Racing news from the Indiana motorsports scene

California Drivers Make Big Noise At The Little 500

The field lines up for the Little 500 at Anderson Speedway.   [Steve Zautke photo]

The field lines up for the Little 500 at Anderson Speedway. [Steve Zautke photo]

By Kevin Triplett

Victory in the rain-delayed 65th running of the Payless Little 500 sprint car race at Anderson Indiana went to Hoosier driver Jacob Wilson, but the crowd and fellow competitors definitely knew that the five California cars and drivers were in the house.

Defending MustSee Extreme Racing series champion and former CASA (California Asphalt Sprintcar Association) racer JoJo Helberg originally from Rohnert Park California won the coveted pole position with a four-lap average of 80.56 MPH.  2012 Indianapolis 500 competitor Bryan Clauson who was raised in Noblesville Indiana but was born in Sacramento started seventh, while 10-time USAC champion Tony Hunt of Lincoln California timed in eighth. Tim Barber from Sonoma California started 25th in Ted Finkenbinder’s Western Industrial X-Ray sprint car, with Dave Darland alongside in Earl Pierson’s Sacramento-based #14 sprint car.

The initial three-wide start of eleven rows for the Little 500 on Saturday night was delayed 38 minutes by rain and mist went awry when Jimmy Kite in Mike Blake’s sprint car slid exiting turn four, collided with the car of local racer Jimmy Sheets and forced Sheets into the outside concrete retaining wall. Sheets’ car overturned on the main stretch, which brought out the red flag to stop the race before a lap was even completed. During the Sheets cleanup, light rain began to fall again and after an hour, the persistent rain finally forced track owner Rick Dawson to postpone the race to Sunday night.

At 8 PM on Sunday night, following the exciting 2013 Indianapolis 500, the 32-car Little 500 field finally thundered under the starter’s green flag to begin the greatest challenge in sprint car racing- 500 laps of racing around the Anderson high-banked ¼-mile paved oval.

Unlike last year, when JoJo Helberg took the early lead and forced a fast pace only to crash on lap 121, pole-sitter Helberg allowed nine-time Little 500 champion Eric Gordon to set the early pace.

On lap 25, as second place runner Bobby East lapped slower cars, East tangled with Tim Barber and East’s #5 Beast sprint car smashed hard into the turn one wall tail-first. Too badly damaged to continue, East finished 31st and his crewmembers angrily tweeted insults directed at Tim Barber. Barber continued making laps at a slow pace, before he finally pulled into the infield and retired on lap 110 while running seven laps behind the leader.

On lap 115, Aaron Pierce rushed past Eric Gordon as the pair entered turn one for the first lead change of the race, as Helberg and Tony Hunt continued to ride just outside of the top 5. After many of the leaders made pit stops, by lap 175, Hunt was the fastest car on the track, and turned a succession of 11.96-second laps as he raced back into contention.

On lap 250, Dave Darland, at that point five laps behind the leader, coasted quietly into the infield to retire the Pierson machine.

On lap 270, Jacob Wilson took the point for the first time and built up a straightaway lead before he pitted for tires and fuel, which handed the lead to Tony Elliott in one of two V-6 powered cars in the race. After 60 laps, Elliott’s car began to fade, and Tony Hunt forged into the lead on lap 359, which he held until lap 415 when his car suddenly slowed with apparent fuel problems and Tony pulled into the pits under the green flag. Despite the fast work by his MetalWorks crew, Tony lost five laps, which eliminated his chances for the victory.  Following Hunt’s troubles, former winner Shane ‘the throttle’ Cottle led the race with Helberg in fourth.

On lap 422, Bryan Clauson, who had earlier lost 3 laps after his car jumped out gear after a pit stop but had raced back through the field twice to make up 2 of those laps, retired with a blown engine. Shortly thereafter, former Indy 500 competitor Chet Filip exited the pits in his unique machine and pulled directly into the racing line directly in front of the leaders. Jacob Wilson took advantage of the confusion to slip by Cottle into the lead. Cottle and Wilson battled hard for many laps, as Cottle desperately looked for a way around Wilson until the engine in Cottle’s Contos #4 sprint car suddenly expired in a cloud of smoke as he raced down the backstretch on lap 496.

Cottle’s retirement handed second place to Helberg. Eric Gordon in his final Little 500 appearance, finished third with Tony Elliott fourth, as the top four finishers all ran on the same lap at the finish. Tony Hunt finished eighth, five laps behind the leader, while  Clauson was scored in 18th. Sondi Eden, the only female driver in this year’s Little 500 was the last car running at the drop of the checkered flag in 16th place.

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Steve Zautke, a Milwaukee, WI native, was raised in the sport of auto racing. His father, Bill, was a movie photographer that shot racing footage at tracks such as the Milwaukee Mile and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Steve's first professional job in racing was as an Emergency Medical Technician at tracks such as Angell Park and Hales Corners Speedway (1988-1991). Steve has also worked as a videographer for the Milwaukee Mile, reporter for Racing Information Systems (RIS), has written features for 'Vintage Oval Racing' and 'Victory Lane' magazines and currently works as historian and on special projects for the Milwaukee Mile. Steve also co-hosts "Sparky's Final Inspection" a NASCAR-based radio show with hosts, Steve "Sparky" Fifer and "NASCAR Girl" Summer Santana on a rotating basis with fellow RacingNation.com editor, John Wiedemann (Sports Radio 1250AM in Milwaukee and on the internet at www.Sportradio1250.com). Steve follows all types of racing from sprints and midgets to Formula 1. However, has a soft-spot for the old USAC Stock Car series, Jimmy Clark, Bobby Unser and Jim Hurtubise. E-mail Steve Zautke at szautke@wi.rr.com

1 Comment

  1. Todd Wolff says:

    I loved this article! Thanks for the good work! Nice site too.