By RICHIE MURRAY
OCALA, FL – If Friday’s victory at Bubba Raceway Park was one small step toward a successful USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget season for Tyler Courtney, then Saturday night’s win was a giant leap toward what could be a banner year in the series for the Indianapolis, Indiana driver.
Courtney slid by Tucker Klaasmeyer with nine laps remaining in Saturday’s 30-lap “Winter Dirt Games X” feature, blasting to victory for the second time in as many nights on the 3/8-mile, D-shaped dirt track to become just the eighth driver to win the opening two USAC National Midget races of the season, joining Lee Kunzman (1972), Gary Bettenhausen (1975), Rich Vogler (1984-85), Dave Steele (2002), Brad Sweet (2010), Bryan Clauson (2011) and Rico Abreu (2014).
“It’s definitely a weight lifted off my shoulders to get the season started off on the right foot,” Courtney said. “We’ve got a great team here and the whole series is tough right now. It’s a lot of fun and it’s obviously the best way you can start. We’ve got awesome momentum going for our midget season right now as well as going into the start of the Sprint Car season next week.”
Courtney was the Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier earlier in the evening, positioning him sixth for the start of the main event while Tucker Klaasmeyer started from the pole position for the second consecutive night. Just like he did a night earlier, Klaasmeyer scooted away with the lead on the opening lap that was short-lived the first time around as Vermonter Adam Pierson took a nasty tumble in turn three from which he would walk away.
Klaasmeyer was at the head of the pack on the ensuing complete restart as he tried to extend his early-race success from a night earlier when he led the opening four circuits. Klaasmeyer was class as he held control of the field, despite a couple of early yellows that forced him to regain his momentum.
The Paola, Kans. driver was up to the task each time, although Friday night winner Courtney was suddenly in the picture, sliding to second in turn two past teammate Zeb Wise momentarily. Wise countered to get back past Courtney off turn two, but Courtney answered the bell and slid back past Wise between turns three and four to retake the second spot for good on the ninth lap.
Courtney’s sights were now set on Klaasmeyer for the race lead, the same as the night before. Crossing the halfway point, Courtney was searching to find a way around, high/low/middle, wherever he may roam, he was going to give it a whirl. Courtney left the bottom open on lap 18 and Chad Boat was there to capitalize to grab second off turn four. Courtney quickly whipped up a remedy to slide back past Boat heading into turn one to reclaim second.
“I was moving around a little bit to see if I could just get a run somewhere else,” Courtney recalled. “Then, I moved around to the wrong spot and Chad (Boat) got a run on me on the bottom. I was able to get back by him in three and four. That showed me the bottom, so I knew if I could keep in it perfect, especially on those first couple of laps after a restart, when I ended up getting him, that would be crucial.”
One lap later, fifth-running Wise lost a right rear tire, which sent him to the work area for new rubber. But it set up a lap 21 restart which Courtney utilized to make his charge to capture the lead from Klaasmeyer a lap later on the bottom of turn one.
“I got that run off four and I knew that was about the only time I was going to be able to stick it in there,” Courtney continued. “I stuck it in there and it stuck. At that point, you can play your own race, run your own laps and try not to worry about anybody else. That makes it a little easier when there’s only 10 laps to go instead of trying to run the whole race.”
Courtney instantly stretched out his lead to 1.5 second, running the bottom of turns one and two and the middle of turns three and four with the laps dwindling, until Wise’s turn two spin collected Holley Hollan to force one final restart with three laps remaining with Boat and K. Thomas just behind. K. Thomas was on the move on the final restart the previous night, racing from sixth to second in the final four laps. With K. Thomas getting around Boat a lap following the restart, Courtney inherently knew he had to be just about perfect.
“I saw him (K. Thomas) on the board, so obviously he’s going to be trying something to come through there,” Courtney remembered. “I was trying to be perfect those last couple laps, trying to hit my marks, because I didn’t feel any pressure before the caution. I knew I was doing something right and, luckily, it worked out. (K. Thomas) got to second again. It’s going to be a long season and I don’t expect him to let up just as much as I won’t let up. It’s going to be fun.”
Courtney successfully pulled off the double-dip with a half-second advantage over K. Thomas at the checkered with Boat, C.J. Leary and Klaasmeyer rounding out the top-five.
Contingency award winners Saturday night at Bubba Raceway Park were Tyler Courtney (Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier), Tucker Klaasmeyer (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Tanner Carrick (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Zeb Wise (Auto Meter/Indy Race Parts Third Heat Winner), Zane Hendricks (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher) and Tanner Thorson (KSE Racing Products/ProSource Hard Charger).
USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: February 9, 2019 – Bubba Raceway Park – Ocala, Florida – “Winter Dirt Games X”
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson/Marshall-13.817; 2. Andrew Layser, 47BC, Clauson/Marshall-13.818; 3. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 5, Petry-13.819; 4. C.J. Leary, 76m, FMR-13.841; 5. Chad Boat, 84, Tucker/Boat-13.922; 6. Zeb Wise, 39BC, Clauson/Marshall-13.935; 7. Jerry Coons, Jr., 25, Petry-14.004; 8. Jesse Colwell, 71, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-14.010; 9. Cole Bodine, 15, Petry-14.019; 10. Tucker Klaasmeyer, 27, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-14.036; 11. Logan Seavey, 67, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-14.040; 12. Noah Gass, 20G, Gass-14.042; 13. Ethan Mitchell, 19m, Bundy Built-14.065; 14. Holley Hollan, 67K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-14.120; 15. Chris Windom, 17BC, Clauson/Marshall-14.144; 16. Tyler Thomas, 91T, Thomas-14.194; 17. Tanner Carrick, 71K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-14.221; 18. Zane Hendricks, 27z, Hendricks-14.253; 19. Karsyn Elledge, 1, Tucker/Boat-14.261; 20. Sam Johnson, 19J, Reynolds/Jetson-14.269; 21. Karter Sarff, 21KS, Reynolds-14.341; 22. Adam Pierson, 74m, Mancini/Manafort-14.514; 23. Chase Jones, 57B, Ecker-14.591; 24. Tanner Thorson, 3c, Tri-C-NT; 25. Oliver Akard, 41, Akard-NT.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps, all transfer) 1. Klaasmeyer, 2. Courtney, 3. Leary, 4. T. Thomas, 5. Elledge, 6. Coons, 7. Pierson, 8. Mitchell. 1:58.77
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (8 laps, all transfer) 1. Carrick, 2. Boat, 3. Seavey, 4. Hollan, 5. Johnson, 6. Layser, 7. Colwell, 8. Jones. 2:01.73
AUTO METER THIRD HEAT: (8 laps, all transfer) 1. Wise, 2. Windom, 3. Thorson, 4. K. Thomas, 5. Hendricks, 6. Sarff, 7. Bodine, 8. Gass. 2:01.60
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting position in parentheses) 1. Tyler Courtney (6), 2. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (5), 3. Chad Boat (3), 4. C.J. Leary (4), 5. Tucker Klaasmeyer (1), 6. Jesse Colwell (9), 7. Tanner Thorson (24), 8. Logan Seavey (11), 9. Chris Windom (15), 10. Andrew Layser (7), 11. Tanner Carrick (17), 12. Tyler Thomas (16), 13. Zane Hendricks (18), 14. Karter Sarff (21), 15. Karsyn Elledge (19), 16. Jerry Coons, Jr. (8), 17. Sam Johnson (20), 18. Holley Hollan (14), 19. Ethan Mitchell (13), 20. Zeb Wise (2), 21. Noah Gass (12), 22. Cole Bodine (10), 23. Chase Jones (23), 24. Adam Pierson (22). NT
**Pierson flipped on the opening lap of the feature.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-21 Klaasmeyer, Laps 22-30 Courtney.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS/PROSOURCE HARD CHARGER: Tanner Thorson (24th to 7th)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Zane Hendricks
NEW USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Courtney-166, 2-K. Thomas-157, 3-Leary-138, 4-Boat-134, 5-Klaasmeyer-125, 6-Windom-121, 7-Carrick-112, 8-Thorson-111, 9-Seavey-100, 10-Colwell-96.
NEXT USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: March 9, 2019 – Southern Illinois Center – Du Quoin, Illinois – Factory Canopies “Shamrock Classic”