Back To The Start

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On Thursday night at Indianapolis Raceway Park, there were a couple of cars in the USAC Weld Racing Silver Crown Series that drew a little extra attention.

Kasey Kahne drove one of them, and Carl Edwards drove the other.

Both drivers come from an open-wheel background, so it’s not all that surprising that the two NASCAR drivers would go back to their roots. Tony Stewart does it all the time, and so did Ken Schrader.

It’s great, as far as I’m concerned.

Silver Crown racing, for those who don’t know, is what Indy Car racing was before the advent of the rear-engined car, carbon fiber and big sponsorships. Back in the day, as they say, the Silver Crown cars were actually part of the Indy Car series schedule. They were called Champ cars, short for Championship dirt cars, and everybody ran them. A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Mario Andretti, all had a car and all could drive them. Well.

That’s part of the history of the sport that few remember, and it’s a sad thing. There’s something about a non-winged, front-engined race car on dirt. Forget the fact that the tires were as skinny as those on your 10-speed (or at least it seemed like it), the racing took exquisite throttle control and some serious stones.

DuQuoin, Springfield, CalExpo, Nazareth, the Moody Mile at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse, all were part of the schedule. These races recalled what was known as “big car” racing before World War II, when the circuit was made up of fairgrounds ovals across the country, and endless hype brought out once-a-year race fans by the truckload.

In those days, the races came to tow once, maybe twice a year, and if you wanted to see it, you went. A couple generations of racing fans were raised on this, and it made sense. No TV, no weekly tracks or very few, and no Speed Channel or ESPN, the racing was viewed only by the people in attendance, and it made for some great word-of-mouth stories. My guess is, this was the chat room of the early racing fan base.

Fathers, who had accompanied their fathers to the track, offered the same chance to their sons, and tradition was born.

The tradition still exists today, although it is diluted a bit by all the attention motorsports receives. Fathers take sons and daughters to the track, but they can just as easily watch on TV these days.

Kahne finished 14th and Edwards 21st on Thursday night, and while those results don’t sound like much, it’s pretty tough to get in an open-wheel car on an off-day and just tear up the field. Specialization has taken care of that, and Kahne and Edwards are competing against drivers who race open-wheel cars for a living, on tracks where they have thousands of laps in type.

Still it’s heartening to see both drivers—like Stewart—still paying homage to the forefathers of the sport.

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