By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
BECTHELSVILLE, PA – It took 102 starts for Chris Windom to reach USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget victory lane for the first time in his career this past June.
It took just six more for the Canton, Illinois native to get there for the second time Tuesday night in the Pennsylvania Midget Week opener at Grandview Speedway. There, he fought Clauson/Marshall Racing teammate Tyler Courtney for the win on the final lap, losing the lead via a Courtney slider in turn one, then outracing him into turn three to retake the position before sealing the deal to win in the series’ first visit to the 1/3-mile dirt oval in three decades.
“Honestly, it took me a little while this year,” Windom admitted. “I raced midgets quite a bit in 2011 and 2012, but I felt like I never really ran a lot. Being off six years, these things have changed quite a bit. Most of these guys have gotten to do it two or three years straight. It took me a little bit to get back into the rhythm of it. CMR and (crew chief Tyler Ransbottom) and everybody gives us cars to go out and compete first and second with. You know you have a car to win, so you’ve got to go figure out how to do it.”
Windom was slotted into the pole position for the start of the 30-lapper after originally scheduled pole starter Zeb Wise had to go to a backup car after his engine expired at the finish of his heat race. Wise’s misfortune moved him to the tail of the field and fortuitously gave Windom the pole.
Windom slid past outside front row starter Kevin Thomas, Jr. into turn one on the opening lap, with Thomas maintaining a one to two car length distance behind Windom’s rear bumper for most of the first third of the race. Windom utilized the higher line between turns one and two but found comfort on the bottom of turns three and four until the ninth lap when he was forced into taking the high road around the lappers hugging the bottom rail.
As Thomas attempted to close on Windom a couple car lengths back, the bottom was no longer an option as a stack of traffic hung to the low side in the ensuing laps. As it turned out, it forced Windom out of the comfort zone and into the track position it turns out he needed to occupy.
“Before I caught lapped traffic, I felt like the bottom was starting to get slower,” Windom recalled. “I was actually kind of glad to see lapped traffic because it forced me to go up there and then it just felt like I was gaining more and more momentum, so that’s where I stayed. I felt like the only way anyone was going to get us running there was on a caution and a slide job.”
With 12 laps remaining, 11th running Karsyn Elledge spun to a stop between turns three and four, putting a lid on the traffic game for the leaders and bringing a resumption of the battle up front which encapsulated the top-five under a blanket just prior to the yellow.
The see-saw battle between Thomas and Courtney picked up the lap 19 restart where Courtney slid by Thomas into turn one. Thomas countered underneath to retake the runner-up spot in turn three. On lap 25, Courtney returned the favor, sliding by Thomas again in turn one. Thomas tapped Courtney on the rear bumper as the pair exited turn two, with Courtney securing the position.
Moments later, Zeb Wise and Steve Buckwalter got together in turn one while racing for 12th, sending Buckwalter flipping. Both drivers were okay. Wise drove back to an 11th place finish after restarting from the tail.
A wild scramble for second on back behind Windom allowed Windom to distance himself from the pack following the restart, building a 1.2 second lead prior to the stoppage with three to go due to a spin by USAC East Coast Sprint Car champ and 16th running Steven Drevicki between turns one and two.
Courtney was now right Windom’s tail tank once again for the three-lap sprint to the finish. Though he didn’t initially attempt a slider, Courtney began the stint with a decent restart, staying within a couple car lengths of Windom throughout the first lap. A lap later, Windom escaped Courtney, who now appeared to not be close enough to make another last-ditch run at Windom as the leaders passed under the white flag.
Further back in the pack, eighth-running Jason McDougal spun sideways to a stop in turn four to bring a halt to the event, setting up a green-white-checkered finish.
When leading in this situation, a driver is fully aware that they are ripe for the picking and a slide job is most likely going to be delivered. Windom was cognizant of that fact and had readied himself for Courtney.