Terre Haute, Ind. (August 9, 1971) - Gary Bettenhausen of Tinley Park, Ill., accomplished three important things at the opening yesterday of the 35th Vigo County Fair.He ended a two-year victory drought at the Action Track and in the process tied a record for the half-mile clay oval and increased his lead in the hotly-contested United States Auto Club sprint car title chase.
Bettenhausen thrilled the capacity crowd yesterday, speeding around George Snider on the 23rd lap of the 40-lap race and then outdueling the winner of the Tony Hulman Classic to post the victory.
In winning the main event, Bettenhausen moved into a tie with Jim Hurtubise for the most sprint car feature wins at the Action Track, five each, although Bettenhausen had not won there since October of 1969.
Snider, winner of the third heat, led the first 22 laps of the feature and seemed to be running well, but Bettenhausen moved in quickly and gained the lead by staying low through turn one.
The personable Bettenhausen, who started the race on the fourth row, said, “The car was running very smoothly, and it was working super by the end of the race. Also, the tires were biting well, and I knew all along the car was doing well enough to catch Snider and hold the lead. There was no doubt about it.”
Another great performance was turned in by the runner-up to Bettenhausen in 1971 sprint car point standings, Larry Dickson, who finished fourth.
Because he was driving for Carl Williams in the City of Terre Haute Special, a new entry, Dickson was forced to start the feature race at the end of the 20-car field.
However, Dickson advanced to the ninth spot after only 14 laps and he was fifth before the halfway mark. From that point, Dickson passed one other car, but he couldn’t get by the first heat winner, Bill Puterbaugh, although the two battled for third place the last 15 laps.
Lee Kunzman, ninth in sprint car standings, finished fifth, while Jackie Howerton was sixth in the day’s top race.
Johnny Parsons, the day’s second fastest qualifier with a one-lap time of 23.78 seconds, ended up seventh and Joe Saldana, who ran a hundredth of a second faster than Parsons, was eighth. Fourth heat winner, Sonny Ates, was ninth and semi-feature winner Jerry McClung rounded out the top-10.
Puterbaugh’s winning time in the first heat was 4 minutes and 17 seconds, for the 10-lap race while Snider won the third heat in 4 minutes and 18 seconds. No times were recorded for the second and fourth heats because the yellow flag was dropped in those races.
Bill Thrasher captured the second heat while Snider moved all the way from his sixth starting position to win the third heat. Ates easily won the fourth and final heat in which Jimmy Caruthers flipped his machine in the west turn.
McClung won an early fight for the lead in the 12-lap semi-feature and Dick Tobias finished second after starting in the ninth spot.
Among the top names who failed to qualify for the top race were Rollie Beale, Larry (Boom Boom) Cannon and Darl Harrison who are fourth, sixth and eighth, respectively, in sprint car point standings.
The well-known Jimmy McElreath, a former Action Track sprint winner, failed to qualify for the feature and Sammy Sessions, third in sprint standings, had car trouble and was unable to qualify for any of the heats or feature race.
More than 6,725 fans contributed to Sunday’s driver’s purse of $8,700.
The track was extremely slick in the turns, but in view of the hot and humid weather most drivers felt the track was about as good as possible. However, because the turns were somewhat treacherous, race times were considerably slow.