Sunday, July 21, 2024

Speed Speed and more Speed

Episode 426

May 22, 2023

Sting Ray 

As long time UpNorth Motorsports followers know, one of the drivers we have been following several years since 2018 through his 2020 championship in Indy Pro 2000 on the Road to Indy. Last year he was second in what is now Indy NXT.

Sting Ray Robb from Payette, Idaho caught my eye since he is from potato country as we in northern Maine are also. Of course, that name, Sting Ray, grabs your eye when seen in print or heard on the air. Yes, Sting Ray is his actual first name!

And he is a committed Follower of Christ without reservation or regret. I must admit that catches ink with me.

Indy first race is tough

The first race at Indianapolis in May is the GMR Grand Prix at Indy utilizing the 14 turn 2.439-mile road course within the confines of the most famous racetrack on the planet.  After starting 22nd, Robb tangled with his teammate David Malukas in turn one on lap two putting them both out of the race and finishing last.

The emphasis then shifted from the road course to the high-speed oval. All attention was directed to the preparation to go 230 + mph. The tiny team with less than 20 employees in the Dale Coyne/Rick Ware stable were up against some of the biggest names in the business including Penske, Ganassi, Foyt, and Rahal Letterman.

Last Chance Qualifier tensions boiling

Fast forward to qualifying weekend. The 2023 edition of the Indy had some twists and turns that were different than the past. The field included 34 cars for the 33 slots available, so someone was going home disappointed,

The top 12 from Saturday’s qualifying would come back Sunday and shoot for a place in the Fast Six who would fight it out for the pole late Sunday afternoon. Meanwhile an entirely different dynamic was taking place at the bottom of the field.

During Saturday qualifications the slowest four cars would need to come back Sunday to try to get in the race. Action at the bottom added to the drama as teams clawed for speed just to make the top 30 and be guaranteed a spot in the race. When it came to the final minutes only four drivers were left outside looking in. Three Rahal Letterman Lanigan (RLL) drivers Christian Lundgaard, Jack Harvey, and Graham Rahal along with Dale Coyne Racing’s Sting Ray Robb had a date with the Last Chance Qualifier from 4 to 5 pm Sunday.

At 4 pm Sunday, Lundgaard went out first followed by Robb, Harvey and finally Rahal. Lundgaard and Robb went fast enough to be ahead of Rahal and Harvey putting both of them in a somewhat secure spot. Harvey went out with less than 10 minutes to go to try to make the field when he came up short. He then had the option to try one more time to make the field. Despite a hot engine and warm tires Harvey went out as the last who would be able to make the race.

Harvey knocked off teammate Rahal by thousands of a mile per hour. Until Sunday, Rahal had been in 15 straight Indy 500 races. His emotions came to the fore in pit lane interviews post-race. It was bittersweet for sure.

Sting Ray Robb time of 229.549 mph over four laps held and now he is in the 107th running of the Indy 500, one of four rookies with along with nine former winners of the 500. The entire field average speed is 232.184 mph and pole winner’s Alex Palou speed of 234.271 are amazingly fast.

Hale grandkids show support for Sting Ray Robb

In December of 2022, all of the Hale grandkids were issued wooden car components which they were to paint and assemble to present to Sting Ray Robb to support his IndyCar debut. Each was given the same kit and told to paint their Sting Ray Robb car as they saw fit and complete it before the Indy 500.

The last of the wooden cars were collected last week when I went to Portland for surgery. My granddaughters and my son-in-law presented me with the finished racers. Photos of the cars were sent to Sting Ray Robb along with promises of prayers for him as he made the effort to get in the field Sunday for the Last Chance Qualifier.

Here are all the grandkids’ cars along with mine and my son-in-law:

Lydia with her multi-toned racer with “environmentally friendly” green race tires sports a genuine SR2 t-shirt (HTF Motorsports photo)

The Vermont boys, showing off their new Stag Brand sweatshirts, Caleb on left displays his blue and yellow version of the Robb car. Soren on the right had tiger stripes painted on his version of the car. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Lila with her flowing paint stripes with Sting Ray green accents displays her version of the Robb car. The black under her eyes is from a lacrosse match, I did not give her time to remove all of it before the photo. Kinda cute. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Of course, we guys had to get into the spirit. My son-in-law Marc with his version featured a black and gold paint scheme reminding me of Smokey Yunick race cars. Yunick never would have used green however, since green was thought to be bad luck in those day. (HTF Motorsports photo)

My version of the car with throwback to the Sunoco blue and yellow colors sported by Penske in the 60’s and 70’s. Sting Ray Robb is doing well as the “Honorary” driver of the Hale grandkids cars. All of them wish him well in his first Indy 500 May 28th. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Swanson Update

After a couple rainouts, the USAC Silver Crown 2023 season finally got underway on the high-banked Belleville dirt track, Belleville, Kansas. UpNorth Motorsports continues to follow the career of former Kingsburg, California FFA member Kody Swanson. I met him over 10 years ago and his story never gets boring with me and I hope you appreciate it as well.

My friend Linda Mansfield, Restart Communications tells the story of the USAC Silver Crown opener. Thank you, Linda.

In USAC Silver Crown Season Opener

BELLEVILLE, Kan., May 21 — Kody Swanson and Doran Binks Racing got the 2023 USAC Silver Crown season off to a great start Saturday at the Belleville High Banks by setting a new track record to win the pole, setting the fastest lap of the race, leading the most laps, and finishing second in the 50-lap main event with the No. 77 sponsored by Mission Foods and Glenn Farms.

It was an impressive performance on the unique, high-banked half-mile dirt track as Swanson began the pursuit of his eighth series title. He is the winningest driver in the history of USAC’s top series and the defending champion. After Saturday’s season opener he leads the point standings over Brady Bacon, 73 to 70.

The Lebanon, Ohio-based team brought a Maxim chassis that Swanson used to drive for DePalma Motorsports out of retirement, and the Indianapolis-based driver led the first 27 laps of the race with his old car, fitted with a Bob Hampshire Chevy engine. By lap 13 he had a whopping 4.018-second lead over the second-place runner at the time, Justin Grant.

That huge advantage dropped a bit when he had trouble threading his way around some cars he was lapping, but he still had nearly a 2-second lead over Grant when the first yellow waved on lap 21. That caution was needed after the sixth-place driver, Mario Clouser, had a flat right-rear tire and clipped the fourth-place driver, Wayne Johnson, causing Johnson to stop in Turn 3.

Yellow flag laps didn’t count, and Swanson got a good restart and started to rebuild his advantage. At the halfway point he was nearly a second ahead of Grant.

However, Grant was able to cut his deficit to 0.453 seconds two laps later, and Grant took the lead with a slider to the inside in Turn 4 on lap 28 that continued through Turn 2 with Grant on the outside.

Four laps later Bacon got under Swanson for second in Turn 2 on lap 32. Bacon then set his sights on Grant, while Swanson held off C.J. Leary to maintain third.

Grant led from laps 28 through 42, but Bacon got around him on lap 43 to become the race’s third leader.

Brady Bacon and Justin Grant put on a great show until Grant tangled with Bacon with four to go and flipped. Grant was okay and Sunday night went on to be named the Hard Charger in the NOS Energy Drink National Midget feature at Sweet Springs Motorsports Complex, Sweet Springs, Missouri. (Chris Pederson photo)

Grant was able to stay close to Bacon. Grant was on the low side and Bacon was high on lap 46 while they were both navigating lapped traffic and doing sliders. Grant’s slider worked best for a few seconds and he took the lead. Grant came up the track a bit following his slider and Bacon was powering down the frontstretch after his when room ran out. They came together while they were side by side, with Grant flipping hard into the catch fence close to Turn 1 to bring out a red flag. Luckily he wasn’t hurt.

That elevated Swanson back into second place behind Bacon for the restart, but after only one lap the yellow came out again when Leary, who was fourth, and Mitchel Moles, who was fifth, tangled in Turn 2 and Leary stopped low on the track. Both were unable to continue.

Bacon was able to get a good restart and he remained in front for the last three laps to post a 3.250-second victory over Swanson. Swanson was 1.567 seconds ahead of the third-place finisher, Chase Stockon, who started 13th and was the hard charger. Shane Cottle finished fourth and Logan Seavey finished fifth in the 24-car field.

Brady Bacon wins the 50 lap USAC Silver Crown opener on the high-banked Belleville Speedway followed by Kody Swanson in second and Chase Stockton third.  (USAC Racing photo)

Swanson set the fastest lap of the race while he was leading on lap seven with a time of 18.152 seconds. Leary set the second-fastest lap of the race followed by Grant, Bacon and Johnson.

Earlier in the day Swanson set a new track record of 16.823 seconds in winning his 42nd career pole in this series, extending his record in that category.

The Doran Binks Racing pole winning car driven by Kody Swanson. See Linda’s story to get the backstory on the car’s history. (Doran Binks Motorsports photo)

“It was a monumental effort,” Swanson said afterwards. “We led early. The track slicked off, and at the end we didn’t have anything for him. Congrats to Brady and Sean Michael for their win. I’m just thankful to be part of this team and to be surrounded by all these great people, and for the support of Mission Foods and Glenn Farms.”

The race, which was the first USAC Silver Crown race at this particular track in eight years, was streamed live by Flo Racing.

Doran Binks Racing and Swanson now have a monumental week ahead of them, as they tackle the Hoosier Hundred USAC Silver Crown race at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park in Brownsburg, Ind., on Friday, May 26 followed by the Lucas Oil Little 500 presented by UAW 500 Sprint Car Tour race at Anderson (Ind.) Speedway the next day, Saturday, May 27.

Let’s go racing,

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria (Matthew 5:16)