Thursday evening I attended the annual Rich Vogler Classic Silver Crown race that is annually raced on the Thursday evening before the Brickyard 400. The race is a 100 lap affair that is over all too quickly. It is a step back in time and it is a treat to watch these classic dirt cars and their talented drivers perform on the oval track at Lucas Oil Raceway Park.
What I mean by a step back in time is this basic race car has retained its classic open wheel dirt car shape since the late 1940’s. They have added modern safety equipment such as a roll cage and other safety items, but the classic shape has not changed.
On a historical note, the 1951 and 1952 winning race cars of the Indianapolis 500 were the last two winners of the classic dirt car chassis before the beginning of the roadster era, at the speedway, which began in 1953.
Gone are the beautiful rounded noses that was said to cause the front end to lift at today’s higher speeds. It has since been replaced by a flat sided front end and a squared off nose instead. The cockpit is more enclosed for safety and the spectators can no longer watch the driver work the steering wheel like in the past.
All of these changes have not changed the character of this true championship race car that is devoid of wings and other aerodynamic appendages. It is a car that was designed to race on dirt as well as pavement as we witnessed Thursday evening. They are loud and the deep rumble of their V8 engines along with the aroma of methanol fumes creates a spectacle that has to be witnessed in person to appreciate.
This race car owes its lineage back to the 1920’s and 1930’ when the American Automobile Association or AAA sanctioned major league auto racing. What was known as the Championship Trail was formed around this time and it was the major path to the Indianapolis 500. The road to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway started at the short track level by racing midgets and sprint cars. If a race driver had the talent he could graduate to the Championship Trail or the Big Cars as they were known back then. The goal of many race drivers of that era was to use this pathway to Indianapolis. If a driver had the talent at this level he might make it to Indianapolis.
Sadly this pathway is no longer the way to Indianapolis, but it does not diminish the talent level or the excitement of watching these cars race.
Another huge perk of watching these cars race is that all of the fans are allowed in the pits after the race. Try doing that at any major league race venue or at any of the Major League stick and ball sports venues and it won’t happen.
Lastly, it is my opinion that Ryan Newman is a class act. He started his racing career racing midgets, sprint cars, and Silver Crown cars, but his ultimate goal was always NASCAR. He still enjoys open wheel racing and he usually races in the Rich Vogler Classic as he did again Thursday evening. His car developed a problem and he dropped out of the race early. Most NASCAR drivers would have been long gone before the race was over. Not Ryan. He changed into street clothes and was there to greet his many fans. As in the past he was one of the last to leave Thursday evening. I repeat, a class act.
One final note, Rich Vogler was killed on July 21,1990 in a sprint car wreck at the Salem Ind. speedway. Sadly he was to make his NASCAR Winston Cup debut at Pocono Raceway the next day. He was awarded 40th. Position as “Did not start”