By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
SUN PRARIE, WI – Sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Back in 2015, Robert Ballou’s No. 12 carried a new engine into Angell Park Speedway, started ninth and charged his way up through the field to strike victory.
Seven years following that particular triumph in the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship’s first trip to the Sun Prairie, Wisconsin oval since 2015, the Rocklin, Calif. native discovered that the song remains the same for all intents and purposes.
Starting from the eighth position on Sunday night, it took Ballou just seven laps to work his way into the top spot past early race leader Davey Ray before going relatively unscathed and relatively unchallenged for the balance of the 30-lap distance to capture his third series win of the season in his Ballou Motorsports/Suburban Subaru – Dragonfly Aviation – Berks Western Telecom/Triple X/Ott Chevy.
Ballou’s 34th career USAC National Sprint Car feature score moved him to within one win of 12th on the all-time list, which is currently occupied by both Jon Stanbrough and Rich Vogler. In doing so, Ballou won in uninterrupted start-to-finish fashion, taking the checkered flag in a brief 7 minutes and 57.6 seconds during the inaugural KO Klassic / CarIQ Wisconsin Jump Around.
The parallels to Ballou’s most recent Angell Park visit were readily apparent even before he hit the 1/3-mile dirt oval for hot laps. In the end, the team left the premises with the same sense of satisfaction the did seven years before. Ballou and crew chief Derrick Bye installed the engine on Friday night for a Midwest Sprint Car Series event at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track and promptly won, setting the theme for the weekend.
“In 2015, I had a brand new engine. In 2022, I got a brand new Don Ott engine,” summarized Ballou in relating his last two Angell Park experiences. “This weekend was all about testing. I’ve changed my whole racecar and changed everything that we’ve done. We’ve spent a lot of hours in the shop. My buddy, Tom Harris from England, and I were on the phone all the time trying to get this thing better. He understands the fabrication along with what does what and how. I’m the knucklehead who steers it and says, ‘this doesn’t work’ and ‘let’s try something different.’ I’ve had something up my sleeve since December and I wanted to try it.”
It all worked to fruition on Sunday, just one week after Ballou struggled during USAC’s Eastern Storm tour in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, claiming that his experiences felt akin to having a boat anchor tied to his car. This time around, he was the first hard charger to also claim a victory in the very same feature event.
Pole sitter Ray, who’s collected numerous Badger Midget victories at Angell Park in his career, slid to the top and into the lead for the first time in USAC National Sprint Car career on the opening lap in turn one as outside front row starter Braydon Cromwell fought to keep in stride with Ray on the bottom.
In the background of the front runners was Ballou, who was on the move in a major way. He surpassed USAC National Sprint Car point leader Justin Grant for third with a low rider maneuver between turns one and two on lap four. Next on Ballou’s hit list was Cromwell who hopped atop the third turn cushion, which allowed Ballou to slither underneath for second on lap five.
Ballou stuck to his guns on the low line, and when Ray wrestled with the turn three cushion on lap six, it opened the door for Ballou on the low line to scoot alongside, missing the lead by a sliver of a fingernail at the stripe, with Ray clinging to a .007 second margin.
“I was afraid of how quick it would go away,” Ballou admitted. “It’s one of those deals that’s a flip of the coin. You’re either going to be really good at the beginning and awful at the end or it’s one out of a hundred where you get lucky and it’s good the whole time.”
It was “game on” for Ballou who completed his overtake of Ray between turns one and two on the seventh lap, then set sail for the horizon as he put up a four second lead by the midway point while the battles raged on behind him. Ballou continued to negotiate the contiguous throngs of lapped traffic nearing the midway point while Emerson Axsom double-slid Grant and Ray in the first turn on lap 14 to go from fourth to second in the snap of a finger.
Meanwhile, Bacon utilized a similar route as Ballou to take over the third position from Grant at the exit of turn four on the 18th lap. Bacon then cruised the bottom to shoot to second on lap 22, using the lapped car of Brandon Mattox as a sort of pick, then rocketed from bottom to top at the exit of turn four to rip away the position.
Ballou held a near four-second lead when Bacon slotted into second with eight laps remaining. Quickly, though, Bacon knocked Ballou’s lead down to 1.7 with only five laps to go. However, Ballou cut through with ease, splitting Terry Babb and William Huck halfway down the back straight on the final lap, then was free and clean to the finish line, winning by a 1.953 second margin over Bacon, who had a right rear tire shred to smithereens on the cool down lap following the checkered flag. Axsom, Grant and C.J. Leary rounded out the top-five.
“I could go pretty much anywhere they would throw the crumbs off the bottom,” Ballou explained. “No one had run through there and, those last few laps, I could catch the middle really good. I was pretty tight on the curb getting into three. It’s a pretty tricky racetrack; they built this place to run midgets, but with sprint cars, it always puts on a pretty good race.”
The last time Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.) competed with the USAC National Sprint Cars at Angell Park, he finished second in 2015. On Sunday night, he ran second again to Ballou at Angell Park after starting back in the seventh position in his Dynamics, Inc./Fatheadz Eyewear – Gressman Sanitation – DriveWFX – Tel-Star/Triple X/Rider Chevy. In three USAC Sprint Car starts at Angell Park, Bacon has now finished 2nd in 2015, 4th in 2014 & 2nd in 2022.
“We were just a little too tight at the beginning to really get up through there like Robert did,” Bacon lamented. “We were a little bit better than him at the end, but I was kind of cobbled up in a traffic jam and we couldn’t really get into a spot on the track where we needed to be to gain on him enough there at the end.”
Axsom (Franklin, Ind.) collected his best USAC National Sprint Car feature finish since winning in February at Ocala, Florida’s Bubba Raceway Park. His third place run on Sunday night at Angell Park moved him up a spot in the series points to sixth overall in his Clauson Marshall Newman Racing/Driven2SaveLives – ZMax Race Products/Spike/Kistler Chevy.
“I think our car was really good at the start and in the middle (of the race),” Axsom documented. “Once the track developed a curb, we were a little bit tight but my guys gave me a really great car.”
Leary (Greenfield, Ind.) set Fatheadz Fast Qualifying time for the night, which was his ninth overall fast time in just 18 combined USAC National Sprint Car and Silver Crown starts. His new track record run 13.765 broke the former mark of 13.796 set by Kevin Thomas Jr. in 2015. Leary’s 36th career USAC National Sprint Car fast qualifying time passed Kevin Thomas Jr. and Rich Vogler on the list and tied Bryan Clauson for seventh all-time.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: June 26, 2022 – Angell Park Speedway – Sun Prairie, Wisconsin – 1/3-Mile Dirt Track – KO Klassic – CarIQ Wisconsin Jump Around
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. C.J. Leary, 77m, Michael-13.765; 2. Emerson Axsom, 47BC, Clauson Marshall Newman-13.869; 3. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-13.955; 4. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-13.977; 5. Braydon Cromwell, 4x, Cromwell-14.082; 6. Davey Ray, 14AJ, FattFro-14.100; 7. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-14.113; 8. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-14.125; 9. Logan Seavey, 5, Baldwin/Fox-14.132; 10. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-14.332; 11. Alex Banales, 5x, Baldwin/Fox-14.633; 12. Jadon Rogers, 14, Engler-14.713; 13. Terry Babb, 8D, KCBJ-14.819; 14. Brian Ruhlman, 49, Ruhlman-15.045; 15. John Sluss, 4R, FattFro-15.104; 16. Nathan Crane, 89, Gaertner-15.243; 17. Ryan Marshall, 7, Boyd-15.451; 18. Derek Crane, 19WI, Crane-15.468; 19. Tom Eller, 29OG, Eller-15.688; 20. William Huck, 39, Huck-15.842; 21. Bryce Andrews, 17, Andrews-16.042; 22. Daniel Graumenz, 29J, Johnson-16.114.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps, all transfer to the feature) 1. Brady Bacon, 2. C.J. Leary, 3. Matt Westfall, 4. Terry Babb, 5. Brandon Mattox, 6. Nathan Crane, 7. Tom Eller. 2:03.72 (New Track Record)
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (8 laps, all transfer to the feature) 1. Robert Ballou, 2. Emerson Axsom, 3. Braydon Cromwell, 4. Brian Ruhlman, 5. Ryan Marshall, 6. Alex Banales, 7. William Huck. 2:03.96
PIT STOP USA & ROD END SUPPLY THIRD HEAT: (8 laps, all transfer to the feature) 1. Jadon Rogers, 2. Justin Grant, 3. Logan Seavey, 4. Davey Ray, 5. Derek Crane, 6. John Sluss, 7. Bryce Andrews. 2:09.09
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Robert Ballou (8), 2. Brady Bacon (7), 3. Emerson Axsom (5), 4. Justin Grant (4), 5. C.J. Leary (6), 6. Matt Westfall (11), 7. Jadon Rogers (9), 8. Braydon Cromwell (2), 9. Davey Ray (1), 10. Logan Seavey (10), 11. Brandon Mattox (3), 12. Alex Banales (12), 13. Terry Babb (13), 14. Nathan Crane (16), 15. Brian Ruhlman (14), 16. Derek Crane (18), 17. Ryan Marshall (17), 18. John Sluss (15), 19. Bryce Andrews (21), 20. William Huck (20), 21. Tom Eller (19). 7:57.60
**Daniel Graumenz flipped during qualifying.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-6 Davey Ray, Laps 7-30 Robert Ballou.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Justin Grant-967, 2-Brady Bacon-956, 3-Robert Ballou-918, 4-Logan Seavey-897, 5-C.J. Leary-889, 6-Emerson Axsom-870, 7-Chase Stockon-810, 8-Matt Westfall-718, 9-Jake Swanson-616, 10-Jadon Rogers-593.
OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Robert Ballou-54, 2-Thomas Meseraull-51, 3-Brady Bacon-48, 4-Alex Bright-46, 5-Buddy Kofoid-45, 6-Justin Grant-43, 7-Logan Seavey-39, 8-Jadon Rogers-37, 9-Matt Westfall-36, 10-Brenham Crouch-32.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACES: July 1-2, 2022 – Lincoln Park Speedway – Putnamville, Indiana – 5/16-Mile Dirt Track – IndianaOpenWheel.com Bill Gardner Sprintacular – Co-Sanctioned by the Midwest Sprint Car Series