B-Town Bound! Storylines for Friday’s USAC Larry Rice Classic at Bloomington

There’s nothing quite like southern Indiana’s Bloomington Speedway in the springtime.

One of the most scenic venues on the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship slate, the 1/4-mile oval remains serene and peaceful until Friday night when the switch is flipped, the red clay is slung onto the hillside, and suddenly, all is right with the world.

The annual edition of the Larry Rice Classic has been an early season USAC staple dating back to 2011, although the Larry Rice Classic itself has roots that date back to 1993. This year, however, the event’s traditional mid-April date has migrated to mid-May.

Yet the song remains the same for round 10 of the season this Friday night, May 10, and the goal of winning at one of the longest continually operating racetracks in the world remains ever-present. It’s been that way since the joint opened back in 1923.

Here are a handful of storylines to keep your mind occupied with entering Friday’s event.

LEARY CONSTRUCTING A CHAMPIONSHIP RESUME

Don’t look now, but C.J. Leary is having an exceptional start to his 2024 USAC National Sprint Car season.

Throughout his first nine appearances, he holds an average finish of 5.3 and his resume consists of a win, seven top-fives and nine top-tens. In that span, the only aberration came last Friday at Eldora when he had mechanical difficulties with his primary BGE-Dougherty Motorsports ride and had to jump into a backup car. Starting at the tail of the feature field in 24th, he still managed to move up eight spots to 16th.

Best of all for Leary (Greenfield, Ind.), this Friday’s spring race at Bloomington is the very same event in which he won a year ago when he paced all 30 laps. Overall, he has hoisted the winning trophy twice after USAC Sprint Car events at Bloomington in the summer of 2018 and in the spring of 2023. Furthermore, Leary’s one-lap track record of 10.685 seconds, set in 2019, is the one everyone’s been chasing for the past five seasons.

KTJ TRYING TO ADD ANOTHER BANNER IN BLOOMINGTON

Kevin Thomas Jr.’s new home with Rock Steady Racing has been just that – “Rock Steady.” The first-year pairing of veteran team and driver has resulted in them being the only ones in the series to rack up a top-10 finish in all nine of their starts thus far, including a victory at Lawrenceburg in April.

Thomas (Cullman, Ala.) stands second in USAC points entering Bloomington on Friday and could tie a long-standing record as the winningest driver in USAC Sprint Car history at Bloomington Speedway. His four wins are one shy of Bryan Clauson’s record of five between 2009 and 2016.

Not to mention, KTJ is among the three springtime Bloomington USAC winners expected in this Friday’s field, having won in 2021 with a pass on Brady Bacon with only three laps remaining. Bloomington’s red clay is also where Thomas won his first career USAC feature in the summer of 2012.

GRANT ONE AWAY FROM 50

The talk of the town of the past weekend was Justin Grant, not only for his victory on Saturday night at Eldora, but also for his celebratory exploits that saw him get into the wall and upside down on his cool down lap.

Grant (Ione, Calif.) has already won four USAC National Sprint Car features in his first nine starts of 2024. That’s the most since Damion Gardner in 2010. The last time a driver won five of the first 10 was Larry Dickson in 1970. Oddly, Grant stands fourth in points due to a three-race stretch in which he finished 20th, 22nd and 22nd.

The next victory for Grant would be a milestone as he currently possesses 49 career USAC National Sprint Car wins, one shy of becoming the fourth driver to reach 50-plus along with Dave Darland (62), Brady Bacon (53) and Tom Bigelow (52).

BURNS-O-MATIC

Harley Burns (Brazil, Ind.) has been automatic at Bloomington Speedway thus far in 2024, winning both sprint car races on the docket in April and May. The 2023 Bloomington sprint car track champion grabbed a 19th place result in his lone spring USAC start to date and is among a number of local Indiana up-and-comers looking to make some noise this Friday night in USAC competition.

Trey Osborne (Columbus, Ohio) ran second to Burns at Bloomington a week ago ahead of Brayden Fox (Bloomington Ind.) in third, a driver who’s already earned two fast qualifying times in his young career with USAC. Rylan Gray (Greenfield, Ind.) took third at Bloomington in April while Hunter Maddox (Bloomington, Ind.) scored a fourth that same night. Maddox currently ranks as the top USAC National Sprint Car Rookie in points.

Meanwhile, Ricky Lewis (Camarillo, Calif.) and Chance Crum (Snohomish, Wash.) and 2022 Bloomington track titlist Geoff Ensign (Sebastopol, Calif.) are among the west coast to Midwest transplants who have had success in B-Town and aim to translate that to USAC success come Friday night.

YES, IT’S EARLY, BUT HERE’S THE POINT

Over the past two-race weekend, three drivers managed to bump themselves up in the USAC National Sprint Car point standings.

Kyle Cummins (Princeton, Ind.), a 2022 USAC winner at Bloomington, jumped up from eighth to sixth by virtue of his narrow runner-up result at Eldora. Kevin Thomas Jr. rose from third to second while Mitchel Moles (Raisin City, Calif.) elevated from ninth to eighth.

Logan Seavey (Sutter, Calif.) continues to dominate the standings after garnering eight podium finishes in nine starts. His point lead has blossomed to 62, the largest such lead through nine series events since Justin Grant’s 70-point advantage in 2020.

Thomas (602) and Leary (600) are separated by just two points in the tussle for second. Grant sits fourth with Daison Pursley (Locust Grove, Okla.) a solid fifth at the moment. Kyle Cummins (Princeton, Ind.), Brady Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.), Moles, Chase Stockon (Fort Branch, Ind.) and Robert Ballou (Rocklin, Calif.) all occupy spots six through 10 with just 30 points of separation between them.

HONORING LARRY RICE

Friday night’s event at Bloomington also marks the 31st anniversary of the inaugural Larry Rice Classic. The race originated as a USAC National Midget event in 1993 at Bloomington and was won by Tony Elliott behind the wheel of Ralph Potter’s V-6 powered machine.

Rice was one of USAC’s finest ambassadors, claiming National Championships in the Silver Crown (1977 & 1981) and Midget series (1973). A 1993 inductee into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame, Rice won 15 USAC National Midget features in addition to five Silver Crown and three Sprint features.

After a stint as a school teacher, he worked his way to the pinnacle of auto racing, and in 1978, shared the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year honors with Rick Mears after his 11th place finish. He eventually became the color analyst for ESPN’s Thursday & Saturday Night Thunder program which featured USAC racing events. He also worked for K & K Insurance, specializing in motorsports insurance. His major victories included the 4-Crown Nationals at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway, the Hut Hundred Midget race at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track and the 1981 Hoosier Hundred Silver Crown race at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Rice passed away in 2009 after a bout of cancer.

RACE DETAILS

The 45th USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship in the history of Bloomington Speedway will take place on Friday night, May 10, culminating with a $5,000-to-win, 30-lap feature.

The Larry Rice Classic features the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship along with the IMCA RaceSaver Sprint Cars and Hornets.

Pits open at 4pm Eastern with the grandstands opening at 5pm, drivers meeting at 5:45pm & cars on track at 6:30pm with qualifying and racing to immediately follow.

General admission tickets are $30 for ages 11 and up. GA tickets for ages 10 and under are free. Pit passes are $40 for ages 11 and up. Pit passes are $15 for ages 10 and under.

If you’re unable to make it to the track, you may also watch this Friday’s Bloomington event LIVE on FloRacing at https://flosports.link/usac.

USAC PR