In this new monthly photo-essay feature, National Sprint Car Hall of Fame photographer John Mahoney shares his memories and images from some of the most amazing and historic sprint car and midget races in history.
Next stop in the three-way battle for the 1990 USAC midget title between Jeff Gordon, Russ Gamester and Mike Streicher was at the half-mile dirt oval of the Terre Haute Action Track on September 15.
The 38th running of the Hut Hundred midget classic attracted a huge field of 60 cars and drivers. Steve Knepper topped qualifying in his dad’s No. 55, followed by Dan Boorse, Kevin Olson, Roy Caruthers and Jeff Gordon. Title challengers Streicher ended up ninth and Gamester timed 25th. The two 15-lap Last Chance races to fill the 33-car starting field went to Stevie Reeves and Dean Erfurth.
At the green, Streicher took the top spot and led the first 14 laps, fighting to hold off a charging Roy Caruthers. Roy got by Mike on lap 15 and held the lead for the next 26 laps until his engine let go, ending what Roy said “should have been the best day of my life.”
With Caruthers dropping out, Jeff Gordon assumed the lead and held on to the finish despite late-race pressure from Streicher who ended up second. Kevin Olson, Stevie Reeves and Stan Fox completed the top five. Title chaser Russ Gamester dropped out and finished 26th.
Greeting Jeff in the winner’s circle was Eleanor Vogler, who presented him with the first-ever Rich Vogler Cup, honoring her son, who had perished in a USAC sprint race at Salem two months earlier. Joining Eleanor was Rich’s widow Emily and their sons.
For car owner Rollie Helmling, the win was “the pinnacle! 1990 was the dream-come-true year for Jeff and I. We’d won the Night Before The 500 when we debuted the Diet Pepsi car. We also won Belleville and later led at the Eldora 4-Crown before burning a piston. To me and a lot of others, the Hut Hundred was the 500 for midgets.”
Gordon left the Vigo County Fairgrounds track with 388 title points, trailed by Streicher (351) and Gamester (327). With eight races remaining, the battle wouldn’t be settled until the final race at El Centro on November 24 when Gordon clinched the championship over Gamester and Streicher.