TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Johnny Petrozelle said prior to Sunday’s 17th running of the Sumar Classic at Indiana’s Terre Haute Action Track that his goal with the Cornell Racing Stables team was “just to have fun” in the duo’s USAC Silver Crown Series debut.
Fast forward to when the third-generation racer took the checkered flag after 100 laps around the fast half-mile, and not only was fun had inside his cockpit, but the team arguably over-achieved by improving every session out and coming home in the 11th position.
Petrozelle clocked the 25th-fastest lap (24.459 seconds) in opening practice, three seconds off the lead pace, before improving to 19th in final practice and closing the gap by a half-second.
As the track slowed down further, Petrozelle continued to close the gap and find speed. He trimmed another second off his deficit to the leaders in two-lap time trials, moving all the way up to 12th on the board and locking himself into the main event in an impressive performance.
Come main event time, the Cornell-Petrozelle Racing No. 8 was at its peak performance, as ‘The Rocket’ piloted the car to its best position on the board all day long, finishing 11th and outrunning names like young gun Austin Nemire, Shane Cockrum, Aaron Pierce and 2016 Chili Bowl polesitter Justin Grant, who was trying to become the first driver in USAC history to sweep all three National Tour season-openers in a single year.
The Denton, N.C. native said afterwards that the result was one that he and the Cornell team can build on for future races, especially considering that he had to rally from a mid-race spin, restarting last and driving back through the field to garner that 11th-place result in the box score.
“Man, I’m pretty stoked about what we were able to accomplish in Terre Haute,” Petrozelle smiled. “We were horrible in hot laps and had to about throw the kitchen sink at (the car). We got a little better and then threw a lot at it again. The whole crew worked hard … changed tires, springs, gears, spacing … everything, it felt like. I figured we’d be in the back of the B-Main, but we somehow made it to 12th in qualifying and they took the top 16.”
“Early on in the main, the car was shoving the nose pretty bad and we fell back. While I was trying to make a few outside passes, I got the right rear too far out and spun. At that point we restarted last and I didn’t know where we’d end up. When we came back to 11th, I thought ‘Wow, we made a lot happen there.'”
Petrozelle added that it may have taken he and the team all day, but they finally started finding the handle on the famous ‘Cornell Special’.
“We were really good getting in and through the center, but up off (the corner) we were getting killed. Even when my car was straighter … it just seemed to get pulled by everyone. We were the highest finishing coil-over car, though, and I think there’s something there.”
“There’s not a ding anywhere on this piece and I’m confident we can build on this. I’m really proud of this rookie team and excited for what’s ahead. This was a lot of fun, just like I hoped it would be!”
The Cornell Stables team plans to return to Silver Crown competition at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on May 25, during the 63rd running of the legendary Hoosier Hundred.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 23-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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