By Richie Murray
Kokomo, Indiana (August 25, 2020)………Sprint Car Smackdown is one of those events that makes your pulse race just thinking about it. As the thought races through your consciousness, it’s hard to compare an event more tantalizing than USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Cars full throttle, on the wall, wheel-to-wheel at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway.
Now, multiply that over three consecutive nights, that’s Smackdown IX.
The ninth annual event arrives at the quarter-mile of Kokomo with three complete programs of racing on Thursday, Aug. 27, Friday, Aug. 28 and Saturday, Aug. 29, the final night of which puts more money on the line, $10,000-to-win, $1,000 to start, and ups the lap count to 40 for the main event.
The leadup has already led to the potential of having the highest car count in the history of the event this week with already in excess of 50 making plans to race in the event with drivers coming from as far southeast as Florida, as far north at Minnesota, as far south as Texas and as far west as California, and even spanning the globe all the way to New Zealand.
Tyler Courtney (Indianapolis, Ind.) bested them all a year ago and owns two of the past three Sprint Car Smackdown crowns, taking the checkered in both 2017 and 2019. In fact, all four of his Kokomo USAC Sprint wins have come during Smackdown week, also taking prelim victories in both 2017-18. He nearly won this past July at Kokomo during Indiana Sprint Week, clipping a turn two infield tire marker and spinning while leading with three laps to go. Sandwiched between his two final night wins was a 2nd in the Smackdown finale of 2018.
Justin Grant (Ione, Calif.) defeated Courtney that night to win the Smackdown finale in 2018, which stands as the 2017 and 2019 track champion’s lone USAC National Sprint Car feature win at Kokomo. The current point leader of both USAC’s Silver Crown and AMSOIL National Sprint Car series, Grant also finished 4th on the final night of Smackdown in 2019.
Kevin Thomas Jr. (Cullman, Ala.) took Smackdown top honors on the final night of the 2016 edition. The 2016 Kokomo track champion has collected a total of three USAC National Sprint Car wins at the quarter-mile dirt oval, once in 2013 and twice during Smackdown in 2016. He’s also earned Smackdown final night finishes of 3rd in 2012 and 5th in 2015.
No driver owns more wins at Kokomo Speedway than Dave Darland (Lincoln, Ind.). Likewise, no driver owns more Smackdown final night victories than does Darland who won three-straight between 2013-14-15. The 1987-91-93-94 Kokomo track champion has nine overall USAC National Sprint Car feature wins at Kokomo dating back to 1993. The National Sprint Car Hall of Famer has also finished with Smackdown final night runs of 4th in both 2012 and 2016, plus a 5th in 2017.
Drivers who’ve already won Smackdown prelim features at Kokomo, but are seeking their first victories on the final night are Chris Windom (Canton, Ill.), a three-time USAC National Sprint Car winner at Kokomo, two of which came during Smackdown prelim nights in 2012 and 2015. The 2010 and 2018 Kokomo track champ has earned Smackdown final night finishes of 3rd in 2016 and 4th in both 2013 and 2015.
C.J. Leary (Greenfield, Ind.), also a past Kokomo track champion in 2015, has three career USAC National Sprint wins at the track, including the first of his career back in 2016 during a Smackdown prelim and once again during a prelim in 2017. He’s also the series’ most recent Kokomo winner, taking home this past July’s Indiana Sprint Week round. The defending USAC National Sprint Car champ has finished inside the top-ten in each of his last five Smackdown final night starts, including 3rd in each of the last two in 2018 and 2019.
Thomas Meseraull (San Jose, Calif.) has won a USAC National Sprint Car race at Kokomo three-years running – he and Courtney are the only ones who can claim that feat. Meseraull reigned victorious during the 2019 Smackdown opener after winning the Indiana Sprint Week round there in the two prior years of 2017 and 2018. However, his best final night Smackdown result thus far is a 10th in the inaugural edition in 2012.
Logan Seavey (Sutter, Calif.) won not only his first Kokomo feature, but also earned his first career USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car victory to boot on the second night of Smackdown in 2019. The 2019 USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget champion took 5th on the final night of Smackdown a night later for his best result in the event in two starts.
Robert Ballou (Rocklin, Calif.) captured the 2015 Smackdown opener during his USAC National Sprint Car championship season. His best Smackdown final night finish came in 2014 when he collected a 2nd. In his most recent start in the event, in 2017, he finished 3rd.
Recently crowned Indiana Sprint Week champion Chase Stockon (Fort Branch, Ind.) won the second night prelim of Smackdown in 2015. He was the runner-up on the final night of Smackdown that same weekend in 2015 and was 3rd in 2013.
Tyler Thomas (Collinsville, Okla.) won what remains his lone career USAC National Sprint Car victory in 2018 at Kokomo during a Smackdown prelim. He came narrowly close to winning the final night in 2017 where he finished 2nd and was also 8th in the 2018 finale.
Kyle Cummins (Princeton, Ind.) earned his first career USAC National Sprint Car feature triumph at Kokomo in 2016 during Indiana Sprint Week. The 2019 HARF Driver of the Year was the runner-up finisher on the final night of Smackdown in 2019. He was also 3rd in 2015 and 5th in 2016.
Brady Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.) has been all around the top-five in his Smackdown career, finishing inside the top-five three times on the final night of the event in his career. He earned a best of 4th in 2014 and a pair of 5ths in both 2012 and 2018. However, the two-time USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car champ in 2014 and 2016 has won three career USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget events at Kokomo, including the first of his career as a 16-year-old all the way back in 2006.
Joining in the fray are a slew of Smackdown veterans eying their first Kokomo USAC National Sprint Car wins, including Shane Cottle (Kansas, Ill.), the four-time track champ in 2004-05-07-11, who has won with the series this year at Putnamville, Ind. and possesses Smackdown final night finishes of 2nd in 2013 and 7th place results in both 2012 and 2014.
Dustin Smith (Russiaville, Ind.) too is a past Kokomo track champion in 2002. The longtime sprint car veteran of a quarter century made his very first career Smackdown final night start just one year ago in 2019, finishing 16th.
Eight-time AMSOIL USAC CRA Sprint Car champion Damion Gardner (Concord, Calif.), the 83-time USAC CRA winner and 16-time USAC National Sprint Car victor, will take the wheel of the Baldwin Brothers Racing No. 5 for his first Smackdown appearance since 2012, where he finished 14th.
Carson Short, a runner-up finisher at Kokomo during Indiana Sprint Week in 2016, has made two final night Smackdown starts in 2018 (16th) and 2019 (18th). His Daigh-Phillips Motorsports team is the winningest owner in Smackdown history with five total victories, including the final night in 2013-14-15, all with driver Dave Darland.
Meanwhile, Colten Cottle (Kansas, Ill.), Shane’s nephew, who finished 20th in 2016, is among the five entries aiming for a second Smackdown final night start along with Loomis, California’s Max Adams (14th in 2019), Woodbury, Minnesota’s Brian VanMeveren (21st in 2018), Muncie, Indiana’s Cole Ketcham (22nd in 2019) and Greenwood, Missouri’s Clinton Boyles (18th in 2018), a 4th place finisher at Kokomo this past June during Indiana Midget Week.
Among the drivers hoping to crack the Smackdown finale A-Main for a first time this year are top USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget Rookie Buddy Kofoid (Penngrove, Calif.), who is teaming up with Seavey as a teammate in the Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports stable. Kofoid scored a wing sprint car championship in 2019 at Ohio’s Fremont Speedway but this weekend will mark his USAC Sprint debut.
While Kofoid sits third in the USAC National Midget standings, Cole Bodine (Rossville, Ind.) is 8th. While he has been running frequently on the local level in a sprint car, this weekend will mark his first USAC Sprint appearances. The 2019 USAC National Sprint Car Rookie of the Year, Dustin Clark (Washington, Ind.) eyes a first Smackdown start while Brandon Mattox (Terre Haute, Ind.), who sits 10th in USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car points, is another first-time Smackdown final night A-Main hopeful.
Three-time USAC Midwest Thunder SpeeD2 Midget champion (2017-18-19) Aaron Leffel of Springfield, Ohio is fairly new to the sprint car scene and is another Smackdown Rookie hopeful as is fellow Ohioan Matt Westfall (Pleasant Hill, Ohio), a one-time USAC National Sprint Car feature winner who won the BOSS portion of 2019 Smackdown.
Several of USAC’s finest western contingent are making their Smackdown debuts, including 2017 West Coast Sprint champ Jake Swanson (Anaheim, Calif.), 2018 Southwest Sprint titlist Charles Davis Jr. (Buckeye, Ariz.), 2017 USAC National Sprint Car Rookie of the Year Stevie Sussex (Tempe, Ariz.), 2019 USAC CRA Sprint Car points runner-up, Austin Williams (Yorba Linda, Calif.) as well as 2019 USAC CRA and Southwest Sprint Car Rookie of the Year, Eddie Tafoya Jr. (Chino Hills, Calif.).
Several of the names from the “Rookie” crop trying to reach the Smackdown final night A-Main this year for the first time as well are Kyle Shipley (Sun City, AZ), Anthony D’Alessio (Apollo Beach, Fla.), Brandon Long (Wichita Falls, Texas), Kurt Gross (Washington, Ind.), Tye Mihocko (Phoenix, Ariz.), Chris Phillips (Plainfield, Ind.), Cody Gardner (Milford, Ohio), Zack Pretorius (Yorktown, Ind.), Chase Jones (Greenwood, Ind.), Anthony Nicholson (Millington, Tenn.), Sterling Cling (Tempe, Ariz.), Matt Goodnight (Winchester, Ind.), David Hair (Indianapolis, Ind.), Brayden Fox (Avon, Ind.), Jadon Rogers (Worthington, Ind.), Robert Bell (Colfax, Iowa), Max Guilford (Auckland, N.Z.), Jack James (Harlan, Ind.) and Scott Evans (Rhome, Texas).
For all three nights of Smackdown IX, front and pit gates open at 3pm ET, drivers meeting at 6pm and cars on track at 6:30pm. BOSS Sprint Cars join the event card for the Saturday night program.
Adult general admission tickets are $25, children age 12 and under free in general admission seats only. Pit passes are $35. 3-day advance reserved tickets are $85 and can be purchased at the ticket window on race night. Spectator tickets available at the gate. Pit passes available at www.usactickets.com.
You can watch all three nights of Smackdown IX LIVE on FloRacing at https://bit.ly/2Zs7zFP.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Justin Grant-1,079, 2-Chase Stockon-1,002, 3-Chris Windom-996, 4-Brady Bacon-980, 5-C.J. Leary-965, 6-Carson Short-871, 7-Kevin Thomas Jr.-817, 8-Dave Darland-717, 9-Logan Seavey-655, 10-Brandon Mattox-642.
ALL-TIME SPRINT CAR SMACKDOWN WINNERS: (PRELIM NIGHTS INCLUDED)
2012: Bryan Clauson (8/23 & 8/25) & Chris Windom (8/24)
2013: Bryan Clauson (8/22) & Dave Darland (8/23 & 8/24)
2014: Jon Stanbrough (8/22) & Dave Darland (8/23 & 8/24)
2015: Robert Ballou (8/27), Chase Stockon (8/28) & Dave Darland (8/29)
2016: Kevin Thomas, Jr. (8/25 & 8/27) & C.J. Leary (8/26)
2017: C.J. Leary (8/24) & Tyler Courtney (8/25 & 8/26)
2018: Tyler Courtney (8/23), Tyler Thomas (8/24) & Justin Grant (9/27)
2019: Thomas Meseraull (8/22), Logan Seavey (8/23) & Tyler Courtney (8/24)