By RICHIE MURRAY
KOKOMO, IN – Sprint Car Smackdown week began just as it left off the year before with Justin Grant racing to victory Wednesday in #GYATK Night following the Ione, California driver’s victory in the Smackdown finale in 2018.
Grant emerged from a mid-race tussle with Brady Bacon and Thomas Meseraull, then slid by Bacon with eight laps remaining to score the victory in the non-points special event, a 27-lap feature race which Grant described as feeling like “slick track go-kart racing” around the quarter-mile dirt oval where one has to “figure out how big of a slider you can throw, then throw it and see if it sticks.”
“Man, that was a heck of a race,” Grant exclaimed. “It was an absolute blast to run. Maybe the only thing more fun than running it would’ve been watching it.”
Grant had a good seat to watch early on as he went to work in his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink – Bow Foundation – Challenger Construction/Maxim/Claxton Chevy, starting fifth in the 22-car field while Meseraull and Bacon occupied the front row where the two went toe-to-toe into turn one on the opening lap before Bacon blasted around the outside of Meseraull in turn two to occupy the lead.
Near the completion of the second lap, third-running Carson Short walked away uninjured after tangling with C.J. Leary off turn four and barrel-rolled twice down the front straightaway. Despite the incident, the Marion, Ill. driver’s crew made repairs and he rejoined the field for the restart, ultimately racing to a 12th place finish at the checkered.
Once racing resumed, Meseraull was on the attack from the second position, sliding Bacon into turn one on lap four. Bacon countered underneath off turn and raced back to the point into turn three. Meseraull kept his foot in it and, with four wheels above the turn four cushion, managed to drive around Bacon to snare the race lead.
After a Max Adams tangle with the turn two wall on the fifth lap, Meseraull rode the rim out front, nearly dancing with the concrete in turns one and two on lap nine as he kept Bacon at arm’s length distance behind in second.
Just before the halfway mark, the battle at the front became a three-way affair with Bacon applying pressure underneath Meseraull between turns three and four. That opened the door for Grant to slide under Bacon for second in turn one with 14 circuits remaining.
The trio went three-deep on the other end of the speedway in turn three, but Grant snagged the turn four cushion, popping the front wheels up, thus allowing Bacon to slide back by Grant into turn one. Grant was prepared and cut back underneath Bacon to retake second off two. Bacon wasn’t ready to give in and drove back underneath Grant for second off turns three and four, nipping Grant by a car length at the line with Meseraull just two lengths ahead out front.
Grant got up on the wheel and drove around the outside of Bacon off turn two for second, then went for broke, throwing a slider into turn three by Meseraull as Bacon poked underneath both drivers to make it three-wide off turn four. Meseraull beat Grant to the line by a half-car length with Bacon a car length behind Grant.
Meseraull attempted to move up to the top line entering turn one with 11 to go, nearly making contact with Grant as Bacon shot underneath both to go to the point. Both Grant and Meseraull raced to the bottom entering turn three side-by-side with just micrometers separating the two while Bacon exited the fray with the lead on top by two car lengths at the line with 10 to go.
Grant entered turn one on the bottom, sliding up and nearly picking off two positions in one fell swoop, pulling even with Bacon in turn two while Meseraull found a rocky road atop the cushion, enduring a half-spin, but managed to keep going and avoid contact from the evasive actions of USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car point leader C.J. Leary, putting him out of contention to battle for the win down the stretch.
Now, with two-thirds of the race in the book, it became a one-on-one contest between Bacon and Grant. Grant had a feeling he would be good to go once the chaos of a three-car war cleared. Easier said then done, but Grant made it happen with just eight to go.
“I knew we were pretty good if I could get those guys cleared,” Grant explained. “It got so ledgy off of four, guys would hit that and get messed up. Fortunately, it wasn’t upsetting us much. We could get a big run on guys and I could slide them into one and two and make enough grip there to not get crossed over.”
There’d be no crossing over by the competition on the 20th lap as Bacon went to the middle line in turn one. Grant ventured lower and slid up in front of Bacon for the lead. Bacon nearly came to a complete stop in the process, almost killing the engine, but kept it fired and continued on, albeit two-and-a-half seconds now behind Grant.
Down the stretch, Grant ripped around lapped traffic, opening up a 3.398 second advantage at the checkered to capture the victory in the third edition of #GYATK Night over Bacon, Leary, Meseraull and Logan Seavey.
Grant and TOPP Motorsports form a formidable combo at Kokomo where Grant has won quite often and where TOPP has won the last two Smackdown finales with Grant (2018) and Tyler Courtney (2017). A non-points special event, such as Wednesday night’s, allowed the team to try a few new things, and by all accounts, everything seemed to pan out excellently.
“Tonight, we had some stuff we’ve been thinking would work,” Grant explained. “But it’s been kind of a dice roll whether to do it or not. We threw it at it and boy did it work! We’ve been sketching out stuff on paper trying to figure out how to come up with the best mousetrap we can, and it makes you feel good when you hit it. A lot of the things we’ve been working on and trying and we’re finally getting them to come together. I felt like during Indiana Sprint Week, we had a lot of speed, and we kind of found our legs again.
Meanwhile, Anton Hernandez earned $1,539 for capturing the #GYATK Challenge, rewarding the best finisher among the group of drivers making their first appearance in a sprint car without a wing at Kokomo Speedway. Hernandez (Arlington, Texas) finished one spot out of the final transfer spot in the semi-feature.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR SPECIAL EVENT RACE RESULTS: August 21, 2019 – Kokomo Speedway – Kokomo, Indiana – #GYATK Night
QUALIFYING: 1. C.J. Leary, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-13.057; 2. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-13.089; 3. Chase Stockon, 32, 32 TBI-13.127; 4. Chris Windom, 5G, Goacher-13.210; 5. Carson Short, 21, RCM-13.218; 6. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-13.240; 7. Dave Darland, 36D, Darland-13.281; 8. Jarett Andretti, 18, Andretti-13.281; 9. Corey Smith, 66s, CS-13.328; 10. Shane Cottle, 2E, Epperson-13.330; 11. Hunter Schuerenberg, 19BS, Reinbold/Underwood-13.337; 12. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-13.347; 13. Sterling Cling, 34, Cling-13.365; 14. Timmy Buckwalter, 7, LNB-13.404; 15. Isaac Chapple, 52, LNR/Chapple-13.411; 16. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson/Marshall/Newman-13.413; 17. Scotty Weir, 4p, Pedersen-13.428; 18. Max Adams, 5m, Adams-13.441; 19. Logan Seavey, 19s, Reinbold/Underwood-13.528; 20. Jason McDougal, 71p, Daigh/Phillips-13.549; 21. Anthony D’Alessio, 01, D’Alessio-13.549; 22. Brian VanMeveren, 24, VanMeveren-13.563; 23. Anton Hernandez, 19c, Cooley-13.575; 24. David Hair, 44, Hair-13.586; 25. Brayden Fox, 53, Fox-13.595; 26. Thomas Meseraull, 23s, Simon-13.598; 27. Matt Goodnight, 39, Goodnight-13.602; 28. Cole Ketcham, 41, Ketcham-13.626; 29. Brad Greenup, 4G, Greenup-13.632; 30. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 19, Hayward/Thomas-13.657; 31. Clinton Boyles, 57, Hazen-13.664; 32. Carmen Perigo, 21p, Perigo-13.672; 33. Dustin Smith, 77, Smith-13.678; 34. Paul Nienhiser, 9x, Nienhiser-13.728; 35. Scott Hampton, 59, Powell-13.771; 36. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-13.784; 37. Travis Hery, 21H, Hery-13.805; 38. Dustin Christie, 75, Christie-13.812; 39. Andrew Prather, 16K, Knight-13.908; 40. Aaron Leffel, 12L, Taylor-14.028; 41. Evan Mosley, 27, Mosley-14.100; 42. Brayden Clark, 42G, Jackson-14.118; 43. Parker Frederickson, wee34, Frederickson-14.150; 44. Ty Tilton, 42, Tilton-14.178; 45. Aaron Davis, 11, Davis-14.295; 46. Cooper Welch, 2, Welch-14.550; 47. Steve Thomas, 20, Thomas-14.613; 48. Jack James, 99, James-14.690; 49. Zack Pretorius, 39x, Goodnight-14.697; 50. Eric Perrott, 45, Perrott-14.968.
FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-3 transfer to the feature) 1. Justin Grant, 2. Logan Seavey, 3. Tyler Courtney, 4. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 5. Hunter Schuerenberg, 6. Clinton Boyles, 7. Carmen Perigo, 8. Zack Pretorius. 2:12.18
SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-3 transfer to the feature) 1. Thomas Meseraull, 2. Cole Ketcham, 3. Timmy Buckwalter, 4. Corey Smith, 5. Dustin Smith, 6. Travis Hery, 7. Paul Nienhiser, 8. Brayden Clark. NT
THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-3 transfer to the feature) 1. Jason McDougal, 2. Scotty Weir, 3. Brandon Mattox, 4. Andrew Prather, 5. Aaron Davis, 6. Cooper Welch, 7. Dave Darland. NT
FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-3 transfer to the feature) 1. C.J. Leary, 2. Isaac Chapple, 3. Anthony D’Alessio, 4. Chris Windom, 5. Brayden Fox, 6. David Hair, 7. Aaron Leffel, 8. Jarett Andretti. NT
FIFTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-3 transfer to the feature) 1. Brady Bacon, 2. Shane Cottle, 3. Max Adams, 4. Anton Hernandez, 5. Dustin Christie, 6. Parker Frederickson, 7. Evan Mosley, 8. Matt Westfall, 9. Sterling Cling. NT
SIXTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-3 transfer to the feature) 1. Carson Short, 2. Chase Stockon, 3. Matt Goodnight, 4. Ty Tilton, 5. Brad Greenup, 6. Steve Thomas, 7. Jack James, 8. Eric Perrott, 9. Brian VanMeveren. NT
C-MAIN: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the semi) 1. Carmen Perigo, 2. Paul Nienhiser, 3. Evan Mosley, 4. Aaron Leffel, 5. Brayden Clark, 6. Zack Pretorius, 7. Jack James, 8. Eric Perrott. NT
SEMI: (12 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Chris Windom, 2. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 3. Clinton Boyles, 4. Hunter Schuerenberg, 5. Anton Hernandez, 6. Dustin Smith, 7. Andrew Prather, 8. Ty Tilton, 9. Carmen Perigo, 10. Travis Hery, 11. Paul Nienhiser, 12. Aaron Leffel, 13. Parker Frederickson, 14. Evan Mosley, 15. Dustin Christie, 16. Steve Thomas, 17. Cooper Welch, 18. Brad Greenup, 19. Aaron Davis, 20. David Hair, 21. Corey Smith, 22. Brayden Fox. NT
FEATURE: (27 laps, starting position in parentheses) 1. Justin Grant (5), 2. Brady Bacon (2), 3. C.J. Leary (4), 4. Thomas Meseraull (1), 5. Logan Seavey (7), 6. Scotty Weir (9), 7. Chase Stockon (12), 8. Tyler Courtney (13), 9. Shane Cottle (11), 10. Chris Windom (19), 11. Jason McDougal (6), 12. Carson Short (3), 13. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (20), 14. Cole Ketcham (8), 15. Timmy Buckwalter (14), 16. Brandon Mattox (15), 17. Anthony D’Alessio (16), 18. Matt Goodnight (18), 19. Hunter Schuerenberg (22), 20. Isaac Chapple (10), 21. Max Adams (17), 22. Clinton Boyles (21). NT
**Jarett Andretti flipped during the fourth heat. Sterling Cling flipped at the start of the fifth heat. Brian VanMeveren flipped during the sixth heat. Carson Short flipped on lap 2 of the feature.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-3 Brady Bacon, Laps 4-16 Thomas Meseraull, Laps 17-19 Brady Bacon, Laps 20-27 Justin Grant.
#GYATK CHALLENGE WINNER: Anton Hernandez
CRUME EVANS INSURANCE HARD CHARGER: Chris Windom (19th to 10th)
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACES: August 22-23-24, 2019 – Kokomo Speedway – Kokomo, Indiana – Sprint Car Smackdown VIII