By RICHIE MURRAY
Justin Grant remembers the heartbreak from the 2016 “Sumar Classic” all too clearly.
After setting fast time in qualifying, Grant dominated the first 93 laps from the pole position and appeared to be on his way to his first career USAC Silver Crown victory.
However, as he rode the rail on the bottom between turns three and four, one little mistake was all it took for a near-perfect afternoon to slip through his fingers as he missed the rubber, slid up the racetrack and allowed C.J. Leary to slip by underneath at the exit of turn four. Leary would glide his way to victory that day at the Terre Haute Action Track while Grant held onto second and was left to wonder what could’ve been.
Grant remains as hungry as ever as the Silver Crown series returns to the western Indiana half-mile dirt oval this Sunday, April 2 for the 17th running of the “Sumar Classic.” Despite the memories that linger from twelve months prior, Grant feels he has unfinished business to complete and that the key resides in him putting together a complete, 100-lap performance.
“I don’t think anywhere owes you anything,” Grant begins. “We were fast there last year and I let the race get away. I think we will be fast again this year; I just need to finish the deal this time.”
A betting man would be wise to lay down some coin on Grant who’s been the hottest driver in the early stages of USAC’s AMSOIL National Sprint Car and National Midget seasons. Grant kicked off the year with a win and a second-place finish in consecutive nights at “Winter Dirt Games VIII” in Ocala, Fla. for the USAC Sprint season openers back in February. In March, the success continued as he followed that performance with his first career USAC National Midget feature triumph indoors at the Southern Illinois Center in Du Quoin.
By doing so, he became the first driver in USAC history to win season-opening points races in both the National Sprint and National Midget series in the same year. He leads both series’ point standings and, with the scalding-hot start and sky-high confidence, it would seem unwise to bet against the Ione, California native from pulling off the trifecta by capturing Sunday’s “Sumar Classic.”
“The start to this year has been incredible,” Grant admits. “I’m fortunate to be with some really good teams and the Silver Crown team is no different. Being able to win both the sprint and midget openers was awesome. Being able to win all three would be amazing, but I’m trying not to think about it too much. I’m just trying to focus on showing up and doing my job.”
Grant’s Silver Crown operation will have a slightly new look for the 2017 season after his team owner Chris Carli combined forces with the Hemelgarn Racing team to attack the season championship. Among the changes for Grant is a switch from the No. 8 to Hemelgarn’s familiar No. 91, which was driven the past two seasons by Austin Nemire. The Carli/Hemelgarn team will utilize Carli’s cars and Hemelgarn’s engines while veteran mechanic Dennis LaCava will oversee the operation at Hemelgarn’s shop. Otherwise, it’s business as usual for Grant, which so far in 2017 has been better than even he could’ve imagined.
Thirty-five drivers and cars have entered the “Sumar Classic” at the Terre Haute Action Track on Sunday, April 2, including former race winners Dave Darland (2008), Kody Swanson (2014), Shane Cockrum (2015) and defending winner C.J. Leary as well as Silver Crown champs Jerry Coons, Jr. (2008) and Chris Windom (2016).
Pit gates open at 1pm while the grandstands open at 3pm. Silver Crown hot laps begin at 3:30pm with Silver Crown qualifying pushing off at 4:40pm. Racing begins at 5:15pm.
Tickets for the “Sumar Classic” can be purchased now at http://www.usactickets.com/. Adult infield tickets start at just $15 while children age 10 and under are FREE! Adult grandstand tickets are $25. Fans will receive a free pit pass upgrade with an advanced general admission ticket purchase, which is good for passive pit entry after 3pm only. Pit Passes are $30 for USAC/UMP Members and $35 for non-members.
The Terre Haute Action Track is located at 3901 South US Hwy 41, Terre Haute, IN, 47807.
For fans who are unable to make the trip in-person, the “Sumar Classic” will be streamed live on http://www.SpeedShiftTV.com/. Watch the race on-demand the next day on http://www.Loudpedal.TV/.