By RICHIE MURRAY
BELLEVILLE, KS – All year long, the focus for Spencer Bayston and the Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports team has been to win Belleville.
After running second to Chad Boat in the 2016 Saturday night finale, then again to Boat in this weekend’s Friday prelim, the target was clear. It included pulling out all the stops, including a new, specially-built chassis designed to take on the Belleville High Banks.
After another weekend of Boat domination, the tide turned when Bayston established new 4-lap and 8-lap track records earlier Saturday, solidifying his position on the pole for the 40-lap main event by defeating Boat head-to-head in the 4-lap dash.
The stage was set for the Lebanon, Indiana native to rout the 24-car field in a stirring high-wire act up against the fence for 40-straight laps in the 40th annual event to capture his first “Belleville Midget Nationals” victory, a win that was 365 days in the making.
“We’ve been focused on Boat all year long,” Bayston said. “Knowing how good he was last year, we knew we had to be on our game coming into this weekend. We built this car especially for this place and we’ve been working hard all-year-long to try to build up for this weekend. To bring it home on this night really means a lot.”
Right from the start, Bayston blazed a trail in his Keith Kunz-Curb-Agajanian Motorsports/IWX – Curb Records – TRD/Bullet by Spike/Speedway Toyota that no other driver could keep pace with as he separated from Boat exiting turn two while teammate Tanner Thorson followed in tow, powering by Boat for second heading into turn three. By the third lap, Bayston’s advantage was a half-straightaway and, by lap 10, the lead was a full-straight.
Dissimilar from the night before, the track was wide and vast from lap one, up on the rail in classic Belleville style. Bayston stood on the loudpedal, never breaking stride as he threaded the needle through lapped traffic, slicing between Terry Goodwin and Scott Hatton in turn four on lap 15.
Just before halfway, all three Clauson/Marshall Racing cars with drivers Shane Golobic, Tyler Courtney and Justin Grant saw right rear tires go down, putting into question the factor of tire wear in an intense 40-lap contest. Keeping the car as straight as possible up top was the key for Bayston.
“I knew going into it that we’d have to be somewhat careful with our tires,” Bayston explained. “Last year, this place wore down on left rears before it started to get cleaned off there up top. I was trying to pace myself and figure out what I need to be doing there. The higher you go, the faster you go here. I could lean on the cushion and keep the car as straight as possible and the wheel spin down.”
Conversely, second-running Thorson wasn’t as concerned, which he credits to the work his team does in addition to his growing experience behind the wheel of a stock car in races that are 200-300 laps in length in most cases.
“I wasn’t too worried,” Thorson admits. “I could kind of feel our tires. They’re really good and the way our guys groove these things and get them ready for us is pretty awesome. I was just hoping for some rubber there at the end. I’d say I’m a better rubber racer here than I am anything else. I hoped that, in the long run, we would have something to worry about with tire wear and I would’ve been able to save my stuff and been better at the end. It’s something you’ve got to look at with these longer races. It’s something that running stock cars has really helped me with.”
On the lap 23 restart, Thorson was finally able to stick with Bayston as the light switched green, shadowing his teammate up on the topside. Thorson remained in racing purgatory, not moving forward or backward as the laps wound down past the three-quarter mark while Thorson took on a bit of a conservation mode in hopes that the track would change in his favor near the conclusion.
“The race just kind of came to me,” Thorson explains. “I was trying to save my stuff a little bit toward the end. I saw the top was starting to get a little bit black. I was saving my stuff with the hope that if there’s rubber, we’d have a little bit more tire, but it didn’t work out that way. We had a couple of restarts and we were able to get close. Longer in that run, we got messed up with some lapped cars, but I don’t know if we were good enough to pass him. We were only good enough to hang with him for a little bit, but each time, he started to pull away a bit. I just felt like I wasn’t in the track as much as I was in the beginning part of the race. Maybe I should’ve attacked a little harder at the beginning.”
As the laps ticked inside ten to go, Bayston carved out another two-tenth increase over Thorson from 0.6 to 0.8 to 1.0 to 1.2 seconds over a four-lap span by lap 36 and appeared to be putting the finishing touches on a masterful performance.
However, with two laps remaining, Terry Goodwin found himself skidding to a stop at the entry of turn one. Sixth-running Ryan Robinson entered turn one with nowhere to go and pitched his mount sideways in an attempt to avoid Goodwin, to no avail. Robinson’s right rear contacted the front left of Goodwin, sending Robinson end-over-end into turn one. Robinson climbed out of the car without serious injury.
That set up a two-lap dash to the finish. Under the red flag, Bayston was content with what he had. The car was on a rail, but he felt his teammate had something up his sleeve. Yet, Thorson felt the benefits of the red flag to his race were miniscule.
“I don’t know if that red flag helped us at all,” Thorson wonders. “I’m never good when it comes to restarts following red flags and yellow flags. I like to keep the green flag pace going. I’m not sure if our right rear tire sealed up or what, but we didn’t have as much drive as we did just before that red flag.”
A green-white-checkered finish is practically a two-lap qualifying run and Bayston was on the clock from the word ‘go.’ Incredibly, despite 38-lap old rubber and a track that had seen 38 laps of green flag action, Bayston ripped off his two fastest laps on lap 39 and 40 to seal the deal for the biggest win of his career.
“I ran the first few laps trying to get away and build a big lead,” Bayston admits. “On that last red, I knew I really had to break away. For the whole race, I was maintaining, just being patient and smart. I got really comfortable and set it on cruise control, almost. Those last few laps, I was running as hard as I could and as fast as I could. Throughout the race, the car got better and the crew had the thing absolutely spot on. That really tells you the type of team this is.”
Bayston provided car owner Keith Kunz with his sixth Belleville Saturday night victory, following in the footsteps of drivers Page Jones (1993), Kevin Doty (1994), Kyle Larson (2011), Christopher Bell (2013), Rico Abreu (2014).
“You look into the past with guys like Larson, Bell and even guys that are in our pit area with us, like Jay Drake (a 1996 and 2000 prelim feature winner),” Bayston begins. “There’s a long list of very talented drivers who’ve achieved big things. To put my name up there with those guys, it’s a true honor.”
Belleville has become a more comfortable place for Bayston since his 22nd place debut in 2015. Since then, the 18-year-old has scored successive finishes of 4th, 2nd, 2nd and 1st.
“It’s a place you have to respect,” Bayston laid out. “When I first came here, racing for Bryan Clauson, Kokomo is his place of worship, but this place was also special in his heart. He dominated here and, every time he came here, he was the one to beat. The first year here, we were just trying to get comfortable and didn’t run too great. Last year, we were so close and I got so much more comfortable throughout the feature. This year, coming in, I knew we had a really good shot at beating Chad. I have a lot of confidence in this team and the car that they’ve given me. We’ve been fast all year long and, to come here to this place, it really is a good feeling to know how fast we truly are.”
Reigning USAC National Midget champion Tanner Thorson was knocking all around the podium both Friday and Saturday night in his Keith Kunz-Curb-Agajanian Motorsports/JBL Audio – TRD/Bullet by Spike/Speedway Toyota, following up Friday’s third-place finish with a runner-up result in Saturday’s finale.
“I’m not happy if I don’t win,” Thorson said point blank. “That’s how it is. If I don’t win, I’m not happy. We’re all here to win and I think that shows how much drive our team has.”
Chad Boat’s streak of three consecutive Belleville wins came to a close with a third-place finish in his Tucker-Boat Motorsports/PristineAuction.com – K & C Drywall/Spike/Speedway Toyota. After swapping engines following Friday night’s victory, Boat found the car to be just a tick off, which, at Belleville, can be the decisive factor in running first, second, third or tenth.
“It’s a pretty fine line,” Boat said. “If you’re just a little off, it rears its head, especially in a 40-lapper. The track took us a little bit by surprise. It was a lot slicker last year and that’s where we excelled. Our car was just a little bit too tight all night. I felt like I was just trying to hang on this year, but overall, the car performed pretty well all weekend. We tried to make a couple changes, but on that two-lap run, we knew it was going to be tough. Those guys were just a little better than we were. What we needed to change, we really couldn’t change under a red.”
Contingency award winners Saturday night at the Belleville High Banks include Chad Boat (Simpson Race Products 1st Heat Winner), Spencer Bayston (Competition Suspension, Inc. 2nd Heat Winner), Jerry Coons, Jr. (Chalk Stix/Indy Race Parts 3rd Heat Winner), Brady Bacon (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger) and Tyler Courtney (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher).
USAC MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: August 5, 2017 – Belleville, Kansas – Belleville High Banks – 40th “Belleville Midget Nationals”
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps) 1. Chad Boat (#84 Tucker/Boat), 2. Ryan Robinson (#21 Kunz/Curb-Agajanian), 3. Tyler Courtney (#7BC Clauson/Marshall), 4. Jeff Stasa (#91 SBR Motorsports), 5. Terry Goodwin (#2G Goodwin), 6. Robert Bell (#71½ Bell), 7. Ashley Oerter (#16 RKO Management), 8. Ryan Oerter (#43 RKO Management). NT
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (8 laps) 1. Spencer Bayston (#97 Kunz/Curb-Agajanian), 2. Tanner Carrick (#71K Kunz/Curb-Agajanian), 3. Shane Golobic (#17w Clauson/Marshall/Wood), 4. Justin Grant (#39BC Clauson/Marshall), 5. Brayton Lynch (#1K RKR), 6. Zach Middleton (#43A RKO Management), 7. Cody Brewer (#96 Central Motorsports). 2:17.56 (New Track Record)
CHALK STIX/INDY RACE PARTS THIRD HEAT: (8 laps) 1. Jerry Coons, Jr. (#25 Petry/Goff), 2. Tanner Thorson (#67 Kunz/Curb-Agajanian), 3. Brady Bacon (#76m FMR), 4. Holly Shelton (#67K Kunz/Curb-Agajanian), 5. Scott Hatton (#1 Hatton), 6. Ty Williams (#91s SBR Motorsports), 7. Collin Rinehart (#20 Rinehart), 8. Randy Oerter (#48 RKO Management). 2:22.26
POLE DASH: (4 laps) 1. Bayston, 2. Boat, 3. Thorson, 4. Robinson, 5. Coons, 6. Carrick. 1:08.98 (New Track Record)
B-DASH: (4 laps) 1. Golobic, 2. Courtney, 3. Grant, 4. Bacon, 5. Shelton, 6. Stasa. 1:10.80
FEATURE: (40 laps) 1. Spencer Bayston, 2. Tanner Thorson, 3. Chad Boat, 4. Jerry Coons, Jr., 5. Brady Bacon, 6. Holly Shelton, 7. Justin Grant, 8. Tanner Carrick, 9. Shane Golobic, 10. Ryan Robinson, 11. Jeff Stasa, 12. Terry Goodwin, 13. Tyler Courtney, 14. Robert Bell, 15. Scott Hatton, 16. Collin Rinehart, 17. Brayton Lynch, 18. Ryan Oerter, 19. Matt Johnson (#85 Central Motorsports), 20. Zach Middleton, 21. Randy Oerter, 22. Ty Williams, 23. Ashley Oerter, 24. Cody Brewer. NT
**Robinson flipped on lap 39 of the feature.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-40 Bayston.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER: Brady Bacon (10th to 5th)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Tyler Courtney
NEW USAC MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Bayston-1040, 2-Bacon-1002, 3-Golobic-976, 4-Grant-945, 5-Thorson-936, 6-Courtney-905, 7-Coons-808, 8-Boat-754, 9-Shelton-717, 10-Robinson-671.
NEXT USAC MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: August 13 – York Haven, PA – Susquehanna Speedway – “Pennsylvania Midget Week” (With the USAC Eastern Midgets presented by ARDC)