By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Kokomo, Indiana………”Smackdown” can find a way to toy with one’s emotions from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows on occasion.
Tyler Thomas has lived on both ends of the spectrum within the last calendar year, seeing near-certain victory slip from his grasp at the last moment in 2017. But the Collinsville, Okla. native decided to place fate into his own hands Friday, leading the final half of night two of “Smackdown VII” to earn his first career USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car victory. Meanwhile, his victory was also the first USAC score for longtime series car owner and sponsor Epperson Racing.
“I don’t even know what to say; I’m kind of scatterbrained right now,” a stunned T. Thomas exclaimed. “Thank you, Tony Epperson, Millie and their entire family for giving me a shot. Our first outing was Indiana Sprint Week and we kind of had a rough week. It hasn’t been that easy this week either, but we sure as hell got the job done tonight.”
The combination had shown speed in their limited appearances together over the last month, but luck never seemed to find its way to them until Friday where he launched his 30-lap assault from the outside of the second row.
Robert Ballou owned the first lap, riding the cushion to a 10-car-length advantage by the conclusion of lap one and would own the first half of the feature as well, occupying the top spot for the first 15 laps. Meanwhile, T. Thomas worked his way up to second on the opening lap, getting around Justin Grant and Jarett Andretti to slot into the runner-up position behind Ballou.
“I was just trying to follow Robert there for the first half of the race and maybe wait until the end to make a move,” Thomas explained. “I really just wanted to finish and lock it in for tomorrow. (The track) was tricky and I about turned it over myself in (turns) one and two.”
It was a true test of skill and bravery in turn two, which sucked in a number of victims throughout the night. Clinton Boyles flipped on his lid on the tenth lap. Then, just three laps later, Andretti tagged the turn two concrete while running third and began flipping wildly. Fourth-place runner Kevin Thomas, Jr. had no time to react and mashed into Andretti’s ride mid-tumble and began flipping as well. Both drivers walked away unharmed. Thomas actually restarted following repairs in the work area and finished with a 14th place result.
When action resumed, Ballou appeared unfazed up front, riding by his lonesome until the 16th circuit when he too gnashed the turn two wall of voodoo and flipped. He walked away uninjured. By virtue, T. Thomas inherited the lead for the lap 16 restart, but he assumed control with none other than Tyler Courtney on his tail tank. He being the winner of the past three “Smackdown” features dating to 2017, not to mention last year’s Saturday night finale in which he defeated T. Thomas for the win on the final restart.
T. Thomas’ and his new Maxim chassis were determined to not let history repeat itself down the stretch as Courtney inched forward ever closer in the final laps until 2017 series Rookie of the Year Stevie Sussex became the fourth and final flipper of the feature within the confines of the turn two concrete from which he walked away.
T. Thomas was keen on making patience and focus his mantra in the latter stages, easier to say than to do in a pressurized environment, with a first victory cooling on the window sill, just within sight and with all five senses stimulated.
“For the last half, I really focused on calming down and maybe enter slower and not hit the wall as hard,” T. Thomas said. “It’s really hard to do when you’re leading, and you haven’t won yet.”
On the final lap with Courtney in hot pursuit, T. Thomas banged the turn two wall on exit, thrusting his machine forward with a bit of bite down the back straightaway. However, the rubber to concrete meeting for Courtney in turn two was just a little too much, knocking his car slightly askew on exit, thus allowing T. Thomas a sliver of separation that he utilized to complete his arduous task of finally, finally breaking into victory lane in USAC National competition after numerous heartbreaks.
Coming off his victory a night earlier, Courtney was second ahead of Grant, Brady Bacon and Dave Darland.
Those five, incidentally, are also the top-five in cumulative “Smackdown VII” points, locking them into Saturday night’s feature and King of the Hill Qualifying session along with K. Thomas, Chris Windom and Jason McDougal.
Contingency award winners Friday night at Kokomo Speedway were Kevin Thomas, Jr. (ProSource Fast Qualifier & Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Brady Bacon (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Tyler Courtney (Chalk Stix Third Heat Winner), Jason McDougal (Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner), Chase Stockon (KSE Racing Products/Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Hard Charger), Shane Cottle (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher), Chris Windom (Roger & Barb Tapy 13th Fastest Qualifier), C.J. Leary (Saldana Racing Products/High Side Designs First Non-Transfer) and Scotty Weir (Hoosier Racing Tire Perseverance Award).
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: August 24, 2018 – Kokomo Speedway – Kokomo, Indiana – “Sprint Car Smackdown VII”
PROSOURCE QUALIFYING: 1. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 69, Dynamics-12.740; 2. Logan Seavey, 5B, Briscoe-12.988; 3. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson/Marshall/Newman-13.036; 4. Tyler Thomas, 2E, Epperson-13.058; 5. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-13.079; 6. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-13.117; 7. Jarett Andretti, 18, Andretti-13.130; 8. C.J. Leary, 30, Leary-13.133; 9. Kyle Cummins, 3c, EZR/Cummins-13.146; 10. Brady Bacon, 99, Bacon-13.147; 11. Dave Darland, 36D, Goodnight/Curb-Agajanian-13.148; 12. Jason McDougal, 71p, Daigh/Phillips-13.171; 13. Chris Windom, 5, Baldwin-13.178; 14. Clinton Boyles, 57, Hazen-13.204; 15. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-13.269; 16. Carmen Perigo, 21, Stehman-13.369; 17. Shane Cottle, 5G, Goacher-13.369; 18. Carson Short, 5CB, Briscoe-13.370; 19. Timmy Buckwalter, 7, LNB-13.394; 20. Chase Stockon, 32, 32 TBI-13.451; 21. Dakota Jackson, 3R, Rock Steady-13.503; 22. Isaac Chapple, 52, LNR/Chapple-13.568; 23. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox/Nigg-13.577; 24. Stevie Sussex, 17GP, Dutcher-13.580; 25. Colten Cottle, 5c, Cottle-13.596; 26. Scotty Weir, 22s, Simon-13.613; 27. Dustin Smith, 77, Smith-13.685; 28. Tony DiMattia, 50, TDM-13.703; 29. Dallas Hewitt, 18x, Keen-13.754; 30. Cole Ketcham, 41, Ketcham-13.756; 31. Chet Williams, 38, Fortune-13.832; 32. Brian Karraker, 23, Karraker-14.013; 33. Paul Dues, 87, Dues-14.146; 34. Joe Liguori, 44, Liguori-14.245; 35. Brian VanMeveren, 24, VanMeveren-14.375; 36. Gabe Griffith, 37, Griffith-14.943.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. K. Thomas, 2. S. Cottle, 3. Grant, 4. Windom, 5. Cummins, 6. C. Cottle, 7. Hewitt, 8. Dues, 9. Jackson. NT
COMPETITION SUSPENSION, INC. (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Bacon, 2. Ballou, 3. Chapple, 4. Short, 5. Boyles, 6. Seavey, 7. Weir, 8. Ketcham, 9. Liguori. 2:15.36
CHALK STIX THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Courtney, 2. Darland, 3. Andretti, 4. Mattox, 5. Buckwalter, 6. Westfall, 7. Williams, 8. VanMeveren, 9. Smith. 2:18.24
INDY RACE PARTS FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. McDougal, 2. Sussex, 3. T. Thomas, 4. Stockon, 5. Karraker, 6. DiMattia, 7. Perigo, 8. Griffith, 9. Leary. NT
SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Boyles, 2. Seavey, 3. Cummins, 4. Weir, 5. Westfall, 6. Jackson, 7. Leary, 8. C. Cottle, 9. Buckwalter, 10. Hewitt, 11. Williams, 12. Smith, 13. Ketcham, 14. Perigo, 15. Dues, 16. DiMattia, 17. Karraker, 18. Liguori, 19. VanMeveren, 20. Griffith. 2:56.50
FEATURE: (30 laps – starting positions in parentheses) 1. Tyler Thomas (4), 2. Tyler Courtney (5), 3. Justin Grant (3), 4. Brady Bacon (9), 5. Dave Darland (10), 6. C.J. Leary (22), 7. Jason McDougal (11), 8. Chris Windom (12), 9. Chase Stockon (17), 10. Carson Short (16), 11. Logan Seavey (7), 12. Matt Westfall (14), 13. Shane Cottle (15), 14. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (6), 15. Kyle Cummins (8), 16. Scotty Weir (21), 17. Dakota Jackson (18), 18. Isaac Chapple (19), 19. Stevie Sussex (24), 20. Timmy Buckwalter (23), 21. Robert Ballou (2), 22. Jarett Andretti (1), 23. Clinton Boyles (13), 24. Brandon Mattox (20). NT
**Jackson flipped during the first heat. Boyles flipped on lap 10 of the feature. Andretti and K. Thomas flipped on lap 13 of the feature. Sussex flipped on lap 27 of the feature.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-15 Ballou, Laps 16-30 T. Thomas.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS/ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS HARD CHARGER: Chase Stockon (17th to 9th)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Shane Cottle
SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS/HIGH SIDE DESIGNS FIRST NON-TRANSFER: C.J. Leary
ROGER & BARB TAPY 13TH FASTEST QUALIFIER: Chris Windom
NEW USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Windom-1861, 2-Courtney-1846, 3-K. Thomas-1838, 4-Bacon-1630, 5-Darland-1615, 6-Stockon-1599, 7-Leary-1560, 8-Grant-1531, 9-Ballou-1464, 10-Chad Boespflug-1084.
NEW “SMACKDOWN VII” POINTS: 1-Courtney-332, 2-Grant-321, 3-T. Thomas-313, 4-Bacon-312, 5-Darland-308, 6-K. Thomas-295, 7-Windom-293, 8-McDougal-292, 9-Cummins-277, 10-Stockon-270.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACES: August 25 – Kokomo Speedway – Kokomo, Indiana – “Sprint Car Smackdown VII”