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Bob Sargent with Jeff Probus, Adam Mackey

Bob Sargent, right, the head of Track Enterprises, is joined by Jeff Probus, left, and Adam Mackey. 

In dirt track auto racing-themed internet chat rooms, the motto seems to be "it's never too early to panic."

Those of "the sky is falling" ilk got a bombshell of fodder last week when it was announced that this May's Hoosier Hundred, a USAC Silver Crown Series race at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis, would be the last.

Overrun by a horse racing industry that wants to use the fairgrounds as a training facility and was willing to pay for the right to do so on a year-round basis, dirt track auto racing's most storied and famous event has been cast to the side by the Indiana State Fair Board.

When talking about storied and famous, we're talking about Jim McKay and the cameras of ABC's Wide World of Sports making an occasional stop for a dirt track automobile race on Indy's east side, while "spanning the globe for the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat."

Providing the Hoosier Hundred thrills of the Wide World of Sports era were guys named Andretti, Foyt and Unser, who gave way to guys named Gary Bettenhausen, Johnny Parsons Jr. and Pancho Carter, who gave way to guys named Gordon, Stewart and Newman of NASCAR fame.

All have contributed mightily to Hoosier Hundred lore.

California-native Kody Swanson is the most recent to be handed the Hoosier Hundred baton and has a chance to make some history himself when this year's edition takes the green flag on May 23.

Swanson is aiming for an unprecedented fifth straight Hoosier Hundred win, surpassing the legendary Al Unser Sr., who won four straight in the early 1970s before being denied a fifth.

"The Hoosier Hundred has an atmosphere that you don't find anywhere else," Swanson told The Pantagraph by phone this week. "I hate to think this will be the last one."

For well over the past decade, the Hoosier Hundred has been staged by Macon-based Track Enterprises, one of the nation's premier auto racing promotional organizations headed by veteran promoter Bob Sargent. Track Enterprises also promotes Silver Crown and ARCA races on the fairgrounds mile at both Springfield and DuQuoin as part of a 38-race special event schedule that includes tracks from Florida to Montana.

With over four decades of special-event promotion under his belt, there's little that Sargent hasn't seen. However, he says he was caught a bit off guard with what happened in Indianapolis, considering that the horse racing powers-that-be had been using a half-mile track on the infield at the Indy fairgrounds before suddenly deciding they needed the whole thing.

"I don't know that I saw this coming," Sargent told The Pantagraph this week. "I really thought that the horse racing industry and our cars could co-exist and work together."

The major sticking point is that the track's surface will be changed. Sargent said it will be impossible for cars to race on the new surface when the dirt will be covered with crushed limestone, a blend that will allow the horses to be exercised and trained on a year-round basis, regardless of weather. It will also allow the Fair Board to park cars on the track surface, rain or shine, during the Indiana State Fair.

While losing the longtime home of an event that through the years has seen seven of its winners also win the Indianapolis 500, Sargent says he's not going to give up easily on a premier date in the Track Enterprises portfolio.

"The Hoosier Hundred will stay alive," he said. "We're just exploring our options on where to run it."

In the meantime, for those of us who live in Central Illinois what happened in Indianapolis has absolutely no bearing on the annual mile races at Springfield and DuQuoin. Despite the internet chat-room bashers, naysayers and "Gloomy Gusses," it's also not a death-knell for the Silver Crown Series. In truth, the series has been seeing an upswing in recent years.

"The last couple of years, it's really beginning to come back and everything seems to be going in the right direction," Sargent said.

Swanson gives Sargent and Track Enterprises a lot of the credit for a turnaround in the tour's fortunes.

"The car counts have been improving, fan interest is growing and it's sort of snowballed," Swanson said. "As recently as 2013 things were looking really bleak. Then Andy (Hillenburg) came on board (as competition director) and things started to turn around on the competition side, and Levi (Jones) has been doing a good job of keeping that going. 

"Bob and the Track Enterprises group have also been pivotal," Swanson said. "They could have thrown in the towel and instead they doubled down on it and started promoting even more events. I hope all of the momentum carries us through the tough news. Let's have a great Hoosier Hundred and see that continue with Springfield and DuQuoin and keep these miles going."

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Bruce Yentes covers motorsports for The Pantagraph and can be reached at byentes@pantagraph.com or (309) 820-3391. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_yentes

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