Dirt legend Jan Opperman beats pavement ace Pancho Carter on the high banks of Dayton Speedway? Are you kidding? That’s exactly what happened on Aug. 22, 1976.
That Sunday’s race closed out a perfect three-race stretch for Opperman. He’d won USAC midget races at IRP on Aug. 18 and at “Little Springfield” on the 20th. Already an established superstar on the dirt, Opp was now showing prowess on pavement.
Forty-one cars timed, with Larry Rice and Carter tying for quick-time. Opp’s win would prove to be an uphill battle, as he was involved in a third heat race crash that put his crew to work in order to start the semi.
Finishing third to fast-timers Rice and Carter, he gained a starting spot in the feature. Heat winners included Tommy Astone, Rich Vogler, Mark Alderson, and Chuck Gurney. Carter won the semi over fellow transfers Rice, Opp, and Billy Engelhart.
Feature time. Sheldon Kinser took the lead from the front row outside and held it for two laps before Larry Dickson passed. A blistering tire slowed Dickson after he had led 10 laps, giving the lead to Engelhart with Rice second.
Opperman, who started seventh, began his charge to the front at the midway point. Carter was also on the move and took the lead from Engelhart on the 27th lap.
Opp took second on the 29th lap and passed Carter for the lead two laps later, holding it to the finish.
Rollie Beale and Engelhart kept the crowd entertained during the final laps as they battled for third. At the checkers, the finish was Opperman, Carter, Beale, Engelhart, and Sheldon Kinser. Sixth through 10th were Bruce Walkup, Joe Saldana, Chuck Gurney, Marvin Carman, and Greg Leffler.
Jan’s win moved him to fourth in the season standings and in the middle of a furious point battle between a half-dozen drivers chasing Pancho. Sadly, Opp’s magnificent season would end with devastating injuries suffered during the Hoosier Hundred 19 days later.