By Richie Murray
Kutztown, Pennsylvania (July 31, 2019)………Zeb Wise is becoming accustomed to logging his most memorable USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget moments in the state of Pennsylvania.
After bagging his first career series win after a two-month layoff due to injury and becoming the youngest winner in series history to boot, last August at Lanco, Wise might’ve one-upped himself in his second act in Wednesday’s series debut at Action Track USA for round two of Pennsylvania Midget Week.
In this one, the 16-year-old Angola, Ind. native looked the part of a savvy, seasoned veteran having to hold off a relentless attack from Kyle Larson lap-after-lap-after-lap, down to the final corner.
“I told (Kyle) I literally closed my eyes about halfway through it when we were side-by-side because I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Wise admitted. “As I drove it into three, I saw him on the bottom throwing a slider. I knew it was coming regardless. He just kept going and I got to the middle and I’m like, ‘I’m going to win or we’re going to junk a racecar here.’ I just put my foot to the floor and prayed to God that he stayed down and left me an inch or two up top and he gave me just enough room.”
An inch or two was all Wise needed to fend off the hard-charging Larson on the final corner, bouncing off the outside concrete to break free on the outside and beat Larson to the line by a half-car length at the finish line, 0.078 of a second to be exact, for his second career series win in his Clauson-Marshall Racing/NOS Energy Drink/Spike/Stanton SR-11x.
Wise started fourth but occupied the third position from the opening lap for the first nine laps as he watched outside front row starter Logan Seavey lead the first seven circuits, then polesitter Chad Boat take over up front on the eighth lap. Wise ripped his way to the second spot past Seavey on the tenth go-around.
On the 11th lap, Larson began his charge toward the front, clearing teammates Tanner Thorson and Seavey in turn three to move from fifth to third.
“Those guys got to sliding each other early and I was able to sneak by a couple on the bottom,” Larson said. “People just kept committing coming off two, then they’d fall off the shelf and I was able to get by. I was hoping Zeb would do that eventually.”
The following lap, Wise utilized the high line off turn four as leader Boat took the middle road down the front straight. Wise crossed over from the top of turn four to the bottom of turn one where he slid by for the race lead with 18 to go.
After riding by Boat at the midway point for the runner-up spot, Larson made gains on Wise as he rolled the bottom in turns one and two while taking the high road in turns three and four. As the laps ticked away around the tight 1/5-mile dirt oval, Larson inched closer to Wise just as traffic began to factor in.
As the white streak of Larson ducked underneath Wise time-after-time off turn two, Wise’s attention was piqued, and he decided to put his fate into his own hands. With eight laps remaining, Wise switched lanes and locked up the bottom line in turns one and two.
With traffic occupying the bottom line on the following lap, Wise was forced back to the top of one and two. Larson tried the middle in one and two with three to go, pulling even with Wise at the exit of turn two as the lapped car of Karsyn Elledge clung to the bottom, briefly making it three-wide. Wise stuck to the top in three and four while Larson rode through the middle wheel-to-wheel through the exit of four.
Moments later, Boat spun to a stop in turn two while battling for fourth with Thorson, forcing a yellow flag and a restart with Wise leading and Larson right on his tail in second.
On the restart, Wise knew he had to throw a changeup in order to prevent Larson from continuing his continuous lurch toward him on the bottom of turns one and two, so he went with his intuition.
“Through lapped traffic, I was running the top in one and two and I could see Kyle on the bottom peeking,” Wise recalled. “I felt like I held my speed through three and four really well, so I didn’t want to change anything there. I made the decision to stick to the bottom in one and two and still run the top in three and four.”
When racing resumed, Larson fired another slider toward Wise in turn three, only to pull even at the exit of four with Wise holding on. Wise shot to the bottom of one and two, but Larson decided not to follow, instead, moving up a lane to the middle which briefly allowed Wise to gain a car length on his lead.
Coming to the white flag, entering turn three, Larson successfully slid past the nose of Wise for the race lead. However, Wise was prepared, and immediately crossed over downhill off turn four to beat Larson to the line by a single car length.
On the final lap, Larson had Wise lined up to make one last final slider attempt on Wise. Larson slid his car in deep from the bottom of three to the top of four. Instead of crossing over, Wise kept his foot in it, with no room to spare on either side, bouncing his right rear tire off the outside wall, but keeping the car straight as they raced to the line with Wise emerging as the victor by less than a half a car length.
Previous night’s Pennsylvania Midget Week opener winner at Grandview, Chris Windom, finished third after starting 12th to earn KSE Racing Products Hard Charger honors. Tanner Thorson was fourth ahead of series point leader Tyler Courtney to round out the top-five.
Larson came up just short in his bid for victory on what was his 27th birthday. The Elk Grove, Calif. native thought he had squeezed Wise just enough off the final corner to stifle his momentum toward the checkered, but it was not to be, instead taking second place for his third top-three finish in five series starts this season.
“On that restart, he did a good job changing his lane,” a complimentary Larson said. “I thought he would stay running it all the way up there, but he shut it down and ran the bottom in one and two and I had to try to roll a lane up just do everything I could to try to throw something at him in three and four. (On the last lap) I left him about a quarter of a lane off of four and he somehow squeezed through it.”
Contingency award winners Wednesday night at Action Track USA were Tyler Courtney (Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier & Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Andrew Layser (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Karsyn Elledge (AutoMeter/Indy Race Parts Third Heat Winner), Chris Windom (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger) and Tucker Klaasmeyer (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher).
USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: July 31, 2019 – Action Track USA – Kutztown, Pennsylvania – 1/5-Mile Dirt Oval – Pennsylvania Midget Week
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson/Marshall-11.313 (New Track Record); 2. Kyle Larson, 24, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-11.357; 3. Zeb Wise, 39BC, Clauson/Marshall-11.380; 4. Tanner Thorson, 98, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-11.381; 5. Logan Seavey, 67, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-11.436; 6. Chad Boat, 84, Tucker/Boat-11.481; 7. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 5, Petry-11.509; 8. Timmy Buckwalter, 29B, Seymour-11.545; 9. Jason McDougal, 76m, FMR-11.548; 10. Tanner Carrick, 71K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-11.576; 11. Jerry Coons, Jr., 25, Petry-11.588; 12. Chris Windom, 17BC, Clauson/Marshall-11.601; 13. Ethan Mitchell, 19m, Bundy Built-11.645; 14. Andrew Layser, 47BC, Clauson/Marshall-11.669; 15. Steven Drevicki, 12, Heckman-11.751; 16. Tucker Klaasmeyer, 27, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-11.775; 17. Billy Pauch, Jr., 72, Heffner-11.783; 18. Karsyn Elledge, 1, Tucker/Boat-12.024; 19. Kameron Morral, 4, Mullet-12.031; 20. Bobby Butler, 5B, Myers-12.033; 21. Alex Yankowski, 0, Buckwalter-12.076; 22. Brett Conkling, 0NJ, Conkling-12.409; 23. Shawn Jackson, 7J, Jackson-NT; 24. Alex Bright, 29A, Seymour-(Time of 11.892 disallowed).
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, all transfer to the feature) 1. Tyler Courtney, 2. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 3. Tanner Thorson, 4. Tanner Carrick, 5. Tucker Klaasmeyer, 6. Kameron Morral, 7. Brett Conkling, 8. Ethan Mitchell. NT
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, all transfer to the feature) 1. Andrew Layser, 2. Timmy Buckwalter, 3. Logan Seavey, 4. Jerry Coons, Jr., 5. Kyle Larson, 6. Billy Pauch, Jr., 7. Bobby Butler, 8. Shawn Jackson. NT
AUTOMETER/INDY RACE PARTS THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, all transfer to the feature) 1. Karsyn Elledge, 2. Jason McDougal, 3. Chris Windom, 4. Zeb Wise, 5. Chad Boat, 6. Steven Drevicki, 7. Alex Bright, 8. Alex Yankowski. 2:01.97 (New Track Record)
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting position in parentheses) 1. Zeb Wise (4), 2. Kyle Larson (5), 3. Chris Windom (12), 4. Tanner Thorson (3), 5. Tyler Courtney (6), 6. Logan Seavey (2), 7. Andrew Layser (14), 8. Jason McDougal (9), 9. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (7), 10. Jerry Coons, Jr. (11), 11. Tanner Carrick (10), 12. Billy Pauch, Jr. (17), 13. Tucker Klaasmeyer (16), 14. Chad Boat (1), 15. Steven Drevicki (15), 16. Karsyn Elledge (18), 17. Alex Yankowski (21), 18. Bobby Butler (20), 19. Brett Conkling (22), 20. Timmy Buckwalter (8), 21. Alex Bright (24), 22. Ethan Mitchell (13), 23. Kameron Morral (19), 24. Shawn Jackson (23). NT
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-7 Logan Seavey, Laps 8-12 Chad Boat, Laps 13-30 Zeb Wise.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER: Chris Windom (12th to 3rd)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Tucker Klaasmeyer
NEW USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Tyler Courtney-1,238, 2-Chris Windom-1,148, 3-Logan Seavey-1,096, 4-Kevin Thomas, Jr.-1,049, 5-Zeb Wise-1,045, 6-Chad Boat-979, 7-Tanner Carrick-917, 8-Jerry Coons, Jr.-912, 9-Tucker Klaasmeyer-849, 10-Jason McDougal-831.
NEXT USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: August 1, 2019 – Path Valley Speedway Park – Spring Run, Pennsylvania – “Pennsylvania Midget Week” – 1/4-Mile Dirt Oval