For something that has been summed up as ‘drive fast, turn left’, auto racing may not be considered the epitome of athleticism, but considering the toll that the sport can take on the bodies of those who participate, it is certainly more grueling and demanding than many people believe. This is especially true for Sprint Car Racing, the competition between high speed, high powered cars on a short dirt track oval.for Sprint Car Racing, the competition between high speed, high powered cars on a short dirt track oval.
Digital Wolf saw this for ourselves when we got our asses to the Kokomo Speedway for the opening of Sprint Car Smackdown VIII!, This event was a USAC (United States Auto Club) ‘non-wing’ race that featured many talented drivers from the region and beyond. The evening starred on an exciting note with a ride in the back of a ‘push truck’- a vehicle used to get
sprint cars started. True sprint cars do not have starters, making the use of ‘push trucks’ necessary to fire the engine and get the car in gear. The cars only have ‘in’ and ‘out’ drive and no ‘reverse’.
From our vantage point in the infield, where we got to enjoy the action as the cars raced all around us. From there, we were able to get an inside look at the sport as we focused on drivers like Dave Darland and Justin Grant while learning fascinating details from crew chiefs Derek Claxton and Mark Shambarger.
Though smaller in size than most race cars, sprint cars usually have similar horsepower to their larger counterparts around a dirt track ranging in size from ¼ mile to a 5/8 mile length.
’Winged’ sprint cars feature what is essentially an inverted airplane wing mounted atop that creates an air pressure down force that enables the car to drive faster. The non-wing cars not only lose that effect, and also sacrifice the additional protection that the wing provides in crashes, adding an element of danger.
Many IndyCar and NASCAR drivers, including A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Al Unser Sr. & Jr., Jeff Gordon, and Tony Stewart have used sprint car racing as a stepping stone to the more high profile divisions that they became famous for.
In 1984, Mark Shambarger’s sprint car mechanical career began at Gaerte Engines in Rochester, Indiana. After later moving to Indianapolis, Mark’s career went even further with impressive accomplishments like his 1996 Indianapolis 500 win as Chief Mechanic for Buddy
Lazier. He later was a crew member for the late Dan Wheldon in the 2011 Indianapolis 500 win.
Mark received the Clint Brawner Award in 2014 that recognizes an Indy 500 chief mechanic by their mechanical and scientific creativity, dedication, expertise and more. Now, he is back in Rochester and on the dirt track as Crew Chief for TOPP Motorsports and Justin Grant Racing.
Derek Claxton is a native of Rochester, Indiana and grew up around the world of sprint car racing. Since 2010, Derek has been a Crew Chief excluding 2013 when he worked as a helper for Tracy Hines Racing. Starting out in 2010, he was Crew Chief for Justin Grant who won
the Rookie of the Year with USAC Racing and in 2011 won Indiana Sprint Week, finishing second in the points with Windom.
In 2016, he finished second in the points and won 5 out of 7 races, including a midget race. Following these achievements, Derek was Crew Chief in 2017 winning Eastern Storm and the National Championship along with Eastern Storm and Sprint Week in 2018, finishing third in final points. He is currently a Crew Chief for Goacher Racing and driver Chris Windom.
Known to many as “The People’s Champ” USAC Racing Legend, Dave Darland is a small-town guy, native to Lincoln, Indiana with an enormous talent! Kokomo Speedway is his home track and has driven Sprint Cars, Midgets, and Silver Crown machines to many victories from the east to the west coast.
Darland won his 100th USAC event at Amsoil Speedway in Wisconsin back in 2015 and in 2017 was inducted into the Twenty-Eighth National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in Knoxville, IA. At a recent exhibit in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, no longer available, Dave Darland was honored as a driver who was side by side with Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, and Ryan Newman.