Robert Ballou has a love/hate relationship with Lakeside Speedway, which hosts the United States Auto Club’s Amsoil National Sprint Cars series this weekend.
Ballou’s win last spring at the four-tenths-mile dirt track in Kansas City, Kan., helped propel him to a season championship. It was the series’ first race at Lakeside in 14 years.
He loves that, but Ballou’s prior experience at Lakeside in the now-defunct Sprint Bandits TNT Series wasn’t always as kind.
“The place has been hard on me,” Ballou said Friday by phone from Eagle (Neb.) Raceway, where the USAC sprint cars raced Thursday and Friday. “We would win half the races, and we’d crash in the other half. The place is big and fast, and a lot of the regular guys aren’t familiar with how to race on a big race track.”
That isn’t an issue for Ballou, 27, whose background includes significant experience racing winged sprint cars in California and whose reputation for driving cars to the limit earned him the nickname “Madman.”
The big, fast tracks are right in his wheelhouse.
“It separates the men from the boys, and mostly guys are more comfortable on a short track,” Ballou said. “Frankly, I like these big race tracks, where you can actually show your speed. It’s a lot more technical.”
In fact, adjusting to the shorter tracks was a bigger issue for Ballou as he ventured into the USAC ranks, which historically have been something of a proving ground for up-and-coming drivers.
Four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon and current NASCAR Sprint Cup competitors Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne cut their teeth on the circuit along with open-wheel legends A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and Al Unser, among others.
Ballou knows he’s unlikely to reach NASCAR anytime soon — though NASCAR Xfinity Series driver J.J. Yeley, who boasts 51 career top-10 finishes on NASCAR’s three national touring series, was the last USAC Sprint Car winner at Lakeside before Ballou’s checkered flag last season.
“That’s everybody’s goal, but I don’t think anybody’s going anywhere unless their parents have about $10 million,” said Ballou, a native of California who now lives outside Indianapolis.
Ballou works about 60 hours a week as a truck driver and at a factory that manufactures production pallets for the Subaru assembly plant in Lafayette, Ind., to fund his passion for racing.
He doesn’t do it for the money.
Ballou will be at Lakeside for the thrill and hopes to give the fans a thrill along the way.
“I had such good luck from the middle of 2014 until the end of last year,” said Ballou, who owns his team, serves as his own crew chief and currently sits fourth in the drivers’ points standings for 2016. “Racing is full of highs and lows. People forget that. It’s the people who can get through the lows that go on to be champions.
“This year, we’ve been one of the fastest cars at the race track every night, but we had silly things happen. That’s part of Lady luck … but there’s still a long way to go this season. We’re getting our bad luck out of the way now, so we can win them all here shortly.”
Racing at Lakeside Speedway, located at 5615 Wolcott Dr., starts at 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
The first night also features USRA Stock Cars and the closing night includes a USRA B-Modifieds race.
General admission tickets are $20, but tickets for seniors, active military and veterans (with ID) are $17, and $10 for children ages 7-12. Kids 6 years old and under are free.
Suite tickets are available for $30 for adults and $10 for children 12 years old or younger.
Terrace tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for children ages 7-12, while pit passes are $35 or $10 for children 7 years old or younger.