By Justin Whitaker
BROWNSBURG — The rain had fallen, the stands were fairly empty and the start time was delayed nearly an hour and a half but they got in the 68th annual Night Before the 500 at Lucas Oil Raceway late Saturday night.
Those fans that stayed witnessed a rout in the prestigious USAC Midget Feature.
Darren Hagen won his second Night Before the 500 (2011) in dominating fashion by leading all 30 laps of the feature.
“Just to win one Night Before the 500 is unbelievable,” Hagen said. “And I told the guys today that ‘Hey if we win again, we’re going to do some donuts all the way down the frontstretch.’ But with the rain and them trying to get the race in we didn’t want to hold up the show anymore.
“It’s pretty unbelievable to win the biggest pavement race of the year in the United States twice. We’ve just been really blessed, Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us a lot.”
The race was shortened from 50 laps and did not start until 10:50 p.m. after the close to two and half hour rain delay. Because of the shortened race, it was important for Hagen to get a quick start from his second starting position.
“I think races a lot of times are won it on some starts and going green to checkered that was a big, crucial start there,” Hagen said. “You didn’t want to fall behind early and use up some tires to get to the lead. You’d rather manage your own stuff from the start. With the RMFS Liberty Village McGladrey and Pullen Hinchman Race Uniforms Bell Helmet car being that spot on, you could turn the switch anytime you wanted.”
About halfway through the race, Hagen’s lead started shrinking and but he quickly drove away.
“When they shortened it to 30 from the rain we just decided to go from the start,” Hagen said. “Got about halfway and just started cruising a little bit and if they beat me from cruising we’re going to be in trouble. We got back after it and the car was spot on.”
Honda National Midget Pavement Championship points leader Bobby Santos finished second and leads Hagen by six points. Last year’s Night Before the 500 winner Tracy Hines finished third.
Kyle O’Gara placed fourth and Caleb Armstrong rounded out the Top 5.
Danville’s Kyle Hamilton started from the pole and finished sixth. Avon’s 17-year-old Austin Prock started tenth and finished in 11th.
Starting off the night, Californian Neil Alberico started second and led all 75 laps en route to victory in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
“It was unbelievable,” Alberico said. “You can feel the energy in the place, ovals are always really special, especially at Indianapolis for the Night Before the 500. It’s huge.”
The Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires started under yellow because of a slight rain shower. They ran 12 laps before throwing the red flag at 8:36 p.m. The Pro Mazda race was pushed to start after the USAC feature because of the delay.
Pole sitter Matthew Brabham won the 51-lap rain-shortened Pro Mazda race.