By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — “I told those guys it’s either going to go back on the wrecker or we’re going to take the checkered flag first so luckily it was the latter half of that.”
Tyler Courtney only led seven laps of the 64th and final Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds but they were the laps that counted as the Indianapolis native racked up a win at one of the crown jewels of the month of May in Indianapolis.
Chris Windom led the first five laps of the Thursday night classic but a blown right rear tire on the main straight sent Windom into the wall in a series of flips and rolls that had the near-capacity crowd gasping. Windom climbed from the car and will participate in the Freedom 100 on Friday.
Following the red flag for Windom’s incident, Kevin Thomas Jr. led the race at will, pulling away from Courtney and four time defending Hoosier Hundred champion Kody Swanson.
However, a late race red flag for Chris Dyson’s overturned car exiting Turn 2 on Lap 92 gave Courtney one more shot at trying to get around Thomas for the lead.
Courtney timed the restart perfectly and went around the outside of Thomas into Turn 1. Courtney made the move stick and pulled away from Thomas to lead the last seven laps and win.
Thomas wasn’t too thrilled with finishing second, especially after leading 86 laps at will.
“Things don’t go your way,” said Thomas. “You get so many restarts for somebody to time what you’re doing, you’re kind of limited to what you can do in these things because of the way they restart and he made a move that it was either going to work or he was going to crash and it ended up working which is pretty standard.
“It’s pretty remarkable what [Courtney] does, but it don’t piss me off any less. This one stings but we’ve had some good runs with this thing. Four seconds in a row, that’s good and also really sucks at the same time so we’ll get one here soon.”
Swanson was trying to win his fifth Hoosier Hundred in a row, setting a new record to beat Al Unser Sr.’s record from 1970-1973. While many thought the Californian was playing the long game, Swanson said that wasn’t the case since torrential rain the night before affected track conditions.
“Sometimes in years past the long game has worked but the way the race track was tonight there was no long game to be had,” said Swanson. “It wasn’t a tire conservation thing as much as you had to be able to be fast enough and tonight we just weren’t.
“In the 10 years I’ve gotten to run this race this is the most, I’ll call it ‘the most unique’ I’ve ever seen. I appreciate that they got it in but it wasn’t our typical thing and that’s okay. I think if it was I think I’d have been in good shape for that. You race the race track on the day you race it and I take pride and joy in trying to figure out all the variables that there are and tonight we just figured it out third best.”
The Indiana State Fairgrounds announced in April a conversion of the Fairgrounds surface to an all-weather limestone surface for year-round horse training and the Hoosier Hundred will have to find a new location for 2020.
“It’s pretty bittersweet, man,” said Courtney. “It’s obviously incredible that you get to win this race but it sucks that it’s the last one but we’re forever enshrined in history and we’re the last ones to do it.”