By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
MECHANICSBURG, PA – New racecar, new engine, new team.
For many, those three attributes can serve as obstacles or “kinks” that have to be ironed out in order to find that minute balance between comfortability and competitiveness.
Shane Cockrum found that, oh, somewhere around lap one of Friday night’s Williams Grove 100 at Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania’s Williams Grove Speedway, the first dirt event of the 2021 season for the series where he made a daring, winning pass with 28 laps remaining, then conserved and prevailed for his fourth career series win, and his first in nearly six years.
Friday marked the first USAC Silver Crown event ever contested by the BLS Motorsports team. Cockrum inherited the operation from Hardy Boys Motorsports following the conclusion of the 2019 season. In 2020, the team’s assets sat in Cockrum’s shop while he competed for Five Three Motorsports. About that time, Ben Clements of Ben’s Lawn Service, came on as a sponsor, and through him and Hustler Turf Equipment, they melded together and developed a brand new team for 2021.
Those dividends paid off for the Benton, Ill. driver who lives by the mantra that races are won in the shop. The dedication and process of getting the Hustler Turf Equipment – Ben’s Lawn Service & Trailer Sales/Maxim/Kistler Chevy No. 71 in tip-top shape for the new season resembled the work he put in himself, dedicating time to the weight room and cycling, which have helped him lose 40 pounds, he estimates.
Call it beginner’s luck, but the more apt description may be an attention to detail and a fresh set of eyes and hands, along with a successful veteran driver behind the wheel, that have helped push two brand-new Silver Crown teams to victory lane in their first ever starts in the first two events this season in USAC Silver Crown competition.
The first ever entry by Doran Enterprises in the USAC Silver Crown series was driven to a win by Kody Swanson in May’s series opener at Lucas Oil Raceway. Next, Cockrum drove BLS Motorsports’ first series appearance to a subsequent victory at Williams Grove.
That marks the first time since 1992 that two brand-new teams won in their first series starts in consecutive races. Jim Keeker won Six-R Racing’s first Silver Crown start at Phoenix International Raceway to open the season followed by Gary Howard’s team winning its first race right out of the box with driver Lealand McSpadden in the next event at the Indiana State Fairgrounds nearly three decades ago.
In fact, if you go back to late in the 2020 season, that makes it three first-time entrants in a row that’ve won USAC Silver Crown races. First-time entrant Sean Michael Motorsports sported back-to-back victories to close last year’s campaign with driver Kyle Larson at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
Cockrum and BLS Motorsports became the latest in what has seemingly become a trend, but what is, in reality, a monumental task to put all the different pieces together and make work so successfully, so quickly. This new combination of Cockrum and BLS did just that, and ultimately reaped the rewards by conquering the famed half-mile dirt oval.
“We had so many things, so many variables working against us,” Cockrum noted. “We had a brand new racecar that had never seen a lap, a brand new motor that we’d never run one lap with, and a team that was just created. To be able to come out against this caliber of competition, especially during Eastern Storm, where these guys have been running big tracks all week long, they’re fine-tuned, they’re honed-in, and to come out here and knock them off, that’s pretty big.”
Cockrum qualified and started seventh in the 22-car field which saw pole sitter and new one-lap track record holder Jason McDougal establish himself as the one to beat early on after speeding to the top of the charts in both practice sessions as well as qualifying.
The biggest mover early on, however, was Logan Seavey who charged from his 8th starting spot to 2nd by lap six, then rapidly reeled in McDougal, charging off turn four, then outdueling McDougal to the entry of turn one to take over the top spot on the 21st lap.
Seavey steadily expanded his lead to more than 1.6 seconds as he worked traffic on the high line while the lappers occupied the low side.
Yet, as it turned out, all would be for naught when Seavey suddenly veered right in turn one on lap 43, slowing dramatically until he stopped atop the cushion in turn two. A stripped Pitman Arm was the culprit, ending Seavey and Rice Motorsports’ bid for a first career USAC Silver Crown score.
Seavey’s heartbreak sent McDougal back into the race lead for the lap 49 restart, while a distant Cockrum made his first appearance inside the top-five.
McDougal’s return to the lead was short-lived as Justin Grant jumped through the door left open on the bottom of turn one during the restart to assume his new position at the head of the field. As McDougal attempted to scrap his way back to the front on the outside, that subsequently allowed both 2019 Williams Grove winner Brady Bacon and Cockrum to roll into 2nd and 3rd, respectively.
One lap later, on lap 53, Cockrum shot by Bacon for the runner-up position and began to dissect Grant. On the 55th lap, Cockrum drove his car deep into the third turn against the inner guardrail, sliding a bit too far past Grant at the entry while briefly possessing the lead. Cockrum carried a tad too much speed on entry, allowing Grant to hang tight and slip back under to reclaim the number one position.
The 57th lap saw Cockrum feel extensive pressure from the trailing, third-place car of Bacon. With forces at play behind his rear bumper and eyes affixed on the rear bumper Grant, Cockrum made another play for the lead in turn two, glancing wheels with Grant who, thusly, staved off Cockrum barely, and for the time being.
By lap 70, the top-five was in a freight train formation with Grant pulling along a pack that included Cockrum, Bacon, Windom and Cottle all nose-to-tail in arrears. Three laps later, Cockrum saw the opening he needed and squeezed through the narrow corridor between Grant and the inside guardrail to take over the lead on lap 73. Bacon followed suit in lockstep with Cockrum into second as Grant fell to third.
“I felt pretty good there,” Cockrum revealed. “When you can pick off good cars like Windom and Bacon, you know you’ve got something. Honestly, the best thing about it is the car never went away. It stayed good and, when I got to Grant, he was protecting his line, but I tried a few things. It would’ve been really easy to run second, but I just wasn’t going to run second tonight. I started working the topside, but couldn’t get in. Grant’s a master; he’s a special driver, a hall of fame driver, I’m sure. Going down into one, I thought I’d better do it, so I just sailed her in there and it stuck like it did every lap. After that, it was just about hitting my marks.”
Cockrum pulled away to a 1.3 second lead during the ensuing laps as he dug his way through traffic, while Cottle worked his way into second behind Cockrum on the 85th circuit. However, a slew of cautions hampered the proceedings down the stretch with yellows for Matt Goodnight (18th) and Matt Westfall (10th) setting up a three-lap dash for the victory among the frontrunners.
Seeing fellow competitors fall by the wayside is a legitimate concern for the others who remain as they are mindful of conserving just enough rubber to prosper and make it to the finish. Despite the situation at hand, Cockrum had confidence all would be well.
“It wasn’t the cords, but there wasn’t any tread on (the right rear tire),” Cockrum said. “It looked like a pavement tire. I started feeling it, but I knew I was still getting good left rear bite. There’s something special about this racecar because the tire wear didn’t really have the car letting up.”
The battle of Shane vs. Shane (Cockrum and Cottle) saw one close call with Cottle charging right to the rear bumper of Cockrum on entry into turn three coming to the white flag. Cottle avoided contact, and Cockrum maintained a consistent distance of roughly three car lengths between the two as Cockrum carried onward to win his first USAC Silver Crown feature since the Ted Horn 100 at the Du Quoin (Ill.) State Fairgrounds in 2015.
Cockrum prevailed by a 0.466 second margin over Cottle, Windom and Bacon with Kyle Robbins rounding out the top-five.
Smooth and steady, that’s how Cockrum accomplished the feat at Williams Grove. It’s a trait that has helped the 39-year-old driver become a solid citizen in long distance races of 100 laps in length over the past decade, and the trait complimented his skill set once again on this particular evening.
“The thing about me, for some reason, I just run steady the whole race,” Cockrum explained. “I don’t necessarily try to push the car, and I think my downfall is that when I do have to push it, I’m probably not as good then. The beauty for me is I get to run the same the whole race.
Just over time, and getting a little bit older and wiser, I just kind of learned the pace that I need to set, and I think Cottle and myself are in the same boat,” Cockrum continued. “We understand that, and we’re at the same place in our careers. We just keep doing it like that. I think, for these races, that’s the most successful thing you can do. That’s why (Jack) Hewitt and (Chuck) Gurney and those guys got so good. They were at that stage in their career where they were patient. They weren’t trying to win it by bouncing off the walls and hanging on the cushion. We’ve been smooth and that’s what we’re going to keep on doing.”
Shane Cottle (Kansas, Ill.) became the new point leader of the USAC Silver Crown National Championship by virtue of his runner-up finish aboard the BCR Group/Flint Trucking – QS Quality Components – Duncan Oil/Maxim/Kercher Chevy. Cottle attempted to conserve as much as he could for final 10 lap stint but didn’t have quite enough rubber at the end to make a final push past Cockrum.
Chris Windom (Canton, Ill.) completed an all-Illini podium for the Williams Grove 100. The 2016 Williams Grove Silver Crown victor, and series champion, finished third in his first ever start in the Hans Lein/NOS Energy Drink – Lamers Motor Racing – Utica Bar/DRC/Stanton Mopar.
Eric Gordon (Fortville, Ind.) endured a steering gear failure on his Brad & Tara Armstrong/Armstrong Garage Doors – Fatheadz – H & H Drywall/DRC/Claxton Toyota that prevented him from making a qualifying attempt. After borrowing a steering gear that Goodnight Racing crew chief Scott Benic loaned the Armstrong team, the crew thrashed to get the car ready to start dead last, 22nd on the grid, where Gordon drove it to an 11th place finish, picking up the KSE Racing Products / Irvin King Hard Charger honors for the evening.
In Fatheadz Eyewear Qualifying, Jason McDougal, making his first career start as the pilot of the Klatt Enterprises/Wilwood Disc Brakes – Lucas Oil – Brown & Miller Racing Solutions/Beast/Ford, recorded his first career USAC Silver Crown fast qualifying time, setting a new Williams Grove Speedway USAC Silver Crown one-lap track record of 20.354 seconds, surpassing the former mark set by C.J. Leary in 2016 at 20.379.
USAC SILVER CROWN NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: June 18, 2021 – Williams Grove Speedway – Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania – Williams Grove 100 – 1/2-Mile Dirt Oval
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Jason McDougal, 6, Klatt-20.354 (New Track Record); 2. Kyle Robbins, 7, KR-20.729; 3. Shane Cottle, 81, BCR-20.813; 4. Chris Windom, 97, Lein-20.904; 5. Brady Bacon, 53, Five Three-20.921; 6. Justin Grant, 91, Hemelgarn-21.034; 7. Shane Cockrum, 71, BLS-21.065; 8. Logan Seavey, 22, Rice-21.076; 9. Robert Ballou, 9, Dyson-21.155; 10. Matt Westfall, 54, Westfall-21.169; 11. Casey Buckman, 74, C-Buck-21.310; 12. Austin Nemire, 16, Nemire/Lesko-21.352; 13. David Byrne, 40, Byrne-21.408; 14. Matt Goodnight, 39, Goodnight-21.420; 15. Kyle Cummins, 69, Pink 69-21.450; 16. Mike Haggenbottom, 24, Haggenbottom-21.526; 17. Carmen Perigo, 52, Stehman-21.574; 18. Travis Welpott, 18, Welpott-21.764; 19. Bryan Gossel, 06, Gossel-22.049; 20. Dave Berkheimer, 31, Berkheimer-22.373; 21. Charles Davis Jr., 3, Simmons-22.712; 22. Jake Swanson, 10, DMW-24.686; 23. Ronnie Wuerdeman, 33, Wuerdeman-NT; 24. Eric Gordon, 99, Armstrong-NT; 25. C.J. Leary, 30, Leary-NT; 26. Chase Johnson, 17, Goodnight-NT.
FEATURE: (100 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Shane Cockrum (7), 2. Shane Cottle (3), 3. Chris Windom (4), 4. Brady Bacon (5), 5. Kyle Robbins (2), 6. Jason McDougal (1), 7. Carmen Perigo (17), 8. Justin Grant (6), 9. Robert Ballou (9), 10. Mike Haggenbottom (16), 11. Eric Gordon (22), 12. Casey Buckman (11), 13. Austin Nemire (12), 14. Bryan Gossel (19), 15. Travis Welpott (18), 16. Matt Goodnight (14), 17. Matt Westfall (10), 18. David Byrne (13), 19. Kyle Cummins (15), 20. Logan Seavey (8), 21. Charles Davis Jr. (21), 22. Dave Berkheimer (20). 46:25.138
**Ronnie Wuerdeman flipped over the turn three guardrail during qualifying.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-20 Jason McDougal, Laps 21-42 Logan Seavey, Laps 43-48 Jason McDougal, Laps 49-72 Justin Grant, Laps 73-100 Shane Cockrum.
USAC SILVER CROWN POINTS: 1-Shane Cottle-116, 2-Justin Grant-110, 3-Kyle Robbins-99, 4-David Byrne-91, 5-Austin Nemire-80, 6-Mike Haggenbottom-78, 7-Logan Seavey-75, 8-Eric Gordon-74, 9-Shane Cockrum-73, 10-Bryan Gossel-72.
OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Tanner Thorson-83, 2-Thomas Meseraull-81, 3-Robert Ballou-73, 4-Kevin Thomas Jr.-62, 5-Brady Bacon-61, 6-Chris Windom-53, 7-Justin Grant-44, 8-Buddy Kofoid-41, 9-Logan Seavey-37, 10-Jake Swanson-36.
NEXT USAC SILVER CROWN NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: June 25, 2021 – Madison International Speedway – Oregon, Wisconsin – 1/2-Mile Paved Oval