By Danny Burton
Danny Burton’s Hoosier Race Report appears courtesy of OpenWheelRacers.com
The 19th edition of Salem’s Halloween 200 ended up like four of the previous 18, with Chuck Barnes Sr. standing at the start/finish line of the historic high banks, tired but happy, and with a somewhat bulkier wallet. Certainly the veteran from Louisville, KY earned it, once again dodging all the obstacles that greet anyone who tackles the grand old track, and most especially when there are 77 other cars on that track at the same time.
For Chuck and many others, this would be the last outdoor race in Indiana, at least as far as I know. For me, it would be my last time to not only go to Salem this year, but also my last time to enjoy the drive there. Salem is one of the few tracks in Indiana that lie south of me and it’s always a pleasure to motor west on Indiana State Road 56 and make a few quick glances at the autumn scenery that dots the beloved hills of our state. Naturally, two of my good friends, Lyle and Emmylou, were along for the ride, keeping me company, and asking kindly that I not sing along.
This trip always brings on a touch of melancholy; it is, after all, the very last race I’ll see in person this year. I’ve already said goodbye to all my other favorite tracks this year; Salem would be the last. So I walked around the pit area thinking of all this, and tried to take in as much as I could. All too soon it would be over.
One of my all-time favorite movies is “Blazing Saddles”, the Mel Brooks comedy from the 1970’s. Near the end of the movie bedlam takes over and the zaniest things happen as Harvey Korman is chased all over a movie studio by the good guys. This could also describe the Halloween 200, especially the early laps. It has to be the wildest, craziest race I’ve ever seen, and one that I look forward to seeing each year. With the vast speed differential among the 78 street stocks that start the race, you’ll see more passing on the first lap of this race than you will see in Formula One racing in a decade.
The 1:00 p.m. start was delayed so fans could get to their seats; the crowd was impressive. The starting lineup was determined by a draw, with Connersville’s Jeff Herbert starting on the pole. All 78 cars started and took a few pace laps. Long time Salem safety worker Barry Smedley pointed to his head, reminding the guys (and one gal) to think. No doubt all 78 silently nodded in assent. Naturally when the green flag waved, all of Barry’s advice went out the window.
This started with a crash on lap one, collecting, among others, past winner Johnny Magee. The second yellow wounded four more contenders, Rich Boyer, Joe Williamson, Brett Hudson, and Johnny Baker. Mr. Hudson was the unhappy recipient of a black flag after spinning out another car during a later yellow. He was done for the day.
Mike Royal took the early lead, but by lap 40, Barnes was in command, with Beau Mitchell coming on strong. The race took on its usual pattern, with three or four laps of green flag racing interrupted by a caution.
The ninth caution quickly became a red flag when Bret Clark was tagged hard by another car on lap 77 and taken to first the local hospital then to University Hospital in Louisville. There is no word on Bret’s condition as of this writing.
Racing resumed and the pattern continued, but as the field thinned out, more often the yellows were for just one car. Barnes finally made his pit stop during the 13th caution, on lap 114. This gave the lead, briefly, to Scott Beeler, before Frank Kimmel II took over. Yeah, this is Frank’s kid and you may want to keep an eye on him soon. After the 15th caution, a very unofficial inventory showed 38 cars still running.
Mr. Barnes took over the lead for good on lap 152, holding off Kimmel to the end and leading the youngster by about two car lengths to the checkers. Beau Hendrich was third, followed by Rich Boyer, whose car qualified as an open wheeler after his early problems, and Carl Muffley in fifth. Bubba Trinkle, Todd Kempf, Michael Basham, Rod Phipps, and Craig Rogers came home sixth through tenth. The race lasted about three hours and 20 minutes, counting the 45 minute red flag.
I was far from being the only sprint car fan at Salem, as it turned out. It was a no-brainer that Salem’s own track rat, Terri, would be on hand, minus her peanut butter fudge this year. And my man Mike had come down from Anderson to see some racing; that didn’t surprise me a whole lot. We’d crossed paths two weeks earlier at Winchester. And Tony, the guardian of the turn four hill at Bloomington, was at Salem on this day as well. Maybe the biggest surprise was seeing Kevin Briscoe, one of our best sprint car racers, who confessed to being just a “race fan” and who was enjoying himself as well, refusing all requests to jump into one of the beasts and tackle the high banks.
As the laps wound down I had more time to think about my buddy Ron Harris, who lost his life near Bardstown, Kentucky, nearly two weeks ago. Ron could usually be found sitting with Tony at Bloomington or at Salem, a big friendly guy who knew no strangers. Ron loved old cars and riding his motorcycle and he was riding when he was taken from us so quickly. We were about the same age, Ron being about a month younger. At the time of his death, he was only a few days from retiring from General Electric in Bloomington. Those who knew him at all will miss him.
My usual routine after the Halloween 200 has been to put off leaving. Part of the reason has always been, to be sure, not to be caught in the inevitable traffic jam after the race. But the main reason has been the finality of it all. The season for me was now over and it brought that old bittersweet feeling of another year gone by. So I was quite reluctant to leave, but knew it had to be done. So I ambled for awhile around the pits after enjoying the view from the spotters’ perch up high. Then I meandered in and around the infield, talking to friends in person or on the phone. I watched as the race teams loaded up to head home, humming Jackson Browne’s “The Load-Out” in my head. And finally, 45 minutes after Chuck Barnes had taken the checkered flag of victory, my own checkered flag waved for the year 2007. I strolled out to the parking lot, surrounded by RV’s, jumped in the little old truck, and left, quickly finding the NASCAR race on the radio.
This one was for Ron. May heaven for you provide a great place to ride.
Counting the days until April 11, 2008 opening night for the Bloomington Speedway, I’m…
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