By: Richie Murray
Though only in its sixth year of existence, however, the Lincoln, Indiana driver and “Sprint Car Smackdown” become just as well-acquainted with each other.
Darland’s three Saturday night finale $10,000 wins in 2013, 2014 and 2015, plus two preliminary night victories make him the winningest driver in the history of the event, which began in 2012. Each of those five wins came behind the wheel of the Phillips Motorsports No. 71p. This weekend, though, the USAC Triple Crown Champ wheels a familiar ride that has seen success with USAC and Kokomo in the recent past: the Mark Hery-owned No. 40.
Darland has won three local shows at Kokomo in 2017, two for Hery, and will have three opportunities this weekend to earn a USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car points-paying victory on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, August 24-25-26 at Kokomo where he’s earned four track titles and 60-plus victories.
It very well could be a magical weekend for Darland in which he reaches a couple of major milestones with another win. One more would make him the first driver to reach 60 USAC National Sprint Car wins in a career. Additionally, a victory would extend his record of 25 consecutive years with at least one USAC National feature win. Although, Darland was victorious in the “Steve Stroud Memorial” USAC Southwest Sprint Car race at Canyon Speedway Park in Peoria, Arizona back in February of 2017.
USAC National Sprint Car point leader Justin Grant, a past chauffeur of Hery’s No. 40, but now residing in the seat of Sam McGhee’s No. 11, comes into Kokomo as the USAC National Series’ most recent winner after having picked up his first career Silver Crown victory in last Saturday’s “Bettenhausen 100” at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield. That came just six days following a wild last, lap victory in a USAC National Midget at Susquehanna Speedway in York Haven, Pennsylvania.
Throughout the 2017 season, the Ione, California driver has won a series-high four times and is the first driver since Tracy Hines in 2013 to win in a USAC Silver Crown, National Sprint and National Midget feature in a single season. However, Grant looks to end a two-and-a-half month USAC Sprint Car win drought since the series visited Knoxville Raceway’s half-mile in early June.
Grant’s closest competition in the race for the championship is Chris Windom of Canton, Illinois, driver of the Baldwin Brothers No. 5, who stands 79 points out of the lead. Windom won the second-ever race held during “Sprint Car Smackdown,” a prelim night in 2012.
The reigning “Sprint Car Smackdown” champ is Kevin Thomas, Jr. of Cullman, Alabama. In fact, KTJ scored three wins in four races in the span of a week this time last year at Kokomo. This summer, he captured the Indiana Sprint Week crown in his own No. 9K with a victory to his credit at Bloomington Speedway. In June, he tallied a triumph during Eastern Storm at Williams Grove Speedway in Pennsylvania.
C.J. Leary, the 2015 Kokomo track champ, earned his first career USAC National Sprint Car feature win during a “Smackdown” preliminary night one year ago. Since then, the Greenfield, Indiana driver has won twice more in his family-owned No. 30 on the USAC National Sprint Car trail, coming on back-to-back nights at Lawrenceburg and Gas City.
Thomas Meseraull is fast everywhere he competes. The same goes for whichever he car he jumps into. The San Jose, California native adapted quickly in the Chase Briscoe Racing No. 5 to win the Indiana Sprint Week opener at Kokomo in July in his first ever ride with the car in a USAC race.
Brady Bacon has won three times at Kokomo Speedway in a USAC National Midget, in 2006, as well as a sweep this year on both nights of the “Kokomo Grand Prix” in April. However, he has yet to win a USAC Sprint Car race at Kokomo. He’s a two-time series winner this year in the Dooling/Hayward No. 63 at Pennsylvania’s Grandview Speedway in Eastern Storm and Lakeside Speedway in Kansas.
On the first two preliminary nights, Thursday and Friday, Aug. 24-25, all gates open at 3pm. Cars hit the track at 6pm. General admission tickets are $25. Kids 10 & under are FREE with paid adult (general admission only). Pit pass (all ages) are $35.
On the final night, Saturday, Aug. 26, all gates open at 3pm. Cars hit the track at 6:15pm. General admission tickets are $35. Kids 10 & under are FREE with paid adult (general admission only). Pit pass (all ages) are $45.
The week at Kokomo kicks off with the non-points, special event “GYATK Night” on Wednesday, August 23. General admission tickets are free for all fans! All gates open at 3pm. Pill draw closes at the USAC trailer at 6:15pm before all drivers head to the front of the grandstands at 6:20pm for the official drivers meeting. At 6:45pm, cars get on track as wheel packing begins, which leads straight into qualifying. Heat races begin at 7:30pm.
LIVE, flag-to-flag coverage of all four nights of USAC Sprint Car racing at Kokomo will be streamed on http://www.SpeedShiftTV.com/. You may also watch the race one day later, on-demand at http://www.Loudpedal.TV/.