By Richie Murray
Speedway, Indiana (June 14, 2021)………The year of 2020 was a harsh one in a myriad of manners. One such casualty was Eastern Storm, which had been an annual treat for our Eastern brethren of racers and race fans alike each June since the inception of the mini-series in 2007.
Eastern Storm was ultimately nixed, and a void was felt in its absence, and for the first time in a decade-and-a-half, the roar of USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Cars at venues in Pennsylvania and New Jersey fell silent.
The year of 2021 has already given us so much and brought USAC’s brand of 410 c.i. National Sprint Car racing without the wing to the East not once, but twice. A late-April four-race set whetted the appetite as a four-course appetizer for Eastern Storm and didn’t let us down, each event of which saw their own bit of history.
Bracy Bacon collected his fourth consecutive USAC National Sprint Car feature win at Bechtelsville, Pennsylvania’s Grandview Speedway while Tanner Thorson (Minden, Nev.) scored his first two series victories and C.J. Leary garnered the first win by a Ford engine in USAC National Sprint Car competition in a decade.
This week, the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship will tackle five dates in a six-night stretch with the USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series taking center stage for a single night.
The Sprint Cars begin 2021 Eastern Storm on Tuesday, June 15, at the 1/3-mile Grandview Speedway in Bechtelsville, Pa., the only track that has appeared on the schedule since Eastern Storm’s inaugural run in 2007.
The following night, on Wednesday, June 16, the Sprint Cars will make their debut on the recently reconfigured 4/10-mile Bridgeport Speedway in Swedesboro, N.J.
Fifty years after the USAC National Sprint Cars last visited Pennsylvania’s ½-mile Selinsgrove Speedway, the series is back on Thursday night, June 17 for the first time since Mitch Smith’s victory five decades earlier in 1971.
A night off for the Sprint Cars doesn’t mean a night off for USAC racing on Friday, June 18, when the USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series races its way to Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania’s ½-mile Williams Grove Speedway.
USAC Sprints get back to work on Saturday night, June 19, at Port Royal (Pa.) Speedway’s ½-mile. The tour closes out on Sunday night, June 20, with the USAC Sprint Car debut at the newly rejuvenated Bloomsburg Fair Raceway 3/8-mile dirt oval in Pennsylvania, where the sight and sound of auto racing of any kind has been absent for the past 40 summers.
Among those competing in this year’s Eastern Storm are the 2019 champion, Greenfield, Indiana’s C.J. Leary (Michael Motorsports #77m); Canton, Illinois’ Chris Windom (Hayward Motorsports #19) in 2017-18; Broken Arrow, Oklahoma’s Brady Bacon (Dynamics, Inc. #69) in 2014; and Rocklin, California’s Robert Ballou (Ballou Motorsports #12) in 2015. All four of those drivers’ first Eastern Storm crowns coincided with their first USAC National Sprint championship season.
Bacon will attempt to join an exclusive list of drivers who’ve won five consecutive USAC National Sprint Car features at a single track. Jim Hurtubise won five in a row at Indiana’s Terre Haute Action Track between 1960-62; Steve Chassey took five-straight at Indiana’s Winchester Speedway in 1979; and Tyler Courtney notched his fifth in a row at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway earlier this year in the month of May.
With one more feature victory this week, Windom would become the winningest Eastern Storm driver of all-time. He currently stands at six. Both Bacon and Ballou possess six wins while Cullman, Alabama’s Kevin Thomas Jr. (KT Motorsports #9K) owns two. Kansas, Illinois’ Shane Cottle (Tim Hogue #39) and Fort Branch, Indiana’s Chase Stockon (KO Motorsports #5s) have claimed a single win in their Eastern Storm career.
USAC travelers making the trip to the east, and also seeking their first Eastern Storm victories, are 2020 USAC Silver Crown champion, Ione, California’s Justin Grant (TOPP Motorsports #4); 2018 USAC National Midget titlist, Sutter, California’s Logan Seavey (Baldwin-Fox Racing #5); as well as top USAC Sprint Rookie and 2016 USAC National Midget champ, Minden, Nevada’s Tanner Thorson (Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports #19AZ).
USAC National Sprint Car winner, Pleasant Hill, Ohio’s Matt Westfall (Ray Marshall Motorsports #33m) is making the trip as is 2017 USAC West Coast Sprint Car champion, Anaheim, California’s Jake Swanson (Team AZ Racing #21AZ) and 2018 USAC Southwest Sprint Car king, Buckeye, Arizona’s Charles Davis Jr. (Davis Race Team #47).
Also going eastbound are 2021 USAC National Sprint Car Rookie of the Year contender and 2019 MOWA Sprint Car champ, Chapin, Illinois’ Paul Nienhiser (KO Motorsports #5N); 2020 USAC National Most Improved Driver, Terre Haute, Indiana’s Brandon Mattox (Mattox Racing #28); the 2015 USAC National Sprint Car Rookie of the Year from Willow Branch, Ind., Isaac Chapple (Chapple Racing #52); three-time 2021 Indiana Sprint Car winner from Ventura, Calif., Ricky Lewis (Lewis #11); and 2021 Bakersfield, Calif. AMSOIL USAC CRA Sprint Car winner, Penngrove, California’s Chase Johnson (Goodnight Racing #22), who plans to compete in the Eastern Storm events beginning at Selinsgrove and through the balance of the weekend.
THE LOCAL FLAVOR:
One of the best developments in Sprint Car racing over the past few years is the formation of the USAC Rapid Tire East Coast Sprint Car Series presented by Capitol Custom Trailers.
Since the 360 c.i. series’ debut in 2018, the group has created a groundswell of local talent that not only has provided an extremely competitive series in itself, but also a crop of drivers who can strap in a 410 engine and stand up to compete successfully when the National series arrives on its home turf.
Collegeville, Pa.’s Alex Bright (Hummer Motorsports #20) leads the USAC East Coast standings with three victories in 2021 and passed a whopping 38 cars in four races during the first USAC National Sprint Car tour of the East back in April of this year. Allentown, Pa.’s Briggs Danner (Bill Gallagher #5G) is a close second in the EC, and he was exceptional with the National series in April, earning fast time during qualifying at Grandview.
Three-time USAC East Coast Sprint Car champion, Reading, Pa.’s Steven Drevicki (DeGre Engineering #19s) set fast time for the first time with National series in April. Douglassville, Pa.’s Timmy Buckwalter (LNB Motorsports #7) is fast anywhere he goes, and he still leads the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car division in 2021 with three fast times in only five appearances, two of which came during the series openers in Ocala, Fla. in February.
Winged sprint car master Mark Smith (Sunbury, Pa.) will contest the series in the Rock Steady Racing No. 3R as will USAC East Coast Sprint Car winner Chris Allen Jr. (Monroe, N.J.) aboard the Mick Wasitowski No. 3x. Eastern Storm regular Carmen Perigo (Stoystown, Pa.) will compete in the John Stehman No. 21 while Nash Ely (Sinking Spring, Pa.) will make his initial Eastern Storm run in Gene Franckowiak’s No. 3BC. Franckowiak’s car won an Eastern Storm race back in 2013 with driver Shane Cottle.
USAC East Coast Sprint Car competitors Tom Savage (Red Lion, Pa.), Joey Amantea (Mt. Pocono, Pa.), Ed Aikin (Lincoln University, Pa.) and Craig Pellegrini (Buena, N.J.), along with others, are among those drivers expected to compete in at least part of Eastern Storm’s five-race lineup.
Bryan Clauson, Levi Jones and Chris Windom are tied for the most Eastern Storm victories with six apiece. Brady Bacon and Robert Ballou each have four victories while Cole Whitt has three. Two wins in the series belong to Tyler Courtney, Thomas Meseraull and Kevin Thomas Jr. Notching one career win apiece during Eastern Storm are Chad Boat, Chad Boespflug, Daron Clayton, Shane Cottle, Dave Darland, Bobby East, Damion Gardner, Jesse Hockett, Jason McDougal, Hunter Schuerenberg, Jon Stanbrough, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Chase Stockon.
NUMERICAL ROSTER OF EXPECTED EASTERN STORM COMPETITORS:
3BC Nash Ely/Sinking Spring, PA
3R Mark Smith/Sunbury, PA
3x Chris Allen Jr./Monroe, NJ
4 Justin Grant/Ione, CA
5 Logan Seavey/Sutter, CA
5G Briggs Danner/Allentown, PA
5N Paul Nienhiser/Chapin, IL
5s Chase Stockon/Fort Branch, IN
7 Timmy Buckwalter/Douglassville, PA
7x Ed Aikin/Lincoln University, PA
9K Kevin Thomas Jr./Cullman, AL
11 Ricky Lewis/Ventura, CA
12 Robert Ballou/Rocklin, CA
19 Chris Windom/Canton, IL
19AZ Tanner Thorson/Minden, NV
19s Steven Drevicki/Reading, PA
20 Alex Bright/Collegeville, PA
21 Carmen Perigo/Stoystown, PA
21AZ Jake Swanson/Anaheim, CA
22 Chase Johnson/Penngrove, CA
27 Craig Pellegrini/Buena, NJ
28 Brandon Mattox/Terre Haute, IN
33m Matt Westfall/Pleasant Hill, OH
38s Tom Savage/Red Lion, PA
39 Shane Cottle/Kansas, IL
47 Charles Davis Jr./Buckeye, AZ
52 Isaac Chapple/Willow Branch, IN
69 Brady Bacon/Broken Arrow, OK
77m C.J. Leary/Greenfield, IN
88J Joey Amantea/Mt. Pocono, PA
2021 EASTERN STORM SCHEDULE:
June 15: Grandview Speedway – Bechtelsville, PA (USAC Sprint)
June 16: Bridgeport Speedway – Swedesboro, NJ (USAC Sprint)
June 17: Selinsgrove Speedway – Selinsgrove, PA (USAC Sprint)
June 18: Williams Grove Speedway – Mechanicsburg, PA (USAC Silver Crown)
June 19: Port Royal Speedway – Port Royal, PA (USAC Sprint)
June 20: Bloomsburg Fair Raceway – Bloomsburg, PA (USAC Sprint)
EASTERN STORM CHAMPIONS:
2007: Levi Jones
2008: Cole Whitt
2009: Cole Whitt
2010: Levi Jones
2011: Levi Jones
2012: Bryan Clauson
2013: Bryan Clauson
2014: Brady Bacon
2015: Robert Ballou
2016: Bryan Clauson
2017: Chris Windom
2018: Chris Windom
2019: C.J. Leary
2020: Not Held
EASTERN STORM FEATURE WINS (2007-2020):
6-Bryan Clauson, Levi Jones & Chris Windom
4-Brady Bacon & Robert Ballou
2-Tyler Courtney, Thomas Meseraull & Kevin Thomas Jr.
1-Chad Boat, Chad Boespflug, Daron Clayton, Shane Cottle, Dave Darland, Bobby East, Damion Gardner, Jesse Hockett, Jason McDougal, Hunter Schuerenberg, Jon Stanbrough, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. & Chase Stockon