Sunday, August 22, 2010

Shane Hmeil Rules USAC Sprints at Winchester; 200th Blog Post Celebrated

On another beautiful Indiana summer day, Shane Hmeil showed his USAC sprint car challengers the fast way around the high banks for the second week running. This time, the sprinters were at fabled Winchester Speedway, a facility that first opened for racing in 1914 and has hosted legends of racing for decades. After what looked like an easy win at Salem last weekend, Shane put on a repeat performance after taking the lead and never looking back for the last two-thirds of the race. The car count was improved this week and the USAC sprint series ran a 40 lap feature today after a 50 lapper last weekend. This race honored the late Rich Vogler and his mother was on hand to present the winner's plaque following the USAC feature. Vintage cars of all types were also on hand along with the CRA stock car series and local front drive machines to fill out the day's dance card.
Similar to Salem, Winchester's half-mile is highly banked, and it takes some cahones to go fast there. Tracy Hines was fast qualifier but could not match Hmeil's pace in either their heat race or the feature. Damion Gardner's second place was impressive as he looked the best I've seen him on pavement. Just like at Salem, the racing was hard and furious behind Hmeil. For a young man who has battled the demon of substance abuse in his personal life, I am sure that Shane is grateful for his run of good fortune behind the wheel lately. Accepting his victory accolades in post-race interviews, he humbly suggested that he wasn't a very good driver but his crew keeps giving him great cars to drive. That sort of outlook will pay dividends with the guys who turn wrenches for little glory week in and week out. After wadding up a car when an axle broke at Salem last week, Levi Jones made a good run in a brand new car to take fourth ahead of Bobby East with whom he battled the entire 40 laps. Despite only starting 15 cars in the feature, USAC sprint cars still put on a great show for the sun drenched fans and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to American Motor Journal and do this work I love.
Since this is my 200th blog post, it seems appropriate that it centers on short track racing. As anyone who knows me will attest, I love all types of racing but short track open wheel racing is what first got my attention as a youngster. I have to thank my grandfather and namesake, the late Jay Shue, for that. Once I discovered photography in my 20's and put it together with racing, I was in trouble as I could go to a race every weekend and love every minute. I am not alone in that regard, as I ran into a friend and fellow photographer today who had been to dirt short track races the previous two nights and will be at Chicagoland next weekend for the Indycar event. While I am disappointed that I will not be able to shoot that race for the first time since 2006, watching Hmeil run away with today's race over Damion Gardner, Tracy Hines, Levi Jones and Bobby East elevated my heart rate just like always. The bonus today was I got to shoot the race with my brother and we've decided to make an annual race rendezvous somewhere like we did last year at Texas for the Indycars. Hopefully we can do that at Long Beach next April.
Perhaps I would have come by my love of motorsports naturally since my birthday falls close to the Indy 500 every year. But having my grandpa take me to the little short track at the County fairgrounds in Warsaw, Indiana when I was four or five years old really got me hooked. I remember walking through the paddock with him outside Turns 3 & 4 and he seemed to know everyone. I also recall hanging on the board fence watching the races since I wasn't tall enough to see over the fence on my own, feet on the lowest part of the fence, my chest pressed against the top board and arms hanging over just to be able to get dirt thrown in my face, feel the thunder of race cars a few feet away and hear the roar that still rings in my ears like it was yesterday. Grandpa was a self made man without a lot of education but he was fearless and as I learned years later, had been involved in racing that sprang from his association with barnstorming airplane pilots in the 1920's, including Eddie Rickenbacker who later owned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Even my mom, Grandpa's oldest child, tells stories of coming to Indy for the 500 in an old school bus with a washtub full of ice and beer back in the day when the life expectancy for racers was far shorter than it is today. Perhaps that is also why mom, now 75, still loves to come back for the 500 every year, and continues to tell me stories about Grandpa Jay. I had the chance to live and work with him the summer before I went off to college and have great memories of that time with him, my aunts and cousins, many of whom also got involved in racing: go karts, motocross, flat track or drag motorcycle racing.
So if anyone asks where I am on any given weekend, it's a safe bet that I'm either at a race, watching a race or making plans to go to my next race. The late Steve McQueen summed it up in the movie LeMans when he said, "Racing is life; everything else is just waiting." When I started my blog in early 2007, I had no idea where it would take me or who would end up reading it, so it is truly hard to believe that 200 posts have now come and gone.
It seems like I just got started yesterday. See you at the racetrack. And enjoy the slideshow from today's Winchester Speedway event!

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