By RICHIE MURRAY
MONTPELIER, IN – It took six decades for the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Cars to make their Montpelier Motor Speedway debut. Now, after two successful events in 2016 and 2017 and, following an unforgettable tilt just less than seven months ago, the waiting is over and the anticipations is on as the series makes its return trip to the quarter-mile dirt oval this Saturday, April 21.
In that event last fall, Greenfield, Indiana’s C.J. Leary admitted he was content to run third late in the going. However, after a late-race red flag, Leary’s newfound spirit saw him split between heavy-hitters Chris Windom and Kevin Thomas, Jr. on the back straightaway of the final lap to emerge with a stunning victory.
The two pilots Leary defeated on the unforgettable last-lap are the defending series champ and the driver who has risen to the top of the standings during this early season. Windom, of Canton, Ill, the 2017 series champ, finished third in last year’s event and, last Friday, won an unsanctioned sprint race at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway.
Windom trails the standings by eight behind Cullman, Alabama’s Kevin Thomas, Jr. Consistency through the first three events has elevated Thomas to the lead by virtue of 2nd, 3rd and 4th place finishes. The winningest driver in the series from a year ago looks to get the proverbial rolling this Saturday at Montpelier with the Hoffman/Dynamics, Inc. No. 69, the same team that won the series debut at the track in 2016 with driver Brady Bacon.
Bacon, of Broken Arrow, Okla., set fast time and captured the feature two years ago on his way to a title season. The two-time USAC Sprint champ recently underwent a change of scenery in the sprint car where he will now take the reins of his own No. 99 after competing in the first three events at Ocala in February for the Dooling/Hayward Motorsports team.
The winningest competitor in USAC thus far in 2018 is Tyler Courtney. The Indianapolis driver won two of those three previously-mentioned Sprint Car contests at Ocala and, just last Friday, picked up the win in a USAC National Midget at the “Kokomo Grand Prix.” His lone sprint car appearance at Montpelier netted him a sixth-place finish in 2017, but the track does happen to be the home of his first career USAC National Midget feature win in June of 2017.
Though the records only encompass two events over the last two seasons, no driver has been as consistent as USAC Triple Crown champ Dave Darland. The Lincoln, Indiana native is the only driver to lead feature laps and finish in the top-five of both Montpelier USAC Sprint appearances. In 2016, Darland led the first 11 laps before finishing third. In 2017, he set a new one-lap track record in qualifying, then led two on his way to a fourth-place result.
Fort Branch, Indiana driver Chase Stockon (7th in points) opened up the season with a victory on the opening night of “Winter Dirt Games” in Ocala, Fla. He finished fifth at Montpelier in 2016. Princeton, Indiana’s Kyle Cummins, a runner-up finisher at Montpelier in 2016, lies sixth in points. Robert Ballou of Rocklin, Calif. (8th in points) collected a fifth-place finish a season ago. Californians Chad Boespflug of Hanford (4th in points) and Ione’s Justin Grant (9th in points) were victorious in heat race events at Montpelier in 2017.
The timetable for events this Saturday at Montpelier are slightly different than the norm. The front gates open at 3pm. Cars are on track at 5pm. General admission tickets are $20. Kids (12 & Under) are free with a paid adult. Pit passes are $30 each.