By Richie Murray
Speedway, Indiana (August 20, 2021)………The United States Auto Club has announced its eight inductees in the class of 2021 for induction into the USAC Hall of Fame.
The list includes car owner/mechanic Doug Caruthers; driver Jay Drake; car owner/mechanic Galen Fox; driver Jeff Gordon; driver/car owner/builder/innovator Dan Gurney; car owner/mechanic Ray Nichels; car owner/official/promoter Johnny Vance; and track owner/promoter Joe Shaheen.
Each of the eight honorees will officially be inducted during a ceremony on a date yet to be determined.
Californian Doug Caruthers’ 97 victories as a USAC National Midget entrant between 1962-78 ranks among the winningest car owners in the history of the series. In fact, his 65 wins from 1970-78 made him the winningest car owner during the entire decade of the 1970s.
Caruthers won four USAC National Midget entrant championships, in 1970 with son Jimmy Caruthers, in 1971 with a combination of sons Jimmy and Danny Caruthers, again in 1973 with the trio of Jimmy, Pancho Carter and Tommy Astone, and one final time with Rich Vogler in 1978.
The 1971 season stands as the most successful single-season in series’ history with 21 feature car owner wins for Caruthers.
Caruthers was also the recipient of the Jim Blunk Award during the 1976 USAC banquet, presented to him for his frequent contributions to the sport of USAC Midget racing.
Val Verde, California’s Jay Drake stood on the main stage as a USAC driving champion on four occasions, first as a back-to-back USAC TQ Midget champion in 1990-91, then a USAC Western States Midget titlist in 1996, and finally, capturing the USAC National Sprint Car championship in 2004.
His 2000 season was legendary, winning 17 USAC national races throughout, which marked the second most in a year at the time. In total, Drake owns five USAC Silver Crown wins, 25 with the USAC National Sprint Cars, including the 1998 Joe James/Pat O’Connor Memorial at Salem, Ind., the 2000 National Open at Terre Haute, Ind. and was the 2000 Indiana Sprint Week titlist.
Drake’s prowess in the USAC National Midgets resulted in 17 feature triumphs. Among them were the 1997 & 2002 4-Crown Nationals, the 1998 Turkey Night Grand Prix, the 2000 Hut 100 and the first ever Indiana Midget Week feature held at Lawrenceburg, Ind. in 2005.
Bloomington, Indiana’s Galen Fox forged his two most successful racing pairings with two of the most successful racers of their era two decades apart – Sheldon Kinser in the 1970s and Dave Darland in the 1990s. However, it was Fox’s association with New York car owner Dick Hammond that set the tone for a run that featured 30 USAC National Sprint Car wins and 19 in the USAC Silver Crown division.
Utilizing the “Genesee Beer Wagon,” driver Sheldon Kinser won the 1977 USAC National Sprint Car title for Fox and Hammond’s Gohr Distributing team. In 1980, Gohr captured its lone USAC National Sprint Car entrant title thanks to a combined five victories from Kinser and Tom Bigelow.
In the meantime, the team was a stalwart on the IndyCar trail, even finishing 5th at the 1987 Indianapolis 500 with driver Gary Bettenhausen.
Under the Foxco Engineering banner with sons Brad and Steve, Galen hired Dave Darland for his USAC Silver Crown car in 1995, and together they’d win the 1997 USAC driving and entrant titles while scoring 14 victories along the way between 1995-2009, with Darland winning the team’s third, fourth and fifth Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in 1995, 1996 and 2004, respectively.
Fox was honored with the USAC Mechanical Achievement award in 2003.
Making the move as a teenage sensation from Vallejo, Calif. to Pittsboro, Ind., Gordon was a racing prodigy who made an instant impact on the USAC racing scene by winning his first career USAC National Midget race in his first ever series start during the 1989 Night Before the 500 at Indianapolis Raceway Park en route to series Rookie of the Year honors.
Most notable was his association with car owner Rollie Helmling and the iconic Diet Pepsi No. 4 with which Gordon ran roughshod in his brief USAC National Midget career between 1989-91, winning 12 times and capturing the 1990 series title. In that time, Gordon became the first true breakout star from ESPN’s venerable Thursday and Saturday Night Thunder series.
Gordon added five more victories in USAC National Sprint Car competition, then took on the USAC Silver Crown series where he won the first two races of the 1991 season at Phoenix International Raceway and at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, which paved the way for Gordon to collect the series’ driving title for car owner Fred Ede.
There are slim to none facets of auto racing that Dan Gurney did not have a hand in throughout his illustrious career, as an innovator, a car constructor, team owner and driver.
A New Yorker by birth, but coming of age in Riverside, Calif., Gurney’s impact also arrived early in his driving career with the United States Auto Club in 1958. That year, Gurney earned the inaugural USAC Road Racing Championship.
In his USAC racing career, Gurney amassed a total of six Road Racing division wins, including a series-leading five in 1962 and finished as the runner-up in the championship fight to Roger Penske that year before garnering one more victory the following year in 1963.
Gurney also won seven times as a driver on the USAC National Championship trail, finishing as the runner-up in the Indianapolis 500 in 1968 and 1969.
As the owner of All American Racers, Gurney’s team scored 21 wins under the USAC “Indy Car” banner with an entrant championship in 1974 and an Indianapolis 500 win in 1975, both with driver Bobby Unser.
No single person won more often in USAC’s Stock Car division than crew chief/mechanic and team owner Ray Nichels, who gathered up 70 series victories as entrant between 1961-72.
The stout Nichels Engineering ride saw its drivers race to USAC Stock Car championships on three occasions, first with Paul Goldsmith going back-to-back in 1961-62. Once more, the Nichels team found the brass ring with driver Don White capturing the series title in 1967.
Nichels’ prepared racecars were potent; they were dominant; and they attracted many of the highest profile names of the day to race, and win, in his cars. White won 36 of his series record 53 victories as a driver for Nichels while Goldsmith was the victor 22 times for the northwest Indiana based team.
In 1950, Nichels and driver Paul Russo constructed their own racecar inside the basement of Russo’s Hammond, Ind. home. The innovatively lightweight car, nicknamed “Basement Bessie,” was promptly disassembled then reconstructed once outside the home, then transported to compete in that year’s Indianapolis 500.
As the wrench on the SUMAR Special for driver Pat O’Connor, the pair put the car on the pole for the Indianapolis 500 in 1957, and less than a month later, set a new track record during the Race of Two Worlds at Monza, Italy in 1957.
Johnny Vance, of Dayton, Ohio, was a second-generation car owner whose instantly-recognizable Aristocrat Products-sponsored cars were a force on both the USAC Silver Crown and National Sprint Car trails for decades. However, his 50+ years of involvement with USAC began with a two-decade tenure as a Chief Steward, Supervisor and Technical Chairman of the Sprint Car division beginning in the early 1960s. He also served as steward at the Indianapolis 500 for many years and also headed USAC’s Mini-Indy division.
At the turn of the 1980s, Vance shifted gears to become a participant where he left an indelible mark on the sport over the next 30+ years.
Vance’s equipment was top-of-the-line and the drivers who sat in the seats of his racecars were top-shelf. Vance was a two-time USAC National Sprint Car owner champion in 1990 and 1998 and possesses 44 career USAC National Sprint Car owner wins and eight with the USAC Silver Crown division.
One of Vance’s greatest lasting legacies is as the founder of the 4-Crown Nationals at Rossburg, Ohio’s Eldora Speedway, an idea conceived by Vance in 1981 to showcase all four of USAC’s National divisions on one track on a single weekend: Silver Crown, National Sprint, National Midget and the Stock Car series.
Springfield Speedway in Illinois was a frequent stop on the USAC National Midget tour from the time of the club’s inception through the 1987 season. Throughout that entire time, there was one mainstay – Joe Shaheen.
Shaheen served as the owner, operator and promoter of the dirt bullring affectionately known as “Little Springfield,” which served as the host for 92 USAC National Midget events in the three decade span and became an annual host of USAC National Sprint Car races at his track when the series was opened up to compete at venues less than a half-mile in length.
Shaheen, a veteran of World War II, also owned Shaheen’s Tire and Auto Glass and was a tireless promoter of USAC racing. Despite Shaheen’s Springfield Speedway being closed for three-and-a-half decades, it still remains one of USAC’s most oft-visited racetracks.
Shaheen received the Jim Blunk Award during the 1984 USAC banquet based on his contributions to the sport of USAC Midget racing.
USAC HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES:
2012: J.C. Agajanian, Mario Andretti, Gary Bettenhausen, Tom Binford, Jimmy Bryan, Duane Carter, A.J. Foyt, Tony Hulman, Parnelli Jones, Mel Kenyon, Roger McCluskey & Rich Vogler
2013: Earl Baltes, Henry Banks, Tony Bettenhausen, Tom Bigelow, Pancho Carter, Jack Hewitt, Johnny Rutherford, Al Unser, Bobby Unser, A.J. Watson, Don White & Bob Wilke
2014: Rollie Beale, George Bignotti, Don Branson, Larry Dickson, Gus Hoffman, Jud Larson, Norm Nelson, Eddie Sachs, Don Smith, Bob Stroud, Rodger Ward & Bob Wente
2015: Clint Brawner, Jimmy Caruthers, Butch Hartman, Lindsey Hopkins, Jim Hurtubise, Don Kenyon, Sheldon Kinser, Fred Lorenzen, Roger Penske, Larry Rice, Shorty Templeman & Sleepy Tripp
2016: Steve Butler, Russ Clendenen, Jimmy Davies, Willie Davis, Bob Higman, Tommy Hinnershitz, Dick King, Rick Mears, Pat O’Connor, Kevin Olson, Tony Stewart & Bob Tattersall
2017: Donald Davidson, Frankie DelRoy, Bob East, Chuck Gurney, Gene Hartley, Steve Lewis, Howard Linne, Lloyd Ruby, Ken Schrader, Robbie Stanley, Steve Stapp & Johnny Thomson
2018: Mike Devin, Tony Elliott, Paul Goldsmith, Jason Leffler, Bill Lipkey, Troy Ruttman, Bob/Gene Shannon & Jimmy Sills
2019: Bryan Clauson, Johnny Capels, Dick Jordan & Dave Steele
2021: Doug Caruthers, Jay Drake, Galen Fox, Jeff Gordon, Dan Gurney, Ray Nichels, Johnny Vance & Joe Shaheen