By RICHIE MURRAY
Sure, Indiana Sprint Week has already passed us by just the same as the sun has set on the summertime.
Entering Fall, why not an Indiana Sprint Weekend to keep the fires burning, and oh, how they have burned with spectacular action with a special breed of competitors laying the groundwork for an entertaining stretch as we wind down the clock on the Midwest racing calendar.
This week’s slate of USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car competition takes us to three Hoosierland racetracks in a three-night span, Thursday, Sept. 27, at Kokomo Speedway, Friday, Sept. 28 at Gas City I-69 Speedway and Saturday, Sept. 29 at Lawrenceburg Speedway.
The leadoff is Kokomo for “Take 3” of “Sprint Car Smackdown VII,” which resumes after two previous tries that were doomed by rain. The two prelim races for “Smackdown” in late August produced another tally mark for the winningest series driver this year with the series, Tyler Courtney of Indianapolis, Ind., as well as a first-time winner in Collinsville, Okla. driver Tyler Thomas.
Past final night winners in the “Smackdown” field include three-time victor Dave Darland of Lincoln, Ind. (2013-14-15), Kevin Thomas, Jr. of Cullman, Ala. (2016) and reigning winner Courtney (2017).
Rarely does an event truly live up to its moniker, but last year’s “Smackdown” finale was an apt description of how the final laps and post-race theatrics unfolded. Courtney utilized a slider to grab the lead from race-long leader Tyler Thomas on the final green-white-checkered, but it took quite a while and a wild set of circumstances to get there.
After fighting engine issues early on in the night, Courtney encountered a maze that took just two laps, but resulted in jubilation for some, heartbreak for others and grass stains for a few who rolled around in the infield after voicing their displeasure with the way things played out down the stretch.
The unique “Smackdown” format will feature qualifying races, plus the “King of the Hill” two-car, three lap shootouts that pits the top-8, locked in A-Main drivers competing for their starting spots in the night’s A-Main, which leads into the last chance races and concludes with the 40-lap A-Main.
The top-8 drivers locked into Thursday’s feature include “Smackdown” point leader Courtney, second-place Justin Grant, Tyler Thomas, Brady Bacon, Darland, Kevin Thomas, Jr., Chris Windom and Jason McDougal, who, along with T. Thomas, is the only other first-time winner with the series.
C.J. Leary leads the B & W Auto Mart Passing Master Award standings, passing a total of 16 cars throughout the preliminary and feature events throughout the two nights of “Smackdown” run thus far.
Thursday at Kokomo, all gates open at 3pm. Cars hit the track at 6pm with racing to immediately follow. Additionally, a program for the BOSS Sprint Series will be held in addition to USAC’s “Smackdown” program. General admission tickets are $35. Kids 10 & under tickets are free with paid adult (general admission only). Pit passes for all ages are $45.
Three-day “Smackdown” ticketholders must turn in their wristband at the ticket window in exchange for a new one. Tickets that were already redeemed are NOT valid for re-entry. It is only the wristband that will be accepted as a rain check, no exceptions.
Friday’s “James Dean Classic” marks the series’ return to the Gas City I-69 Speedway quarter-mile oval for the first time since July of 2017 when Greenfield, Indiana’s C.J. Leary emerged with the victory in a wild one, passing Robert Ballou with five laps remaining to score the win.
Expected entrants for Friday’s race who’ve been victorious in a USAC event at Gas City include Shane Cottle of Kansas, Ill. (2006 & 08), Darland (2009 & 11), K. Thomas, (2013), Brady Bacon of Broken Arrow, Okla. (2015), Chase Stockon of Fort Branch, Ind. (2015), Scotty Weir of Marion, Ind. (2016), Courtney (2016) and Leary (2017).
The victories for Cottle, Weir and Courtney were each their first visits to victory lane in USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car competition.
Gas City’s pits open at 3pm, front gates at 4:30pm and cars on track for hot laps at 6:25pm. Adult general admission tickets are $25 while kids 12 and under are free and pit passes are $30 apiece.
Saturday’s “Fall Nationals” at Lawrenceburg Speedway concludes the frenetic month of September for the series as it heads to the speedy 3/8-mile dirt oval for one final time in 2018. As has been the case on ten occasions already this season, Courtney was the victor in the last series’ visit in July during “Indiana Sprint Week.” Courtney also won the series’ most recent race in last Saturday’s “4-Crown Nationals” at Eldora Speedway.
Courtney is the tenth driver to join the elite double-digit club of drivers who’ve won 10 or more USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car features in a single season: Tom Bigelow (14 wins in 1977), J.J. Yeley (13 in 2003) & Robert Ballou (13 in 2015), Larry Dickson (12 in 1968) & Pancho Carter (12 in 1976), Bubby Jones (11 in 1979), Dickson (10 in 1970), Carter (10 in 1977) & Jay Drake (10 in 2000).
Past “Fall Nationals” winners aiming to duplicate that performance this Saturday include Chase Stockon (2012) and Kevin Thomas, Jr. (2017). Thomas disposed of fellow second row starter Leary, then front row combatants Ballou and Grant in a rapid-fire succession of precision with an outside move off turn two that propelled him from fourth to first on the opening lap, leading all 30 circuits on his way to victory.
Lawrenceburg’s pits open at 3pm, front gates at 5pm and hot laps at 6pm with opening ceremonies slated for 7pm. Adult tickets are $25, kids 7-12 are $7, children 6 and under are FREE! Pit passes are $30 apiece for all ages.
Five drivers have won at all three tracks on the docket this weekend, including Courtney, Leary, Darland, K. Thomas and Stockon.
The upcoming events mark the 61st appearances by the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Cars at Kokomo, the 31st at Gas City and the 61st at Lawrenceburg.
The USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Cars made their debut at Kokomo on July 22, 1981 with Tom Bigelow capturing the victory in the Gohr Distributing No. 56. The first visit to Lawrenceburg on September 18, 1983 found Danny Milburn collecting the victory aboard the Stenger Leasing/Southside Ready Mix No. 3. Gas City made its first appearance on the schedule in 2002 when Cory Kruseman snagged the win behind the wheel of the Keith Kunz Motorsports No. 67.
The all-time winningest USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car driver at Kokomo is Dave Darland with nine. Darland also owns the most at Lawrenceburg with seven. Jon Stanbrough tops the list with six at Gas City.
All three races will be streamed live on http://www.SpeedShiftTV.com/ and available to watch on-demand a day after the event is run on http://www.Loudpedal.TV/. You can listen to all USAC National events live on the USAC app.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-K. Thomas-2206, 2-Courtney-2189, 3-Windom-2143, 4-Bacon-1901, 5-Darland-1889, 6-Stockon-1870, 7-Leary-1865, 8-Ballou-1771, 9-Grant-1746, 10-Chapple-1232.