By RICHIE MURRAY
KOKOMO, IN – Sprint Car Smackdown VIII arrives with a bang this week as one of the most prestigious events on the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car calendar gets underway for its eighth edition Aug. 22-24 with the kickoff companion event, #GYATK Night, beginning the racing feast on Wednesday, Aug. 21.
Seven drivers expected to compete in this year’s Smackdown have won a feature in the event – preliminary or final night. Justin Grant (Ione, Calif.) arrives as the reigning final night winner of Smackdown in 2018, leading all 40 laps to score his first win in the event. He’s won twice thus far in 2019 in Ocala, Fla. and Lawrenceburg, Ind. His TOPP Motorsports team has won each of the past two Smackdown finales, and three total, getting the first with Tyler Courtney in 2017.
Courtney (Indianapolis, Ind.) won the Smackdown opener in 2018, which at the time, was his third consecutive Smackdown victory after winning the final two nights in 2017, including a dramatic late-race pass for the final night win that year. Courtney led all drivers with 11 wins last year en route to the series title. He leads all this year in the series with five feature victories but remains third in the standings.
Atop the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car standings is C.J. Leary, who earned his first career USAC National Sprint Car victory in 2016 on the second night of Smackdown. He returned in 2017 to score the win on the opening night of Smackdown. Leary (Greenfield, Ind.) has just one victory thus far, back in February in Ocala, but has been the model of consistency throughout, with 21 top-ten finishes in 21 starts, plus bagging both the Eastern Storm and Indiana Sprint Week crowns along the way.
Chris Windom (Canton, Ill.) won at Kokomo a year ago on #GYATK Night, the night prior to the beginning of Smackdown. The 2016 USAC Silver Crown and 2017 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car champion won the second-ever Smackdown feature event held in the inaugural edition in 2012. This summer, he raced to victory again on the quarter-mile during Indiana Sprint Week.
Another driver who has won both #GYATK Night and in Smackdown competition is Kevin Thomas, Jr. The Cullman, Ala. driver was dominant in 2016, winning opening night, the final night as well as #GYATK Night. He was celebrating again this past April at Kokomo when he won following a last-lap, last corner pass for the win on the second of two nights at the USAC NOS Energy Drink Kokomo Grand Prix.
No driver has won more often at Kokomo, or as often during Smackdown, than has four-time Kokomo track champion Dave Darland. The USAC Triple Crown champ won three-straight Smackdown finales in 2013-14-15, and also triumphed on “prelim” nights in 2013 and 2014 for an all-time-leading five wins during the event.
Chase Stockon (Fort Branch, Ind.) broke through for his first Kokomo victory during the second night of Smackdown during 2015. Stockon has made 281 consecutive USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car feature starts since 2012. If all were to go in accordance with his plans and he qualifies for the feature on all three nights of Smackdown, he would tie the mark on Saturday of 284-straight starts in the series, set by five-time series champ Levi Jones between 2004 and 2012.
Second in series standings, Brady Bacon, has yet to win a USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car race at Kokomo but has come oh-so-close in recent years, including a runner-up finish this past July in a toe-to-toe last-lap battle with Windom. He’s had three top-five finishes in Smackdown finales: 5th (2012), 4th (2014) and 5th (2018). However, the two-time USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car champ has won three times in USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget competition at Kokomo, including his first USAC National win in 2006 and a sweep of the Kokomo Grand Prix in 2017.
Jason McDougal (Broken Arrow, Okla.) and Carson Short (Marion, Ill.) each made their Smackdown debuts a year ago, with McDougal taking 4th and Short 16th in the finale. McDougal was 2nd on the opening night of the Kokomo Midget Grand Prix in April while Short led eight laps and finished 2nd during the Kokomo Indiana Sprint Week round in 2017. Isaac Chapple (Willow Branch, Ind.), meanwhile, has made two previous Smackdown finales starts, a 21st in 2017 and a 17th in 2018.
Kyle Cummins (Princeton, Ind.) is seeking his first Smackdown win after scoring the Indiana Sprint Week round at Kokomo in 2016. He’s finished 3rd and 5th on the final night of Smackdown in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Thomas Meseraull (San Jose, Calif.) is a two-time Kokomo USAC Sprint winner in 2017 and 2018. His lone top-ten finish at Smackdown on the final night came in the inaugural edition in 2012, a 10th.
Hunter Schuerenberg (Sikeston, Mo.) won the ISW stop at Kokomo in 2011. His best finish in a Smackdown finale came in 2012, a 9th. But he did finish in the top-five of both prelim nights during his last Smackdown appearance in 2017. He joins an expanded Reinbold/Underwood Motorsports lineup to three cars alongside Leary and reigning USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget champion Logan Seavey (Sutter, Calif.) who is making his series debut this week after finishing 13th in the Smackdown finale in 2018.
The racing festivities at Kokomo first get underway on Wednesday, August 21, with #GYATK Night, a USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car non-points Special Event in honor of the late, great Bryan Clauson, winner of the first Smackdown in 2012. Admission is FREE for all racefans. Driver pit passes are also all FREE courtesy of AllStar Performance. All gates open at 3pm Eastern, draw closes at USAC trailer at 6:10pm, drivers meeting in front grandstands at 6:15pm and cars on track at 6:30pm.
For the first two nights of Smackdown on Thursday, August 22 and Friday, August 23, all gates open at 3pm Eastern with cars on track at 6:45pm. Adult general admission tickets are $25 and children age 12 and under free. Pit passes are $35 apiece. 3-day advance reserved: $80.00, call 815-468-8690 for tickets. Advanced tickets sales will end on 8/19, after 8/19 3-day tickets can be purchased at the ticket window on race night for $85.00.
On the final night of Smackdown on Saturday, August 24, all gates open at 3pm Easter with cars on track at 6pm. Adult general admission tickets are $35 and children age 12 and under free. Pit passes are $45 apiece. The Buckeye Outlaw Sprint Series will also be on the event card.
All three nights of Smackdown, in addition to #GYATK Night, will be shown live and on-demand on FloRacing. You can listen to live audio of each night on the USAC app and follow along with live timing and scoring on the Race-Monitor app as well as the USAC app.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-C.J. Leary-1,519, 2-Brady Bacon-1,397, 3-Tyler Courtney-1,364, 4-Kevin Thomas, Jr.-1,353, 5-Chris Windom-1,335, 6-Justin Grant-1,318, 7-Chase Stockon-1,314, 8-Carson Short-1,151, 9-Jason McDougal-1,139, 10-Isaac Chapple-883.
ALL-TIME SPRINT CAR SMACKDOWN WINNERS:
2012: Bryan Clauson (8/23 & 8/25) and Chris Windom (8/24)
2013: Bryan Clauson (8/22) and Dave Darland (8/23 & 8/24)
2014: Jon Stanbrough (8/22) and Dave Darland (8/23 & 8/24)
2015: Robert Ballou (8/27), Chase Stockon (8/28) & Dave Darland (8/29)
2016: Kevin Thomas, Jr. (8/25 & 8/27) and C.J. Leary (8/26)
2017: C.J. Leary (8/24) and Tyler Courtney (8/25 & 8/26)
2018: Tyler Courtney (8/23), Tyler Thomas (8/24) and Justin Grant (9/27)