By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
DU QUOIN, IL – If you thought Justin Grant had any inkling of missing a beat after three-straight USAC National Sprint Car wins last weekend, well, you’d be mistaken.
Absolutely nothing broke the Ione, Calif. native’s stride on Saturday afternoon during the 69th running of the Ted Horn 100 Presented By Hunt Brothers Pizza at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds in southern Illinois as he scored his first USAC Silver Crown National Championship win of the season at an event he’s longed to win throughout the past decade of trying.
The 2020 USAC Silver Crown driving champion had made seven previous Ted Horn 100 starts, finishing a best of second back in 2019. On this day, he was nearly perfect, leading all but the first lap in the 100-miler as he controlled the final 99 trips around the legendary Magic Mile in his Hemelgarn Racing/NOS Energy Drink – Super Fitness – Nick Bohanon LLC/DRC/Foxco Chevy.
Grant also broke his 18-race string without a USAC Silver Crown win – which dated back to the 2022 season opener at the Terre Haute Action track – with his fifth career series win, tying him with Mario Andretti, Donnie Beechler, Pancho Carter, Shane Cockrum, Jay Drake, Tony Elliott, Bud Kaeding, Sheldon Kinser and Larry Rice for 26th on the all-time list.
After winning his first career Ted Horn 100 pole position, Grant proceeded to become the first driver to win the race from the first starting spot since Shane Cottle did the deed in 2007.
But more than anything, Grant is currently on one of the hottest streaks of his racing career after a down-and-out rough patch during the summer months. Last week, he reeled off three consecutive USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car victories in a three-night span at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway, and in his first race since, he notched a Silver Crown win at the Du Quoin Mile.
“I’m super fortunate here lately,” Grant stated. “Everything I get in is an absolute rocket ship and I’m just having a ton of fun. Things are awesome right now and I’m just super, super fortunate for everybody who’s behind me and the racecars that I get to sit in.”
Grant spent much of the first couple laps side-by-side with outside front row starter C.J. Leary, and it was Leary who got around Grant on the outside line to lead lap one by a car length at the line. Grant swiped the lead back away from Leary on lap two as he raced by on the inside to beat Leary to the bottom rail in in turn three, which was an imperative aspect for Grant to establish early in the going.
“It wasn’t easy to pass, I don’t think, just because the straightaways were so dirty and kind of narrow,” Grant said. “I felt like I pushed pretty hard the first couple of laps to get back around C.J. because I wanted to be on the point of this deal and make them try to get by me. It just didn’t lend itself to a lot of options and a guy was going to have to make a mistake, but when you’re racing with these guys, they’re so good, mistakes are pretty few and far between.”
Davey Ray was on the move early from his third starting position, moving to second on the entry to turn one on lap nine when he glanced his left front tire off the inside guardrail, which ricocheted him right into Leary. As the two bounced off each other while sliding up the track, Leary fought to regain control while Ray scooted off into the runner-up spot.
Ray made a bid for the lead on lap 32 but didn’t reap the rewards as he slid high in between turns two and three, opening the door for Leary to drive back under and reassume the second position. Kody Swanson tried a similar maneuver on lap 48 as he slid across the nose of Ray for third in turn three, but instead, drifted wide and opened up a gap for Shane Cockrum to zip by to take over fourth as Swanson fell back to fifth.
Ray ultimately got loose at the exit of turn four on lap 53 after sliding a bit too far sideways. In response, Cockrum capitalized on the situation by driving under Ray for third and brought Swanson in tow to fourth as Ray slipped back to fifth just past the halfway mark.
One of the positive comeback stories during the middle portion of the race was that of Casey Buckman who spun in turn two on the opening lap but restarted at the tail and drove from 29th spot up to ninth by lap 63 when he spun and collected the outside turn three wall, ending a valiant effort. Under the subsequent yellow, sixth running Ray pulled off as smoke began to surface from the Cornell Racing Stables No. 8.
In the following days after the Springfield round two weeks ago, Shane Cockrum didn’t know if he would even have a ride for Du Quoin after the engine blew on his BLS Motorsports No. 71. Stepping into Hans Lein’s No. 97 as a substitute wheelman for the recovering Mitchel Moles, Cockrum shot up to second as he flew around the outside of Leary on the front straight on lap 68 and steadily closed right to the rear bumper of race leader Grant.
Grant staved off the pressure from Cockrum for the time being until ninth running Chase Stockon slowed dramatically on lap 82 with a flat right rear tire to bring out the caution. Leary took advantage of the ensuing restart and slipped back to second under Cockrum in turn one while Swanson followed him to third.
On the other end, Grant nearly met an unkind fate as he slid high, kicking up a cloud of dust as he fought to regain control in between turns three and four. However, he calmly pointed the nose back to the bottom rail to get back in the groove without harm and without foul back in the lead ahead of Leary.
“There on the restarts, when you get running and the tires are hot, the track would get hot and cleaned up. You can kind of move around a little bit,” Grant explained. “On the restarts, if you weren’t right on the rail, it was really slick, and I went smoking down in there and I thought was okay. When I went through one and two, I felt pretty stuck, and I hustled down into three and four, and I was like, ‘oh, way too soon for that, sliding across there.’”
With three laps remaining, Leary was able to slightly cut into Grant’s lead, knocking off a couple tenths from the margin down to 0.6 sec. Nevertheless, he was unable to get any closer than that as Grant remained steady and in complete control as he finished off his second win on a dirt mile in the state of Illinois, but his first on the Du Quoin Mile.
Grant’s margin of victory was 0.999 sec. over Leary with Swanson third, Cockrum fourth and Seavey fifth.
Like Grant, C.J. Leary (Greenfield, Ind.) was keen on winning his first one at the Du Quoin mile aboard his Klatt Enterprises/Wilwood Disc Brakes – Lucas Oil Center– Brown & Miller Racing Solutions/Beast/Ford. But for Leary, on the line was a first dirt mile victory of any kind. Leary estimated he had a couple shots, but in the end, had to settle for second which not only was his best run of the USAC Silver Crown season, but it was also his best career Ted Horn 100 finish, besting his fourth place performance in 2017.
“We’ve had some bad luck and we’ve had some things that were probably a little bit of our own fault,” Leary said of the team’s struggles this season. “Overall, we’ve had a really good car. I feel like we’ve been in contention to win a bunch of them, but just haven’t been able to win any of them. It’s frustrating, but I knew we had a good car and Justin had a good car also and he might’ve been a little bit better than us. I had maybe one or two shots at him in three and four, but he just might’ve overdriven it a little bit. The last 15 to 20 laps are like qualifying runs and I was running for all we had, and I know Justin was too. I was pushing him and trying to force a mistake out of him but there was no mistake out of Justin. Hats off to him and his team. I know they’ve been on a rough road like we have, but I’m super happy and it’s going to make for a good drive home.”
Kody Swanson (Kingsburg, Calif.) battled a vibration issue early on and started back in eighth before driving his Doran-Binks Racing/Mission Foods – Glenn Farms/Maxim/Lanci Ford up to a solid third place result at Du Quoin. With Logan Seavey’s fifth place run, that put Swanson just one point out of the USAC Silver Crown point lead with only two races remaining on the season. But that’s not what he’s here for.
“I’m not here to race for points,” Swanson revealed. “We’re here to try and win races and these guys prepare to try and win them. I just didn’t get it done today, but as far as weighing risk vs. reward, it’s all reward and it’s all upside to go for it and try to win the race. I made a mistake when I got inside of Davey (Ray) and couldn’t stick the bottom. He got back by, and Shane got there with him. I felt like I was just one mistake behind. Luckily, we were able to race our way back through, but we were just not fast enough to chase down Justin and C.J. there. They did a great job, and you never want to be happy with third but I’m thankful for the effort and the run we had.”
Wayne Johnson (Tuttle, Okla.) posted the biggest charge of the USAC Silver Crown season in his first ever start at Du Quoin. Following a broken rocker arm in practice, the Two C Racing team swapped out the engine and missed qualifying entirely, which put the Silver Crown “Rookie” near the tail of the field where he promptly and officially advanced 18 positions, starting 26th on the grid and finishing 8th.
USAC SILVER CROWN NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: September 2, 2023 – Du Quoin State Fairgrounds – Du Quoin, Illinois – 1-Mile Dirt Oval – Ted Horn 100 Presented By Hunt Brothers Pizza
HONEST ABE ROOFING/SOUTHERN ILLINOIS SPORTS PRODUCTIONS QUALIFYING: 1. Justin Grant, 91, Hemelgarn-31.870; 2. C.J. Leary, 6, Klatt-32.437; 3. Davey Ray, 8, Cornell-32.446; 4. Jerry Coons Jr., 24, Haggenbottom-32.640; 5. Logan Seavey, 22, Rice/Abacus-32.641; 6. Chase Stockon, 69, Pink 69-32.802; 7. Shane Cottle, 9, Dyson-32.822; 8. Kody Swanson, 177, Doran/Binks-32.892; 9. Mario Clouser, 92, Kazmark-32.909; 10. Kyle Steffens, 08, Steffens-32.950; 11. Shane Cockrum, 97, Lein-33.001; 12. Emerson Axsom, 20, Nolen-33.035; 13. Chris Fetter, 15, Fetter-33.146; 14. Trey Burke, 11, Hamilton/SRG-33.162; 15. Chris Urish, 77, Urish-33.181; 16. Patrick Bruns, 95, Full Throttle-33.181; 17. Korey Weyant, 99, Weyant-33.476; 18. Casey Buckman, 25, C-Buck/Sachs-33.654; 19. Taylor Ferns, 555, Ferns-33.896; 20. Ryan Thomas, 118, Wingo-33.909; 21. Kaylee Bryson, 26, Pierce-33.994; 22. A.J. Fike, 53, FTM-34.039; 23. Patrick Lawson, 2, Lawson-34.206; 24. Russ Gamester, 51, Gamester-34.348; 25. Dave Berkheimer, 31, Berkheimer-35.277; 26. Danny Long, 44, Long-36.307; 27. John Tosti, 07, Tosti-37.418; 28. Tim Simmons, 3, Simmons-37.908; 29. Cary Oliver, 110, Oliver-NT; 30. Dave Peperak, 777, Peperak-NT; 31. Matt Westfall, 81, BCR-NT; 32. Wayne Johnson, 12, Two C-NT; 33. Tom Paterson, 111, Paterson-NT; 34. Trey Osborne, 88, Fetter-NT; 35. Jacob Wilson, 107, WBR-NT.
FEATURE: (100 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Justin Grant (1), 2. C.J. Leary (2), 3. Kody Swanson (8), 4. Shane Cockrum (11), 5. Logan Seavey (5), 6. Jerry Coons Jr. (4), 7. Emerson Axsom (12), 8. Wayne Johnson (26), 9. Taylor Ferns (18), 10. Kyle Steffens (10), 11. Chris Urish (15), 12. Korey Weyant (16), 13. Chris Fetter (13), 14. Chase Stockon (6), 15. Dave Berkheimer (23), 16. Trey Burke (14), 17. Davey Ray (3), 18. Mario Clouser (9), 19. Casey Buckman (17), 20. Russ Gamester (22), 21. Ryan Thomas (27), 22. Danny Long (24), 23. Kaylee Bryson (19), 24. Patrick Lawson (21), 25. Shane Cottle (7), 26. A.J. Fike (20), 27. Tom Paterson (29), 28. John Tosti (25), 29. Tim Simmons (28). NT
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Lap 1 C.J. Leary, Laps 2-100 Justin Grant.