Race Data: Sumar Classic Opens 2023 USAC Silver Crown Season
Series News Release - USAC Media
Terre Haute, Indiana (May 2, 2023) - The most classic of all American race cars and an iconic American dirt track are the perfect pairing to lead off the USAC Silver Crown National Championship season at the hallowed grounds of western Indiana’s Terre Haute Action Track for the 20th running of the Sumar Classic on Sunday, May 7.
A fiery new brand of incoming talent, a score of hungry veterans and a spoonful of past Sumar Classic winners greet the 53rd season of dirt championship racing under the USAC banner at Indiana’s only half-mile dirt track.
Signing in on Sunday for the event will be 38 competitors, the largest field of drivers and cars for the Sumar Classic since 1996 – a whopping 27 years ago.
The Sumar Classic began in 1995, and the anticipation for this Sunday’s event is at a fever pitch for the 100-lap, 50-miler named after the wives of Terre Haute businessmen and Sumar Special car owners Chapman Root and Don Smith (Sue and Mary).
A large field will require each of the 38 drivers to stand up in the seat to work their way into the field, which consists of only 24 coveted positions. Sixteen (16) will lock themselves into the feature field via qualifying while the remaining eight will be required to fight their way into the starting lineup through the last chance qualifying race.
Now, let’s meet the players who’ll decide for themselves on the track who goes to the show and who loads up and goes home come Sunday.
LONGING FOR EVEN MORE
Four past Sumar Classic winners are among the bunch in this Sunday’s field with Justin Grant, C.J. Leary, Kody Swanson and Shane Cockrum in the lineup. In fact, there have been 14 different race winners in the past 15 runnings of the event dating back to 1999.
Justin Grant (Ione, Calif.) broke the string of consecutive different Sumar Classic champions by becoming the first repeat winner in the history of the event in 2022. He’s now one of three two-time Sumar winners alongside Donnie Beechler (1995 & 1997) and Tony Elliott (1998 & 2002) and will now attempt to become the first three-time victor. Grant, the 2020 Silver Crown champion, has made five career starts in the event, winning his first one in 2018.
C.J. Leary (Greenfield, Ind.) made the winning move to capture his first career Silver Crown victory during the 2016 Sumar Classic and has finished inside the top-ten in all five of his Sumar Classic starts with a pair of runner-ups in 2015 and 2017, plus a 5th in 2018. In 2022, he led the first 45 laps before a flat tire relegated him to a 10th place result.
Kody Swanson (Kingsburg, Calif.) goes for a second career Sumar Classic triumph after capturing his first dirt victory with the series back in 2014. The seven-time and defending series champion has finished inside the top-10 in all eight of his Sumar starts, taking 7th in 2022 after starting from the pole position following previous top-flight runs of 2nd in 2018 and a pair of 3rds in 2016-2017.
Shane Cockrum’s first half-mile dirt Silver Crown win came in 2015 at the Sumar Classic. A veteran of six Sumar starts, the fire chief from Benton, Ill. will be one to watch after winning the series’ most recent race on dirt in October of 2022 on the one-mile oval at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.
A FIRST WOULD BE TWICE AS NICE
All of these individuals who’ve made previous starts in the Sumar Classic – Brady Bacon, Logan Seavey, Chase Stockon and Kevin Thomas Jr. – have all tasted the sweetness of a Terre Haute Action Track victory in USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car competition and remain on the prowl for a first Sumar score.
At the Sumar, Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.) has made five starts, finishing a best of 3rd in 2022 after starting all the way back in the 16th spot. Stockon’s most recent, and only, Sumar start came in 2015, finishing 11th. Meanwhile, USAC Silver Crown racing’s championship runner-up in 2021-22, Seavey (Sutter, Calif.), made a successful Sumar Classic debut run in 2022, finishing 4th. Thomas (Cullman, Ala.) made his one and only Sumar Classic start in 2015, scoring 10th.
Emerson Axsom (Franklin, Ind.) finished 5th in his first foray with the big cars during the 2022 Sumar Classic for Nolen Racing, fighting his way to the front from the tail of the 27-car field. Nolen Racing won the 1998 and 2002 installments of the event with driver Tony Elliott.
In his most recent Terre Haute appearance, Jake Swanson (Anaheim, Calif.) notched a Midwest Sprint Car Series feature victory in August of 2022. He ran 24th in his Sumar debut in 2022 after dropping out with a magneto issue early on. Shane Cottle (Kansas, Ill.) has made nine Sumar starts, taking a best of 2nd in 2006. Matt Westfall (Pleasant Hill, Ohio) has six Sumar starts to his name and collected a pair of solid 5th place finishes in the event back in 2002-2003.
Also returning to the Sumar grid are Austin Nemire (Sylvania, Ohio), a 12th place finisher in 2018 as well as Brian Ruhlman (Clarklake, Mich.), who collected a 12th in his 2022 Silver Crown debut and Travis Welpott (Pendleton, Ind.) who recorded a 14th in the 2022 tilt.
Davey Ray (Davenport, Iowa) took 17th in the 2014 race while Casey Buckman (Chandler, Ariz.) finished similarly in the 17th spot a year ago in 2022. Kyle Steffens (St. Charles, Mo.), who has been a frequent frontrunner in a modified at Terre Haute, won the 2022 Sumar Qualifying Race and finished a best of 18th in the main event all the way back in 2002.
WELCOME BACK TO THE FRAY
A trio of veteran Silver Crown competitors will return to the fray for Sunday’s Sumar Classic after fairly lengthy absences.
Russ Gamester (Peru, Ind.), a six-time USAC Silver Crown winner in his illustrious career, returns to the event for the first time since 2015. The 1989 USAC National Midget titlist made his Sumar Classic debut in 1997, finishing 5th. In 2012, he made a hard-charging effort to grab a personal best 3rd at the checkered.
Patrick Bruns (Champaign, Ill.) last visited the Action Track for the 2017 Sumar Classic. His best performance at the Sumar came in a 10th place showing back in 2008. Taylor Ferns (Shelby Township, Mich.) makes her return as a full-time competitor with the series on Sunday at Terre Haute, where she made her most recent dirt Silver Crown start in 2014, finishing 19th.
AIMING FOR THE BIG SHOW
Just because you’ve never been in a Sumar Classic doesn’t mean you can’t win it, although it’s been rare. Donnie Beechler (1995) and Josh Wise (2005) are the only two drivers to win their first start in the event. Several more are looking to crack the starting field for their first Sumar Classic run.
Those individuals include Silver Crown Rookie of the Year contender in Kaylee Bryson (Muskogee, Okla.), who makes her first trip to Terre Haute after claiming USAC’s National Most Improved Driver award in 2022 and is one of two women in the field alongside Ferns.
Tyler Roahrig (Plymouth, Ind.), who has finished on the podium in two of his three career Silver Crown starts, both on pavement, will attempt to keep the roll going on the dirt. Bryan Gossel (Fort Collins, Colo.), the 2020 Silver Crown Rookie of the Year, is a first-time Sumar Classic competitor in this year’s field as are USAC CRA winner Matt Mitchell (Yorba, Linda, Calif.) and POWRi WAR Sprint Car champ Mario Clouser (Auburn, Ill.), both of whom possess their fair share of experience at Terre Haute in USAC Sprint Car action.
Dave Peperak (Clinton, Ind.) is a former USAC National Sprint Car track record holder at Terre Haute but is fairly new to the Silver Crown cars. Korey Weyant (Springfield, Ill.) is the great nephew of Terre Haute’s 1955 Hut Hundred midget race, Chuck Weyant.
The race to get into the race is always a thrill show and two particular individuals took their lumps in 2022 trying to put themselves into the feature. Dave Berkheimer (Mechanicsburg, Pa.) and Chris Fetter (Troy, Mo.) return to Terre Haute for the first time since both drivers endured major airtime during separate accidents while battling for the final transfer spot to put themselves into the Sumar show for the first time in their careers.
Gregg Cory (Shelbyville, Ind.), the 2022 USAC Silver Crown Rookie of the Year, came up one spot short of the starting field for the Sumar Classic a year ago, and will try to find a sense of redemption this weekend. Tom Paterson (Argos, Ind.), the 2021 Auto Value Super Sprint Series champion, will also be among those vying for a first Sumar start.
FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME
Six drivers, in fact, are getting their first ever seat time on a USAC Silver Crown race day this Sunday. That includes 2022 USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship Rookie of the Year Mitchel Moles (Raisin City, Calif) for the Hans Lein-owned team which won the pole for the Sumar in 2018 with driver Tyler Courtney.
Also in that realm are ASCS kingpin and USAC Silver Crown Rookie of the Year contenders Wayne Johnson (Oklahoma City, Okla.) and Trey Burke (Alvin, Texas).
Ryan Thomas (Indianapolis, Ind.), a frequent USAC SpeeD2 Midget and local Indiana sprint car competitor, will get his first experience in a “big car” as will John Tosti (High Ridge, Mo.) and Gary Dunkle (Lincoln, Neb.), the most veteran of all drivers in the field at age 71. The very same Dunkle finished as the runner-up in the 1976 Knoxville Nationals behind winner Eddie Leavitt.
The 20th running of the Sumar Classic features the USAC Silver Crown National Championship along with the UMP Modifieds this Sunday, May 7, at the Terre Haute Action Track 1/2-mile dirt track in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Pits open at 1pm Eastern, grandstands open at 3pm, drivers meeting at 4pm and practice at 5pm followed immediately by qualifications and racing.
General admission tickets are $30 for ages 11 & up and free for kids age 10 & under. Infield tickets are $20 for ages 11 & up and free for kids age 10 & under.
Sunday’s Sumar Classic can be watched LIVE on FloRacing.