Will Power

Will Power knows an Australian accent when he hears it. One time a few years ago, the accent he recognized belonged to one of his racing heroes.

After qualifying for the Verizon IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway, Power heard an Aussie accent calling his name. Skip Jackson, a retired sprint-car racer, was trying to help his son, A.J. Jackson Jr., get an autograph from Power. Both Jacksons are fans of Power, who hails from Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia.

Little did they know that Power was a longtime fan of Anthony Joseph “Skip” Jackson Sr., winner of more than 80 sprint car races in the U.S., including 25 at Knoxville Raceway, just 31 miles from Iowa Speedway.

“It had been so many years since I had heard the name Skip Jackson,” Power said. “One day at Iowa, he’s standing behind the fence at my pit. He said, ‘Hey, Will.’ I recognized the Aussie accent. It was Skip Jackson. I was like, ‘No way!’ I was so stoked to meet him.”

Jackson is one of dozens of Australians who have been part of the storied history of the sprint car connection between the two continents. Power grew up reading about Jackson and other Aussie racers like Max Dumesny and Garry Rush. Occasionally, if he was lucky, Power would see Jackson’s U.S. exploits on Sunday afternoon racing TV shows in Australia.

Before moving to the States, Jackson, who was named for A.J. Foyt, also followed his racing heroes by way of magazines and highlight shows.

“I used to read open-wheel magazines like the Bible to get information about Garry Rush or Max or Steve Brazier when they used to come over here and race,” Jackson said. “Just like Will, I used to read everything I possibly could. As a little kid growing up, I couldn’t wait to watch the Indy 500 on TV.”

Since that chance meeting at Iowa Speedway, Power and Jackson have stayed in touch. When the 58th annual 5-Hour Energy Knoxville Nationals begin next week, Power – whose hometown track once held a sprint car race named for him – will be following his countrymen from afar.

“It amazes me how big it is here,” Power said of the Knoxville Nationals, which lists 10 Australian drivers on its pre-entries, including Kerry Madsen, who won an All Star Circuit of Champions race Saturday at Knoxville. “It has such a big following. The amount of cars and tracks and races that happen on the dirt here is really cool.”

The first time he noticed Power, Jackson was reminded of his first race.

“I knew he was bloody good,” Jackson said. “I remember watching him race at Surfers Paradise (in 2007). He sat on the pole and was leading the race. You could tell he was driving way over his head. The first time I ever led a sprint car race, I did exactly the same thing. You’re driving way over your head, doing whatever you’ve got to do to win the race. Eventually he crashed in one of the chicanes, and eventually I spun out. I could relate. The very first time you do good, it doesn’t always end up good.”

In his early years, Power did race on dirt, but in a Datsun coupe on road courses. “It was kind of the same thing,” he said. “The track would grip up as you laid rubber. It was like the guys in sprint cars when they start searching around to find grip.”

The relationship between sprint cars and Indy cars goes back decades. Both Foyt and Mario Andretti raced sprinters on dirt and pavement, as did many of the best Indy racers of their time. Legendary short tracks like Langhorne, DuQuoin, Syracuse and Trenton were part of the Indy car championship trail for decades. With the advent of downforce, though, the two types of racing aren’t as compatible as they once were.

“If we didn’t have any wings, it would relate,” Power said. “The lower the downforce, the looser you can drive the car. It’s just looks like awesome racing (in sprint cars). Those things would be so much fun to race, such a cool beast of a race car. I really wish I could do it.”