By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
ODESSA, MS – Robert Ballou returned the favor to Brady Bacon in more ways than one during Saturday night’s USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship event at Odessa, Missouri’s I-70 Motorsports Park.
After running second to Bacon in each of the past two series events in April at Ohio’s Atomic Speedway and on Thursday at Kansas’ Lakeside Speedway, Ballou turned the tables to reach victory lane for the first time in 11 months and for the 32nd time in his USAC National Sprint Car career, moving past Tyler Courtney and into a tie for 14th on the all-time list alongside 1973 series champion, Rollie Beale.
As fate would have it, Ballou (Rocklin, Calif.) had to withstand a late-race bout with Bacon to earn Saturday’s victory, dominating for the majority of the first two-thirds of the 30-lapper before being overtaken by Bacon with a mere nine laps remaining. However, the never-say-quit Ballou immediately clawed his way back to the lead a half-lap later and put the clamps on Bacon’s bid for a third-straight triumph, securing the lead all for himself for the final eight laps to earn his first victory celebration of 2022.
In what was the first USAC National Sprint Car appearance at I-70 in 26 years – first on the .045-mile dirt oval configuration – the win list at the track displayed six past National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductees in the only six USAC Sprint Car events ever held at the track.
While Ballou will undoubtedly one day be enshrined in the HoF, just the same as Gary Bettenhausen, Sheldon Kinser, Jeff Swindell, Steve Butler, Tony Stewart and Eric Gordon, he now shares a common trait that each of those aforementioned racers possess on their resume – a USAC National Sprint Car victory at I-70 Motorsports Park.
“I’ve said since the beginning of the year that this is going to be the Bacon/Ballou show,” Ballou exclaimed. “Bacon’s got the best racecar, but I just wanted it a little worse tonight. It’s been a tough season and we’ve had a lot of problems, but I’ve got a lot of good guys behind me.”
In a myriad of ways, Ballou’s early season form is the type he hasn’t experienced since his USAC National Sprint Car title campaign of 2015. From his engine program on down to the shocks, Ballou has found the competitive fire and edge to regularly compete for victories in his Ballou Motorsports/Suburban Subaru – Dragonfly Aviation – Berks Western Telecom/Triple X/Ott Chevy.
“We got ahead of the game in 2015, and I kind of snuck up on everyone with the best engines in the country,” Ballou explained. “Then we laid in the weeds for a little while and got caught with our pants down. Now we’ve got some bullets under the hood, and I think we can keep up with the rest of these guys. We’ve got a brand new one coming for Eastern Storm, so I think it’ll be even better.
Ballou started his race from the outside of the front row but watched as pole sitter Mario Clouser kept Ballou at bay for the opening lap to lead by a half-car length at the line in the event co-sanctioned by the USAC Wholesale Batteries Midwest Wingless Racing Association. Ballou quickly put an end to the brief duel with a slide job on Clouser entering turn one moments later to take a firm grip of the race lead.
Promptly making mincemeat of the field, Ballou carved his way through traffic throughout the first 20 laps to build a commanding 2.5 second advantage with 12 laps in the book as Bacon surged through the field to slot himself into second past Clouser after starting back in the fifth spot.
From there on, the foible for Ballou was traffic as he cut in, around and between the tail end of the field while Bacon, the four-time series champ, snipped at the interval, dwindling it to within a couple of car lengths while Ballou became stymied behind the lapped car of series Rookie Alex Banales. Bacon pounced at the opportunity and slid past Ballou at the entrance to turn three. Bacon completed the pass as he swept from the bottom of turn three up to the top of four, jammed between Banales, who was positioned just ahead of his front bumper and Ballou on his rear bumper.
“He kind of got into it a little bit when he slid up and was backing up the racetrack,” Ballou recalled when he lost the lead to Bacon. “I could’ve spun him out but that’s just not the way we race.
Using Banales as a pseudo pick, Ballou dove below both Bacon and Banales entering turn one while Bacon remained pinned behind Banales. That allowed Ballou to seemingly say “sayonara” as he bolted off into the distance never to be headed again as he completed his parting shot with a 3.632 second margin of victory over Ballou, Justin Grant and C.J. Leary with first-time series Fatheadz Fast Qualifier Emerson Axsom rounding out the top-five.
Brady Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.) nearly pulled off a third consecutive USAC National Sprint Car victory on Saturday night, leading a single lap ever so briefly with just nine laps remaining. Instead, he settled for second, making it his third-straight finish inside the top-two in his Dynamics, Inc./Fatheadz Eyewear – Gressman Sanitation – DriveWFX.com – Tel-Star/Triple X/Rider Chevy.
“He was definitely slowed down in traffic and the line I was running was clear,” Bacon explained of his late-race challenge of Ballou. “So, I was able to catch him really fast and, as I caught him and got him, the grip on the line I was running just went away. I probably used up what I had when I tried to get by him, and he was able to get by me. After that, I was having more trouble with lapped cars, then he pulled away, so we just had to settle in. We gave it a shot and got in front of him once, but it wasn’t quite good enough. He set a pretty fast pace when he was up there by himself.”
Justin Grant (Ione, Calif.) recovered from his worst result of the USAC National Sprint Car season (10th) on Thursday night at Lakeside by finishing 3rd on Saturday at I-70. Grant and the team made wholesale changes in the time between the two events, and even had trouble with their semi-trailer en route to I-70. But all’s well ends well as Grant got back on track as the feature’s hardest charger, advancing from the 8th starting spot to take 3rd in his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink – MPV Express – TOPP Industries – LA Poly/Maxim/Kistler Chevy.
“We worked on everything,” Grant stated. “We worked on the car, worked on the motor, worked on the driver, worked on the semi, and we had a heck of a trip out here. It’s been a little rough but we’re back on the podium tonight and we’re still out racing sprint cars. It’s better than digging ditches and grinding dumpsters. It’s what I’d be doing if I wasn’t here.”
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: May 14, 2022 – I-70 Motorsports Park – Odessa, Missouri – 3/8-Mile Dirt Track – Co-Sanctioned by the USAC Wholesale Batteries Midwest Wingless Racing Association (Special Event)
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Emerson Axsom, 47BC, Clauson Marshall Newman-15.856 (New Track Record); 2. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-15.892; 3. Logan Seavey, 5, Baldwin/Fox-15.994; 4. C.J. Leary, 77m, Michael-15.998; 5. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-16.004; 6. Mario Clouser, 6, EZR-16.050; 7. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-16.099; 8. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-16.107; 9. Jadon Rogers, 14, Engler-16.173; 10. Jake Swanson, 21AZ, Team AZ-16.176; 11. Alex Banales, 5x, Baldwin/Fox-16.221; 12. Chase Stockon, 5s, KO-16.237; 13. Jason McDougal, 5m, KO-16.295; 14. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-16.391; 15. Wesley Smith, 44, Smith-16.436; 16. Wyatt Burks, 11w, Burks-16.513; 17. Xavier Doney, 74, Doney/Lawson-16.730; 18. Chad Frewaldt, 4F, Frewaldt-16.881; 19. Cody Baker, 38, Tribble/Hall-17.076; 20. Dakota Earls, 15E, Earls-17.512; 21. Chase Howard, 13, Howard-17.513; 22. J.D. Black, 7JR, Black-17.646; 23. Tyler Burton, 03, Burton-17.726; 24. Chad Tye, 88, Tye-17.822; 25. Brian Beebe, 37, Nussbaum-17.856; 26. Mark Lane, 33L, Lane-18.261; 27. Casey Lewallen, 55L, Lewallen-18.487; 28. Rece Wommack, 33, Wommack-19.075.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Jason McDougal, 2. Jake Swanson, 3. C.J. Leary, 4. Justin Grant, 5. Emerson Axsom, 6. Wyatt Burks, 7. Cody Baker, 8. J.D. Black, 9. Rece Wommack, 10. Brian Beebe. 2:13.29 (New Track Record)
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Brady Bacon, 2. Brandon Mattox, 3. Matt Westfall, 4. Robert Ballou, 5. Alex Banales, 6. Xavier Doney, 7. Dakota Earls, 8. Mark Lane, 9. Tyler Burton. 2:16.05
PIT STOP USA / ROD END SUPPLY THIRD HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Logan Seavey, 2. Chase Stockon, 3. Mario Clouser, 4. Jadon Rogers, 5. Wesley Smith, 6. Chad Frewaldt, 7. Chase Howard, 8. Chad Tye, 9. Casey Lewallen. 2:17.36
ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS SEMI-FEATURE: (10 laps, top-7 transfer to the feature) 1. Wyatt Burks, 2. Xavier Doney, 3. Chase Howard, 4. Chad Frewaldt, 5. Chad Tye, 6. Brian Beebe, 7. J.D. Black, 8. Rece Wommack, 9. Mark Lane, 10. Dakota Earls, 11. Casey Lewallen, 12. Cody Baker, 13. Tyler Burton. 3:03.19 (New Track Record)
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Robert Ballou (2), 2. Brady Bacon (5), 3. Justin Grant (8), 4. C.J. Leary (3), 5. Emerson Axsom (6), 6. Mario Clouser (1), 7. Logan Seavey (4), 8. Jason McDougal (7), 9. Jake Swanson (11), 10. Matt Westfall (9), 11. Jadon Rogers (10), 12. Chase Stockon (13), 13. Alex Banales (12), 14. Wesley Smith (15), 15. Xavier Doney (17), 16. Brandon Mattox (14), 17. Chad Tye (21), 18. Chase Howard (19), 19. Brian Beebe (22), 20. Chad Frewaldt (18), 21. Wyatt Burks (16), 22. J.D. Black (20). 9:52.36 (New Track Record)
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Lap 1 Mario Clouser, Laps 2-20 Robert Ballou, Lap 21 Brady Bacon, Laps 22-30 Robert Ballou.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Emerson Axsom-417, 2-Justin Grant-396, 3-Brady Bacon-392, 4-Chase Stockon-364, 5-Robert Ballou-361, 6-Logan Seavey-359, 7-Jason McDougal-333, 8-C.J. Leary-326, 9-Matt Westfall-275, 10-Kyle Cummins-238.