Bechtelsville, PA………The sight of the black Dooling/Hayward Motorsports No. 63 winning an Eastern Storm feature has become oh, so familiar over the last couple of seasons.
Bryan Clauson raced to three wins in the five Pennsylvania starts with the car in 2016, including one at Grandview Speedway. When the calendar turned its page to 2017, there was no better tandem to build upon the groundwork that had been laid than the pairing of the defending Eastern Storm championship team and the reigning USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car driver titlist, Brady Bacon.
On Tuesday night, Bacon prevailed in a spirited late-race battle with C.J. Leary in which he took over the point in lapped traffic with three laps remaining to score his first USAC National Sprint Car victory in nearly a year and the first for the Dooling/Hayward team since Clauson’s 41st and final victory at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway last July.
“This one is really special,” Bacon said. “Bryan and I both liked to come out here. The fans were always great. He was really good out here. Hopefully, we’re making him proud that we’re out here and got it back in victory lane. I wish he was still here and maybe I wasn’t in this car, but that’s just the way it is.”
The race honoring the memory of 2009 Grandview USAC Sprint Car feature winner “The Rocket” Jesse Hockett was the launching pad for the 11th annual edition of Eastern Storm.
The 40-lap distance for the event was the first of four of the super-sized length this season as the packed Grandview grandstands witnessed the second largest ever car count (34) for an Eastern Storm event and the most since the Grandview opener in 2008.
On the start, pole sitter Leary was the first to reach the opening corner where he would immediately establish a five-car-length lead over series point leader Justin Grant in the early-going.
Following a lap 10 yellow for a Kyle Robbins turn four spin, Leary picked up right where he left off, quickly building his lead to a half-straightaway by the midway point when Chandler Leiby smacked the turn one concrete and flipped nose-to-tail several times against the outside wall. The Carlisle, PA driver was shaken up, but managed to exit the car under his own power.
During the lengthy, open red flag, fifth-running Bacon and crew decided not to make any radical changes to their piece. Instead, the focus was placed on taking off on the restart.
“I felt like we were getting better and better compared to everybody else,” Bacon explains. “We didn’t really change anything. We made some small adjustments and made sure everything was right. We discussed what we were going to do on the restart because they were very crucial.”
Bacon set forth on the restart, moving to third on lap 21 and to second a lap later on the 22nd circuit when he zeroed in on Leary for the race lead. Bacon had the bottom working like clockwork as he rode the low line to the lead on lap 25 past Leary.
“We had to wait around at the beginning and let the track come to us,” Bacon relays. “We were pretty tight. When the top started slowing down, I got rolling on the bottom. That’s how we got past everybody. You get to take your time a little bit more and pick your moves more carefully.”
Leary refused to stray too far behind Bacon throughout the second half as he stayed loyal to the cushion. Yet, Bacon began to migrate to the top in turns one and two for a brief period with ten to go.
“I saw him a couple times out of the corner of my eye getting into three,” Bacon recalls. “I felt like I was slower in one and two, so I moved up and felt we were pretty good up there. I was just kind of trying to block the other lane.”
Leary’s lane wasn’t completely shut down as he showed no quit and his ring around the top began to pay dividends when he visibly inched closer with less than a handful of laps remaining. On lap 35, Leary pushed the cushion with his right rear less than a foot from the outside wall off the exit. A lap later, Bacon clipped an infield tire between turns three and four that slowed his momentum as the high line propelled Leary right to Bacon as the pair posed for a high-speed photo-finish shot at the stripe. Leary cleared him at the end of the straightaway with his second career series victory just within reach.
“I really thought we were going to be able to cruise on the bottom,” Bacon relayed. “He must’ve turned it up on the top and got rolling pretty good. He got back by us and I had to start searching around.”
With three laps to go, Leary and Bacon encountered the lapped car of Tony DiMattia. Bacon tucked a nose to the inside of DiMattia off the fourth corner as Leary remained up top. As the three were staggered in three distinct lines on the front straight, Leary’s momentum was stifled when DiMattia switched to the cushion entering the first turn, forcing Leary to get on the binders.
From there, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma’s Bacon was able to stretch out his advantage, leading the final three laps to score his first Eastern Storm victory since 2014 in his Dooling-Hayward/B & H Contractors – Dooling Machine/Spike/Stanton Mopar ahead of Leary, Chris Windom, Kevin Thomas, Jr. and Justin Grant.
Though a season-best second-place run for C.J. Leary is nothing to shake a stick at, disappointment was an understatement for the Greenfield, Indiana driver who led a race-high 26 laps.
“Once Brady showed (DiMattia) a nose, he came right up into my lane,” Leary believes. “Once I got around Brady, I don’t think he could’ve passed us back in the short number of laps left.”
“The first 20 laps, I felt like we had a really dominant car. It was just excellent. The car was on a rail,” Leary continues. “Under the open red, we didn’t change anything. We felt like we had a really good car and didn’t need to make any adjustments. When it went back green, we were good, but yellow after yellow kept hurting us because our car was better on long green flag runs. Brady was really good on the bottom and once he got around me, I started ripping the top and never gave up on it.”
Contingency award winners Tuesday night at Grandview Speedway include Chase Stockon (ProSource Fast Qualifier), Isaac Chapple (Simpson Race Products 1st Heat Winner), Tyler Courtney (Competition Suspension, Inc. 2nd Heat Winner), Aaron Farney (Chalk Stix 3rd Heat Winner), Chris Windom (Indy Race Parts 4th Heat Winner & KSE Racing Products Hard Charger) and Thomas Meseraull (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher).
FEATURE: (40 laps) 1. Brady Bacon, 2. C.J. Leary, 3. Chris Windom, 4. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 5. Justin Grant, 6. Robert Ballou, 7. Chase Stockon, 8. Jerry Coons, Jr., 9. Tyler Courtney, 10. Jarett Andretti, 11. Matt Westfall, 12. Aaron Farney, 13. Thomas Meseraull, 14. Alex Bright, 15. Kyle Robbins, 16. Dave Darland, 17. Chad Boespflug, 18. Isaac Chapple, 19. Tony DiMattia, 20. Trevor Kobylarz, 21. Chandler Leiby, 22. Joey Biasi. NT
**Kohen flipped during practice. Lick flipped during the semi. Leiby flipped on lap 20 of the feature.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-24 Leary, Laps 25-35 Bacon, Laps 36-37 Leary, Laps 38-40 Bacon.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER: Chris Windom (15th to 3rd)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Thomas Meseraull
NEW USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Grant-809, 2-Windom-720, 3-Boespflug-682, 4-Stockon-662, 5-Courtney-570, 6-Leary-519, 7-Thomas-512, 8-Bacon-458, 9-Darland-456, 10-Shane Cottle-392.
NEW EASTERN STORM (PRESENTED BY DMI) POINTS: 1-Brady Bacon-77, 2-C.J. Leary-73, 3-Chris Windom-72, 4-Kevin Thomas, Jr.-70, 5-Justin Grant-64, 6-Chase Stockon-62, 7-Robert Ballou-58, 8-Tyler Courtney-54, 9-Jerry Coons, Jr.-50, 10-Jarett Andretti-49.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACES: June 14 – Abbottstown, Pennsylvania – Lincoln Speedway – “Eastern Storm” presented by DMI