By RICHIE MURRAY
YORK HAVEN, PA – A lot of the pub lately has gone to a core group of racers who’ve dominated the win column this season.
One driver notably absent from that group coming into Sunday night’s round 4 of “Eastern Storm” at BAPS Motor Speedway was the second-winningest active driver in the series, one who’s eyes hadn’t laid sight on victory lane in 11 months.
Despite that, Robert Ballou never doubted he would soon return to the promised land. The tide was turning for the 2015 series champ from Rocklin, California native in recent weeks and it was only a matter of time before the Robert Ballou Motorsports/Suburban Subaru – Berks Western Telecom – J. Davidson Scrap Metal/Twister-X/Ott Chevy would be back on the front page.
“I know I can do it,” Ballou reiterates. “There’s never been a doubt in my mind that I couldn’t do it. I just need the tools. I’ve been going around and round with (crew chief) Jimmy Jones, who’s basically taught me everything I know about sprint car racing. He said the car looked fine. It didn’t feel fine, I don’t care what it looked like. He only has one eye, so I keep saying ‘maybe you’re looking out of the wrong eye because this thing’s just terrible. If you’ll give me what I want, I’ll win the damn race.’ Finally, the last couple nights, we’ve pretty much been doing it Robert’s way. It’s not that I know what I’m doing because I’m pretty much a dumbass or I wouldn’t be owning a sprint car, but if I can get comfortable, I can do this every night.”
Ballou’s 29th career USAC National Sprint Car victory moved him past Levi Jones and J.J. Yeley into sole possession of 13th on the all-time list. His 31-race winless streak coming into BAPS was chock full of changes in crew chiefs, chassis, shocks, what have you. But the mentality and the mindset of Ballou had never wavered, and like Frank Sinatra, he prefers to do it his way.
“We just keep changing racecars,” Ballou said. “Unfortunately, in the game of motorsports, I don’t want to say there’s a lot of mental, but there’s a lot of mental. If you’re comfortable, you’re comfortable. If you’re not, you’re not. I haven’t been comfortable other than when I run my old racecars. We’ve tried everything, and I haven’t felt comfortable. It’s one of those deals in which I have no choice at this point but to find racecars that make me comfortable. This thing here is from 2006. Not too many people would even bring a car from 2006 to the racetrack. It makes me feel comfortable and makes me feel like I can do what I need to do. Ultimately, then, I can give forth a better effort.”
“I know I didn’t get as many wins as I have at this point from not being able to do it,” Ballou points out. “Some people have doubted me. Some people say I haven’t been comfortable since my crash. Ultimately, I know I’ve been comfortable a few times when I went back to my old cars. Everyone else runs new cars and you think you need a new car, but maybe I just need an old car. They don’t even make the shocks that I run anymore. They haven’t made them for like three or four years now.”
Ballou occupied the outside of the second row at the beginning of the 30-lap main event as pole sitter Dave Darland jumped out front at the start, sliding to the top side in turn one. Fifth-starting Windom had won the previous two nights at Williams Grove and Port Royal and looked every bit as capable on this night of becoming the third driver in the history of Eastern Storm to win three-in-a-row (Levi Jones in 2010 & Ballou in 2015) when he slid past Isaac Chapple in turn three to slot into second by the end of the first lap.
Meanwhile, back in third was Ballou who, despite being overtaken by Windom on the opening lap, felt it in his mind, body, soul and his right foot that he was going to be a contender. Although, at first, the confidence was more confidential.
“I didn’t realize they watered the track and I thought, man my car really sucks. Maybe I need to pull off and try again. I noticed everyone else was spinning their tires. It was pretty greasy for a lap or two so that let us get it buzzed in. I knew right away that I had a racecar that was probably a top-three car. When we took off, I got a really good run into one. By the second lap, I knew, unless they weren’t showing their whole hand – sometimes it’s a poker game around here – as long as they were showing their full hand, I had them covered.”
By lap three, Windom was already staking his claim for the top spot when he threw a slider on Darland entering turn one. Windom swept past, but Darland crossed over and out-drag raced Windom down the back straight, beating him into turn three to reclaim his lead.
The very next lap, it was déjà vu all over again, with Darland able to withstand the Windom assault momentarily off turn two. Windom, the 2016 BAPS Eastern Storm winner, was steadfast in his stick-to-itiveness, hitting pay dirt off turn four a half-lap later to drive under Darland for the race lead.
On lap six, Ballou blitzed past Darland for the runner-up spot inside off turn two, then instantly clamped down on the defending Eastern Storm and USAC National Sprint champ for first. Lap eight saw Ballou attempt to pounce, but Windom sensed it, taking the middle line, sliding himself instead, to prevent the opposing slider on the entry into turn one.
Over the next lap and a half, the two would flip-flop the lead on both ends of the track with a bound and determined Ballou successfully capturing the point off turn four. Sometimes when you’re in the zone, you feel like a superhero. It’s something we all marvel at. And that left Ballou no doubt that this race was firmly in his hands and, ultimately, was his race to lose.
“I knew my racecar was awesome,” Ballou continued. “I could run a lane below everybody, I could run the bottom or run where they were. Whenever you can get a racecar to do exactly what you want it to do, it’s hard to be beaten. Comfort’s everything in these things. You feel like you can do anything. You turn into Superman. That’s what I felt like tonight. I felt like I could go anywhere and do anything.”
Ballou would be mired in lapped traffic for the bulk of the remaining two-thirds of the feature, only allowing Windom to pull as close as four car-lengths to Ballou down the stretch in a torrid caution-free pace. Windom hung within the length of a regulation-size tug-of-war rope with the checkered in sight. But a right rear tap of the of the turn two outside guardrail with two laps remaining courtesy of Windom all but put the winner’s trophy on the top shelf, too far to reach.
Ballou’s navigation led him to victory lane for the first time this season over Windom, Courtney, Thomas and Timmy Buckwalter. Furthermore, he became the first two-time USAC Sprint Car winner at BAPS.
Ballou moves into third in the latest Eastern Storm standings with a pair of races remaining Monday at New Jersey’s Bridgeport Speedway and Tuesday at New York’s Weedsport Speedway. Windom remains the leader by a mere six points over Thomas with Ballou, standing 26 markers back from the lead.
Contingency award winners Sunday night at BAPS Motor Speedway included Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Isaac Chapple (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Tyler Courtney (Chalk Stix Third Heat Winner), Tony DiMattia (Indy Race Parts Semi Winner), Justin Grant (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger), C.J. Leary (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher & Roger & Barb Tapy 13th Fastest Qualifier) and Trey Hivner (Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer).
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: June 17, 2018 – BAPS Motor Speedway – York Haven, Pennsylvania – 12th Annual “Eastern Storm”
QUALIFYING: 1. Kevin Thomas Jr., 69, Dynamics-17.384; 2. Chris Windom, 5, Baldwin-17.494; 3. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-17.607; 4. Jarett Andretti, 18, Andretti-17.729; 5. Isaac Chapple, 52, LNR/Chapple-17.761; 6. Dave Darland, 36D, Goodnight/Curb-Agajanian-17.780; 7. Timmy Buckwalter, 7, LNB-18.000; 8. Chad Boespflug, 98, NineEight-18.017; 9. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson/Marshall/Newman-18.041; 10. Brady Bacon, 99, Bacon-18.113; 11. Zach Daum, 5D, Daum-18.118; 12. Chase Stockon, 32, 32 TBI-18.167; 13. C.J. Leary, 30, Leary-18.169; 14. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-18.198; 15. Tony DiMattia, 50, TDM-18.227; 16. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-18.326; 17. Thomas Meseraull, 20, Dyson-18.360; 18. Carmen Perigo, 21, Stehman-18.430; 19. Jerry Coons, Jr., 39, Hogue-18.485; 20. Joey Biasi, B1, Shaup-18.647; 21. Kyle Moody, 13K, Kaylor-18.663; 22. Trey Hivner, 7H, Hivner-19.167; 23. Dan Shetler, 7K, Shetler-19.392; 24. Robert Bell, 71, Bell-19.490; 25. Mark Bitner, 15, Bitner-19.534; 26. Todd Zinn, 23, Zinn-21.359.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer) 1. Thomas, 2. Buckwalter, 3. Leary, 4. Andretti, 5. Bacon, 6. Grant, 7. Coons, 8. Hivner, 9. Bitner. NT
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer) 1. Chapple, 2. Boespflug, 3. Daum, 4. Westfall, 5. Windom, 6. Biasi, 7. Shetler, 8. Zinn, 9. Meseraull. 2:29.99
CHALK STIX THIRD HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer) 1. Courtney, 2. Ballou, 3. Stockon, 4. Darland, 5. Perigo, 6. DiMattia, 7. Moody, 8. Bell. 2:29.02
INDY RACE PARTS SEMI: (12 laps, top-7 transfer) 1. DiMattia, 2. Grant, 3. Coons, 4. Meseraull, 5. Moody, 6. Biasi, 7. Shetler, 8. Hivner, 9. Bell, 10. Zinn, 11. Bitner. 3:52.20 (New Track Record)
FEATURE: (30 laps – starting positions in parentheses) 1. Robert Ballou (4), 2. Chris Windom (5), 3. Tyler Courtney (9), 4. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (6), 5. Timmy Buckwalter (7), 6. Dave Darland (1), 7. Chase Stockon (12), 8. Brady Bacon (10), 9. Justin Grant (16), 10. Jarett Andretti (3), 11. Chad Boespflug (8), 12. Thomas Meseraull (17), 13. C.J. Leary (13), 14. Matt Westfall (14), 15. Zach Daum (11), 16. Tony DiMattia (15), 17. Isaac Chapple (2), 18. Joey Biasi (20), 19. Kyle Moody (21), 20. Carmen Perigo (18), 21. Dan Shetler (22), 22. Jerry Coons, Jr. (19). 9:37.32 (New Track Record)
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-3 Darland, Laps 4-8 Windom, Laps 9-30 Ballou.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER: Justin Grant (16th to 9th)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: C.J. Leary
ROGER & BARB TAPY 13TH FASTEST QUALIFIER: C.J. Leary
SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS FIRST NON-TRANSFER: Trey Hivner
NEW USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Thomas-1086, 2-Windom-1035, 3-Courtney-1032, 4-Ballou-935, 5-Stockon-922, 6-Bacon-895, 7-Leary-865, 8-Darland-858, 9-Grant-819, 10-Boespflug-735.
NEW EASTERN STORM POINTS: 1-Windom-308, 2-Thomas-302, 3-Ballou-282, 4-Courtney-272, 5-Bacon-247, 6-Stockon-234, 7-Darland-230, 8-Buckwalter-215, 9-Grant-203, 10-Boespflug-200.
CAPITOL CUSTOM TRAILERS & COACHES EASTERN STORM PASS MASTER POINTS: 1-Chapple-19, 2-Courtney-16, 3-Darland-15, 4-Grant-13, 5-Westfall-11, 6-Thomas-9, 7-Buckwalter-9, 8-Windom-8, 9-Leary-7, 10-Biasi-7.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: June 18 – Bridgeport Speedway – Swedesboro, New Jersey – 12th Annual “Eastern Storm”