom (9/18)
TRACK RECORDS FOR USAC NATIONAL SPRINT CARS AT TERRE HAUTE:
1 Lap – 5/21/2014 – Brady Bacon – 19.225 – 93.628 mph
4 Laps – 5/4/1986 – Larry Gates – 1:36.18 – 74.860 mph
6 Laps – 5/17/2003 – Kurt Gross – 2:07.21 – 84.899 mph
8 Laps – 10/12/2012 – Hunter Schuerenberg – 2:39.40 – 90.339 mph
10 Laps – 6/17/2000 – Jon Stanbrough – 3:29.13 – 86.071 mph
12 Laps – 9/10/2011 – Jon Stanbrough – 4:02.90 – 88.925 mph
30 Laps – 5/29/1998 – Cary Faas – 10:56.90 – 82.204 mph
40 Laps – 5/4/1975 – Pancho Carter – 15:52.96 – 75.554 mph
50 Laps – 8/13/1967 – Rollie Beale – 22:41.72 – 66.093 mph