Hulman Classic winner James McElreath is joined by his family in victory lane. - John Mahoney Photo
Terre Haute, Ind. (May 7, 1977) – James McElreath of Arlington, Tex., posted his first career United States Auto Club sprint car win on dirt, Saturday afternoon, when he breezed to victory in the seventh annual Tony Hulman Classic at the Terre Haute Action Track.
The $50,293 purse was the largest ever for a sprint car race.
The 23-year-old second generation standout thus became the youngest driver ever to win the event. He drove the Amax Coal Company sprinter owned by his father, veteran USAC pilot Jim McElreath.
Another second-generation star, Clark Templeman, finished second in the 40-lap feature and was followed by Roger Rager, Billy Casella, Jerry Weeks and Bubby Jones.
While it was a great day for younger drivers, previous winners of the event and established stars of the division experienced plenty of adversity.
George Snider, Bruce Walkup and Pancho Carter, winners of the 1971, ’72 and ’75 Hulman Classic, respectively, all failed to earn a starting berth in the main event.
Walkup was plagued by a series of mechanical failures in both cars he drove while Snider and Carter failed twice to earn one of the 20 starting assignments through the heats and semi-feature.
The only other previous winner to make the event, ’73 winner Joe Saldana, flipped his racer several times on the first lap and clearing the third turn wall. He was uninjured.
Front-row starter Jerry Weeks would out charge polesitter Clark Templeman at the drop of the green to take the lead. Weeks would lead the way until lap 19 when McElreath found traction in the upper groove and took the lead.
Templeman followed McElreath’s example and although he was unable to seriously challenge the leader, the move to the upper groove paid off handsomely as he secured a second-place finish.
Dana Carter appeared headed for a top-five finish when he slammed into the third turn wall on the last lap, demolishing his new car.
1. Jim McElreath
2. Clark Templeton
3. Roger Rager
4. Bill Cassella
5. Jerry Weeks
6. Bubby Jones
7. Jackie Howerton
8. Larry Rice
9. Rich Vogler
10. Dana Carter
11. Greg Leffler
12. Johnny Parsons
13. Mark Alderson
14. Gary Bettenhausen
15. Tom Bigelow
16. Ronnie Shuman
17. Sheldon Kinser
18. Steve Chassey
19. Bob Frey
20. Joe Saldana