Bloomington’s Larry Rice Classic Next Up for USAC Sprints this Friday
Speedway, Indiana (April 11, 2023) - Bloomington Speedway is an auto racing gem, from the red clay on the high banks to the lush green grass that lies on the hillside.
That’s just what your eyes see before the cars even hit the track. Once the green flies, it presents a tantalizing experience (and a racing tradition) unlike any other.
This Friday night, April 14, the southern Indiana 1/4-mile dirt oval is where the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship will roam during the running of the Larry Rice Classic, honoring the late, great three-time USAC National driving champion and racing broadcaster.
Here are six storylines to keep your mind on entering Friday’s event.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Kevin Thomas Jr. captured a victory in the most recent spring USAC race at Bloomington in 2021. No driver has repeated in the springtime at the track since Bryan Clauson since 2015-16. Interestingly enough, KTJ’s 2021 battle for the win saw him go toe-to-toe with Brady Bacon, the most recent spring winner at Bloomington prior to Thomas in 2019.
In fact, in a reversal of roles, in 2019, Bacon was the spring victor at Bloomington while Thomas finished second. In 2021, Thomas’ near racelong lead ended with five laps remaining as Bacon slipped by for the top spot. Then with three laps to go, Thomas caught his second wind and fought back by Bacon to win his fourth series race at Bloomington.
Bacon and Thomas will both be on the hunt to write the next chapter of victory in their ever-so-frequent Bloomington duels. Bacon has finished 2nd, 1st & 2nd in his three most recent Bloomington USAC Sprint starts while Thomas Jr. needs only one more victory this Friday to equal Clauson as the winningest USAC Sprint Car driver at the track with five.
Last season’s Spring Bloomington round was rudely interrupted by Mother Nature just before the start of the feature. Several drivers who had positioned themselves near the forefront of major Bloomington success had the slate wiped clean with a heavy bit of moisture falling from the sky.
Jake Swanson (Anaheim, Calif.) is among those drivers after he snagged fast qualifying honors and was pegged to start seventh in the feature. The pole position was going to be occupied by Jason McDougal (Broken Arrow, Okla.) who was seeking to avenge his last lap heartbreak of Indiana Sprint Week 2019 at Bloomington when he was passed for the lead by Kevin Thomas Jr. on the final lap. McDougal, nonetheless, did come back to finish a strong fifth in the summer there last year.
USAC National champions Robert Ballou (Rocklin, Calif.) and Logan Seavey (Sutter, Calif.) were in position to start from the second row, and neither of them have yet claimed a main event win with USAC at Bloomington. Now, this Friday awaits to settle that score once and for all.
Speaking of unfinished business, Carson Garrett (Littleton, Colo.) made his first Bloomington USAC Sprint start during the most recent spring round in 2021 but ended the night upside at the finish line. Garrett was subsequently sidelined for several months before returning to the seat. He made his first Bloomington start with the series since that point last summer, qualifying sixth in the 44-car field before finishing 20th in the feature.
THE DIESEL & MORE FAVORITES
Kyle Cummins was the winner last summer at Bloomington in awesome fashion as he charged from 10th to 1st, taking the lead with nine laps remaining to earn his first USAC National Sprint Car feature victory at the track where he had been making regular USAC appearances in the feature field dating back to 2013.
Cummins has already gotten off on the right foot this season, winning the most recent feature event held at Florida’s Bubba Raceway Park back in February. At Bloomington, he’ll attempt to become the first repeat USAC Sprint winner at the track since Bryan Clauson scored three-straight between 2014 and 2016.
Six past Bloomington USAC Sprint winners are expected in Friday’s lineup with Kevin Thomas Jr. (4) leading the way ahead of 2014-16-20-21 USAC Sprint Car champ Brady Bacon (2), Brent Beauchamp (1), Kyle Cummins (1), 2019 USAC Sprint titlist C.J. Leary (1) and seven-time Bloomington sprint car track champion Brady Short (1).
First-time Bloomington hopefuls in the field include USAC regulars Mitchel Moles (Raisin City, Calif.), who set quick time in July of 2022 at Bloomington and finished 8th in the main. Emerson Axsom (Franklin, Ind.), last year’s series Rookie of the Year, collected a 10th that same night.
Logan Seavey made his lone spring Bloomington start in 2018, finishing a sterling 3rd. Likewise for Thomas Meseraull (San Jose, Calif.) who finished 3rd in his only spring Bloomington start to this point back in 2016. Matt Westfall (Pleasant Hill, Ohio) scored a best of 10th in his spring Bloomington conquest of 2013.
For leading USAC National Sprint Car Rookie of the Year contender Daison Pursley (Locust Grove, Okla.), the event presents his first sprint car appearance at the track following an 8th place result with the USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship in 2021. For Brandon Mattox (Terre Haute, Ind.) Bloomington is a homecoming to one of his finest USAC performances when he took 5th in 2019. Dalton Stevens (Scurry, Texas) is also making the trip up from the south to compete after scoring 11th during Indiana Sprint Week at Bloomington in 2022.
THE BLOOMINGTON / TRI-STATE DOUBLE
The Bloomington/Tri-State weekend has become a staple of the USAC National Sprint Car schedule over the past two decades. The two tracks have contested events on consecutive nights on 19 occasions dating back to 2006. In that time frame, no driver has swept both events in the same weekend.
Fourteen drivers have triumphed at both tracks in their USAC Sprint careers: Brady Bacon, Kyle Cummins, Dave Darland, Jay Drake, Tony Elliott, Tracy Hines, Rick Hood, Cory Kruseman, Hunter Schuerenberg, Brady Short, Jon Stanbrough, Kevin Thomas Jr., Chris Windom and J.J. Yeley.
Furthermore, only three individuals have won at both tracks within the same season: J.J. Yeley (2003), Kevin Thomas Jr. twice (2017 & 2021) and Dave Darland (2018). Only one of those won at each place within the same week (Yeley), but none have done so within the confines of the same weekend.
Four more in this Friday’s field have won a USAC Sprint Car race at Tri-State, but a win has eluded them thus far at Bloomington. Among that group are Robert Ballou, reigning series champion Justin Grant (Ione, Calif.), Jadon Rogers (Worthington, Ind.) and Chase Stockon (Fort Branch, Ind.). They all aim to change that stat this Friday night.
HAPPY 100TH ANNIVERSARY
The year 2023 marks the first race of Bloomington Speedway’s 100th anniversary season after the venerable track first opened its gates back in 1923 as a 5/8 mile speedway, which you can still visualize if you gaze out into the open green fields beyond turns three and four.
Few venues have endured for a century or more and still live on today, namely the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Milwaukee Mile, Winchester (Ind.) Speedway, the Illinois State Fairgrounds and Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway, just to name a few. And now Bloomington joins that exclusive group.
HONORING LARRY RICE
Friday night’s event at Bloomington also marks the 30th anniversary of the inaugural Larry Rice Classic. The race originated as a USAC National Midget event in 1993 at Bloomington and was won by Tony Elliott behind the wheel of Ralph Potter’s V-6 powered machine.
Rice was one of USAC’s finest ambassadors, claiming National Championships in the Silver Crown (1977 & 1981) and Midget series (1973). A 1993 inductee into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame, Rice won 15 USAC National Midget features in addition to five Silver Crown and three Sprint features.
After a stint as a school teacher, he worked his way to the pinnacle of auto racing, and in 1978, shared the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year honors with Rick Mears after his 11th place finish. He eventually became the color analyst for ESPN’s Thursday & Saturday Night Thunder program which featured USAC racing events. He also worked for K & K Insurance, specializing in motorsports insurance. His major victories included the 4-Crown Nationals at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway, the Hut Hundred Midget race at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track and the 1981 Hoosier Hundred Silver Crown race at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Rice passed away in 2009 after a bout of cancer.
The 43rd USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship in the history of Bloomington Speedway will take place on Friday night, April 14, culminating with a $5,000-to-win, 30-lap feature.
The Larry Rice Classic features the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship along with the Midwest Mini Sprint Association and Super Stocks.
Pits open at 4pm Eastern with the grandstands opening at 5pm, drivers meeting at 5:45pm and cars on track at 6:30pm with qualifying and racing to immediately follow. General Admission tickets are $30. Ages 10 and under are free with proof of age. Pit passes are $35 while ages 10 and under are $15.
If you’re unable to make it to the track, you may also watch this Saturday’s Lawrenceburg event LIVE on FloRacing at https://flosports.link/3ZjeooQ.
Story - USAC Racing
Photo - David Campbell