MECHANICSBURG, PA – Chris Windom grew up racing and winning at Williams Grove Speedway.
No, not in the physical sense. But he was a regular at the famed track in his younger days every time he sat down in front of the tube and plugged in his PlayStation 2.
Winning at The Grove in virtual reality is one thing. Winning at the half-mile dirt oval in real life is the real deal. Now, the Canton, Illinois wheelman can say he’s done it twice in two different types of racecars.
Two years following his spectacular Silver Crown win there, Windom returned to Williams Grove victory lane, this time in a USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car, Fridaynight in round two of the 12th annual “Eastern Storm” tour.
Windom lined up 5th in the 23-car field for the 30-lapper as Robert Ballou spurted to the lead from his outside front row starting position. Thursday night Grandview winner Brady Bacon was electrified as well, knifing between Timmy Buckwalter and C.J. Leary to migrate from 4th to 2nd heading into turn three.
Ballou and Bacon were the class of the field early on, gapping the third-place car of Leary to the tune of a half-straightaway by the 5thcircuit. Ballou, who swept all three races of the 2015 Eastern Storm series, was aiming to put his name on the board as a winner for the first time this year with USAC. He was at the right place as nearly half his 28 career series wins have come on tracks a half-mile in length. Ballou proved his prowess on the bigger venues by negating Bacon for nearly the first two-thirds of the race.
By that point, Windom held down the third spot and was searching the Pennsylvania countryside for a way to rope the top-two in. The heavy racing surface providing lightning-quick lap times throughout the night, with newly-established track records set in qualifying and the heats, but proved to be a challenge for drivers trying to pick their way through a murderer’s row of front runners that included the three most recent series’ champs.
“It was just so locked down and heavy, and with a full fuel load, we couldn’t really get on the throttle early on,” Windom explained. “It finally started cleaning off a little bit on entry at both corners. I kind of started to haul it in there a little harder and try to get into a groove instead of just sliding wherever your car was going to go. (The track) started moving up and the bottom came in a little better, which worked out in our favor.”
On the 20th lap, Bacon remained in attack mode, ready to swat the lead out of Ballou’s hands at a moment’s notice. In turn two, it finally came to fruition as Bacon powered off the bottom to rip by Ballou for the race lead. One lap later, Windom parroted the act, jetting past Ballou for 2nd.
Windom was now on the charge and Bacon was his intended target. Windom took a chance on laps 24 and 25, nearly nipping the inside guardrail with his left front rubber on corner entry in his pursuit of Bacon. Bacon’s car began to shower sparks out of the rear as Windom zeroed in on the 26th go-around. Windom stuck a nose underneath Bacon between turns one and two, completing the process by the time the two hit the back straightaway to secure the top spot.
“The track finally started blowing off some with about 12 laps to go,” Windom recalls. “(Bacon) was leading and I don’t think he knew that he was missing the bottom or there was even more moisture. This place is so tough to get by a guy down the straightaways. I wanted to make sure that, when I made my move, I cleared him. I know he’s a smart racecar driver. If I would’ve showed him a nose, he probably would’ve moved down, and I would’ve never been able to get by him.”
Windom began to stretch his lead and the red-carpet, yellow brick road entrance to victory lane was a near certainty as the white flag loomed on the horizon. That is, until the yellow flag intercepted the proceedings for a turn 4 spin by Trevor Kobylarz, thus setting up a green-white-checkered finish and a chance for the two champs to duke it out one more time.
“A million things go through your head when you get a late-race caution,” Windom admits. “It’s the worst thing possible in racing. I was searching around under caution looking at the top to see if it looked like it could be coming in. I didn’t think it was, so I figured if I just hit my marks and stayed right on the bottom, no one was going to be able to drive around the outside of us. It was easy to miss it there at the end, though, to slide up a groove and let a guy duck under you. I knew if I just hit that, I figured I’d be okay.”
One night earlier, after losing the lead to Kevin Thomas, Jr. late in the going, Bacon’s bid for a win seemed futile until the final two laps when he figuratively rose from the grave to reclaim the lead on his way to victory in the Eastern Storm opener.
Windom wasn’t about to let this one slip through his hands as he hustled his Baldwin Brothers Racing/Fox Paving – AMSOIL/DRC/Claxton Mopar on the restart, gapping Bacon by five car-lengths as he led the field into turn one.
Windom was never fazed and never threatened following the final restart, finishing out his night with a 0.558 margin of victory over Bacon, Ballou, Thomas and series Rookie Timmy Buckwalter, who scored a career-best fifth-place result.
The win was the 20th of Windom’s career, making him the 27th USAC National Sprint Car driver to reach the 20-win mark.
Contingency award winners Friday night at Williams Grove Speedway included Zach Daum (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Jerry Coons, Jr. (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Tony DiMattia (Chalk Stix/Indy Race Parts Third Heat Winner), Isaac Chapple (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger & Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher) and Kyle Moody (Roger & Barb Tapy 13th Fastest Qualifier).
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: June 15, 2018 – Williams Grove Speedway – Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania – 12th Annual “Eastern Storm”
QUALIFYING: 1. Kevin Thomas Jr., 69, Dynamics-19.509 (New Track Record); 2. Chris Windom, 5, Baldwin-19.723; 3. Brady Bacon, 99, Bacon-19.751; 4. Chase Stockon, 32, 32 TBI-19.861; 5. Timmy Buckwalter, 7, LNB-19.943; 6. Thomas Meseraull, 20, Dyson-19.991; 7. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-20.011; 8. C.J. Leary, 30, Leary-20.027; 9. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson/Marshall/Newman-20.
122; 10. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-20.168; 11. Dave Darland, 36D, Goodnight/Curb-Agajanian-20. 187; 12. Trevor Kobylarz, 14, RT-20.220; 13. Kyle Moody, 13K, Kaylor-20.237; 14. Jerry Coons, Jr., 39, Hogue-20.290; 15. Jarett Andretti, 18, Andretti-20.330; 16. Zach Daum, 5D, Daum-20.384; 17. Joey Biasi, B1, Shaup-20.406; 18. Tony DiMattia, 50, TDM-20.462; 19. Carmen Perigo, 21, Stehman-20.468; 20. Chad Boespflug, 98, NineEight-20.473; 21. Isaac Chapple, 52, LNR/Chapple-20.586; 22. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-20.678; 23. Robert Bell, 71, Bell-22.196.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps, all transfer) 1. Daum, 2. Ballou, 3. Grant, 4. Moody, 5. Thomas, 6. Stockon, 7. Westfall, 8. Perigo. 2:42.99
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (8 laps, all transfer) 1. Coons, 2. Leary, 3. Windom, 4. Darland, 5. Buckwalter, 6. Biasi, 7. Boespflug, 8. Bell. 2:42.81 (New Track Record)
CHALK STIX/INDY RACE PARTS THIRD HEAT: (8 laps, all transfer) 1. DiMattia, 2. Andretti, 3. Courtney, 4. Kobylarz, 5. Bacon, 6. Meseraull, 7. Chapple. 2:44.08
FEATURE: (30 laps – starting positions in parentheses) 1. Chris Windom (5); 2. Brady Bacon (4); 3. Robert Ballou; (2); 4. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (6); 5. Timmy Buckwalter (3); 6. Dave Darland (11); 7. Chase Stockon (7); 8. Tyler Courtney (9); 9. Justin Grant (10); 10. C.J. Leary (1); 11. Thomas Meseraull (8); 12. Jerry Coons, Jr. (14); 13. Isaac Chapple (21); 14. Chad Boespflug (20); 15. Kyle Moody (13); 16. Joey Biasi (17); 17. Matt Westfall (22); 18. Jarett Andretti (15); 19. Trevor Kobylarz (12); 20. Carmen Perigo (19); 21. Zach Daum (16); 22. Tony DiMattia (18); 23. Robert Bell (23). NT
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-19 Ballou, Laps 20-25 Bacon, Laps 26-30 Windom.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER: Isaac Chapple (21st to 13th)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Isaac Chapple
ROGER & BARB TAPY 13TH FASTEST QUALIFIER: Kyle Moody