Bo Butner, driver of the Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage Chevrolet Camaro, grew up not too far from Indianapolis Raceway Park in a town called Floyds Knobs, Indiana. For Butner, Indy is special – and for every member of his dedicated crew, the U.S. Nationals strikes a similar chord.
Taylor Chomiski’s earliest Indy memories center around Pro Stock. Chomiski, who builds the transmissions for the JHG Chevrolet Camaro before each run, grew up accompanying father Gary – a Pro Stock crew chief – to the track.
“The first Indy I really remember is when my dad was working for Steve Schmidt,” said Chomiski. “My dad was a crew chief on a Pro Stock car in a different era. There were 40-some-odd cars showing up for 16 spots. I think I was 14 or 15 years old, and we came to Indy the week before to test. I remember being in the staging lanes on Friday night about 7:30 trying to simulate [the next week’s run], and it was just a unique experience.
“This race has so much significance. The car counts are big, the race is longer, the trip to the scales is long and in front of the grandstands. Everything is just big and unique, and it seems like the spotlight is on for five days.”
Many years later, Chomiski logged another memorable U.S. Nationals experience – but this time as a Comp racer.
“The biggest Indy for me was when I got to drive here for the first time in 2020. That was a pretty unique experience – going to the scales, getting to strap in and roll under that famous bridge. It makes you calm down a little bit and think about where you are and what you’re doing.”
JHG clutch man Butch Peterson doesn’t have to reach back that far into the memory banks to tell the story of his first Indy.
“It was the year Dave Connolly and Erica [Enders] were teammates, working for Victor Cagnazzi,” said Peterson. “Dave calls me and says, ‘I’m shorthanded, buddy. You’re my main man; you’ve known me since I was a little kid. Come give me a hand?’ So I said, ‘I’m on my way, David.’ ”
Connolly defeated Enders on a holeshot in that 2012 Indy final, but the moment that still stands out the most for Peterson was walking up for the first burnout on the first day of the race.
“I just kind of shorted-out,” he laughed. “You look around and you’re like, ‘Dude. You’re on the starting line with Dave Connolly in a Pro Stock car at the U.S. Nationals.’ It was a little overwhelming. You have to kind of go, ‘Hey, hey, hey. You’re working now; get your stuff together.’ But you just want to turn into that kid that used to be on the outside of the ropes with your dad. It was a big deal. I used to be that kid, and now I’m here.”
JHG engine man Robert Freeman has gathered an assortment of stories throughout his years of racing at the Big Go. He first recalled coming to the U.S. Nationals in 1991 as a Competition Eliminator racer.
“I remember that Indy because of how many cars there were for 64 spots,” said Freeman, tipping his chair back on two legs as he settled in to tell his story. “There were over 100 cars. It would take like three hours to make a qualifying pass.
“And the first year we ran Pro Stock Trucks here (1998) I went in the sand trap. We tested, everything had been good, but that first pass, we unclutched – and right in the top of low gear, [a piece] broke off of the bracket on the crank shaft. I stuck it in second gear, and it just goes, ‘bluh.’ As I’m going down the track and get to the finish line, I hear something go underneath the truck. It put three holes in the oil pan.”
Freeman and his team replaced the oil pan and were back in business, but on the next pass, another bit of calamity befell the group.
“Next pass, I go down there, yank the ‘chutes…. nothing,” he continued. “I went to push on the brake pedal, and it goes to the firewall. I said, ‘Oh my God.’ I was trucking. It was still going too fast for me to make the curve, so I just nosed into that thing and sunk into it. It was horrible, but there was no way to take that curve at 100 mph. We recovered, but that was something you never forget.”
For Freeman, the U.S. Nationals has never lost its appeal, despite the challenges he’s faced there.
“Indy, to me – I don’t care if you’re racing Competition Eliminator, Top Fuel, Super Gas, Pro Stock – if you’re going to win one race in your lifetime, you want it to be Indy,” he said. “People remember who won the championship, and they remember who won Indy.”
For Dylan Mudd, the son of a drag racer, looking back to his first U.S. Nationals means a trip back in time to his childhood.
“My first Indy was probably when I was about 8 years old,” said JHG crewman Mudd. “We came up and watched Super Stock class and the HEMI Challenge. For me, I’m a Sportsman guy. Indy, to me, is all about Pro Stock, Comp, Super Stock and Stock class eliminations, and all that stuff. Nitro cars are cool, but they aren’t as cool as the Sportsman stuff – especially here.
“I’ve never been to Indy and had any luck, but we’ve been having a lot of good luck with the Pro Stock car; it’s showing potential. Bo is running Super Gas here – he’s been driving good, and the car has been running really well since we swapped motors a couple weeks ago. I feel like we have something special.”