By Richie Murray
Lawrenceburg, Indiana………In a season that’s seen a new crop of youngsters step up to the forefront of USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car competition, Josh Hodges became the latest to establish himself as a first-time series winner, taking the lead with 13 laps to go, then running away from the field for a commanding victory in Saturday night’s $10,000-to-win “Fall Nationals” at Lawrenceburg Speedway.
The 21-year-old Hodges, from Tijeras, New Mexico, became the seventh first-time winner on the USAC National Sprint Car trail during the 2016 season, joining Scotty Weir, Tyler Courtney, Kyle Cummins, Brent Beauchamp, Carson Short and C.J. Leary on the list.
The state of New Mexico’s first USAC National winner since Silver City’s Richard Griffin scored a Sprint Car feature victory at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track in 2000, Hodges has continually progressed since his first tour of “Indiana Sprint Week” in the summer 2015.
In 2016, he’s been a force in the western United States within USAC, winning a CRA Sprint Car feature, two West Coast/Southwest Sprint Car Special Events and a Southwest Sprint Car feature. In addition, Hodges has traveled back-and-forth between the west and the Midwest throughout the season, allowing him to snag a pair of unsanctioned sprint car feature victories at Lawrenceburg.
However, on Saturday night, Hodges made the Midwest his stage and, a little over a year after his debut on the National scene, the fruits of his labor have paid off with a USAC National victory in his Jack Hodges/Jackson Compaction – Mesilla Valley Transportation/Maxim/Gibson.
“I knew it was going to be tough to beat Darland on the start,” Hodges admitted. “I thought we had gotten a decent start, but he just beat me to turn one. I just got in a rhythm. I’ve gotten to run here quite a bit, so I kind of knew what to look for and, luckily, we caught lapped traffic in time and I was able to get moved up. It seemed like it slowed up just enough there; when it slows up and you get to lapped traffic, you need to move up. I was able to do that and when you’re running third, you can go where they’re not. Our car was bad fast. It’s unreal to get our first USAC win here at such a big show!”
Earlier in the night, Hodges’ Southwest Sprint Car rival, Stevie Sussex, laid down the fastest lap in ProSource Qualifying in his first ever visit to Lawrenceburg, making his debut in the Phillips Motorsports machine. The Tempe, Arizona driver, aiming to make his first USAC National Sprint Car feature start since 2011, earned $1100 for the quick lap courtesy of ProSource and the Lawrenceburg Speedway Fire Rescue team in memory of Bill Hall.
Hodges held the pole for the 30-lap main event with April Lawrenceburg winner Dave Darland alongside.
Darland got the early jump at the start on the outside. Hodges fought to stay alongside Darland for the duration of the first lap, but Darland prevailed off of turn four to secure the lead on the opening lap.
Nearing the halfway mark, Darland saw his six car length advantage over Hodges begin to shrink as the two neared lap traffic. As the two continued to run the middle of the racetrack, third-running Windom closed in to make it a three-car tango.
On lap 15, Hodges migrated to the high side, which in the short-run cost him a position as Windom shot underneath to grab second off of turn two.
|Saturday night, Josh Hodges became the seventh driver of 2016 to earn his first career USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car feature.
(RICH FORMAN PHOTO)
In the long run, though, the move to the high side would pay large dividends for Hodges as he created his own line up top that enabled him to pull even with Windom off the second turn on lap 16. Both Hodges and Windom surrounded the tail tank of Darland as the three drag raced under a blanket down the back straightaway.
Hodges rode the rim through turns three and four, propelling himself past Windom for second at the stripe by a half-car length.
Yet, Darland still maintained the advantage up front and, on lap 18, the lapped car of Joss Moffatt got a bit sideways between turns one and two, encroaching on the line of Darland at the exit of turn two. Darland pitched his car slightly to avoid contact, allowing Hodges and Windom to once again be close enough to smother him with pressure.
The three formed a nose-to-tail freight train into turn three and as Darland continued to cut through the middle, Hodges and Windom stepped out of line to hit the cushion. Hodges nailed the berm perfectly and rode the rail to the lead past Darland at the line at the completion of lap 18.
One lap later, Windom utilized the same line in the same part of the racetrack to produce the same result, flying by Darland for the second position.
However, Hodges was long gone by that point, stretching his lead out to a half-straightaway with five laps remaining.
With all the lapped cars in front of him cooperating by running the low side, Hodges had no trouble putting this race on ice in the final laps, cruising to a 1.884 second win in the fastest 30-lap USAC Sprint Car feature ever run at Lawrenceburg: 7 minutes, 21.09 seconds over Windom, Darland, Kyle Cummins and Justin Grant.
Second place finisher Chris Windom came off his recent wrapping up of the 2016 Silver Crown title with his second straight runner-up result in his Baldwin Brothers Racing/Fox Paving – AMSOIL/Maxim/Claxton Mopar. The Canton, Illinois veteran has been a model of consistency this season, not only in the Silver Crown division in which he finished in the top-five in all nine races, but also in the Sprint Car where he has not finished outside of the top-six since July 16!
“It was going to be a good race there for a while,” Windom thought. “Then, Josh (Hodges) jumped to the top and found something there and pulled away from us. We’re fortunate to get up to second. We just didn’t quite have enough for him tonight.”
Lincoln, Indiana’s Dave Darland, who owns the most USAC Sprint Car wins at Lawrenceburg with seven, led the opening 17 laps of Saturday night’s feature in his Jeff Walker-Curb-Agajanian Racing/Jam-It-In Storage – Hoosier Tire/Maxim/Claxton.
“We’re pretty happy to get out of here with a decent finish,” a relieved Darland shared. “It’s been a tough summer; we haven’t been running that great. About ten laps in, we lost a cylinder or something happened to it. From lap ten on, it just didn’t run quite right. It kept losing power the longer the race went. To get out of here with a third place finish with the problems we had, we’re certainly happy about it. If that hadn’t have happened, I think we had a good chance at winning.”
Contingency award winners Saturday night at Lawrenceburg Speedway included Stevie Sussex (ProSource Fast Qualifier), Chad Boespflug (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Competition Suspension, Inc. (CSI) Second Heat Winner), Brady Bacon (Benic Enterprises/Indy Race Parts Third Heat Winner), Carson Short (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger and Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Feature Finisher).
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: October 1, 2016 – Lawrenceburg, Indiana – Lawrenceburg Speedway – “Fall Nationals”
PROSOURCE QUALIFYING: 1. Stevie Sussex, 71p, Phillips-13.453; 2. Justin Grant, 17, McGhee-13.529; 3. Jarett Andretti, 18, Andretti-13.544; 4. Jon Stanbrough, 81, Stanbrough-13.586; 5. Chase Stockon, 32, 32 TBI-13.595; 6. Chris Windom, 5, Baldwin-13.614; 7. Kyle Cummins, 3R, Rock Steady-13.614; 8. Tyler Courtney, 23c, TOPP-13.615; 9. Dave Darland, 11, Walker/Curb-Agajanian-13.623; 10. Josh Hodges, 74x, Hodges-13.647; 11. A.J. Hopkins, 14H, Hopkins-13.654; 12. Bret Mellenberndt, 97, Mellenberndt-13.735; 13. Drew Abel, 04, PCA-13.794; 14. Kevin Thomas Jr., 1, Ballou-13.803; 15. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-13.831; 16. Chad Boespflug, 98E, NineEight/EZR-13.852; 17. Joss Moffatt, 5J, Moffatt-13.855; 18. Isaac Chapple, 52, LNR-13.861; 19. C.J. Leary, 30, Leary-13.948; 20. Nick Bilbee, 17N, Bilbee-13.954; 21. Aaron Farney, 17GP, Dutcher-13.973; 22. Landon Simon, 24, LSR-14.191; 23. J.T. Stapp, 74, JDS-14.323; 24. Dickie Gaines, 71s, Spille-14.336; 25. Tony McVey, 7m, McVey-14.510; 26. Carson Short, 21, Short-NT.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps) 1. Boespflug, 2. Abel, 3. Hodges, 4. Cummins, 5. Stanbrough, 6. Leary, 7. Sussex, 8. Simon, 9. McVey. NT
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (8 laps) 1. Thomas, 2. Courtney, 3. Moffatt, 4. Short, 5. Hopkins, 6. Stockon, 7. Bilbee, 8. Stapp, 9. Grant. NT
BENIC ENTERPRISES THIRD HEAT: (8 laps) 1. Bacon, 2. Darland, 3. Chapple, 4. Mellenberndt, 5. Windom, 6. Andretti, 7. Farney, 8. Gaines. 1:52.93
INDY RACE PARTS SEMI: (12 laps) 1. Sussex, 2. Grant, 3. Leary, 4. Stockon, 5. Andretti, 6. Bilbee, 7. Farney, 8. Simon, 9. Gaines, 10. McVey. 2:51.39
FEATURE: (30 laps) 1. Josh Hodges, 2. Chris Windom, 3. Dave Darland, 4. Kyle Cummins, 5. Justin Grant, 6. Tyler Courtney, 7. Jon Stanbrough, 8. Stevie Sussex, 9. Brady Bacon, 10. Jarett Andretti, 11. Chase Stockon, 12. Kevin Thomas Jr., 13. Carson Short, 14. Bret Mellenberndt, 15. Nick Bilbee, 16. A.J. Hopkins, 17. C.J. Leary, 18. Chad Boespflug, 19. Isaac Chapple, 20. Aaron Farney, 21. Joss Moffatt, 22. Landon Simon, 23. Drew Abel. 7:21.09 (NTR)
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-17 Darland, Laps 18-30 Hodges.
KSE HARD CHARGER: Carson Short (20th-13th)
NEW AMSOIL USAC SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Bacon-2,268, 2-Stockon-2,023, 3-Darland-1,929, 4-Robert Ballou-1,919, 5-Thomas Meseraull-1,910, 6-Boespflug-1,809, 7-Leary-1,807, 8-Windom-1,780, 9-Max McGhee-1,264, 10-Farney-1,233.
NEXT AMSOIL USAC SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: October 15 – Terre Haute (IN) Action Track – “Jim Hurtubise Classic”