By RICHIE MURRAY
KOKOMO, IN – “Smackdown VII” enters its seventh year at Kokomo Speedway on Aug. 22-25 as one of the premier events on the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car calendar.
The Wednesday, Aug. 22 festivities begin with #GYATK Night, a non-points “Special Event” for the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Cars which features free grandstand admission to all fans and a free http://www.SpeedShiftTV.com/ broadcast to all.
Thursday and Friday, Aug. 23-24, serve as the opening two dishes leading into Saturday’s main course on Aug. 25, which offers up a $10,000 reward to the winner.
Last year’s Saturday night finale illustrated the importance of winning the event and gave credence to the levels of what individuals will put on the line to win “Smackdown.”
Tyler Courtney won on two nights of last year’s Smackdown, including last year’s finale. Rarely does an event truly live up to its moniker, but Saturday night’s “Sprint Car Smackdown VI” was an apt description of how the final laps and post-race theatrics unfolded. Courtney utilized a slider to grab the lead from race-long leader Tyler Thomas on the final green-white-checkered, but it took quite awhile and a wild set of circumstances to get there.
After fighting engine issues early on in the night, Courtney encountered a maze that took just two laps, but resulted in jubilation for some, heartbreak for others and grass stains for a few who rolled around in the infield after voicing their displeasure with the way things played out down the stretch.
Many of the main players from last year’s finale find themselves in new situations than they were last year in terms of machinery, colors and numbers, but still eager to find “Smackdown” glory.
Courtney has been sensational in 2018, winning seven times with the series and riding third in points in his Clauson Marshall Newman Racing No. 7BC, 33 out of the lead in the standings. The Indianapolis, Ind. driver made his USAC Sprint Car debut right at Kokomo earlier in the decade and, just this past April, won the USAC P1 Insurance National Midget “Kokomo Grand Prix.”
Second in points is 2016 “Smackdown” winner Kevin Thomas, Jr. of Cullman, Ala., a four-time winner on the circuit this year aboard the famed Dynamics, Inc. No. 69. Thomas is second only to Dave Darland in terms of “Smackdown” weekend feature victories. Three of them came in 2016 when he was victorious on the first #GYATK Night, then won Friday’s prelim and Saturday’s main event. In 2017, he returned to victory lane on #GYATK Night for the second consecutive year.
Lincoln, Indiana’s Darland, meanwhile, is the master of “Smackdown,” having won three of them in three-straight years between 2013 and 2015. He’s the winningest driver in “Smackdown” history with five, including prelim night wins in 2013 and 2014. He’s sixth in points with three wins this season to push his record career win total in the series to 62.
USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car point leader Chris Windom of Canton, Ill. has delivered consistency throughout the season to glide to the top of the points. He’s won three, in May at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway, as well as back-to-back wins in June at Williams Grove and Port Royal in Pennsylvania. Along the way this summer, he’s been crowned the champ of Eastern Storm and Indiana Sprint Week for the second time in his career.
C.J. Leary has won prelim night events at “Smackdown” the past two years and is prime to strike gold this Saturday. He’s eighth in points and is coming off a dominating victory at Bloomington Speedway in the penultimate round of “Indiana Sprint Week” back in July.
Back in 2015, Rocklin, California’s Robert Ballou (7th in points) and Fort Branch, Indiana’s Chase Stockon (5th in points) picked up their lone victories on prelim nights of “Smackdown.”
Collinsville, Oklahoma’s Tyler Thomas came absurdly close to breaking through for his first USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car win in last year’s Saturday night finale, but he’s still looking. He will attack Kokomo in this weekend’s events wheeling the Epperson No. 2E.
Thomas simply dominated from the drop of the green every single time action resumed, using the turn two wall as an extension of the racing surface by tapping the right rear rubber against the concrete to propel himself down the back straightaway.
On the final lap, with victory a near certainty for the Collinsville, Oklahoma native, the yellow flag flew for the spun car of Brady Bacon in turn four. By rule, that set up a green-white-checker, two-lap dash situation.
It became a duel between the two unrelated Thomases – Tyler and Kevin Jr. – when racing resumed. K. Thomas attempted a slider for the lead in turn one on the restart to no avail as T. Thomas sped away once again. On the final lap, T. Thomas banged the turn two wall with the right rear. Just behind him, mimicking the same concrete kiss was K. Thomas, who snagged it just a bit harder and flipped wildly to end his bid at a repeat “Smackdown” victory.
On the next GWC try, Chris Windom was lined up right on the tail tank of T. Thomas in the second position. Windom had no doubt in his mind what his plan was as he immediately dove to the bottom of one to successfully slide up in front of T. Thomas on the top midway between turns one and two. T. Thomas once again hooked the wall, but recovered and was able to slide past Windom into turn three as did Courtney nearly simultaneously. Dropping to third momentarily, Windom, using a diamond pattern off turn three, miraculously dove from the top to the bottom from turn three to four to drive underneath both drivers to reclaim the lead as the white flag waved.
Windom once again slid up to the top in front of both Courtney and T. Thomas running side-by-side in turn one. T. Thomas rocketed around the outside of Courtney first, then nudged the turn two wall with the right rear and split between Courtney and Windom off of two. T. Thomas pulled alongside Windom down the back straight and the two made contact!
T. Thomas’ right rear hurdled Windom’s left front, sending Windom sideways as T. Thomas continued on. Third-running Courtney couldn’t completely avoid the carnage either and ramped over the nose of Windom, tearing off the nose of Windom’s car and sending him into a 360-degree spin and ending his race.
During the yellow, Windom took umbrage with T. Thomas. T. Thomas was mandated by officials to stop for a safety check to remove Windom’s steering wheel that was stuck in the left side nerf bar of his car before he could continue at the front of the pack.
Some say the third time is the charm, but that would not be the case for T. Thomas on the third attempt at a GWC finish. T. Thomas changed up the plan and went topside off turn four on the lap 39 restart. Courtney shadowed every T. Thomas movement until turn one when he took the middle and reared back for his shot at the race lead, this time pulling it off successfully. T. Thomas tried to counter to the inside, but lost momentum between turns one and two, but still had one remaining breath left in the tank.
With the white flag in the air, T. Thomas went to the bottom of one and aimed for his last shot, sliding wheel-to-wheel beside Courtney between one and two, so close you could hardly slide a credit card between each’s tires. Courtney anticipated the action, but kept his foot in it and sped around the outside of T. Thomas to remain in front where he would finish off the victory.
On Wednesday night for #GYATK Night, general admission is free. Pit passes for all ages are $30. Allstar Performance will sponsor all drivers’ pit pass cost for the night. ($30 per driver). All gates open at 3pm. Draw closes at the USAC trailer at 6:15pm. The drivers meeting will take place in front of the main grandstands at 6:20pm. Cars hit the track at 6:45pm.
On Thursday and Friday, general admission tickets are $25. Kids 10 & under ticket are free with paid adult (general admission only). Pit passes for all ages are $35. All gates open at 3pm. Cars hit the track at 6pm.
For the Saturday night finale, general admission tickets are $35. Kids 10 & under tickets are free with paid adult (general admission only). Pit passes for all ages are $45. All gates open at 3pm. Cars hit the track at 6:15pm. Racing will immediately follow hot laps. Additionally, a program for the BOSS Sprint Series will be held in addition to USAC’s “Smackdown” program.
All four nights of racing at Kokomo will be streamed live on http://www.SpeedShiftTV.com/. All races will also be available on-demand a day later on http://www.Loudpedal.TV/. You can listen to each and every event live on the USAC app.