Saturday night, Brazil had a very special visitor. The Terre Haute Quarter Midget Association (THQMA) held its annual year-end banquet and awards ceremony. This year, they invited Rollie Helmling as their guest speaker. Mr. Helmling is known in the racing world as president and CEO of United States Auto Club or USAC. USAC has several divisions under its realm, from sprint cars to the Ford Focus midgets to quarter midget racing.
At 2 p.m. at the Clay County 4-H fairgrounds, Helmling spoke of being mentored and about being a mentor to the young children in the audience. The entire crowd of approximately 350, was in awe as he spoke of growing up around quarter midgets. As a child he started out racing quarter midgets in an Ashley chassis car, in Casey and Robison, Ill. Mr. Shannon Ashley, of Casey, a Terre Haute member, was in the audience and agreed that the chassis changes have improved considerably since he first started building cars.
After graduating from IU and marrying, Rollie's daughter, Holly, raced quarter midgets in Terre Haute.
While speaking of his mentors, Rollie mentioned Richard Baker, the president of the bank that gave him the chance to open Harold's Supermarkets. While running the chain of supermarkets, Rollie invested in sprint cars and gave young drivers the chance to race. He spoke of three of his prodigies. He gave John Andretti the opportunity to drive for him in 1984-1986 seasons.
In the late 1980s, he received a call from Bob East, owner of B.EAST chassis, and was asked to give a young 17-year-old a chance. Rollie was very apprehensive because the driver had never driven on asphalt and had never been in a midget. But, with a brand new race car, no driver and two weeks before the "Night Before the 500" race, he needed someone. After setting the fast time and a new track record at Indiana Raceway Park, and going on and winning the event, Rollie was satisfied that giving Jeff Gordon that start was the right move. He was also instrumental in helping Jeff win the "Hut Hundred", in Terre Haute in 1990.
The third driver, was Tony Stewart, who also went on to win the 1993 "Hut Hundred".
Each and every week, there are as few as 10 USAC graduates racing in the Busch and Nascar series.
As Rollie held the attention of the children, he reminded them, that the love, care and sharing, by their parents enables them to race. And he reminded the parents that by teaching the children mechanical skills, personality and marketable skills, children can become successful drivers after graduating from quarter midget racing.
Also, making a stop at the THQMA banquet, was president and CEO of First Financial Corporation, Don Smith. Mr. Smith has been instrumental in keeping the track at its location, 13th and Lockport St. in Terre Haute. Mr. Smith has assisted the club in the 1999, 2001 and 2003 Dirt Grand Nationals and is looking forward to the estimated 500 car count for the 2005 Dirt Grand Nationals held in August.
Robin Yocom, is a member of the Terre Haute Quarter Midget Association and her son, Brett has raced for five years.