Seldom do you find a race car owner sponsoring a race, especially a race featuring cars out of that owner's division.
But this is exactly what Toledo businessman Ron Hemelgarn, who owns the No.91 car Buddy Lazier drives on the Indy Racing League Northern Lights circuit, is doing Friday night when the United States Auto Club sprint cars compete at Toledo Speedway.
Hemelgarn, who has owned Indy cars for 24 years, said he is working with Toledo Speedway's Ron Drager on the USAC sprint car race and drivers' reunion for two reasons:
One, Hemelgarn “wants to bring back the excitement and build a fan base for open-wheel racing in Toledo.” Second, Hemelgarn sees the “old-timers' reunion as a way to say thank you to the drivers that drove back in the '60s, '70s, '80s and so on for making racing what it is today.”
A unique feature of Friday's race is that for the second straight year, the winning driver of the A-main will receive a test ride in Hemelgarn's IRL car later in the year.
The test ride, in addition to attracting a large number of entrants to the race (38 teams at last count) is getting a lot of attention on national media outlets like ABC and ESPN.
Hemelgarn is working on a deal that would not only provide the winner of this race a test in a Hemelgarn Racing Indy car “but after they take the test they would actually run a race.”
After winning last year's Toledo race, Dave Darland of Kokomo, Ind., tested one of Hemelgarn's IRL cars at Texas Speedway. “Dave had a very successful test and secured his license, but, unfortunately, no one picked him up,” as there were no rides available in the IRL.
In addition to yesterday's USAC sprint car stars enjoying the festivities and the chance to swap recollections of races gone by, Hemelgarn finds that event also brings out many fans who will be journeying down memory lane that night.
Two time Indianapolis 500 winner Gordon Johncock, who also won several Super Modified features at Toledo in the 1960s, will be just one of the many “old-timers” who will be at the Benore Road track.
Joining Darland on the early entries list of USAC sprint car drivers are former Toledo winners Eric Gordon, Steve Anderson, Ed Carpenter, Robbie Rice, Justin Marvel, Derek Davidson, Brandon Petty, Jonathan Vennard, Jay Drake, Brian Tyler, Jim Mills and John Toth III.
Tickets are on sale at the track or by calling 419-727-1100 or 734-782-2480.
The front gates will open at 5 p.m., the same time practice starts. Time trials begin at 6:30, with features for the ARCA Factory Stocks and the MCR Dwarf Cars set for 7:30. The USAC Stoops Freightliner Sprint Car show, which will be televised live on ESPN, begins at 8 p.m.
Among the “invaders” who look to challenge the track regulars for the $10,000 top prize are Bob Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., and Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark. The rain date is Sunday night.
Despite his two wins in the six-race series, rain washed out the July 4 race at KC Raceway, and Reed finished fourth in points. The Speedweek title went to Dean Jacobs of Wooster, Ohio. Tied for second were Chad Kemenah of Findlay and Kelly Kinser of Bloomington, Ind.
Other winners in the All Star Circuit of Champions sanctioned 2001 Ohio Speedweek were Travis Rilat of DeSoto, Texas, at Wayne County Speedway; Mark Keegan of Fremont at Fremont Speedway; Greg Hodnett of York, Pa., at Sharon Speedway, and Greg Wilson of Benton Ridge, Ohio, at Limaland Motorsports Park.