By Richie Murray
Knoxville, Iowa (July 7, 2020)………Like a field of dreams, Knoxville Raceway is a small town gem that serves as a mountainous stage where stars come to shine under the lights, where racing heroes are made, and a place where people return in droves year-after-year to witness for themselves.
The 2nd annual Brandt Corn Belt Nationals takes that stage this weekend, Friday and Saturday night, July 10-11, for one of the most chattered about and looked-forward-to events of the racing summer.
Last year’s inaugural edition was historic with an impeccably flawless drive by one of the modern day heroes who made Knoxville Raceway his playground for one weekend, and ultimately, his ATM, after collecting a total of $25,000 over a two-night span.
In fact, only one driver has won more than a single USAC Sprint Car race and that driver, Bacon, has actually won three times in his career at the half-mile dirt oval, including a two-night sweep of the inaugural Corn Belt Nationals in 2019. The Broken Arrow, Oklahoma driver’s success at Knoxville dates to his Rookie USAC season of 2006 where he scored a pair of runner-up finishes on two-straight nights of Midget racing, leading a combined 11 laps in the process.
In his first USAC Sprint Car appearance at Knoxville in 2010, Bacon was 2nd again. The following year, in 2011, the eventual two-time series champ authored a complete sweep of the night, recording quick time in qualifying, winning his heat and scoring the feature victory. In 2017, he won his heat and ran 10th in the main. In 2018, he led the first 19 laps of the 30-lap event, ultimately finishing 3rd.
Last year, Bacon led a combined 43 of the 60 feature laps run throughout the weekend, 13 on the first night and all 30 in the finale. His green-to-checkered finish on the first night resulted in a new 30-lap USAC track record of 9:11.86.
Few drivers in this year’s Corn Belt Nationals lineup have more laps around Knoxville Raceway during the 2020 season than Tyler Courtney (Indianapolis, Ind.), who’s made three starts in weekly wing sprint car competition, topping off with a 3rd place finish on June 6. In USAC competition at Knoxville, Courtney has been a part of both extremes of the spectrum at the half-mile dirt oval in his career.
In 2017, he began the night with a heat race victory, then while running near the front, he caught the turn two cushion and flipped wildly in front of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame suites, nearly getting as much elevation as the top of the catchfence. The following year, in 2018, the USAC National Sprint Car and NOS Energy Drink National Midget champ dominated the event, sweeping the night as fast qualifier, a heat race winner and a feature winner. Last year, Courtney was a solid 4th and 3rd over the two nights of the “Corn Belt.”
Chris Windom, a recent winner on a half-mile dirt oval with the series, led nine laps and finished 2nd in the 2019 Corn Belt opener while garnering a 5th on night two. The Canton, Ill. native was 2nd behind Bacon at Knoxville in 2011 following an 8th place finish in 2010. The 2017 series champion won his heat race in both 2017 and 2018 at Knoxville and scored feature finishes of 6th in 2017 and 9th in 2018. His 6th place result in 2017 came in a hard-charging performance in which he started from the 18th starting position.
Ione, California’s Justin Grant was the king of Knoxville in 2017, leading all 30 laps en route to the victory. When the current USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car point leader returned with his new team in 2018, TOPP Motorsports, he didn’t miss much of a beat, winning his heat race and finishing 4th in the main event. In 2019, he was 5th and 6th on each of the two nights and was the fastest qualifier on the second night.
Robert Ballou missed last year’s Corn Belt Nationals due to injury, so this weekend marks his debut appearance in the event. His first USAC start at Knoxville came in 2010, finishing 7th, which is where he also finished in his most recent start in 2018. He finished 11th in the 2011 feature, but his best Knoxville result came in a runner-up performance in 2017.
Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Cullman, Ala.) was the fastest qualifier at Knoxville in 2017 and that lap of 18.548 still stands as the one-lap USAC track record. The Cullman, Ala. driver’s Knoxville results improved mightily in 2019 with a 3rd on night one and a 4th on night two. On the first night, he led three laps. He was also 7th in 2017 and 10th in 2018.
Chase Stockon’s run of top-five finishes in his past four USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car starts have resulted in four top-five finishes with two different teams. The Fort Branch, Ind. wheelman has been a consistent frontrunner on the similarly-shaped and banked Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track, where he’s won three times in his USAC career. His productivity at Knoxville has displayed solid results of note, a 4th in 2017 6th in 2018 and a 7th and 8th in two 2019 starts where he won a heat on night one and his qualifying race on the final night.
Dave Darland (Lincoln, Ind.) is the lone driver in the field to make appearances in all three of USAC’s national divisions at Knoxville, making his first start there in a Silver Crown car in 2000 where he finished 9th. A year later, he improved to a 4th place result. In 2006, he took a third in a Midget at Knoxville just behind Bacon. In a USAC Sprint Car at Knoxville, he’s finished as high as 10th in 2010 and 8th in 2018, where he picked up hard charger honors after starting 17th. In 2019, he captured a semi-feature win in the Corn Belt finale.
C.J. Leary is the only driver to have finished in the top-five at Knoxville in each of the past three years. He was the fastest qualifier on night one a year ago in 2019, then won his heat and finished 9th in the feature. The reigning USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car champion started 4th and finished 2nd on night two. After capturing a semi-feature victory in 2017 at Knoxville, he turned up the wick to finish 5th that night and climbed up the pylon to a runner-up result behind Courtney in 2018.
Making his fourth USAC Sprint Car appearance at Knoxville this year is Marion, Illinois driver Carson Short who won the semi-feature on the opening night last year but ran 10th on the second night for his best USAC result thus far at Knoxville. Ryan Bernal (Hollister, Calif.) made a solid Corn Belt debut in 2019. The 2013-14 USAC Western Classic Sprint Car champion was 6th and 9th in his two starts a year ago. Nick Bilbee (Indianapolis, Ind.) qualified a solid 8th in 2018 and flipped on the second lap of the feature in his Knoxville debut in 2017. He won his heat race on the first of two nights at the 2019 Corn Belt. One-time USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car feature winner Matt Westfall (Pleasant Hill, Ohio) was 10th on night two of the Corn Belt in 2019.
Corn Belt Nationals debuts come from 2016 USAC National Midget champion Tanner Thorson (Minden, Nev.) who has finished inside the top-ten in three of his first four career USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car starts over the past two weeks. Shane Cottle (Kansas, Ill.), a recent Bill Gardner Sprintacular opening night winner at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Ind., has yet to turn a lap in USAC competition at Knoxville. Anaheim, California’s Jake Swanson, a 2017 USAC West Coast Sprint Car champ, recently earned a 4th place finish in the Tony Hulman Classic at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track.
Lincoln, Nebraska’s Don Droud, Jr., a top-five finisher in a USAC Midget at Knoxville in 2006 and a former one-lap track record holder at the half-mile in a wing sprint car finished 13th on night one in 2019. Droud is one of several 2020 winners from the USAC Midwest Wingless Racing Association Sprint Car series that have previous Corn Belt Nationals experience, including two-time MWRA winner Wyatt Burks (Topeka, Kans.), 11th and 13th last year, and Wesley Smith (Nixa, Mo.), a night one Corn Belt heat winner and 12th place feature finisher.
Competitor entry for the 2nd annual Brandt Corn Belt Nationals July 10-11 at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway is available. Competition applications can be found here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/17iNwV8-F1iaTpNtnu9mWLHRj9Maj61Ik/view?usp=sharing.
There, you can print out the form, fill it out and either mail, fax or drop off, along with the entry fee, at the Knoxville Raceway ticket office. You can mail your form and fee to Knoxville Raceway, Box 347, Knoxville, Iowa 50138 or by fax at 641-842-2899. Knoxville Raceway is located at 624 N. Lincoln, Knoxville, Iowa. Competitors are urged to enter the event quickly.
The event, co-sanctioned by the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship and the POWRi Lucas Oil War Sprint Car League, features two complete nights of sprint car racing action with each night culminating with a feature race, the Friday, July 10 main event paying $5,000-to-win and the Saturday, July 11 finale paying $20,000-to-win.
Spectator tickets for the inaugural Brandt Professional Agriculture Corn Belt Nationals are available at https://mpv.tickets.com/schedule/?agency=KNXV_PL_MPV&orgid=54409#view=list&includePackages=true or by calling the Knoxville Raceway ticket office at 641-842-5431. Tickets start at $25 for adults on Thursday and $30 for Saturday.
Gates open each night at Knoxville at 5:30pm Central with hot laps set for 6:45pm.
Brady Bacon dominated both ends of the inaugural Brandt Corn Belt Nationals in 2019, walking away with a two-night total of $25,000 between his two victories.
All drivers and teams competing in the event that possess a USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car license will be awarded 50 appearance points each night of the Corn Belt Nationals, which will go toward the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car championship standings. No prelim or feature points.
CORN BELT NATIONALS ENTRY LIST:
(45 drivers as of July 7, 2020)
0 BRANDON STEVENSON/Holstein, IA
0s STEVE IRWIN/Fenton, MI
1m DON DROUD JR./Lincoln, NE
2 JASON BILLUPS/Holt, MO
2c ZACH CLARK/Olathe, KS
4 JUSTIN GRANT/Ione, CA
4T JOSH CASTRO/Peoria, AZ
4x BRAYDON CROMWELL/Lone Jack, MO
5 CHUCK ALEXANDER/Chariton, IA
5s CHASE STOCKON/Fort Branch, IN
6 MARIO CLOUSER/Auburn, IL
7 CLINTON BRUNS/Little Rock, IA
7BC TYLER COURTNEY/Indianapolis, IN
8D JUSTIN STANDRIDGE/Athens, IL
9K KEVIN THOMAS JR./Cullman, AL
9W JUSTIN ZIMMERMAN/Athens, TX
11w WYATT BURKS/Topeka, KS
12 ROBERT BALLOU/Rocklin, CA
12s WESLEY SMITH/Nixa, MO
13 DENNIS GILE/Phoenix, AZ
13MJ BRANDON HALVERSON/Jackson, MN
16 ANTHONY NICHOLSON/Millington, TN
17 NICK BILBEE/Indianapolis, IN
17GP RYAN BERNAL/Hollister, CA
18 TERRY RICHARDS/Denton, NE
19AZ TANNER THORSON/Minden, NV
19L GLEN SAVILLE/Razorback, NSW
24 BRIAN VANMEVEREN/Woodbury, MN
27 STEVE THOMAS/Ludlow, IL
30 C.J. LEARY/Greenfield, IN
33m MATT WESTFALL/Pleasant Hill, OH
34AZ JAKE SWANSON/Anaheim, CA
36d DAVE DARLAND/Lincoln, IN
48 NEAL MATUSKA/Waukee, IA
67 JONATHAN HUGHES/Knoxville, IA
69 BRADY BACON/Winchester, IN
71p CARSON SHORT/Marion, IL
73 SAMUEL WAGNER/Lone Jack, MO
74x SHANE COTTLE/Kansas, IL
75 DUSTIN CLARK/Washington, IN
77 DUSTIN SMITH/Russiaville, IN
77J JACK WAGNER/Lone Jack, MO
90 CLINTON BOYLES/Greenwood, MO
91 RILEY KREISEL/Warsaw, MO
ST1 LANE STONE/Concordia, MO