0912 Sullivan Path

SULLIVAN: Shot In The Arm

I was recently asked where the Driven2Save Lives BC 39 at The Dirt Track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway ranks among all midget races.

What makes this a particularly interesting query becomes even more clear when one realizes how much has changed in this sport. There was a time when any list of this nation’s top midget races included the Belleville Midget Nationals, the Hut Hundred and the Night Before the 500. These races are now relegated to history and seem destined to never return.

What’s left?

The grandaddy of them all remains the Turkey Night Grand Prix. This classic has held this position since the early days of this sport. It is true the event has lacked a steady venue, but no single short-track, open-wheel race has this deep a history.

In terms of prestige there is no midget race today that captures as much attention as the Chili Bowl. This has been true for years but now this indoor spectacular has been contested for so long that some of the biggest stars were not even born when Rich Vogler took the checkered flag in the inaugural tilt.

There are other important midget races to be sure. The Firemen’s Nationals at Wisconsin’s Angell Park Speedway and the 4-Crown Nationals at Eldora Speedway come to mind, but rarely have they attracted teams from all corners of our country quite like the others mentioned above.

Where does the BC39 stand?

It depends. It was my feeling, one based on not a sliver of inside information, that the 2022 edition of this race was critical. Understand this. IMS President Doug Boles is a great cheerleader for short- track racing and a powerful one. Is it good business for Boles to mingle with fans at the track? Of course. Yet, he just doesn’t just drop by, shake a few hands and leave. Instead, he gets a cheeseburger and makes himself available to a nearly ridiculous degree. The first BC39 would never have seen the light of day if not for Boles.

All of this is well and good, but the buck stops with track owner Roger Penske, who once served as grand marshal at the Chili Bowl. Penske has attended the BC39 and one imagines he was sizing things up. Penske does nothing halfway and if this event is to have a long history, it must gain his seal of approval. The good news is that one of his first racing heroes was National Midget Hall of Famer Ralph Pratt. Still, while the emotional connection cannot be dismissed, Penske did not gain his success allowing his heart to overrule his head.

That brings us to the 2022 edition of the race. One piece of mythology about Indianapolis Motor Speedway savior Tony Hulman was that somehow, he could positively influence Mother Nature. Thus, when Boles asked for a little Hulman magic on night two of the BC39 he wasn’t kidding. The forecast was bleak. There were a few challenges along the way but somehow every lap was turned. That enough was a win, but the 39-lap race was nothing short of spellbinding.

The midget ranks had taken shots all year long and it boiled over after a less than satisfying USAC Nationals at Huset’s Speedway. Branding this as a series populated by rich kids with little respect for the sport or their peers is an easy but simplistic take. It is particularly absurd when it is a charge leveled on some who do not come from privilege.

Getting a chance to participate in this sport via the almighty dollar is hardly restricted to midget racing. However, gaining entry is one thing, delivering is another. If a driver can’t get to the front or avoid the back end of a wrecker, people lose patience fast. Also overlooked is the most important reality. Some of these young drivers are incredibly talented.

The epic duel between Cannon McIntosh and Buddy Kofoid at IMS was about two guys who wanted it in the worst way. I can still replay laps in my mind and still can’t accurately grasp what I saw. I don’t know if you would call it a ridge, a curb, or a ramp, but whatever Kofoid used in the fourth turn reminded me of the circus act where two motorcycles rocket around a globe-shaped cage.

I was certain he would end the night on his lid. Then there was McIntosh, who left Keith Kunz Motorsports in 2021, for the home squad. There is no mistaking that Dave Mac Dalby Motorsports is developing into a formidable team.

The win at Huset’s Speedway was huge and for the rest of the summer McIntosh has been a force. What was most impressive on this night was his utter relentlessness. Both young men raced with passion and made the right decisions when it mattered most.

Kofoid claimed a personally important win. He has gone on to have a great summer as well, earning rookie-of-the-year honors at the Knoxville Nationals and becoming the first winner in the history of the High Limit Sprint Car Series.

Everyone understands he may be off to other racing worlds soon. However, well beyond the individual accomplishments this race was a needed shot in the arm for midget racing. On one night everyone was reminded just how thrilling this form of racing can be.

This is the kind of action that turned midget racing into a national craze after World War II. It may also have been a night that secured the future of the BC39.

In fact, there are rumblings in Indianapolis that the dirt track may be even more active in 2023. All of this brings us back to the original question. If the man known as “The Captain” gives this event his blessing it should be established on the racing calendar for years to come. If that happens, the BC39 will be one of midget racing’s recognized End Bugcrown jewels.

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