ROLLING THUNDER, USAC Silver Crown history – 50 years – 1971 – 2020


By:  Joe Jennings

Rolling Thunder, 50 years of USAC Silver Crown Racing 1971-2020, is a labor of love endeavor by four knowledgeable reporters; namely, skilled writers Pat Sullivan and USAC’s Richie Murray and noted photographers John Mahoney and Bob Mays.

And based on previous products by this quartet, this book will also be a winner.

As presented, the 350-page book reminds one of a fulfilling seven-course meal, which   leads off with the appetizer, a stimulating Introduction authored by Sullivan, a college professor and acclaimed writer and track announcer.  He warms-up readers with a walkthrough of the 50 years of Silver Crown racing, and he’s followed by the soup and salad portion — a well-written Foreword by Kody Swanson, the winningest driver in the history of the series.

The first two sections of the book are followed by the all-important main course — the meat and potatoes, so to speak – split into five chapters:  The Road of Legends, 1971-1977; Time to Blaze a New Trail, 1978-1997; The Circuit Grows Up, 1998-2005; Into the Depths, 2006-2013 and Out of the Abyss, 2014-2020.

Lastly, the dessert is served with 136 pages of statistics with box scores of every race along with additional data such as list of driver and entrant champions, rookies of year, all-time victories and more.

Over the last half of century, the series has experienced its ups and downs, going from being an integral part of the National Championship Trail to being dropped as advanced technology of race cars took over along with the growth of larger venues and the influence of sponsorship dollars and television exposure.

Also, the number of mile-dirt tracks, the bread-and-butter playgrounds for the series, was dwindling rapidly.  In 1971, four dirt-tracks had survived and two years later, just three remained and today, two are still active.

These conditions didn’t bode well for the once-popular series, particularly after fan-favorite drivers such as A. J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and Al Unser, Sr. had other priorities on their schedules.

Regardless, the series stayed in business and when half-mile dirt tracks and pavement races were added to the schedule, interest was seemingly renewed.  At times, there were more than a dozen races being run after being reduced to three at one point.  These situations are described well throughout the book and every year’s action is presented along with relevant photographs on every page.

A new generation car gained short-term attention, but the emergence of future stars like Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon pumped new life into the series.

And then along came Jack Hewitt, who became the new poster child.  His runs are described in detail as is Swanson’s record-breaking rise through the ranks along with a few unique occurrences.

Who can forget the 1981 Pocono 500 when the Silver Crown contingent was called upon to be field fillers for the senior circuit?  With 11th place, Mark Alderson scored the top finish by the slower class – 18 laps behind Foyt, the race victor. To race at the superspeedway, the Silver Crown cars were required to add a rear-view mirror and the drivers were handicapped by having to exit during the refueling process.  But the payoffs were worth the aggravation.

“Rolling Thunder” contains many references to stories and anecdotes from the past, which will either jog a reader’s memory or add to one’s education about events and accomplishments over the half century of coverage.  Not surprisingly, the book is hard to put down once you start reading, and it will make for a welcome addition to a racing library or to display on a coffee table.

As stated at the beginning of the review, the book reflects on the commitment to excellence by the producers and comes off as a big-time winner.

Printed on high-quality paper, “Rolling Thunder” is bargain-priced at $49.95 + $9 postage from Fastrack Publishing, 5220 North 10th Street, Lincoln, NE 68521, if paying by check or cash.  Credit card purchasers should contact or call the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame at 641-842-6176.




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