Short-track driving star due for change of luck in A.C.

TQ Midget racer TBilly Pauch of Frenchtown. NJ practicing for the Atlantic City Indoor Races at Boardwalk Hall Thursday, Jan 31, 2013.

Billy Pauch has won more than 690 auto races in his illustrious career - so many that he doesn't know the exact number.

He has never won Atlantic City's Gamblers Classic.

"It's just a lot of luck here trying to get the right combination and be in the right place to win at the end," Pauch, 55, said in a telephone interview after practice Thursday afternoon at Boardwalk Hall. "It's just a tight little track."

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The Gamblers Classic is the featured event in the Atlantic City Indoor Races at the historic venue. The event started Friday with races in four divisions - Three-Quarter Midget, Champ Kart, 600 Micro and Slingshot - and all four will race again today starting at 7 p.m. The Gamblers Classic is tonight's Three-Quarter Midget race.

The Classic was first held in 1938 at the Hall. It went on hiatus from 1981-2002 but returned in 2003.

Pauch, a resident of Frenchtown in Hunterdon County and one of the all-time great dirt-modified racers, has driven in the Gamblers Classic every year since 2003.

He's come close to winning. He has won Friday night races at the Hall. He has won qualifiers for the Gamblers Classic.

In 2005, he took the lead with two laps to go. But someone had leaked water on the track, and Pauch hit it and spun out.

"We should've won," he said. "That was hard to take."

The Gamblers Classic means different things to different drivers.

The most tangible reward is the $5,000 prize for winning. There's also a trophy and a custom-made jacket that event organizer Len Sammons said he sees past winners wearing at other races around the country.

"Through the years, there's so many more modified guys and sprint-car guys and all these top-name drivers on the East Coast, so to win here is big," said two-time winner Joey Payne, wearing his Gamblers Classic jacket before practice Thursday at the Hall. "When you win in this race, you get a lot of notoriety from it."

For Pauch, it's mostly about the history.

"The name and getting the trophy is the biggest thing," he said. "Racing indoors here goes way back, a long time. I remember when I was a kid in the '60s and '70s, coming down here. ... I always hoped maybe sometime I'd get to race."

Pauch won five modified division championships at New Egypt Speedway in Ocean County from 1999-2011. Area Auto Racing News, the Trenton-based publication owned by Sammons and dedicated to short-track racing in the Northeast, recently named Pauch No. 3 on its list of the top drivers in the past 50 years.

"Arguably, he could've been No. 1," Sammons said. "He's that good."

When he comes to Boardwalk Hall, Pauch gets to spend time with drivers from other series and other parts of the country.

"It's neat to come out and see them and put myself up against their talents and them put themselves up against my talents and see who's going to come out here doing the best," Pauch said. "It's something different. It's a neat, different deal."

This year, Pauch is bringing back the car that he used to win the Friday night race in 2009.

Even if he doesn't win, though, Pauch said he won't be too upset.

"What the heck else are you going to do in February in the winter?" he said. "At least you're indoors and in the warm and racing."

Contact Jason Mazda:


Atlantic City Indoor Races

What: Midget cars and go-karts

Where: Boardwalk Hall

When: 7 p.m. today (qualifying starts at 3 p.m.)

Tickets: $22-$32, available through Ticketmaster and at the Boardwalk Hall box office.

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