By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania (June 17, 2022)………”Sprint car racing is supposed to be gnarly. They’re supposed to be won on the fence. We love big curbs, rough racetracks and, the more exciting it is for the fans, the more we like it and the better it is.”
Henry David Thoreau, T.S. Eliot and Lord Byron have nothing on Justin Grant when it comes to the manner of weaving words into a rich tapestry of linguistic expression to accurately describe the pure excitement of sprint car racing.
Then again, they’ve never endured the type of ride Grant partook during the final laps of Friday night’s $6,000-to-win USAC Eastern Storm round three at Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania’s Williams Grove Speedway.
Grant authored a relatively flaw-free driving performance for much of the 30-lap main event on the famed half-mile in which the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship first visited exactly 66 years ago to the day back in 1956.
However, en route to taking the white flag and holding a seemingly comfortable two-plus second margin lead as he encountered the turn three cushion, Grant ran up over the curb, nearly tagged the wall and pulled a reverse wheel stand with both rear tires kicking sky high like a bucking bronco, leaving the right front tire as the lone piece of Grant’s car still making contact with the track surface.
Nonetheless, Grant dug his way out of it and carried on through turn four and the front straightway, taking the signal for one lap to go from the flag stand. Turns one and two were as smooth as can be as was his final trip beneath the famed landmark bridge that overhangs the back straightaway.
But, as Grant tiptoed through turn three on the bottom, he slid up and tagged the cushion in turn four with his right rear tire. Grant stabbed the gas and wriggled his way free like he was caught in a Chinese finger trap. As he shook loose and saw the checkered flag in the distance, smoke began to billow out of the headers of Grant’s ride as he chugged to the finish line just three car lengths ahead of the rapidly closing Alex Bright.
For Grant, his long-awaited first series victory since February couldn’t have come at a better time. It was the Ione, California native’s 30th career USAC National Sprint Car feature win, tying him with Chris Windom for 17th on the all-time list.
Furthermore, Grant’s performance in his NOS Energy Drink – MPV Express – TOPP Industries – LA Poly/Maxim/Kistler Chevy was historic as well, marking his and TOPP Motorsports 22nd victory together as a driver/team in USAC National Sprint Car competition. That moves the Grant/TOPP combo into the top-10 all-time in this category alongside Parnelli Jones/Harlan Fike, Levi Jones/Tony Stewart Racing and Jack Hewitt/Bob Hampshire.
Getting the job done in his backup “T” car to boot, Grant rolled from the pole for the feature after earlier earning a heat race victory with a last lap, last corner pass on the outside of Shane Cottle, which rewarded him with the GSP Quality Driving Performance of the Night award. That right there sent a foreshadowing message to the rest of the 22-car field regarding just the kind of performance that Grant expected of himself.
“I told some of the guys in the pits that I’m setting up to go bang the fence down,” Grant remembered. “I’m not running the bottom; I don’t care. We’re either going to win on the fence or run 20th on the fence.”
Grant was a man of his word and put it on the fence often and early, zipping by outside front row starter Matt Westfall on the opening lap while fourth-starting Logan Seavey made a beeline using the topside to climb to third past Ballou and to second ahead of Westfall by lap three.
Up front, Grant was cruising while holding a three-second lead over Seavey at the midway point until Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier and ninth-running Jake Swanson slowed to a stop in turn two to bring out the yellow flag, thus bunching up the field.
While Ballou and Brady Bacon tussled for the third position on lap 17, hard-charging Alex Bright slithered under both on the low line in turn two to move into the top-three after starting all the way back in the 13th position. Grant was steady as he goes with a lead of one second over Seavey with Bright another full second behind Seavey.
As Grant steadily increased his lead to 2.2 seconds by lap 25, 20th running Dallas Hewitt spun backwards and came to a rest against the turn four outside guardrail to bring out the final caution.
On the ensuing restart with six laps remaining, Bright picked off Seavey for the second position on the bottom of turn two while Grant stood on the throttle on the outside lane, briefly making it three-wide between the top-three with the laps dwindling and the pressure mounting.
“I saw Bright down there looking underneath me on the bottom, and I’m like ‘oh boy,’ and the curb was getting really tough to run,” Grant recalled. “You could almost slip through (the cushion) on entry. If I cheated it, I would bang the big ledge and bike, but if I entered against it, I would blow through it and end up on top of it and I about turned over once in turn one and once in turn four. I kept smashing the right rear off the wall off in turn two, and I bent the wheel about three-quarters of the way in; it was shaking like a son of a gun the rest of the way.”
Slightly behind Grant, Seavey answered the message and roared back past Bright for second coming to the line with three laps to go. The see-saw tug-of-war went right back into Bright’s hands the very next trip around with two laps left. But, at that moment, Grant had increased his lead to a 1.8 second margin and, seemingly, all was in hand.
But that’s why they play the game and that’s why the race the races. Grant stumbled on the cushion and become airborne between turns three and four as he rumbled to the white flag but hung on and maintained his sizable lead. It was a relatively no harm, no foul situation for Grant despite losing seven tenths of his lead in the blink of an eye, which was now down to 1.1.
One lap later, it happened again for Grant as he tripped over the curb and fell into the fluff that acted more like quicksand as he carved his way out and, mercifully, got to the checkered flag first, just 0.297 of a second ahead of Bright, Seavey and Bacon with Westfall rounding out the top-five.
The triumph was doubly meaningful for Grant as this was race three of ten for the Bubby Jones Master of Going Faster series in 2022, which honors the life and memory of his father-in-law and one of the mentors throughout his racing career.
“Ol’ Bub was the master of going faster,” Grant stated. “He helped me a ton to get my packages dialed in. We’ve incorporated a lot of what he taught me and always tried to beat into my head. It’s awesome and it’s great to win one of his races. It feels great to finally do a good job representing the family in one of these and get our car back in victory lane.”
Alex Bright (Collegeville, Pa.) put on a show as he turned in his best career USAC National Sprint Car feature finish with a 2nd place result in his Hummer Motorsports/Rodota Trucking & Excavating – DriveWFX.com/Maxim/Rider Chevy at the same venue he captured a USAC East Coast Sprint Car win less than two weeks earlier. For the first time in some time, Bright didn’t have to worry about setting up his own racecar, which took loads of pressure off his back and allowed him to simply concentrate on the driving aspect where he became the hard charger on this night after starting way back in 13th.
“Everybody kind of made it easy; they all went to the top,” said Bright who made his run to the front primarily on the bottom side of the racetrack. “We were working the bottom where I had to be really aggressive and sometimes had to make the car a little wide. I got fired as a crew chief last night, so we had some new guys, Lou and my brother (Brendan) stepped up tonight, and they did a great job. This car was on rails tonight, but I wish we had a few more laps. The top was starting to get treacherous, and Grant was making mistakes, but he ran a great race and I’m happy to come home second.”
Fresh off his first Eastern Storm victory two nights earlier at New Jersey’s Bridgeport Motorsports Park, Logan Seavey (Sutter, Calif) followed it up with a 3rd place result in his Baldwin-Fox Racing/Fox Paving – AMSOIL/DRC/Claxton Chevy. The podium finish thrusted Seavey right into the thick of the Eastern Storm title race where he now sits second, five points behind C.J. Leary for the lead with two races to go.
“That was really tricky,” Seavey admitted. “You had to slow down so much on entry just to make the corner, then you had a big ol’ curb, so you had to get the tires spinning really quickly again. It’s amazing that Justin even held onto that thing. I thought that maybe my car was a little bit better than his, but he was just running harder than I was. It looked like he was on the verge of crashing every three or four laps, but he came out with the win. I gave up second there on the restart and I thought there was moisture in the middle of one and two, but it was dirty and dusty, but overall, I’m pretty happy with our speed.”
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: June 17, 2022 – Williams Grove Speedway – Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania – 1/2-Mile Dirt Track – 18th USAC Eastern Storm
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Jake Swanson, 21AZ, Team AZ-20.065; 2. C.J. Leary, 77m, Michael-20.170; 3. Logan Seavey, 5, Baldwin/Fox-20.227; 4. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-20.374; 5. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-20.396; 6. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-20.505; 7. Thomas Meseraull, 20m, Dyson-20.533; 8. Briggs Danner, 5G, Heffner South-20.569; 9. Timmy Buckwalter, 7, Lotier/Nemeth-20.606; 10. Emerson Axsom, 47BC, Clauson Marshall Newman-20.625; 11. Alex Bright, 20, Hummer-20.625; 12. Charles Davis Jr., 47, Davis-20.753; 13. Chase Stockon, 5s, KO-20.768; 14. Jadon Rogers, 14, Engler-20.800; 15. Shane Cottle, 39, Hogue-20.831; 16. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-20.838; 17. Steven Drevicki, 19, DeGre-20.951; 18. Mark Smith, M1, L & M-21.032; 19. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-21.050; 20. Carmen Perigo, 21, Stehman-21.215; 21. Dallas Hewitt, 18, Keen-21.244; 22. Joey Amantea, 88J, Amantea-21.381; 23. Korbyn Hayslett, 1H, Hayslett-NT.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps, all transfer to the feature) 1. Brady Bacon, 2. Robert Ballou, 3. Jake Swanson, 4. Emerson Axsom, 5. Chase Stockon, 6. Thomas Meseraull, 7. Brandon Mattox, 8. Joey Amantea.
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (8 laps, all transfer to the feature) 1. Steven Drevicki, 2. Alex Bright, 3. C.J. Leary, 4. Matt Westfall, 5. Briggs Danner, 6. Carmen Perigo, 7. Jadon Rogers.
PIT STOP USA / ROD END SUPPLY THIRD HEAT: (8 laps, all transfer to the feature) 1. Justin Grant, 2. Shane Cottle, 3. Timmy Buckwalter, 4. Mark Smith, 5. Logan Seavey, 6. Charles Davis Jr., 7. Dallas Hewitt.
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Justin Grant (1), 2. Alex Bright (13), 3. Logan Seavey (4), 4. Brady Bacon (7), 5. Matt Westfall (2), 6. Thomas Meseraull (9), 7. Timmy Buckwalter (11), 8. Briggs Danner (10), 9. C.J. Leary (5), 10. Steven Drevicki (8), 11. Jadon Rogers (16), 12. Robert Ballou (3), 13. Emerson Axsom (12), 14. Chase Stockon (15), 15. Shane Cottle (17), 16. Mark Smith (18), 17. Jake Swanson (6), 18. Brandon Mattox (19), 19. Joey Amantea (22), 20. Charles Davis Jr. (14), 21. Carmen Perigo (20), 22. Dallas Hewitt (21). NT
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-30 Justin Grant.
**Korbyn Hayslett flipped during qualifying.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Justin Grant-729, 2-Brady Bacon-708, 3-Robert Ballou-699, 4-C.J. Leary-691, 5-Logan Seavey-670, 6-Chase Stockon-667, 7-Emerson Axsom-650, 8-Matt Westfall-531, 9-Jake Swanson-488, 10-Jadon Rogers-447.
USAC EASTERN STORM POINTS: 1-C.J. Leary-202, 2-Logan Seavey-197, 3-Brady Bacon-197, 4-Briggs Danner-196, 5-Justin Grant-190, 6-Chase Stockon-184, 7-Robert Ballou-178, 8-Thomas Meseraull-172, 9-Matt Westfall-165, 10-Alex Bright-164.
BUBBY JONES MASTER OF GOING FASTER POINTS: 1-Brady Bacon-227, 2-Logan Seavey-216, 3-Robert Ballou-208, 4-Justin Grant-196, 5-C.J. Leary-196, 6-Emerson Axsom-168, 7-Matt Westfall-162, 8-Jake Swanson-149, 9-Chase Stockon-145, 10-Jadon Rogers-123.
OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Thomas Meseraull-48, 2-Buddy Kofoid-45, 3-Robert Ballou-43, 4-Brady Bacon-42, 5-Justin Grant-35, 6-Jadon Rogers-33, 7-Alex Bright-32, 8-Brenham Crouch-32, 9-Kyle Cummins-29, 10-Mario Clouser-29.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: June 18, 2022 – Port Royal Speedway – Port Royal, Pennsylvania – 1/2-Mile Dirt Track – 18th USAC Eastern Storm
CONTINGENCY AWARD WINNERS:
Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier: Jake Swanson
GSP Quality Driving Performance: Justin Grant
Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner: Brady Bacon
Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner: Steven Drevicki
Pit Stop USA & Rod End Supply Third Heat Winner: Justin Grant
Dirt Draft Hot Laps Fastest Driver: C.J. Leary
Feature Hard Charger: Alex Bright (13th to 2nd)