The car hummed along the Minnesota highway, windows down, the late-summer evening filled with sounds and scents and atmosphere. The Twin Cities were on the horizon, and Jimmy Wilson was feeling good.
Maybe he was still buzzing from his satisfying win one week ago in Champ Dirt competition. Maybe it was looking over at Renee Johnson riding shotgun, sharing the ride. Or maybe it was the fact that a busy race weekend was on tap and his confidence was over the moon.
Or maybe it was all of the above, wrapped up in a nice package with a big bow on top.
The weekend was filled with promise. Tomorrow would feature the USAC sprint cars at the Minnesota State Fair, with twin 40-lap features on tap. On Sunday, the USAC Champ Dirt cars would take center stage with a 200-lap feature at the half-mile paved oval.
Jimmy thought back to their trip north one year ago. The sprint car outing had been spectacular for the local contingent, with natives Stan Olson and Don Larson each winning a feature.
Jimmy was leading the first race when his left rear tire went down, and he finished second. He finished fourth in the following race.
Last year’s Twin Cities weekend was also notable in that Jimmy made his first drive in the Champ Dirt machine owned by Gregg Richards. A lot had happened for the group in the 12 months since; they won a couple of races and were now leading the Champ Dirt points.
Gregg’s little team had gone from rookies to contenders, and for Jimmy this meant his first genuine shot at a Champ Dirt title.
The local sprint car fans had been buzzing with happiness one year ago, and Jimmy guessed that folks would turn out in droves this weekend to see if the locals could smoke the USAC guys once again. His guess was right; by the time qualifying finished on Saturday afternoon the big state fair grandstand was packed and then some.
Although it was challenging, Jimmy liked this track. An asphalt half-mile with wide, sweeping corners, the freshly-paved surface had plenty of grip. You carried a lot of speed, and momentum was important.
Jimmy had to admit this was a track where his real advantage was Harvey. A balanced race car was crucial, and Harvey had a knack for setting up a car that was dead nuts on.
Jimmy’s Champ Car team owner and mechanic – Gregg Richards and Mike Stapleton, respectively – were hanging out in their pit today, along with Slim MacDonald. Gregg and Mike came out a day early for tomorrow’s 200-lap affair.
Jimmy and the Ellison sprinter was the last car out to qualify, and he set fast time. He rolled to a stop in their pit, and Harvey was wearing his familiar beaming, boastful grin as he raised his hands in an “I-told-you-so” shrug.
“Papa Bear said, ‘This car is too tight,’” Harvey teased. “And Mama Bear, she said, ‘This car is too loose!’ But Baby Bear … oh, that no-drivin’ Baby Bear, he said, ‘This car is juuusssstttt right!’”
Everyone laughed, and Jimmy shook his head.
One year ago, when the locals won, Jimmy was gracious in defeat in his PA interview following the races. The crowd was happy and respectful and it was a nice scene all around.
Today would be different. Very, very different.