Most serious athletes find ways to stay sharp after their respective outdoor sports seasons end, be it through workout routines, relocating to warmer climates in the off-season or taking up their trade indoors.
For auto racers it might seem like that latter option is out of the question, but that is hardly the case. Indoor auto racing has been filling a gap for those with a passion for speed for decades. It is unique in that it tends to blend racers from a variety of different genres into one compact arena, and Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall has been at the forefront of indoor auto racing almost since its inception, dating back to the 1930s.
“That’s the cool part of this,” says Anthony Sesely, a Matawan native who races in the asphalt modified class outdoors, and whose success in A.C. has been nearly unmatched. “You’re racing against guys who the rest of the year do super modified, dirt modified, asphalt modified, microsprints and all styles of sprint cars — there’s all walks of life and drivers from different backgrounds that come together, and you can sometimes see it in their styles out there.”
The modern era of indoor auto racing at the Hall returns for the 15th year Friday and Saturday, Jan. 27 and 28. Produced by Len Sammons Motorsports, the NAPA Know How Indoor Auto Racing Series includes three classes of scaled-down cars, with the premier division called Three Quarter (TQ) Midgets. The other two are Slingshots and Champ Karts.
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Boardwalk Hall is the third and final stop on the series that also includes the Sun Bank Center in Trenton and the PPL Center in Allentown, Pa. Racers tally points based on their finishes at each stop, and the total-points champions in each class will be determined in A.C. The preeminent race inside Boardwalk Hall — a 26-car TQ Midget qualifier called the Gambler’s Classic — will mark the series culmination. Winning the Gambler’s Classic by itself — independent of any total-points title — holds a lot of prestige among indoor racers, and is the result of the paring down of more than 100 cars in several TQ race heats to determine one champion.
Last year Sesely won his third Gambler’s Classic title, which is unprecedented in a modern indoor era that began when Sammons Motorsports revived A.C. auto racing in 2000. Prior to that the George Stockinger era ran from 1965-1981, and was sandwiched between two long racing hiatuses. Sesely is also a two-time TQ Midgets points champion, but is not likely to take that title this year in A.C. based on his car’s performances in Trenton and Allentown.
“(TQ points leaders Ryan Flores, Erick Rudolph and Jimmy Blewett) would need bad luck and we’d need extraordinarily good luck for that to happen,” Sesely says. “I haven’t even looked at the points totals to be honest with you. When you go into Atlantic City, particularly since it’s a Friday and Saturday deal, all you’re worried about is doing well in Atlantic City and getting that big (Gambler’s Classic) cup on Saturday night. That’s what it’s all about. I mean, if you’re doing really well in the points coming in, it’s something you’re paying attention to. If not, oh well.”
Danny Sammons, president of Sammons Motorsports, has referred to Boardwalk Hall — which is actually larger than most indoor auto-racing arenas at 456 by 310 feet — as the Daytona 500 of indoor racing, and noted that many racers look forward to coming to A.C. as a winter gathering spot of sorts. Competitors come from as far south as North Carolina as far north as Canada just to compete here, he says, as much for the fun atmosphere as the Hall’s superior facilities and veteran staff.
Sesely says he never lets extracurricular activities — in A.C. or anywhere else — distract him from what he came to achieve, however.
“When I’m there I’m just there to do my job and try to win,” says Sesely, 33, who began racing stock cars at age 14. “It’s not like a vacation for me. To be honest, when you’re trying to stay focused on what you’re doing and what you’re there for, anything else can be kind of a distraction.”
Driving skill and a finely honed machine — most of which are powered by 750cc motorcycle engines in the TQ class — factor heavily into performances, but a little luck can certainly come into play too.
“There’s so many variables involved,” Sesely says. “You just try to be as best prepared as you can be for each race. That’s all you can do – be prepared for anything and every thing. A lot of random stuff gets thrown at you when you’re out there.”
Galloway transplant competing in slingshots Racing is in Paul Hartwig Jr.’s blood, just as it was his father’s, who for years was a race-team crew member. The 25-year-old Hartwig Jr. started racing quarter-midgets, bandoleros and other entry-level race cars as a child growing up in Lakewood, graduating to factory stock and then asphalt modified machines. Last year he shocked many in the racing world by winning the asphalt modified season title at Evergreen Speedway near Wilkes-Barre, Pa., defeating, among others, one of his longtime idols, Matt Hirshman.
Owner of his own landscape business, Hartwig races slingshots — a scaled-down version of a dirt modified car — indoors, and will be among the nearly 50 drivers to compete in that class Friday and Saturday in Atlantic City. In late December he qualified for the championship final in Allentown, Pa., in the slingshot class and finished 11th overall. His goal is to do at least as well at Boardwalk Hall, which features a 24-car championship race Saturday in the slingshot class for those who qualify.
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“(A.C.)’s the toughest event of the year to qualify for in slingshots,” Hartwig notes.
Harwig is racing for S&S Speedway in Stroudsburg, Pa., which owns the car he will drive in A.C. He had his own slingshot, but sold it in June to help buy the Galloway home he now lives in with his wife Lisa, a former powder puff (women’s division) racing champion at Wall Speedway, and their son Paul Hartwig III, who just started racing quarter midgets at Atco Speedway at age 5.
“It’s a family thing,” Hartwig says.