SULLIVAN: A Good Off-Season

Patrick Sullivan

Racing, even as a fan, can wear one down. This seems particularly so in an age where the dark and negative seem to capture the lion’s share of attention, and good news seems to be in short supply.

I recognized that some time ago my enthusiasm for racing had waned a bit, prompted by the loss of some drivers that I considered friends, and the seemingly endless string of complaints about this or that.

There was also a tangible element contributing to my angst.

Two years ago I was concerned about two Indiana racing icons: Bloomington and Paragon Speedways. Then toward the end of the 2019 season, it seemed that, once again, Indiana TQ (three-quarter) midget racing was on the ropes.

Now, steamrolling toward 2020, I am as excited as I have been about racing in years. I was hopeful that things were better heading into 2019. They were, to an extent.

However, right now, when I think about the upcoming season, I am almost giddy.

To recap where we have come, in 2019, Bloomington and Paragon were thrown lifelines at just the right time.

Bloomington had never totally recovered from the decision of Mike and Judy Miles to step away from the sport. Mike Miles was one of those individuals who commanded respect without ever needing to raise his voice or remind you who was in charge.

He was honest, and as ethical as any man you could find in racing. He cared about the sport, and he had pride in his race track. Like others, he finally realized he wanted to do other things in life.

A new ownership team came in and tried their level best to make a go of it. When that group decided they had had enough, things looked bleak.

Then, in the stunner of the year, it was announced that USAC would take the helm. It was great that they came on board. Levi Jones and others put in hours at the track, and some of USAC’s road warriors also made time to head to Bloomington to serve in an official capacity when free.

In retrospect, the key principals finally had to face reality. They all had too many irons in the fire.

Because of this, for a time it looked like the 2020 season would result in even fewer races at the quarter-mile, red clay track than the truncated season that had just concluded.

Then, another unexpected development occurred. Joe Spiker said he was prepared to take over, and was also committed to run a healthy slate of races.

It is funny how things worked out. Spiker would likely have gladly taken the reigns at Bloomington a few years ago. Frankly, he was a logical choice. It didn’t happen.

Instead, Joe made a deal to operate Paragon Speedway, which was also on life support. What this means is that, as a fan, we went two for one.

As I have noted in a previous column, I don’t think it could be said that Paragon set new attendance records in 2019, but it was a darn good first year, particularly given an uncooperative Mother Nature.

For those who have not been to Paragon for years, it is time to come back. It wasn’t until I returned to the booth that I recalled what a beautiful setting it is, particularly just as the sun begins to set.

Step by step, little by little, Joe and Jill will buff Paragon up. The same will happen at Bloomington. USAC tried to help the challenging situation with the existing grandstand by putting up temporary bleachers.

As a stop gap measure this was fine, but it also hindered the view from many of the prime seats on the hillside. If you look back to films from Bloomington in the 1940’s, you understand that people have enjoyed sitting in their lawn chairs on the berms for decades.

Look to Joe to revive that tradition.

Here is the reason for my optimism. Joe and Jill Spiker turned Lincoln Park Speedway around. Period. To me this is a point which cannot be debated. They stepped in at Paragon and everything points north. Now they take on Bloomington.

The schedules have been released, and both tracks (and Lincoln Park) will be plenty busy. There will be alternating Fridays at Bloomington and Paragon, with the latter also offering a few Sunday night races.

In addition, Paragon is now back on the USAC calendar with an Indiana Midget Week date.

This is the one thing you must understand. Joe and Jill Spiker are both willing to race often and have never once shied away from hard work. It is simply how they roll.

Like Mike Miles, Joe has the ability to make others want to work as hard as he does. This is going to be a great year.

Meanwhile, the UMRA King of the TQ series was also at a crisis point at the end of the 2019 season. They needed someone to step forward in a leadership capacity.

I have devoted previous columns to this series, so there is no need for me to reiterate my affection for this group. This is a proud clan that includes core supporters who have been devotees of this racing discipline for nearly 60 years.

The news that Tony Stewart stepped up and took control of the series brought a smile to everyone who cares. I was immediately thrilled for my friend Kimb Stewart, who, as the series announcer, puts her heart and soul into this job.

This move is so Tony. This is a series that was important to him in his formative years, and he has given back year after year. He has supported several teams, and he has always tried to come back and race with the club when time allows.

Putting the TQs under the All Star banner gives the series instant credibility and portends that the TQ midget will also be on the card for select events with the 410 sprint cars.

One could also expect to see the TQ’s make an appearance at Little Eldora next summer.

In the last few years the club has been able to entice other top professional drivers to give it a go, with last year’s Brad Gray Memorial race at Rushville a prime example.

Successful racing organizations find their niche, and for this club the county fairgrounds race tracks, at fair time have always been the backbone of the series. Look for that to continue, but also look for this group to be thrust into higher profile situations.

I can’t begin to find a negative to this development.

In a recent column I suggested that racing as a whole depended on the health of weekly race tracks. With Bloomington and Paragon now on solid footing, some of us feel we can breathe just a little easier.

Affordable disciplines, like TQ racing, still serve as a viable step for a young person making their way from karts or quarter-midgets.

What makes Tony’s group so important is that these youngsters can regularly go head-to-head with longstanding racing veterans, and from time to time against drivers like Tony Stewart, C.J. Leary, Kevin Thomas Jr., and others.

Yes, for once this is a story of good news, with hopes of a fun and a safe 2020 season.


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