By RICHIE MURRAY
KOKOMO, IN – Snakebitten is a word that has been used to describe Tyler Courtney’s misfortunes at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway throughout the 2020 season. It’s almost hard to imagine that fact for a driver who has become synonymous with victory lane at the track in recent years.
Courtney rediscovered the fountain of success once again Saturday night in the Sprint Car Smackdown IX finale at Kokomo, a track in which he had won at six times in his USAC National career between sprint cars and midgets, and an event in which he had hoisted the coveted champion’s belt at twice before in 2017 and 2019.
The Indianapolis, Ind. native tracked down Brady Bacon 13 laps from the conclusion to score his 28th career USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car feature victory, equaling the total of fellow series champions Levi Jones and J.J. Yeley for 15th all-time, in his efforts worth $11,000 aboard his Clauson-Marshall-Newman Racing/NOS Turbo – CSI – ZMax – Schoenfeld/Spike/Rider Chevy.
In the process, Courtney became the second driver ever to win Smackdown three times in his career, joining the series’, and Kokomo’s, winningest sprint car driver, Dave Darland, who won three-straight in 2013-14-15.
“Dave’s a guy I grew up watching and I watched him win all three of his Smackdowns,” Courtney recalled. “To tie a guy like that here at his home track, it’s just unreal. I never would’ve thought that, when I started racing sprint cars, or started racing Smackdown nine years ago, that I’d even win one of these things, let alone three. To tie a guy like Dave Darland is something that will probably take a while to sink in.”
Back to the snakebitteness, however, the two-time USAC National champion had encountered trouble three separate times while leading or running second at the track in USAC competition this year. During Indiana Midget Week, he flipped while leading two-thirds of the way through. During Indiana Sprint Week, he clipped a turn two infield tire while leading, sending him spinning and stopping just three laps from the finish. In Thursday’s Smackdown opener, while running second, contact with a lapped car flattened Courtney’s tire, putting him out of contention for victory once again.
“I told my guys I’ll take a little bit of bad luck from the last three races if it meant I could win this one,” Courtney said. “This is one you put on the calendar, especially when we were putting our schedule together this year with us not running full-time. We had a gameplan coming into tonight and stuck to it and it worked out. We got a technical racetrack and it almost bit me a little bit, but somehow, I made it through a couple of those situations, and it worked out.”
Courtney started sixth on the grid for the 40-lap feature, and for much of the first half of the race, remained relatively stagnant, holding the fifth position nearing the midway point. Up front, however, the night’s B & W Auto Mart “King of the Hill” winner and pole sitter, Brady Bacon, was in control of the 23-car field as C.J. Leary and Kyle Cummins gave chase in second and third, respectively.
The first of two reds during the feature was displayed on the ninth lap when 19th running Carson Short rode out a flip down the front straightaway from which he walked away unscathed.
Under the ensuing stoppage, 12th running Justin Grant’s misfortune continued when his car didn’t re-fire following the red, ending his night prematurely with a 21st place finish.
When racing resumed, Cummins, who was aiming to become the first driver to win four USAC Sprint races in a row since Rick Hood in 1985, made his way to 2nd past Leary while race Rookie Buddy Kofoid, in just his 3rd career series start, flexed his muscle to take 3rd as Leary got shuffled back to 4th.
The second and final red flag period of the feature arrived on lap 15 when 14th running Clinton Boyles barrel rolled near the outside wall in turn four. The incident also collected the 15th place car of Jake Swanson who spun and stopped in the melee. Both were uninjured, but both were finished for the remainder of the evening.
On the race’s resumption on the 15th lap, Cummins showed Bacon a nose below in turn two, then did so again on the 16th lap. However, quickly shooting into the frame was Courtney, who had exploded from 5th to 3rd on the restart, then was just within arm’s reach of both Cummins in 2nd and Bacon, the race leader, as the top-three ran nose-to-tail on the topside on lap 17.
“We were getting close to halfway there and I knew I needed to start making my moves and not let Brady (Bacon) get too far out because his car was pretty good and Cummins was running 2nd, and obviously, he’s been good the first two nights,” Courtney explained. “I wanted to get by those guys and be able to run my own race. I could tell when I was running behind them that I was a lot better, so I knew if I could just get out and make some clean laps, I’d probably be all right.”
Courtney’s next move came on the 21st lap when he slid past Cummins for second in turn four, gliding from the bottom of turn three all the way up to the outside concrete at the exit of turn four to complete the pass, then, in no time, was challenging Bacon for the race lead.
Courtney hounded Bacon, the two-time USAC National Sprint Car champ, for the next several circuits, seemingly stalking his prey as he readied himself to pounce on any inkling of a misstep. That came on the 28th circuit when Bacon snagged his right rear tire on the lip exiting turn two, knocking him slightly askew as Courtney shot under to snag the lead going away. A reeling Bacon slipped back to 2nd, 3rd and 4th over the next three laps as Cummins, then a resurging Leary, slotted back into the top-three.
“Brady messed up a little bit off two, and I got by him closely, but we got by clean,” Courtney remembered. “I just put the hammer down and tried to put a gap between us because I knew my car was better.”
Courtney quickly gapped his challengers with a 3.6 sec. advantage as he worked traffic around the quarter mile with the race dwindling down to the final four laps.
With the race, and victory, seemingly in hand, Courtney had a couple “moments” down the stretch while possessing a fairly substantial gap between he and Cummins. None bigger than the one he experienced in turn one coming to the white flag as he got some airtime after hitting the cushion, and nearly knocked down the wall and dumped the No. 7BC, before gathering it up and motoring on, albeit while his heart was in the process of skipping a beat.
“That was wild,” Courtney exclaimed. “I got in, biked and got tight up on the wall and thought, ‘Oh my god, you’re really going to throw it away with three laps to go. Come on.’ Luckily, I got down off that and made a couple clean laps at the end. I love Kokomo. I love Smackdown. It was a really, really cool night.”
That “really, really cool night” concluded with Courtney taking a 3.699 sec. margin of victory in the end over Cummins, Leary, Bacon and Kofoid. For Courtney, it was his seventh career USAC National victory at Kokomo, and his five career USAC National Sprint Car feature wins at the track have him third on the all-time list, trailing only the two greatest masters in Kokomo Speedway history, Dave Darland (9) and Tony Elliott (8).
Earlier in the evening, Bacon became the first three-time B & W Auto Mart King of the Hill champion in a series of two-car, three-lap elimination races to determine the starting field. Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.) defeated Leary in the final round to win the pole, after previously doing so in both 2014-15.
Meanwhile, a big shuffle in the points saw Grant fall from first to third while Bacon shot from third to first. In fact, the top-four in the standings are only separated by a mere 18 points with Bacon leading Chris Windom (-4), Grant (-7) and Chase Stockon (-18).
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: August 29, 2020 – Kokomo Speedway – Kokomo, Indiana – 1/4-Mile Dirt Oval – Sprint Car Smackdown IX
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST QUALIFIER: (10 laps, top-3 transfer to the feature) 1. Robert Ballou (#12 Ballou), 2. Kevin Thomas Jr. (#9K KT), 3. Justin Grant (#4 TOPP), 4. Carson Short (#71p Daigh-Phillips), 5. Dakota Jackson (#17 On The Gass), 6. Stevie Sussex (#77w Wingo), 7. Eddie Tafoya Jr. (#51T Tafoya), 8. Brian VanMeveren (#24 VanMeveren), 9. Chris Phillips (#6p Phillips). 2:17.410
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND QUALIFIER: (10 laps, top-3 transfer to the feature) 1. Logan Seavey (#19AZ Reinbold-Underwood), 2. Clinton Boyles (#57 Hazen), 3. Jake Swanson (#34AZ Team AZ), 4. Brandon Mattox (#28 Mattox), 5. Colten Cottle (#5c Cottle), 6. Chase Jones (#11AG Gray), 7. Damion Gardner (#5 Baldwin), 8. Max Adams (#5m Adams), 9. Jack James (#99 James). NT
AUTOMETER THIRD QUALIFIER: (10 laps, top-3 transfer to the feature) 1. Dave Darland (#36d EZR/Curb-Agajanian), 2. Charles Davis Jr. (#47c Davis), 3. Shane Cottle (#74x Hodges), 4. Tyler Thomas (#17GP Dutcher), 5. Austin Williams (#92 Sertich), 6. Jadon Rogers (#61m Edwards), 7. Tye Mihocko (#5T Mihocko), 8. Anthony D’Alessio (#01 D’Alessio), 9. Corey Smith (#77 LG), 10. Robert Bell (#71 Bell). NT
B & W AUTO MART KING OF THE HILL QUARTERFINALS: #8 C.J. Leary (#30 Leary) defeats #1 Kyle Cummins (#3R Rock Steady); #4 Thomas Meseraull (#47 Eades) defeats #5 Tyler Courtney (#7BC Clauson/Marshall/Newman); #3 Buddy Kofoid (#19A Reinbold/Underwood) defeats #6 Chase Stockon (#5s KO) & #2 Brady Bacon (#69 Dynamics) defeats #7 Chris Windom (#19 Hayward)
B & W AUTO MART KING OF THE HILL SEMIFINALS: #8 C.J. Leary defeats #4 Thomas Meseraull & #2 Brady Bacon defeats #3 Buddy Kofoid
B & W AUTO MART KING OF THE HILL FINALS: #2 Brady Bacon defeats #8 C.J. Leary
INDY RACE PARTS / INDY METAL FINISHING SEMI: (15 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Tyler Thomas, 2. Carson Short, 3. Brandon Mattox, 4. Dakota Jackson, 5. Eddie Tafoya Jr., 6. Max Adams, 7. Stevie Sussex, 8. Austin Williams, 9. Colten Cottle, 10. Chris Phillips, 11. Damion Gardner, 12. Anthony D’Alessio, 13. Brian VanMeveren, 14. Jadon Rogers, 15. Jack James, 16. Chase Jones, 17. Tye Mihocko. NT
FEATURE: (40 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Tyler Courtney (6), 2. Kyle Cummins (5), 3. C.J. Leary (2), 4. Brady Bacon (1), 5. Buddy Kofoid (3), 6. Chris Windom (8), 7. Logan Seavey (10), 8. Thomas Meseraull (4), 9. Chase Stockon (7), 10. Shane Cottle (17), 11. Tyler Thomas (18), 12. Kevin Thomas Jr. (12), 13. Dave Darland (11), 14. Robert Ballou (9), 15. Dakota Jackson (21), 16. Charles Davis Jr. (14), 17. Brandon Mattox (20), 18. Jadon Rogers (23), 19. Eddie Tafoya Jr. (22), 20. Clinton Boyles (13), 21. Jake Swanson (16), 22. Justin Grant (15), 23. Carson Short (19). NT
**Chase Jones flipped during the semi. Carson Short flipped on lap 9 of the feature. Clinton Boyles flipped on lap 14 of the feature.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-27 Brady Bacon, Laps 28-40 Tyler Courtney.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Brady Bacon-1,182, 2-Chris Windom-1,178, 3-Justin Grant-1,175, 4-Chase Stockon-1,164, 5-C.J. Leary-1,136, 6-Carson Short-964, 7-Kevin Thomas Jr.-935, 8-Dave Darland-832, 9-Logan Seavey-806, 10-Kyle Cummins-800.
FINAL SMACKDOWN PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Chris Windom-22, 2-Tyler Thomas-16, 3-Brady Bacon-10, 4-Kyle Cummins-9, 5-Tyler Courtney-9, 6-Justin Grant-9, 7-Buddy Kofoid-7, 8-Chase Stockon-7, 9-Jake Swanson-7, 10-Shane Cottle-7.
OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Chris Windom-121, 2-Tanner Thorson-76, 3-Kyle Cummins-74, 4-Justin Grant-73, 5-Shane Cottle-68, 6-Kyle Larson-62, 7-Logan Seavey-62, 8-Cannon McIntosh-57, 9-Robert Ballou-51, 10-Daison Pursley-48.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: September 11, 2020 – Bloomington Speedway – Bloomington, Indiana – 1/4-Mile Dirt Oval
CONTINGENCY & AWARD WINNERS:
Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Winning Bonus: Tyler Courtney
Smackdown IX Rookie of the Year: Buddy Kofoid
ProSource Smackdown IX Passing Master: Chris Windom
Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner: Robert Ballou
Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner: Logan Seavey
AutoMeter Third Heat Winner: Dave Darland
Indy Race Parts / Indy Metal Finishing Semi Winner: Tyler Thomas
KSE Racing Products/Circus City Speedway/Irvin King Hard Charger: Shane Cottle (17th to 10th)
Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher: Dave Darland
Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer: Max Adams
ProSource Hard Work Award: Dakota Jackson