By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
GREENWOOD, NE -Though the calendar indicates summer hasn’t arrived quite yet, Friday night’s USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car event at I-80 certainly had that feel of summer.
Not only were the temperatures soaring, but the indication was given that this was a time and place for a sneak peek on how the summer months could transpire leading into next week’s “Eastern Storm” and July’s “Indiana Sprint Week.”
Kevin Thomas, Jr.’s performance indicated that this very well could be a long summer for his sprint car brethren following a dominating performance to score his third series victory of the season and race the Hoffman family car into victory lane for the 99th time in its history of USAC National Sprint Car participation.
Thomas set the tone from the earliest stages of the night, notching fast time and a new track record in qualifying – the first of four track records set by the field on the night with nary a caution in sight in each of the night’s preliminaries and main event. It was a flawless night overall set forth by a flawless performance from the Cullman, Alabama driver and his Dynamics, Inc./Mean Green – Jonathan Byrd/DRC/Speedway Chevy in the 30-lap feature.
“The car just went wherever I needed it to go,” Thomas praised. “The guys are just so in tune with the car right now, with watching the racetrack and keeping up with everything. Just the simplest things that could go wrong, they’re making sure they don’t happen and it’s showing. We’re having good finishes, good qualifying efforts and, we’re even getting lucky drawing the pill to begin the night. Things are going our way. Eventually that stuff ends, but right now, it’s going our way and I’m not going to fight it.”
It only took six laps for Thomas to reach the head of the class as Chase Stockon and Brady Bacon battled it out at the front, swapping the lead on numerous occasions until Thomas lurched forward. Thomas first followed Stockon as the two ripped past Bacon on the inside off turn four on the fourth lap. For much of the next two laps, like a vulture circling its prey, Thomas hovered around Stockon, anticipating his next move, searching for the line that would carry him to the forefront.
“I’d been watching all the other races throughout the night,” Thomas recalled. “Starting at the beginning of the night, I saw the bottom had a lot of moisture. As hot as it was, it was bound to come in and get pretty good. If the temperatures would’ve been cooler, maybe we wouldn’t have been able to run down there. The sun just baked the top of the track and made it to where it fell off a little bit, but to where there wasn’t much to lean on as what you would’ve thought.”
Near the end of lap six, Thomas found the trail, hitched his wagon to it and not once thought about leaving the well-groomed open highway.
“I searched around, ran the top one or two times and started to make some gains there on the bottom and never left,” Thomas said. “The car was working perfect down there. I could run in the middle, diamond off three and four and make some good speed down the front straight. It was really slick and icy and there wasn’t much grip to make some speed there, so I had to do something a little different. In three and four, around lap 10, we pulled the front wheels up all the way down the back straight. That just shows how good the car was at that point.”
Thomas immediately stretched the lead out to more than four seconds, a full-straightway lead, in fact. The only thing Thomas had to contend with was lapped traffic, which behaved and minded their P’s and Q’s as Thomas picked through them as quickly as a contestant on Supermarket Sweep.
Tyler Courtney was the lone wolf who appeared to have a chance at mounting a challenge, charging from 12th to 2nd by midway. However, in a race that went green to checkered without a single stoppage, making up ground was Mission: Impossible.
Thomas was never challenged once he took the lead and hammered the field, winning by more than five seconds over Courtney, Stockon, Bacon and Dave Darland. Thomas moved into a tie with 1967 USAC National Sprint Car champ Greg Weld for 25th on the all-time series win list with 21 victories.
Thomas has been on an incredible roll of late, collecting numerous local, non-sanctioned sprint car races at several different tracks and arrived at I-80 fresh off a USAC P1 Insurance National Midget feature victory last Sunday at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway.
As he holds down a 59-point lead, Thomas thinks of what got him to this point – winning, winning and winning some more. It’s more than just standing on the gas and pointing the steering wheel. There’s a lot that goes into being successful and that starts with preparing yourself for the rigors of a busy summer stretch that can be as mentally taxing as it is physical, with a little extra thrown in for good measure on the push to a championship.
“Obviously, you need luck,” Thomas admits. “At the end of the day, preparation is the biggest key to this sport. Just like any other stick and ball sport – football and baseball – it’s about conditioning yourself. It’s hotter than hell out here, it’s long nights, long drives and long stretches of races. Summer’s hard. Our advantage when it comes to conditioning ourselves is how much we race outside of USAC. We run every single night that we can, whether it’s the 69, the 63 or a midget, we never lose that touch. We’re on such a roll right now, everything feels like it’s supposed to happen. Whenever you hop in the racecar, sit down in the seat, and you feel the most comfortable you’ve felt in your entire life, that’s when it’s time to race as much as you can.”
Contingency award winners Friday night at I-80 Speedway included Chris Windom (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Dave Darland (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Tyler Courtney (Chalk Stix/Indy Race Parts Third Heat Winner & KSE Racing Products Hard Charger), Isaac Chapple (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher & Roger & Barb Tapy 13th Fastest Qualifier) and Glen Saville (Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer).
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: June 8, 2018 – I-80 Speedway – Greenwood, Nebraska – “I-80 Dirt Classic”
QUALIFYING: 1. Kevin Thomas Jr., 69, Dynamics-16.423 (New Track Record); 2. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-16.663; 3. C.J. Leary, 30, Leary-16.797; 4. Chad Boespflug, 98, NineEight-16.867; 5. Brady Bacon, 99, Bacon-16.899; 6. Chase Stockon, 32, 32 TBI-16.903; 7. Chris Windom, 5, Baldwin-16.913; 8. Dave Darland, 36D, Goodnight/Curb-Agajanian-16.
921; 9. Nick Bilbee, 17, Bilbee-16.948; 10. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-16.953; 11. Brody Roa, 91R, BR-17.038; 12. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson/Marshall/Newman-17. 042; 13. Isaac Chapple, 52, LNR/Chapple-17.064; 14. Jarett Andretti, 18, Andretti-17.150; 15. Tom Harris, 5E, Harris-17.193; 16. Don Droud, Jr., 1m, Burch-17.322; 17. Ryan Kitchen, 21, Kitchen-17.415; 18. Wyatt Burks, 11w, Rumsey-17.418; 19. Cody Ledger, 35L, Ledger-17.470; 20. Brandon Stevenson, 0x, Stevenson-17.544; 21. Terry Richards, 18T, Richards-17.602; 22. T.J. Artz, 57, Artz-17.844; 23. Glen Saville, 75, Saville-17.972; 24. Robert Bell, 71, Bell-18.649; 25. Mike Dapra, 38, Dapra-NT.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer) 1. Windom, 2. Ballou, 3. Thomas, 4. Boespflug, 5. Chapple, 6. Droud, 7. Ledger, 8. Artz. 2:22.72
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer) 1. Darland, 2. Andretti, 3. Bacon, 4. Grant, 5. Roa, 6. Kitchen, 7. Stevenson, 8. Saville. 2:22.36
CHALK STIX THIRD HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer) 1. Courtney, 2. Stockon, 3. Bilbee, 4. Leary, 5. Harris, 6. Burks, 7. Richards, 8. Bell. 2:20.93 (New Track Record)
INDY RACE PARTS SEMI: (10 laps, top-7 transfer) 1. Droud, 2. Ledger, 3. Kitchen, 4. Burks, 5. Artz, 6. Richards, 7. Stevenson, 8. Saville, 9. Bell. 3:08.38 (New Track Record)
FEATURE: (30 laps – starting positions in parentheses) 1. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (6), 2. Tyler Courtney (12), 3. Chase Stockon (1), 4. Brady Bacon (2), 5. Dave Darland (8), 6. Robert Ballou (10), 7. Nick Bilbee (9), 8. Justin Grant (5), 9. Chad Boespflug (3), 10. Chris Windom (7), 11. Don Droud, Jr. (16), 12. Jarett Andretti (14), 13. Isaac Chapple (13), 14. Brody Roa (11), 15. Tom Harris (15), 16. C.J. Leary (4), 17. Cody Ledger (19), 18. T.J. Artz (22), 19. Ryan Kitchen (17), 20. Terry Richards (21), 21. Wyatt Burks (18), 22. Brandon Stevenson (20), 9:16.14 (New Track Record)
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Lap 1 Stockon, Laps 2-3 Bacon, Laps 4-5 Stockon, Laps 6-30 Thomas.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER: Tyler Courtney (12th to 2nd)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Isaac Chapple
ROGER & BARB TAPY 13TH FASTEST QUALIFIER: Isaac Chapple
SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS FIRST NON-TRANSFER: Glen Saville