By Richie Murray
You hear it said time and time again. Indiana Sprint Week can make or break your season.”
Those words always ring true, but none more than this year. The 32nd edition of the NOS Energy Drink Indiana Sprint Week tour has expanded to eight races for just the third time ever – 2003 and 2007 both featured eight events. With mother nature wreaking havoc on seven different events through the first 19 scheduled events on the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car trail, this year’s ISW will wind up making more than 20% of the entire schedule in a 10-day span.
In simpler terms, it’s time to put or shut up, and stand on the gas. Once the proverbial snowball gets rolling, positively or negatively, it can have its lingering effects that last even after the curtain closes on ISW.
One driver whose seemingly mastered the course of consistency night-after-night is C.J. Leary (Greenfield, Ind.). While he’s won just once thus far, in February, in Ocala, Fla., he’s been the fast qualifier on six occasions that have helped him rack up valuable bonus points toward a championship. By association, qualifying well time-after-time will put you in a solid position come feature time, and Leary hasn’t disappointed in that regard. He’s finished in the top-ten in all 12 races to this point in his first year for Reinbold/Underwood Motorsports and shows no signs letting up, coming off a recent runner-up finish in the Brandt “Corn Belt Nationals” at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway to open up July and hold the point lead coming in. He’s a veteran of victory lane in “Indiana Sprint Week,” winning on three occasions, in 2017 at both Lawrenceburg and Gas City, then again in 2018 at Bloomington.
Defending USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car champ Tyler Courtney (Indianapolis, Ind.), has won, won and won again in USAC competition among the three national series, and is the only driver to win in all three this season. Thus far, he’s tallied a Silver Crown win in the final “Hoosier Hundred” at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and has won five of the first 13 races on the USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National tour where he holds a commanding point lead. He has two wins on the Sprint Car side of the equation this season, on the half-miles of Eldora and Port Royal. One of the items missing from his ever-growing resume is an ISW championship. In 2016, his first career USAC win came on an incredible charge from last to first at Gas City, and he got two last year at Lawrenceburg and Terre Haute. He’s second in the overall standings heading in, and it seems once Courtney and team catch fire, it’s one that’s difficult to extinguish.
Like Leary, Chase Stockon (Fort Branch, Ind.) has been the model of consistency throughout the 2019 season, finishing all 12 races inside the top-ten. What’s amazing about Leary and Stockon’s feat is that not a single driver has been able to accomplish 10 top-tens in the first 10 races in 15 years prior to this season, but those two have upped their game to ultra-competitive levels not seen in years. He’s won once this season already, taming the half-mile Terre Haute Action Track en route to a victory in the 49th “Tony Hulman Classic” in May. One part of Stockon’s game is the ability to qualify well, as his 27 career fast qualifying times can attest to, which ranks 11th all-time alongside the likes of Dave Steele and Kevin Thomas, Jr. The two-time “Indiana Sprint Week” winner’s sensational season has him third in points, but an ISW victory would be a nice feather to add to the cap following a 2015 win at Gas City and in 2016 at Terre Haute.
There’s no denying the fact that Chris Windom (Canton, Ill.) is one of the most accomplished ISW drivers of all-time, joining the ranks last year as a multiple-time champion alongside Chuck Amati, Kevin Thomas, J.J. Yeley, Dave Darland, Cory Kruseman, Levi Jones, Jon Stanbrough and Bryan Clauson. What may shock and surprise you is that it’s been eight years since Windom won his one and only career ISW race, at Terre Haute, during his first ISW title run in 2011. Without a doubt, Windom is fully capable of ending that streak at the drop of a hat, just by getting over the hump after finishing 2nd three times, 3rd once, 4th twice and 6th once in six 2018 starts. He was the first driver to reach multiple USAC Sprint Car victories this year, winning the season-opener in spectacular fashion in Ocala, Fla. then taking the victory in Granite City, Ill. back in May, and now stands fourth in the standings in pursuit of a second series crown.
Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Cullman, Ala.) was the ISW champ during Windom’s USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car title season in 2017 and owns five ISW wins in his run with the series, including the first, back in 2012 at Bloomington. You could say he’s ripe to pick off a win during the week as he’s the lone driver in the top seven of the National standings, at press time, yet to win a feature event this season. It’s not for a lack of consistency, however, as he’s been a frontrunner all season long with 10 finishes inside the top-six in 12 starts, including four 2nd place finishes and 43 laps led, which ranks third amongst all drivers.
Sixth in the standings is Brady Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.), a driver who has led twice as many laps in USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car competition this year than any other competitor. He arrives at “Indiana Sprint Week” riding a wave of the highest of highs following a two-night sweep of the Brandt “Corn Belt Nationals” in Knoxville, Iowa worth $25,000. In the Saturday night finale, he decimated the competition by a blistering margin of more than eight second over the second-place finisher. No driver this year has won more than twice with the series. That is, other than Bacon who owns four, including Bloomington, Ind. and Grandview Speedway in Pa. during “Eastern Storm.” The three-time ISW winner is a two-time National champ and reached the ISW pinnacle with a championship in 2016.
Justin Grant (Ione, Calif.) is among the 20 drivers who’ve earned their first USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car and “Indiana Sprint Week” wins simultaneously, doing so at Lawrenceburg during the 2012 season. It remains Grant’s only ISW win to this point in his USAC career, which includes 14 series victories and one this season during “Winter Dirt Games” back in February in Ocala, Fla. He’s now 7th in the standings with only two results outside of the top-eight in 12 starts.
Carson Short (Marion, Ill.) has been consistently fast and exciting anywhere and everywhere the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car trail takes him. He’s finished in the runner-up spot once this year and has been the top qualifier on two occasions. To this day, his lone USAC triumph came during USAC’s 10,000th race at Tri-State Speedway during ISW in 2016 where he led all 30 to score a convincing victory. Short, 8th in the standings, will certainly be in the hunt and, if he can remain consistently fast throughout the week, the results will show, and you can expect him to challenge for a win.
Last July, Jason McDougal (Broken Arrow, Okla.) was just jumping into a sprint car for the first time in his career. After showing flashes of brilliance in his first handful of starts, his week was grounded to a crashing half after contact with the outside front straightaway wall at Lincoln Park. Since that moment, the young driver’s career has taken off. He teamed up with Daigh/Phillips Motorsports and has taken the team back to victory lane twice since last September, with a spectacular late-race pass for the win in Pevely, Mo., then picking off a win during “Eastern Storm” at New Jersey’s Bridgeport Speedway as he prepares for his first full run at ISW.
Dave Darland (Lincoln, Ind.) is the king of nearly every meaningful statistical category in the history of USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car racing. The song remains the same for the USAC Triple Crown champ in terms of “Indiana Sprint Week” stats as well. The three-time champ (1998-2001-2007) owns 20 ISW wins, a staggering 15 more than his nearest competitors, Kevin Thomas, Jr. and Brady Short, who each have five apiece. His 145 starts since the beginning of USAC’s sanctioning of ISW in 1996 are heads and shoulders above all, and this isn’t even accounting for all the starts he accumulated in the unsanctioned years of 1988-95. He also leads in top-fives, top-tens and fast qualifying times. His two ISW victories in 2018 at Lincoln Park and Tri-State were two of the most popular victories witnessed in some time. It would, perhaps, be even more popular this time around in 2019 if he were to get win No. 21.
Hovering around the top-ten of the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car standings are a group of series regulars who’d love to put an exclamation point on a first career ISW win. Chad Boespflug (Hanford, Calif.) owns six USAC National Sprint Car points-paying wins in his career, two of which have come on ISW venues – Lincoln Park and Bloomington. He picked up a Kokomo Sprint Car win outside of USAC competition earlier this year against a stacked field. He’d love to break through for his first USAC win since that Spring Bloomington stop in 2017.
Isaac Chapple (Willow Branch, Ind.), 12th in the standings, and Timmy Buckwalter (Douglassville, Pa.) are both past series Rookies of the Year aiming to get both their first USAC and ISW wins in one fell swoop. The same holds true for fellow Rookies Brian VanMeveren (Woodbury, Minn.) and Dustin Christie (Washington, Ind.) who are locking horns in a close chase to become this season’s Rookie title with VanMeveren holding an 18-point advantage.
Five-time ISW winner Brady Short (Bedford, Ind.) and two-time ISW winners Kyle Cummins (Princeton, Ind.) and Thomas Meseraull (San Jose, Calif.) are on the hunt to tally another win on their resume as are one-time victors Brent Beauchamp (Avon, Ind.), Jeff Bland, Jr. (Springville, Ind.) and Dickie Gaines (Mitchell, Ind.).
One of the long-held traditions of ISW is the west coast challenge coming aboard for the full week to compete against the National contingent. USAC/CRA point leader Brody Roa (Garden Grove, Calif.) is the man for the challenge this year. He’s conquered a National win once before, albeit on his home turf of Perris (Calif.) Auto Speedway in 2017. This summer marks his fourth ISW appearance and his third-straight. He finished in the top-ten twice in last year’s ISW and topped out with an 8th place run in 2017 at Lawrenceburg. He’s already won twice in USAC/CRA competition this year, at Perris and Santa Maria, Calif.
2019 NOS ENERGY DRINK INDIANA SPRINT WEEK SCHEDULE
Thursday, July 18: Gas City I-69 Speedway (Gas City, IN)
Friday, July 19: Plymouth Speedway (Plymouth, IN)
Saturday, July 20: Kokomo Speedway (Kokomo, IN)
Sunday, July 21: Lawrenceburg Speedway (Lawrenceburg, IN)
Wednesday, July 24: Terre Haute Action Track (Terre Haute, IN)
Thursday, July 25: Lincoln Park Speedway (Putnamville, IN)
Friday, July 26: Bloomington Speedway (Bloomington, IN)
Saturday, July 27: Tri-State Speedway (Haubstadt, IN)