Action Track Important Part of Silver Crown History

By Jay Hardin Track Enterprises Staff

Terre Haute, IN  (May 17 2021)  The upcoming 19th running of the Sumar Classic 100 at Terre Haute can be traced back to the first Silver Crown event at the Terre Haute Action Track, the 1980 MAB Paints 100.  Terre Haute played an important part in the 1980 revitalization of the championship dirt car series as the schedule doubled.  The May 27 date at Terre Haute will be the 20th 100 lap race for the bigs cars on the legendary half mile.

Forty-one years ago the “Big Cars” of the United States Auto Club struggled to find race dates.  What was known then as the “Dirt Track Division” was a year away from taking the moniker Silver Crown Series.  USAC officials and teams were looking for way to race the championship dirt cars more than three times per year, however, at the time adding new mile track dates or returning to Syracuse or Sacramento wasn’t in the cards.  Enter the possibility of running shorter tracks.

Historically the mighty uprights were limited to the tracks they were built for, mile fairground dirt tracks for 100-mile grinds.  They had run on the half mile dirt at Williams Grove in the 1950’s albeit a non-championship points event.  And there had been a non-points run on the high banks at Dayton and an entertaining event on the pavement in 1975 at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.  Not since the Grove had the dirt cars touched less than a mile of clay.

Ironically Williams Grove was the first “short track” to appear on the 1980 schedule, with twin 75 lap mains at Tulsa in September and a date at the legendary Terre Haute Action Track October 19 as the season finale.  The traditional 3 mile dates were also on the schedule as was a new season opener at DuQuoin the last day in May.

The 8-race schedule of 1980 featured some of the best racing ever since the series went on its own in 1971.  Gary Bettenhausen and Pancho Carter locked in a battle for the series championship with Gary winning both DuQuoin events and the Hoosier Hundred while Pancho took Springfield.  Sheldon Kinser won at the Grove while Rich Vogler and Billy Engelhart split the Tulsa twins.  The series finale at Terre Haute would crown the champion but Mother Nature intervened and three days of rain forced promoter Don Smith to call off the MAB Paints 100.

For a while it looked as if Bettenhausen would win the title.  The proposed rain date conflicted with a CART Indy Car date that Carter was committed to.  Bettenhausen lobbied Smith for a different date so he and Carter could race for the title.  Smith agreed and he and USAC rescheduled the event for Sunday, November 2.

A glorious sunny and warm day greeted thirty-one teams as the rolled into the Hut.  Bettenhausen had two cars at his disposal and both were Grant King machines.  One was the car he had won three races in, the other was a team car chauffeured by A.J. Foyt in the September Hoosier Hundred.  Carter and owner Johnny Capels made the trip as did Tom Bigelow with Dick Hammond and chief wrench Galen Fox.   Defending national champ Bobby Olivero was in the pits with A.J. Watson’s mount as were some “surprise” entrants.  Outlaw sprint champ Steve Kinser was in Ray Smith’s car and Midwest star Ken Schrader was slated to run the BUF car in place of Lennie Waldo who had a medical issue at Winchester in September.

Competitors pounded away at a heavy track in practice.  Schrader’s mount broke and his day appeared to end against the wall.  Bettenhausen practiced in both Delrose machines and decided the 12 car handled the best, leaving the 14 open.  Tim Delrose came to Schrader’s rescue and offered the 14 mount to the rising star.  Schrader stunned the crowd by setting fast time of 23.311 in qualifying with no practice in the car!  Bettenhausen took the second slot, Bigelow third, Steve Kinser fourth, veteran Jim McElreath fifth and Pancho sixth.  Only 20 were locked in with Rich Vogler grabbing the final slot in qualifying.  Everyone else was relegated to the hooligan.  Kramer Williamson hauled the Amerling machine around the half mile leaning hard on the right rear for the 15-lap distance and making the show along with Jerry Weeks.

Twenty-two cars led by Ken Schrader headed toward Wally Scherer’s green flag to begin the first ever championship dirt car race on the Action Track.  Bettenhausen shot into the early lead as at least two grooves developed in the early going.  The first of what would be ten yellow flags on the day waved on lap 5 when Larry “Buckwheat” Gates spun in turn 3.  Carter’s forward progress was stalled by the yeloow flags and on lap 17 his title hopes went down the drain as he stopped for a tire change dropping three laps off the lead pace.

Vogler complained that the track was “unraceable” and the action (or lack of it) might have proved him right.  Olivero brought out another caution on lap 11, followed by Steve Kinser on lap 28, Sheldon Kinser on lap 34, Eddie Leavitt on lap 45 and Joe Saldana on lap 50.  Schrader stayed in second until Bigelow passed him on lap 60 and then took Bettenhausen 3 laps later.  Gary was able to regain the top slot from the Genesee Beer Wagon on lap 88 and head to victory and the 1980 Dirt title.  Gary pocketed over $6600 of Don Smith’s money as a crowd of 6,000 enjoyed the first ever dirt car race on the half mile.

While the dirt cars took a hiatus from the Action Track they returned with the Smith and Root tribute, the Sumar Classic.  The 19th running carries on the tradition of the Silver Crown machines racing on half mile tracks and is a part of the storied events such as the Hulman Classic held at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds.

The Sumar is the second event at Terre Haute as part of the Week of Indy.    The Scott’s Custom Colors DIRTcar Modifieds will also be in action on Thursday.  Pits open at 2:00 PM EDT, grandstands at 3:00, while hot laps will begin at 6:30 with racing to follow.

General admission will be $30 for May 27.  Infield admission is $20 for Thursday and pit passes will be $35.  Track Enterprises, the promotion company for the Terre Haute Action Track, has also announced a three-day SUPERTICKET, which includes general admission for all three days for just $75, a $15 savings off the single day prices.