The 74th Lucas Oil Little 500 at Indiana’s Anderson Speedway did not disappoint. The race featured new faces and sponsors, but the same excitement and drama the 500-lap sprint car race has always produced.
There were a few new wrinkles to this year’s event and some controversy. The race had a new title sponsor the first time in 24 years. Lucas Oil officially came on board as the new title sponsor, and along with it, national television coverage. The race was streamed live and shown the following morning
Tires were the biggest story line surrounding this year’s race in more ways than one. Due to a tire shortage across the country, teams were placed on a tire limit for the first time in the race’s 74-year history. Teams were only allowed to purchase two sets of tires prior to qualifying. Once a team made the race, they were allowed to purchase an additional two sets.
Speeds were up this year. During Wednesday’s practice day, teams were flirting with Aaron Pierce’s 10.944-second Little 500 track record despite temperatures in the low 80-degree mark. Four teams turned 11.1 second laps during practice.
At that point, it was assumed the track record would fall.
When Thursday’s qualifying concluded on the quarter-mile asphalt oval, Tyler Roahrig had smashed the one- (10.799) and four-lap (43.944) qualifying records. The 33-car field was the fastest in Little 500 history.
Cooler temperatures and a slightly softer Hoosier Tire than used in previous years were attributed to the pic up in speed.
The event attracted some new and interesting competitors. Former NASCAR Cup Series driver Ryan Newman returned to pavement sprint car competition for the first time since 2000. Interestingly, Newman was driving for Sam Pierce in the car he last raced in 2000.
Other drivers of interest included Aaron Willison who made a 4,000-mile round trip from Langley, British Columbia, to compete and South African driver Quintin Saayman, who failed to make the race by a narrow margin.
When the green flag waved, Little 500 Hall of Famer Brian Gerster surprisingly got the jump from the middle of the front row to lead the opening laps. Gerster used a comfortable pace to lead the first 109 circuits. Kody Swanson and Tyler Roahrig appeared followed, but never seriously challenged for the top spot during Gerster’s reign.
On lap 110, Roahrig got alongside Gerster going down the backstretch and grabbed the lead. Gerster slipped back to fourth after surrendering the lead. Roahrig led until he pitted after a yellow flag on lap 204, when second-place Kody Swanson spun, after running over the left-rear wheel of Shane Butler.
Tanner Swanson led the next 100 laps until his engine expired. Swanson was one of the most interesting stories of the week, as he drove a Sam Pierce-owned machine equipped with a Chevy V-6 powerplant. The team discovered an issue with the engine after Wednesday’s practice. With no spare, the team purchased an existing V-6 from Doran Racing. Putting a V-8 in the car was not an option given the fact the car was purpose built for a V-6.
The new engine was installed in time for Thursday’s qualifying session. The engine that was purchased had carried Kody Swanson to victory in the 2020 Dave Steele World Non Wing Sprint Car Championship at Florida’s Showtime Speedway.
The most dramatic moment of the entire race came on lap 259 while Swanson held the top spot. Third-place Roahrig drove over second-place Bobby Santos after Santos slowed for a spinning car in front of him. Santos was turned sideways and ran over a slowing Shane Hollingsworth. The contact sent Santos into a series of quick flips. It ended the night for Santos, who had swept USAC Silver Crown and midget events the previous night at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.
Roahrig came to a stop on the frontstretch, but the red flag appeared, ensuring he would not lose any laps getting restarted. The break kept him in contention for victory.