July 4, 2020

The Hoosier Race Report

Sneaky Fast

Columbus, IN - Sometimes a hot dog shows up and people will point and say, "there's your winner tonight." Often they will be correct and for 18 laps at the Lawrenceburg Speedway, the "prophets" were looking prescient. But Nick Bilbee either didn't get the memo or did and ignored it. All Nick did was reel in Brady Bacon and make the pass for the lead, then hang on for a well-earned win.

Rain fell across much of Indiana on Saturday, hurting the “garage salers” in our neighborhood and knocking out the scheduled Lincoln Park Speedway program which included fireworks. Lawrenceburg was not spared, receiving just enough rain to keep Dave Rudisell from watering the track very much. Some sprinkles delayed the start of festivities for less than a half hour.

The rain and/or the threat of rain may have held the sprint car count down to 18 (with a total of 90 cars in the pits). But there were enough quality cars and drivers to make this an interesting evening. Two of the three sprint car races were a real treat.

Another treat was provided by my grandson, who has been clamoring to see some of his buddies since his participation in football has been cancelled this year. He gave me a laugh when he stood next to JJ Hughes and discovered that he’s grown to the point where he’s catching the full-grown Mr. Hughes. It’s probably a good thing we didn’t run into the promoter—unless he was wearing his elevator shoes.

Garrett Abrams led the first half of the first heat, then it was Brady Bacon's turn. The Oklahoma native led the rest of the way to take the win. Abrams was second, trailed by Anthony D'Alessio, JJ Hughes and Shane Cockrum.

In the second heat, Matt Westfall led all eight laps, but a last lap near bobble made it close at the end. Dickie Gaines finished second by a very few feet. Nick Bilbee was a close third after starting eighth. Justin Lewis and Ryan Barr ran fourth and fifth.

We occupied our time until the sprint feature lined up by eating, watching the support classes race, strolling through the pits, and checking my phone to catch the Outlaws’ hot laps up in Minnesota.

The redraw saw Westfall and Bacon on the front row. Tim Montgomery waved the green at 10:00 p.m. and away they went. While Westfall got the jump at the start, Bacon grabbed the lead in turn two and did his best to put some distance between himself and everyone else.

Five laps were complete when Nathan Carle spun in turn two just before Bacon would have lapped him. It was Bacon, Westfall, Gaines and Bilbee, who had started fifth. During the caution, I commented to my grandson that Nick had a strong car, but Dickie and Matt would be tough to pass.

On the re-start, Bacon pulled away from Westfall and Gaines found himself under attack from Bilbee. Nick completed the pass on the eighth lap, and he set his sights on Westfall. At about this time I noticed that Bacon’s lead had seemed to shrink somewhat. But Bilbee was also gaining ground on the Buckeye, making the pass for second on the 17th lap.

Bacon was next on Bilbee’s list of accomplishments. He reeled in the leader and made it look almost easy. The pass for the lead was exiting turn two on the 19th lap. If one didn’t know any better, they might be tempted to think that Nick had sneaked up on Brady. But I had heard the engine on the Hoffmans’ 69 car with a sound that wasn’t quite right. Bacon confirmed it on social media, citing a balky magneto.

If one expected Bilbee to check out, they would have been disappointed. Bacon, despite his mechanical woes, hung tough with the lead car, almost getting under Bilbee in turn one, only to see him run above the cushion and get a major launch into turn two and down the backstretch. Brady’s motor couldn’t respond.

Behind Bilbee and Bacon was Westfall, Gaines and Hughes. Cockrum was sixth until he was penalized two spots; my guess is that it had something to do with a re-start, but I’ve been wrong a few times. This put Abrams in sixth and Sterling Cling seventh. The Chief settled for eighth and non-wing sprint car rookie Saban Bibent came from 14th to finish ninth. Slater Helt, all the way from Harrisonville, Missouri and one who has run with the WAR series, finished tenth.

Since Bilbee finished ahead of Bibent, Nick was the Karston McIntosh hard charger. After hot laps, Karston had presented Nick with a dirt clod that had smacked him in the face. For the superstition minded, this might mean something for the future.

But the real lesson was to never assume; never attempt to prophesy. We can’t and, I believe, aren’t supposed to know how things are going to turn out. That’s why we go to races—to find out.

Exceedingly happy that none of my three nieces are writing a book, I’m…

Danny Burton