By Richie Murray
Macon, Illinois………The formula for winning at Macon Speedway seems simple enough on paper. Minimize mistakes, take advantage of the opportunities you’ve been given and throw the occasional slider to get to the front.
However, when seemingly all 23 competitors have the same plan, something has to give on the tight, but captivatingly racey 1/5-mile dirt oval.
Norman, Oklahoma’s Christopher Bell seized his opportunity following a lap 20 restart, ultimately making the winning move with six laps remaining past Tyler Courtney to score the win in the USAC Midget National Championship’s return to Macon for the first time in a decade.
Yet things didn’t start out as rosy for Bell in the opening portion of the 30-lap feature. Well, for the most part.
“At the beginning of the race, I started on the inside of row three and felt like I could get a really good jump using the bottom of (turns) one and two,” Bell recalls. “I got to third pretty quickly, and then I just stayed down there too long. I stayed down there and guys started driving by me up top. Next thing I know, I’m back to sixth. I was sixth for a while and couldn’t really get anything going.”
Bell would remain mired on the outside of the top-five looking in, while, up front, Courtney was dicing it up for the lead position with Spencer Bayston. On lap eight, a wild sequence was kicked into gear when Courtney and Bayston briefly became entangled exiting the second turn, allowing series point leader Brady Bacon to sneak by both briefly to lead the lap.
Courtney gathered his bearings and got Bacon back for the lead between turns one and two. Entering turn three, Bayston made a bid for second. However, both he and Bacon had made separate reservations for one at the same table. Bayston and Bacon pinged nerf bars together. Bacon became the pong, getting the worst end of the deal as he lost momentum and freefell three spots to fifth.
A caution two laps before halfway for the stopped car of Nick Knepper altered the course of Bell’s race as opportunity knocked on his helmet visor.
“On the restart, everybody piled in on the bottom and I was able to rip around them and get to third,” Bell explains. “From that point, I knew I was pretty good. I just had to bide my time and wait for the guys in front of me to make mistakes.”
And “mistakes” would be plentiful. But it’s not easy wheeling a quick, twitchy midget around a bullring such as Macon. It’s a full contact, elbows up session that’s going to get physical in one way or another. It’s the nature of the beast on the tight, but speedy confines.
Meanwhile, Courtney was doing what needed to be done to accomplish his mission twofold. At once, he opened up as substantial of a margin as one can attain at Macon – a full-straightaway lead – that put him in control, but, secondly, kept him distanced from the madness ensuing behind him from second on back.
A single lap goes by quickly at this place. The 26-year-old one-lap track record held by P.J. Jones was lowered to 10.3 seconds by Zach Daum in ProSource Qualifying. Later in the night, the pace was consistently around the 12 second mark through the middle to late-stages of the feature. That’s still cooking and, without the lap 20 caution for a Jake Neuman spin, Courtney likely would’ve been gone scot-free and, ultimately, been makin’ Illinois cash and hoisting the winner’s check in victory lane.
But, then again, opportunity. Someone else’s misfortune can become another’s positive turning point in any sport. It’s not exactly a case of schadenfreude, although its close. With 11 to go, the raced turned on a dime, all falling into Bell’s favor.
Unlike the majority of previous restarts, Courtney now had his hands full as Bell hung right with him, running nose-to-tail for multiple laps eying his next move. Bell, the 2013 USAC National Midget champ, went right at Courtney’s jaw as the two swapped slide jobs back-and-forth, back-and-forth, trading uppercuts on both ends of the racetrack. Neither were on their heels, though. Both were on the attack in a true, heavyweight bout that showed no indication of either backing down.
“I knew we were about the same speed,” Bell remembered. “I just waited to get to traffic. Once you got into traffic, you’d be able to dice it up a little bit. We never got there, though, with the yellows coming out. That one yellow got him out of his rhythm there. Although he did get a really good restart and got a way a little bit. But then, he tripped on the cushion one time and I was able to close the gap. From then on, it was just about sliding him.”
With seven to go, Bell attacked and Courtney countered. A lap later, Courtney attacked and Bell countered with enough sliders to make a full meal out of. Courtney made one last-ditch effort with three laps remaining using a turn one slider on Bell. Once again, Bell answered the call and ducked back under Courtney to yank the lead back into his possession, gapping Courtney who now saw the second spot escape his grasp and fall into Bayston’s lap.
“Sunshine (Courtney) was really fast out front by himself,” Bell credits. “We got the yellow and that got him out of his rhythm. He started making mistakes and I was able to get to him. Then, it became a chess game of who could slide each other the best and break each other’s momentum. I felt like he broke my momentum and I broke his momentum.”
Yet the final three laps for Bell on his own wouldn’t go without a little excitement. With the white flag in hand and Bayston closing, Bell stumbled atop the cushion between turns three and four. As fate would have it, Bayston was a little too close for comfort and had to react to Bell’s slight misadventure, forcing Bayston to whoa his ride down just enough to prevent himself a chance to capitalize.
“I got behind Christopher with about three laps to go,” Bayston remembers. “I tried to get away from everyone behind us and was waiting, waiting, waiting. Christopher kind of stumbled in (turns) three and four coming to the white flag. In turn, it caused all of us behind him to screw up and he was able to get away. That kind of scrapped the whole plan I had set for those final two laps.”
Bell recovered, running a sweet and sound 30th lap for a relatively comfortable margin of seven-tenths of a second to take the win over Bayston, Courtney, Justin Grant and KSE Racing Products Hard Charger Shane Golobic, who came all the way from the 21st starting position.
To Bell, his 18th career USAC National Midget victory wasn’t merely about being the best for all 30 laps or even just being the best at the end. To him, the race for the win purely came down to limiting mistakes in traffic and on the tricky cushion in his Keith Kunz-Curb-Agajanian Motorsports/DeWalt – TRD/Bullet by Spike/Speedway Toyota.
“I’ve been coming to Macon for a long time now and I’ve run a lot of races here,” Bell begins. “Typically, the curb will ledge up really big like that. It’s just figuring out where your marks are, when to be in the cushion and when to come off the cushion. I felt like I got going pretty good there just past halfway. I just had to figure out how to use the cushion without getting tripped up in it. There at the end, once Sunshine and I started racing, it came down to who could screw up the least and make the cleanest laps. It was super technical and super hard. That’s how it should be!”
After a seven-race drought to begin the season, the Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian team has now won its third in a row with three different drivers. The most recent victor during this streak prior to Saturday night was Kokomo “Indiana Midget Week” winner Spencer Bayston of Lebanon, Indiana, who grabbed second in his Curb Record – TRD/Bullet by Spike/Speedway Toyota.
“It was very physical out there,” Bayston said. “It seems to be that way every single time we come here. That’s just how the place is. Some people like it and some people don’t. Early on, I felt pretty good. Sunshine had a good lead and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get to him. With all those cautions, I was able to adjust and get a little bit better. Toward the end, Christopher and I worked our way around them and we were able to get out front.”
When Bayston saw Bell and Courtney throwing haymakers at each other, he admits that he was on his toes and ready to pounce if a tangle between the two were to ensue.
“They were really going at it, so I was kind of waiting for something to develop to allow me to get in there,” Bayston acknowledged. “When they start battling like that, they kind of back up to you. I was able to get in and we were both able to work by Sunshine in the final laps.”
Tyler Courtney led a race-high 23 laps and continued his run of success as well with a fifth consecutive top-five finish in his Clauson-Marshall Racing/Driven 2 Save Lives – Indiana Donor Network/Spike/Stanton SR-11.
Contingency award winners Saturday night at Macon Speedway include Zach Daum (ProSource Fast Qualifier), Jake Neuman (Simpson Race Products 1st Heat Winner), Colten Cottle (Competition Suspension, Inc. 2nd Heat Winner), Gage Walker (Chalk Stix 3rd Heat Winner), Shane Golobic (Indy Race Parts 4th Heat Winner & KSE Racing Products Hard Charger) and Jerry Coons, Jr. (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher).
USAC MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: July 1, 2017 – Macon, Illinois – Macon Speedway
PROSOURCE QUALIFYING: 1. Zach Daum, 5D, Daum-10.325 (New Track Record); 2. Tanner Carrick, 71K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-10.417, 3. Tanner Thorson, 67, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-10.424, 4. Christopher Bell, 21, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-10.441, 5. Tyler Thomas, 91T, Thomas-10.496; 6. Spencer Bayston, 97, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-10.527; 7. Justin Grant, 39BC, Clauson/Marshall-10.638; 8. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson/Marshall-10.705; 9. Nick Knepper, 55, Knepper-10.756; 10. Holly Shelton, 67K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-10.778; 11. Brady Bacon, 76m, FMR-10.779; 12. Chad Boat, 84, Tucker/Boat-10.808; 13. Dave Darland, 11, Gray-10.842; 14. Colten Cottle, 5c, Cottle-10.850; 15. Tyler Nelson, 91, Harris-10.857; 16. Jerry Coons Jr., 25, Petry/Goff-10.862; 17. Daniel Robinson, 57D, McCreery-10.883; 18. Brayton Lynch, 1K, RKR-10.883; 19. Dalton Camfield, 87c, Camfield-10.920; 20. Joey Wirth, 77w, Wirth-10.941; 21. Jake Neuman, 3N, Neuman-10.960; 22. Kyle Schuett, 9K, Schuett-10.963; 23. Gage Walker, 7, Walker-10.973; 24. Shane Golobic, 17w, Clauson-Marshall/Wood-11.008; 25. Ray Seach, 2, Seach-11.015; 26. David Budres, 31, Manic-11.043; 27. Daniel Adler, 50, Adler-11.105; 28. Shelby Bosie, 3B, Bosie-11.196; 29. Mark Chisholm, 56x, Fifty6x-11.223; 30. Cody Weisensel, 20, Weisensel-11.233; 31. Chase Jones, 22, Petry/Goff-11.245; 32. Tyler Robbins, 35, Robbins-11.289; 33. Matt Veatch, 56v, Fifty6x-11.616; 34. Devin Camfield, 17c, Camfield-11.722; 35. Travis Young, 11Y, Young-11.890; 36. D.J. Raw, 33, Team RAYPRO-12.129; 37. Brad Kraus, 6B, Kraus-NT; 38. Ryan Robinson, 71, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-NT (Time of 10.615 disallowed).
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Neuman, 2. Knepper, 3. Darland, 4. Thomas, 5. Daum, 6. D. Robinson, 7. Seach, 8. Chisholm, 9. Kraus, 10. Veatch. NT
COMPETITION SUSPENSION, INC. (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Cottle, 2. Bayston, 3. Schuett, 4. Lynch, 5. R. Robinson, 6. Shelton, 7. Budres, 8. De. Camfield, 9. Weisensel, 10. Carrick. NT
CHALK STIX THIRD HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Walker, 2. Thorson, 3. Grant, 4. Nelson, 5. Bacon, 6. Jones, 7. Adler, 8. Da. Camfield, 9. Young. 1:56.33
INDY RACE PARTS FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps) 1. Golobic, 2. Bell, 3. Coons, 4. Courtney, 5. Boat, 6. Robbins, 7. Bosie, 8. Raw, 9. Wirth. NT
SEMI: (12 laps) 1. Daum, 2. Boat, 3. Bacon, 4. D. Robinson, 5. Budres, 6. Shelton, 7. R. Robinson, 8. Adler, 9. Da. Camfield, 10. Chisholm, 11. Jones, 12. Veatch, 13. Young, 14. Bosie, 15. Robbins, 16. De. Camfield, 17. Seach, 18. Kraus, 19. Weisensel, 20. Raw. NT
FEATURE: (30 laps) 1. Christopher Bell, 2. Spencer Bayston, 3. Tyler Courtney, 4. Justin Grant, 5. Shane Golobic, 6. Zach Daum, 7. Brady Bacon, 8. Chad Boat, 9. Dave Darland, 10. Daniel Robinson, 11. Holly Shelton, 12. Ryan Robinson, 13. Jerry Coons, Jr., 14. Gage Walker, 15. Jake Neuman, 16. Brayton Lynch, 17. Tyler Nelson, 18. Kyle Schuett, 19. Colten Cottle, 20. Tyler Thomas, 21. Nick Knepper, 22. David Budres, 23. Tanner Thorson. NT
**Carrick flipped during heat 2. Shelton flipped during heat 2.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-7 Courtney, Lap 8 Bacon, Laps 9-24 Courtney, Laps 25-30 Bell.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER: Shane Golobic (21st to 5th)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Jerry Coons, Jr.
NEW USAC MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Bacon-642, 2-Bayston-634, 3-Golobic-617, 4-Grant-607, 5-Courtney-576, 6-Thorson-530, 7-Boat-480, 8-Coons-469, 9-R. Robinson-399, 10-Shelton-397.
NEXT USAC MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: July 2 – Lincoln, Illinois – Lincoln Speedway