I t may be freezing outside, but the races are just heating up inside Boardwalk Hall. Beginning Friday, Jan. 28, dirt modified ace Danny "The Doctor" Johnson will be preparing to tackle his first indoor race, as the Gambler's Classic Indoor Three-Quarter Midget Race kicks off in Atlantic City. Practice is 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 27. Races run Friday and Saturday, Jan. 29.
The high-powered, TQ-Midget cars will headline the two-day card, and about 100 drivers are expected to contend for the Gambler's Classic title. The Slingshots, which will compete in the Herr's Snack Bowl 25, and Champ Karts, which usually provide just as much entertainment as the TQ Midgets, will be on the card each night as well.
Defending champions are Paul Lotier Jr., of Lebanon, Pa. (Slingshots), and Ryan Kendall, of East Greenbush, N.Y. (Champ Karts). Both drivers are pre-entered in their respective classes. NASCAR Modified Tour driver Ted Christopher is the defending champion of the Gambler's Classic.
Johnson says the race will be a "whole new experience" for him and his crew.
"I have a good team that I'm racing for, and that's what's going to make a difference for me," says the Rochester, N.Y., racer. "I don't know what to expect."
Johnson, 50, will drive a Lou Cicconi Jr.-prepared second entry. Cicconi, of Aston, Pa., is a two-time winner of the Gambler's Classic, and the weekend's races will mark the first time Johnson meets Cicconi.
"I hear I have a top-notch ride," Johnson says, "and they told me (Cicconi) would give me as good a car as he's going to have. I hope for the best, and whatever happens, happens."
"I am pretty happy knowing that I'll be in one of Lou's cars," Johnson says. "You can't get much better than what Lou has for you."
Johnson's one-race foray in TQ-Midgets follows one of his best years. His 18-win season included four dirt modified victories at Ransomville Speedway, three at Accord Speedway and three at Cayuga County Speedway, all in New York.
Still, racing on concrete indoors - particularly at Boardwalk Hall, where the track lies above an ice hockey rink - means some adjustments have to be made.
"I won't be able to barrel into the turns like we do in a modified, but as long as I have a good car then I'll be able to hold my own," Johnson says. "I know I'll be out of my element … but I really believe I can hold my own in this event."
Race activity begins 4:30 p.m. Friday with timed trials. The night will include qualifying heat events for the 600cc Micro Sprint Cars, Slingshots and Champ Karts, and will end with a 20-lap 600cc Micro Sprint Car main event and a 30-lap TQ-Midget feature race.
The Saturday program kicks off at 5 p.m. with "Fanfest," which will be held on the indoor racing surface. Heat races and semi-finals begin 7 p.m., leading up to the 40-lap "Gamblers Classic" for TQ-Midgets, with Slingshots and Champ Karts also on the schedule.
Johnson says he can't wait to get behind the wheel.
"Racing is just something I enjoy doing," he says. "I've done it for more than 30 years - my whole life. It's what I enjoy doing. So doing something different - racing indoors - is going to be an adrenaline rush. It will be a new experience for me. It's going to be great."
WHEN: Thursday, Jan. 27, with paid practice from 5 to 10 p.m. Time trials begin
4:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 28. "Fanfest" begins
5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29, with races at 7 p.m.
WHERE: Boardwalk Hall, 2301 Boardwalk, Atlantic City
TICKETS: $15, $20 and $25 Friday; $20, $25 and $30 Saturday
INFORMATION: Call 609-348-7000 or go to boardwalkhall.com