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Pete Smith
       

 

 

It took two days, 17 cautions, two red flags, two three wide starts, and the patience and the hard work of everyone involved but the 65th running of the Payless little 500 is in the books.  In one word this year’s race was epic, out of the 29 little 500 I’ve seen this one was hands down the best. 

The saga began Saturday, as the pre-race ceremonies unfolded a very light drizzle descended on the speedway. The rain was not enough to affect the racing surface but caused concern among several drivers due to the drops accumulating on their visors and affecting visibility. the field was divided on whether or not to attempt to race in the conditions, drivers I talked with on were both sides of the fence. With safety on mind, the start was postponed until the moisture let up. The sprinkles stopped about 8:30 pm allowing the cars to be pushed off and form up in traditional 3 abreast formation, which is challenging on the tight track even at pace lap speed.  Everyone on hand was on the edge of the their seats as the signal for one to go was given. It was arguably the strongest field of 33 to ever take the green for this event , full of stories, underdogs, perennial favorites, veterans , rookies and this year an incredible amount of cars up to the task of contending for the win at the end of 500 circuits.  Giving the green to the tighly packed field stacked up three wide seems every year to be an invitation for disaster but most years through skill and a little driver cooperation the starts go off without a hitch, this years start was to be the exception, coming out of 4 to the green flag the 10th row had problems.  the 48 of Jim Sheets making contact with the 81 of Jimmy Kite , sending the 48 machine hard into the outside wall, the impact flipping the car of its side while it rolled to a stop just short of the start finish line the oncoming drivers in the 11th row had narrow escapes from the melee but all three either managed to either stop short or snake through the wreck.  The accident brought out the red flag. As clean up was taking place, a light drizzle starting falling again. This time though the dizzle would gradually pick up in intensity leading to the postponement of the race until Sunday

On Sunday Mother nature again seemed to not be cooperating, we arrived at the facility after driving straight from Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a light rain, the cars in the infield were all covered with tarps and the weather radar looked bleak. From the beginning of the night, rain was the topic of conversation, everyone’s guess was that it would be a rain shortened race if we were  even fortunate enough to get it in However at about 6:30 pm and hour and half before the scheduled start time, luck seemed to change, the rain on the radar screen had dissipated or moved north and a window appeared.  Covers came off cars and everything was in place for an on time start. 32 cars would fall into formation, behind the Sam Pierce Chevorlet pace car. The Guttermaker 48 machine of Jim Sheets absent due to damage sustained in Saturday’s attempted start. This time the 3 wide start would take place incident free. The Black 7 of Jojo Helberg would jump out to en early lead On lap 15, Helberg already in lapped traffic would slip up allowing the 2 of Eric Gordon by. On lap 25 the 5 machine of Bobby East slammed the turn one wall in a battle with lapped traffic bringing out the first caution.  East who was looking really strong early and was running in third at the time would be done. while under the yellow the  1 of Brian Gingras would come to a stop, causing Gingras to lose several laps a deficit from which he would not recover despite being able to keep pace with the leaders. When the green came back out The top three of Eric Gordon, jojo Helberg and Aaron pierce would break away from the pack, and run nose to tail until lap 48 when the 88 of Jimmy McCune would be bumped by the lapped machine of Kyle Feeney and be sent into the turn two wall, ending McCune’s day. McCune would let feeney know his displeasure at the incident on his walk back to the infield, gesturing at the 8 machine as it came by under caution. On the ensuing restart the top three would break away again, the only change up front being the 56 of Tony Hunt passing the 51 of Bryan Clauson for 5th . On lap 95 the caution would fly for a spin by the 40 of troy decaire who would continue.  The pace would again be slowed on lap 106 for an incident between the 55 of Billy Wease and 13 Tim Barber damage incurred would force both to retire. On The restart the Black 26 of Aaron Pierce would make a move to the front first by Jojo Helberg and then by Eric Gordon to capture the top spot. Yellow would fly again on lap 117 for a spin by the 81 of Jimmy Kite who would manage to keep the car moving despite the yellow being thrown.  On the restart Peirce would show his dominance running away from those in tow , the black Sam Pierce Chevrolet car on a rail. On lap 139 a spin by the 18 of Travis Welpott would again bring out the caution, ushering in a flurry of pits stops and numerous position changes in the top five as well as laps being lost by those battling up front in the pits, previous to the pit activity 13 cars were on the lead lap. On lap 200 Jimmy kite obviously fighting an ill handling machine all night would spin again, and  a new top five  emerge after all the contenders had made stops,  The 44 of Brian Tyler would find himself in the top spot with Tony Eliot , Tony Hunt , Eric Gordon and Chet Fillip rounding out the top five. On the restart frantic action would begin among those who lost ground in the pits, with Aaron pierce and Jojo Helberg dicing through the field, also the 07 of Jacob Wilson would also join the fray working his way through traffic and past the unique 77 machine of chet fillip for 5th place. On lap 220 in the midst of very hard racing the 26 of Aaron Pierce and 14 of dave darland would make contact causing both to spin and the yellow to come out, both would continue but lose a lap each to the leaders. On the restart it was the 07 of Jacob Wilson, who would began to impress , charging by everyone one to pull right up to the leader Brian Tyler bumper. Tyler and Wilson would battle hard in lapped traffic, Wilson eventually seeing an opening and driving underneath tyler going into the 3rd turn. The move would force Tyler high and he would spin bringing out another caution on lap 260. Tyler would rejoin the field but in his battle to regain his lap lost he would hop the tire of the 26 of Aaron Pierce, causing the 44 Contos racing machine to lightly roll ending the night of both Pierce and Tyler and bringing out the red flag. As the cars were stopped on the track the chatter in the pits was about the rain approaching the track and how long would it hold off.  After the red the race would eventually gain some momentum and lapped started ticking by. On lap 342 the 18 of Travis Welpott and 81 of Jimmy Kite would tangle again slowing the field and bringing most of the front runners to the pits, the exception being the 56 of Tony Hunt, Hunt’s team gambling on the approaching rain. After stops the top 5 on the restart would be Tony Hunt, Chet Fillip , Shane Hollingsworth , jojo Helberg and Shane Cottle.  Quickly after restarting it would become appearant that the dominant cars remaining in the event belonged to the 4 of shane Cottle and 07 of Jacob Wilson both of whom drove quickly to the front. Cottle settling in in 2nd and Wilson 3rd a straight away behind then leader Tony hunt. On lap 416 Hunt’s  time at the front would end when he was forced to pit under green, his gamble on the rain not paying off.  Cottle would inherit the lead in his Ed Martin Auto Group number 4, with the 07 of Wilson close behind . Wilson would remain glued to the rear of Cottle’s car but unable to really pressure him. On lap 474 a late race caution would bunch up the field, on the restart Cottle would get forced high by the 77 of Chet fillip racing out of the pits to try an avoid going another lap down, this would permit the 07 of Wilson to slip by Cottle, who would become mired behind fillip for several laps. After the bout with the Fillip machine,  Cottle would regain his composure and steam his way back to the tail of Wilson, , putting heavy pressure on the leader. At one point driving to the low side of a lapped car to split the machine and leaving the leaders 3 wide for an instant. All of Cottle ‘s effort was for naught though as the engine on the Larry Contos machine expired on lap 494, leaving Wilson uncontested for the final 6 trips around the quarter mile track. Wilson was followed to the line by the 7 of Jojo Helberg , 2 of Eric Gordon and 25 of Tony Elliott all completing the full 500 lap distance, Chet fillip came home 5th completing 498 laps.

 The action all race long was intense as it usually is, but this year saw a large group of cars maintaining touch with one another battling to the very end. It was a race that left fans reeling in the moment knowing they had just witnessed something memorable… it was that good. It was easily the most hotly contested little 500 ever and at the end of 500 laps Jacob Wilson had fought his way from a ninth place starting spot to claim the title of Little 500 Champion. It was a popular victory for the Crawfordsville, Indiana driver, a victory that surprised many. Not so much in that he had won but surprising in the way in which he had won, from an entry that wasn’t on all that many people’s radar going into the night, he had scorched his way through the field and proved he was the car to beat.  The victory did not come fall in his lap due to luck he earned it through every hard fought lap. When he took the lead for the first time on lap 260, it was obvious that whoever was to win the little 500 would have to beat Jacob Wilson and on this day no one could. Wilson climbed from the seat of the 07 Jet Star sponsored  car into an ovation from the large crowd still hanging around for the celebration. As he began his victory lane interview the rain which had held off all night began to finally fall, a fitting end to a monumental day of racing.

 

By Pete Smith

Staff Writer luvracin.com

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