There were a few moments during the final race of the 2013 Gambler’s Classic — when taking those last, fast, hairpin turns around the Boardwalk Hall track — where it seemed Jimmy Blewett just might edge out fellow race favorites Anthony Sesely and Ted Christopher for an upset win.
And then there was the crash.
Christopher, vying for the second-place spot against Blewett, became airborne off of Blewett’s car just as the pair turned on lap 38. Christopher’s car flipped across the track, rolling once over Blewett’s car before landing off to the side as the crowd gasped. Racing momentarily halted, but no drivers were injured in the collision.
Sesely finished with the first-place win, and ultimately won last year’s three-race series, becoming the driver to beat this year.
It was an introduction to indoor racing that Blewett, a winner of more than 100 career outdoor stock car races, didn’t expect. And it has made him hungrier, he says, for the first-place spot.
“Basically, we want to win,” says Blewett, 33, a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour driver from Howell Township, Monmouth County. “We felt last that year was a stepping stone to get our feet wet — as far as car-wise. You try to bring your car home in one piece and learn from the experience.”
Blewett, along with Sesely, Christopher and an expanded roster of drivers, will race in the 12th annual Gambler’s Classic, sponsored by Napa Auto Parts, taking place 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24, and 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25, inside Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. The weekend will feature three-quarter midget racing along with champ kart and slingshot races.
The three-quarter midgets hit speeds upwards of 70 mph while running around a course set up on Boardwalk Hall’s concrete floor. Feature events find a minimum of 24 cars taking the green flag and providing close race action for fans.
The weekend is one half of a pair of highly anticipated races in the state. The first-ever “Battle of Trenton” indoor races will take place on Friday, Feb. 7, and Saturday, Feb. 8.
Both indoor events are produced and promoted by Len Sammons Motorsports Productions and make up the Fatheadz Eyewear Indoor Series.
“Last year we had one of the most exciting finishes that we ever had,” says show organizer Danny Sammons. “With the battle for the lead and (a driver) flipping on the last lap — it’s not scripted.”
The races have grown to attract some of the top modified racers. Last year’s Gambler’s Classic saw 75 entries. This year, there are more than 100 cars in the three-quarter midget category.
In addition to Sesely, Blewett and Christopher, drivers to watch include reigning NASCAR Whelen Modified Touring Series champion Ryan Preece and 2011 NASCAR Whelen Modified Rookie Of The Year Patrick Emerling.
“So as it grows, the quality of the field is getting better,” Sammons says. “All the top guys — from asphalt and dirt — are now building specific cars that only race in Atlantic City. The quality of drivers just keeps going up and up.”
Sammons calls Blewett “someone to reckon with.” For this year’s Gambler’s Classic, Blewett also has new wheels.
“I purchased a new car for this year, but I’m keeping my old car at the same time,” Blewett says. “Knowing that my old car was running as good as it did, I didn’t want to take chances. Newer isn’t always better, you know? It’s a lighter car. It’s just the technology is just a little better. Hopefully, it will give us that little bit of an edge to win.”
Blewett, who excels on smaller race tracks, is anxious to get back on the Boardwalk Hall course.
“Atlantic City is small, it’s tight,” Blewett says. “A lot of luck plays into the factors there. I’m a firm believer in the idea that you do make a good percentage of your own luck. If you take chances, and you gamble, you may have nothing left. I kind of prefer to be what I call impatiently aggressive — always just a little bit impatient when running indoors.”
Boardwalk Hall’s unique track, Sammons says, makes for an interesting race.
“It’s just the building is a little bit bigger,” Sammons says. “With Atlantic City having the stage that’s always been there, there’s an extra 30 or 40 feet that we have to work with. It makes Atlantic City special.”
Of course, with the expanded roster of drivers comes expanded competition. Timed trials on Friday will eliminate some 40 drivers, turning what are typically run-of-the-mill trial races into unexpected surprises, Sammons says.
“Only 24 drivers get to race in the main division,” Sammons says.
“It will be intense. We’re going to have 40 cars really up against it by 1 p.m. on Friday. The time trials have gotten intense. Having a bump that’s going put 40 people in a bad spot, it’s going to get real intense, real quick.”