In first dirt race, Justin Haley, 17, becomes youngest ARCA winner at Springfield

(Photo courtesy General Tire official Twitter page)

SRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Justin Haley became the youngest winner in more than 80 years of championship racing at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, winning the ARCA Racing Series event Sunday at 17.

Racing a stock car on dirt for the first time, Haley, from Winamac, Indiana, held off Illinois favorites A.J. Fike and Ryan Unzicker during a green-white-checker finish on the mile track.

“I tried to hold him (Unzicker) off the best I could,” Haley said. “I stayed strong through that first corner. I was very impressed how well he ran us, up on the outside of us. We almost wrecked down the backstretch, but we held onto it.”

Driving Mason Mitchell Motorsports’ No. 98 Chevrolet, Haley surpassed Justin Allgaier – the 2006 champion in his hometown event at 20 – as the youngest major winner at the track that opened in 1934.

“I’m a little surprised,” Haley said. “Never would have dreamed in a million years my first ARCA win would come on a dirt track, but to be here in victory lane is super cool. This dirt track racing is definitely different. … It’s tough. I would never have expected this. I’m really happy for Mason Mitchell Motorsports. … It’s so cool to get those guys a win here.”

A crash on the backstretch inside of 10 laps between leader Josh Williams and Unzicker forced the final caution in the race that went 102 laps.

Fike was second, followed Unzicker, 61-year-old former NASCAR driver Ken Schrader and season points leader Chase Briscoe.

“Considering how bad our car was at the beginning of the race, second feels like a win today,” Fike said. “We just couldn’t get off (turn) four like we needed to. … Loose in and loose off all day. Felt like the track got a little better the last 40 laps, and the restarts helped a bunch.”

IndyCar disappointed by delay of video game but aiming to launch at start of 2024

IndyCar video game 2024

An IndyCar executive said there is “absolutely” disappointment that its long-awaited video game recently was delayed beyond its target date, but the series remains optimistic about the new title.

“Well, I don’t know how quick it will be, but the whole situation is important to us,” Penske Entertainment president and CEO Mark Miles said during a news conference Monday morning to announce IndyCar’s NTT title sponsorship. “Motorsport Games has spent a lot of money, a lot of effort to create an IndyCar title. What we’ve seen of that effort, which is not completely obvious, is very reassuring.

“I think it’s going to be outstanding. That’s our shared objective, that when it is released, it’s just widely accepted. A great credit both to IndyCar racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, something that our fans love.”

In June 2021, IndyCar announced a new partnership with Motorsport Games to create and distribute an IndyCar video game for the PC and Xbox and PlayStation consoles in 2023.

But during an earnings call last week, Motorsport Games said the IndyCar game had been delayed to 2024 to ensure high quality.

Somewhat compounding the delay is that IndyCar’s license for iRacing expired after the end of the 2022 season because of its exclusive agreement with Motorsport Games.

That’s resulted in significant changes for IndyCar on iRacing, which had provided a high-profile way for the series to stay visible during its 2020 shutdown from the pandemic. (Players still can race an unbranded car but don’t race on current IndyCar tracks, nor can they stream).

That’s helped ratchet up the attention on having a video game outlet for IndyCar.

“I wish we had an IndyCar title 10 years ago,” said Miles, who has been working with the organization since 2013. “We’ve been close, but we’ve had these I think speed bumps.”

IndyCar is hopeful the Motorsports Game edition will be ready at the start of 2024. Miles hinted that beta versions could be unveiled to reporters ahead of the time “to begin to show the progress in a narrow way to make sure we’ve got it right, to test the progress so that we’re ready when they’re ready.”

It’s been nearly 18 years since the release of the most recent IndyCar video game for console or PC.

“(We) better get it right,” Miles said. “It’s something we’re very close to and continue to think about what it is to make sure we get it over the line in due course.”