Bones Bourcier

Midwest Midget Marathons 

INDIANAPOLIS — Time marches on, seasons come and go, there’s always another crisis — this year, a tire shortage — and the price of everything rarely stops climbing.

Faced with relentless change, you lean on the few constants you find.

So here’s one you can count on: a youthful zest for a schedule crammed full of racing.

“Indiana Midget Week is incredible,” said Logan Seavey, perched on a four-wheeler in the pits at Bloomington Speedway. “It used to be four or five nights in a row. Now, it’s seven races in nine nights. It’s fun.”

Seavey, USAC’s 2018 midget champion, wore a big grin.

Bloomington was the first stop of those seven, and he’d qualified a weak 16th. His car, he said, was “a little bit off.” But his smile did not flicker. He is a northern California kid — from Sutter, 50 miles north of Sacramento — who grew up thinking he had no chance of racing for a living.

But here he was at 25, doing just that, running all three USAC divisions and contesting his fifth Midget Week.

I wandered away to watch the heat races and found myself thinking about A.J. Foyt. That happens every year at this time, because Foyt’s first exposure to national racing involved a similar burst of midget action.

That was 75 years ago, in 1947, when Foyt was 12.

His dad, a strap of rawhide named Tony Foyt, was partners with Dale Burt in both a Houston repair shop and a V8-60 midget, which Burt drove. A peek at the busy schedule of the old Midwest Racing Ass’n made both men restless. But someone needed to mind the garage, and Tony was the better mechanic.

They decided that Dale Burt would haul the midget north, and it was his suggestion that A.J. ought to tag along. Tony Foyt, sensing a good learning experience for his son, agreed.

Off they went, the old driver — Burt was 40 — and his young traveling partner, hauling up U.S. Route 59 with the midget on a small trailer behind Burt’s Oldsmobile. When they stopped for a meal across the Arkansas state line, it was the first time A.J. Foyt had ever set foot outside of Texas.

That night, in Missouri, they slept in the car. A day’s drive later they were in Decatur, Ill., where they based themselves at the Pine Lodge Motel. At $25 per week, it was popular with gypsy racers.

For the next 20 nights, they saw constant battle.

Within easy reach were dirt saucers in Illinois towns such as Macon, Lincoln, Shelbyville, Pana, Springfield and Farmer City. Combatants included future Indy 500 entrants Duane Carter and Chuck Weyant, and a slew of Midwest giants, among them Wisconsin’s Frank Burany, Indiana’s Leroy Warriner and Chicago’s Danny Kladis. Testosterone flowed like the nearby Mississippi River.

Each morning, before the sun was high and hot, mechanics fiddled with engines and setups in the motel parking lot. At lunch time, everyone drifted to a diner across the street.

Then, they were gone again, back on the two-lanes, bound for another bullring.

“It was maybe the best summer of my life,” Foyt told his biographer, Bill Neely.

In 1953, at age 18, A.J. began a midget career that included victories in every race worth discussing.

I once asked the late George Bignotti to name the best midget driver he’d ever seen. Bignotti is legendary for his seven Indy 500 victories as a chief mechanic, but his first fame came when Fred Agabashian steered his midget to a pair of titles with California’s Bay Cities Racing Ass’n.

“The best?” said Bignotti. “Foyt.”

You can trace it all back to 1947, and the excitement of those three weeks in Illinois.

The sport has changed a lot since then. The he-men heroes Foyt saw might have howled in disbelief if you told them that one day the fastest four qualifiers for a national-level midget event would all be females, aged 15-22.

Well, it happened on June 9 at Lincoln Park Speedway.

But, again, some things never change. Just as Dale Burt and his peers labored outside the Pine Lodge Motel, Indiana Midget Week was a symphony of ratchets and wheel hammers.

“Everybody says we get Monday and Tuesday nights off,” said Buddy Kofoid, 22, USAC’s defending midget champ. “But we’re working 12 hours on those days, getting ready for the second set of races.”

Rain knocked out two of the scheduled rounds, but Kofoid’s speed and consistency in the rest — he won at Bloomington and Lawrenceburg, and placed second at Haubstadt —gave him his second straight Midget Week title.

And smiling Logan Seavey? Things didn’t go his way. He was a DNF at Bloomington, failed to qualify at Haubstadt and had a best finish of 10th at Lawrenceburg.

But the thing about Indiana Midget Week is that there’s no time to sit around pondering your fortunes.

“If you’re running really good, it’s great to know that you get to race again tomorrow,” Seavey said. “But it’s the same when you’re running bad. You can brush off a tough night and go on to the next track.”

I imagined Dale Burt saying something similar, and an adolescent A.J. Foyt nodding, in that glorious Illinois summer of ’47.

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