Biggest Race Weekend of the Year

Episode 163

May 28, 2017

Action, Action, Action Everywhere!

Memorial weekend typically is a busy time for racing at every level; local, regional, national, and international. Where do you start? Let’s start with Indy 500.

Takuma Sato became the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500. With the win, Andretti Autosports wins two Indy 500’s in a row. Photo by Lepage for Honda Racing

The 101st running of the Indy 500 certainly had its share of drama with the crash of Scott Dixon and Jay Howard on lap 52 in turn two. The accident had several parts that had they gone differently the outcome would have been tragic.

Dixon had nowhere to go when Howard hit the wall and spun down in front of the Chip Ganassi team driver. Dixon was launched high into the air off the rear tire of Howard.

The height allowed Helio Castroneves to drive untouched under the upside down Dixon. A foot or two lower and Castroneves would have hit Dixon while he was in the air and upside down. One can only speculate the tragic result that could have occurred.

The other story was the photographer in the area of the fence where Dixon landed ripping the wire off and scattering parts. I wonder what the photographer was shooting and did he get a photo? I am sure he will have a story to tell!

Many years ago a veteran race photographer told me, while we were covering a race at Lucas Oil Raceway near Indy, never turn your back on a race car since they are very likely to be coming at you when you least expect it.. He had experienced race cars fly over the top of him while ducking beneath barriers.

The sold out crowd at Indy was another story. The extreme speeds and multiple lead changes must be a couple of things that attracts such large crowds.I think it is the history and prestige of the 500 that helps as well as the huge party that seems to surround the venue.

Fernando Alonso added to the buzz around Indy and was one of the favorites to win. The Formula 1 driver showed he had what it takes to race on the world famous oval. A blown engine in his Honda ended his bid only laps from the finish. Two other blown Honda engines (Ryan Hunter-Reay and Charlie Kimball) led to speculation about the durability.

County Man Gets Royal Treatment at the 500

Caribou native Carl Theriault, who you have read about his land speed exploits in previous episodes of UpNorth Motorsports, was at the 101st running of the 500. The  company he works for, Microsemi, is one of the sponsors of the James Hinchcliffe car in the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports stable.

Carl Theriault on left, formerly of Caribou now living in Massachusetts spent time with Sam Schmidt. Schmidt is one of the owners of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, the team for whom Canadian James Hinchcliffe drives. Photo courtesy Carl Theriault

IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe (left) with Carl Theriault. Photo courtesy Carl Theriault

Theriault described his first trip to Indy experience saying, ” I’ve been to NASCAR  races in New Hampshire, Dover, and Atlanta. This was such a behind the scenes access weekend that I can’t compare it to any of them.”

“Some of that is because the Indy 500 is such a great event that has grown into what it is now. A spectacle spread out over multiple days with so many events designed for the racers and fans!”

Hinchcliffe IndyCar with Microsemi sponsorship. Carl Theriault photo

“But a big part of this was Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and also IndyCar that let’s it happen. I saw racing stars from throughout the years. [I] took the time to get Al Unser Jr’s autograph. I heard Eddie Cheever’s voice and knew who it was before he turned around. Mario seemed to be everywhere!”

“At lunch on Friday I met a man whose been to 62 races in a row. We thought he may have a chance at the record, but he doesn’t. There was a man attending his 70th straight Indy 500!  All in all it was an amazing weekend, and I’m going to do everything I can to come back next year!”

Whitney Doyle Driver on left with her friend Angel Wells pre-race “sitting” on the Corvette Pace Car. Doyle Driver’s Dad, Eddie, was a Caribou native. Photo courtesy Whitney Doyle Driver

Indy 500 Not the Only Show in Town

The Indy area was bustling with motorsports activity. As you know I am following Kody Swanson throughout this season as he attempts to win the USAC Silver Crown title. He was scheduled to run Wednesday night at Terre Haute which was rained out and rescheduled for June. Thursday Swanson joined his brother Tanner at Lucas Oil Raceway for the Carb Night 100. Saturday found Kody racing in the Little 500 at Anderson Speedway.

Kody Swanson in Victory Lane at Lucas Oil Raceway as winner of the USAC Silver Crown Carb Night 100. Photo courtesy Richard Gollardi

Thursday at Lucas,  Kody Swanson led every lap of the 100 lap race while his brother Tanner and Bobby Santos III (A Massachusetts native) fought for the second spot. A late lap caution bunched the field yet Kody was able to hold off Santos with brother Tanner finishing third.

left to right Jeff Herbert, Matt Kendall, Swanson, and Tyler Kendall. The crew for Kody Swanson at Little 500 after a hard night of racing which saw the team place fourth. Photo courtesy Tyler Kendall

Saturday’s Little 500 played out before a sold out crowd at Anderson Speedway, Anderson, Indiana. Highlighted in the race was Tony Stewart in his first Little 500 appearance as well as veteran Kenny Schrader.

Swanson was leading with less than 30 laps to go when he was spun in turn two forcing into the pits and relegating him to a fourth place finish. The race was won by Kyle Hamilton with Bobby Santos III in second, Tony Stewart third, Swanson, and Caleb Mickey Kempgens in fifth.

Front row qualifiers right to left Caleb Armstron, Kyle Hamilton, and Cody Swanson at the sold out Little 500 at Anderson Speedway. Photo courtesy Matt Kendall

I thought Matt Kendall’s  comments about the Little 500 and Kody Swanson were quite interesting and are repeated here, “[I] made a return to the little 500 with my two racing idols on each shoulder, my Dad and Glen Niebel. ”

“We left the week with a bunch of new friends and just missed going to Victory Lane. The best part of the week was seeing Tyler Kendall get to start his run of Little 5’s. I was pit box broom guy my first couple trips.[Tyler] was right front tire changer in his first and nailed it.”

“I’ve been lucky enough to work with a who’s who of sprint car drivers. Kody Swanson is one of the best I’ve seen in 35 plus years and joy to be around. I’m grateful Tyler got to watch how he carries himself.”

“Kody thanked all who helped this week endlessly, stayed in the pits until they closed, meeting and greeting all you came around, that’s rare these days. In a time of trust fund drivers and ride buyers how this guy isn’t running in Indy or Charlotte today is mind-boggling. Thanks Kody for a great week and we were blessed to meet you.”

Northern Maine Karting Association Season Opener June 2 at Spud Speedway

Northern Maine Karting Association (NMKA) Season Opener is June 2 at Spud Speedway in Caribou, That race is presented by Burger Boy in Caribou. HTF Motorsports photo

Several NMKA teams practiced at Spud Speedway Saturday. The day began with teams pitching in to get the track ready for the season opener on Friday June 2.

The track sports new asphalt in turn four eliminating a low spot drivers liked to call “The Bermuda Triangle”. Drivers seemed to agree the new pavement made the track faster and smoother since several weather cracks were also repaired.

NMKA rookie Ronnie-Lynn Kelly prepares to go out to practice at Spud Speedway Saturday. She competes in the Junior Cage Kart Division,. With her from left to right are her brother Bryan Searles (he also competes in Junior Cage Division), mother Stephanie Ball, Grandmother Kim Mollins, and sponsor Tim Cowett, Cowett’s Auto Recycler. HTF Motorsports photo

Racing at Spud Speedway gets under way June 2 at 6:30 pm with the season opener of the Friday Night Karting Series. Grandstands are free and pits are $10 per person. The schedule for 2017 can be found on NMKA’s Facebook page.

WAR Goes to Canada

Wyatt Alexander Racing headed to Speedway 660 at Geary Woods, New Brunswick on Sunday. This was the team’s debut at the Canadian track.

I contacted crew chief and grandfather Bob Alexander as the team was making their way back home after the races at Speedway 660. This is what he had to say about the weekend:

” We are in our way home from Speedway 660 after a successful but disappointing day. In practice yesterday, what turned out to be an ignition system problem, caused an engine misfire. By the time we were able to secure parts, darkness was upon us. We scrambled this morning to get things changed over to the new system, missing the first round of practice.”

” Practice showed some changes were needed and Wyatt made some very fast laps as he grew comfortable with 660’s high banks and 13 second lap times. He compared the track to a mini-Wiscasset.”

“We finished 4th in our heat while running times comparable to the leaders. We started position 7 in the feature and quickly made it to 4th.”
“A caution on lap 12 would be the first of several for the day which resulted in many severely damaged cars. Debris on the track caused a flat left front for the #96 which we changed during the lap 12 caution. We restarted in 10th but a cut right front tire under green flag racing ended our day early.” 
“Overall were very happy with the results of the weekend. We had a fast car and were able to sort out some new car gremlins. Wyatt was very comfortable with the changes we had made to our setup. We are looking forward to returning several times before Speed Weekend and the 250 lap race at Speedway 660.”
Monster Truck Show at PI Fairgrounds Was Sold Out

Jessica Winslow (left) and Victoria Winslow with Crushstation at Northern Maine Fairgrounds @at 2 Xtreme Monster Truck Show. Photo courtesy Jessica Winslow

The 2 Xtreme Monster Truck show at the Presque Isle Fairgrounds was a sell out. In fact there were reports about having to turn people away since there was no room for more people at the show. That is a promoter’s nightmare having willing customers and no room to put them. Reports I heard was that the four Monster Trucks put on a great show.
Aroostook Imports Car Club Story Next Week
Due to the great volume of motorsports news, I decided to move the story about a new car club called the Aroostook Imports to next week’s episode. I apologize for the delay, however, I think you will enjoy reading about their story.
Don’t forget Austin Theriault races next Saturday June 3 at the Shore Lunch 250 at Elko Speedway in Elko, Minnesota.
Let’s Go Racing,
Tom Hale
Soli Deo Gloria



Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine