By Richie Murray
Swedesboro, New Jersey (June 16, 2021)………Robert Ballou’s first career victory in the state of New Jersey during the 2015 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car season led him to an Eastern Storm title and, ultimately, a USAC National title late that year.
Wednesday night in round two of the 2021 edition of Eastern Storm, Ballou’s triumph at New Jersey’s Bridgeport Motorsports Park just so happened to propel the Rocklin, Calif. driver into the Eastern Storm point lead.
Granted, a long road ahead awaits Ballou, along with everyone else, for that matter. Three events remain on the Eastern Storm docket this week and five more months of racing is marked on the calendar before a USAC National champion is decided.
However, Ballou’s stock in mid-June is on the rise and his results have shown that through and through as the only driver in the series to achieve a top-ten finish in 13 consecutive races. His 31st career USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car feature win at Bridgeport moved him past Tyler Courtney and into sole possession of 14th place on the all-time series win list, just one behind 1973 driving champion Rollie Beale.
Ballou did it basically serving as his own crew chief, calling the shots on the decisions that are made on race night as well as bigger picture decisions at the shop, like his move to revamp his lineup of cars in the offseason after going winless for nearly three consecutive seasons. With now two USAC victories to his credit this year in his Ballou Motorsports/Suburban Subaru – Berks Western Telecom/Triple X/Ott Chevy, that move has been proven to suit him well thus far.
“We switched chassis over the winter,” Ballou explained. “I used to run them back in 2010 and thought that we should change back. We have two cars now and they’re unbelievable, and I just had to get a balance. There’s a fine line in getting it just right. I’m probably the biggest pain in the (butt) driver, but as of now, I’m the crew chief, so I can only be mad at myself, but I’ve got really good guys that keep busting their butts every night.”
After moving from 6th to 1st in his heat race earlier in the night, Ballou began his 30-lap quest in the feature from the fifth spot. With that said, Ballou didn’t spend much time middling back the third row for too long as he jumped up to third on the opening lap, then settled into fourth for much of the first third of the race while pole sitter Shane Cottle blitzed away from the field, withstanding heavy pressure delivered early on by Briggs Danner who started fourth.
By lap 11, Cottle had opened his lead up to one second-plus while Danner attempted to fend off an on-the-move Ballou to no avail. Ballou ducked under Danner in turn three on the 11th lap and drag raced the USAC East Coast Sprint Car star wheel-to-wheel down the front straightaway. Danner had Ballou by a half-car-length at the start/finish line, but the writing was on the wall as Ballou tore by Danner with a slide job into turn one to overtake the runner-up position just as he and his car began to get into a rhythmic groove.
“When I have a full load of fuel in my racecar, the car gets kind of lazy,” Ballou explained. “It takes four or five laps for the thing to come to life and burn off a couple gallons of fuel, and kind of get back up on the arms.”
At that point, it seemed as if it would take a little time, or a bit of fortuitousness, for Ballou to track down and cut into Cottle’s lead. However, Ballou figuratively grabbed a shovel and feverishly went digging. On each ensuing trip around the 4/10-mile, Ballou carved a quarter-second chunk away from Cottle as the pair headed to face-off with the tail end of the field.
Ballou tailed Cottle for the following five laps, unable to strike a blow due to either not being close enough to make a move or, rather, encountering traffic that was occupying the low line, which prevented a slider attempt. However, on the 17th lap, the oceans parted on the back straightaway and Ballou stepped his way through by virtue of a massive run off turn two, then bolted onto the bottom line of turn three to assume the number one spot.
Down the stretch, Ballou encountered his fair share of obstacles in the depths of traffic, yet still ably gapped Cottle to the tune of 1.852 seconds at race’s end as he closed out his fifth career Eastern Storm feature win, second most all-time behind the six shared by Bryan Clauson, Levi Jones and Chris Windom.
A literal last-minute deal was put together for Shane Cottle (Kansas, Ill.) to compete during Eastern Storm in one of the more familiar local cars that competes annually on USAC’s tour of the east, the Tim Hogue/Boulevard Truck Repair – Bout the Hops Brewing – VP Racing Fuels/DRC/Ott Chevy. Cottle rewarded the New Jersey based team with a race-high 16 laps led while earning the team’s best USAC National Sprint Car finish in just his second ever start for the team.
“We’ve got a good group of guys over there and they put together a good car for me tonight,” Cottle remarked. “This was a lot of fun and it’s the first time I’ve been here; it’s a neat racetrack. The track got really technical, and it was a lot of fun.”
Chris Windom (Canton, Ill.) slotted back onto the podium with a 3rd place finish at Bridgeport aboard his Hayward Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink – B & H Contractors – AMSOIL/DRC/Claxton Mopar, coming back from an early-race near incident nine laps into the feature that dropped him a spot and forced him to play catch up throughout to retake third just six laps from the finish.
“We made a step in the right direction by running in the top-three tonight,” Windom stated. “I just couldn’t quite figure out the first 10 laps where exactly to go and lost a little ground. (In the incident) I had to lift big off two and lost some time there. We probably weren’t a winning car but could’ve run second there. Once I got up and just put it on the fence, we were pretty good.”
Ballou’s Bridgeport victory worth $6,000 was the second non-stop, caution free feature he’s won with USAC this year. In total, four of the 14 series feature races run this year have gone caution-free: Feb. 11 at Ocala; twice on May 8 at Eldora and again on Thursday.
Justin Grant recorded the 27th Fatheadz Fast Qualifying time of his USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car career at Bridgeport. That moved the Ione, Calif. driver past Jay Drake and tied him with Dave Steele and Chase Stockon for 14th all-time.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: June 16, 2021 – Bridgeport Motorsports Park – Swedesboro, New Jersey – 4/10-Mile Dirt Track – Eastern Storm
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-15.799 (New Track Record); 2. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-15.815; 3. Briggs Danner, 5G, Gallagher-15.874; 4. C.J. Leary, 77m, Michael-15.899; 5. Jake Swanson, 21AZ, Team AZ-15.999; 6. Tanner Thorson, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-16.044; 7. Chris Windom, 19, Hayward-16.058; 8. Shane Cottle, 39, Hogue-16.098; 9. Isaac Chapple, 52, Chapple-16.132; 10. Logan Seavey, 5, Baldwin/Fox-16.229; 11. Paul Nienhiser, 5N, KO-16.256; 12. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-16.286; 13. Kevin Thomas Jr., 9K, KT-16.300; 14. Charles Davis Jr., 47, Davis-16.320; 15. Chase Stockon, 5s, KO-16.321; 16. Timmy Buckwalter, 7, LNB-16.377; 17. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-16.501; 18. Nash Ely, 3BC, Franckowiak-16.503; 19. Alex Bright, 20, Hummer-16.562; 20. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-16.617; 21. Steven Drevicki, 19s, DeGre-16.649; 22. Mark Smith, 3R, Rock Steady-16.652; 23. Mark Bitner, 15, Bitner-17.074; 24. Alex Banales, 5x, Baldwin/Fox-17.444; 25. Chris Allen Jr., 3x, Wasitowski-17.522; 26. Craig Pellegrini, 27c, Pellegrini-17.777.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Timmy Buckwalter, 2. Kevin Thomas Jr., 3. Chris Windom, 4. C.J. Leary, 5. Justin Grant, 6. Logan Seavey, 7. Alex Bright, 8. Mark Smith, 9. Chris Allen Jr. 2:11.630 (New Track Record)
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Robert Ballou, 2. Shane Cottle, 3. Charles Davis Jr., 4. Brandon Mattox, 5. Mark Bitner, 6. Matt Westfall, 7. Jake Swanson, 8. Paul Nienhiser, 9. Craig Pellegrini. NT
INDY METAL FINISHING/INDY RACE PARTS THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Chase Stockon, 2. Brady Bacon, 3. Briggs Danner, 4. Nash Ely, 5. Steven Drevicki, 6. Tanner Thorson, 7. Isaac Chapple, 8. Alex Banales. NT
ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS SEMI: (12 laps, top-7 transfer to the feature) 1. Paul Nienhiser, 2. Isaac Chapple, 3. Logan Seavey, 4. Tanner Thorson, 5. Alex Bright, 6. Jake Swanson, 7. Mark Smith, 8. Matt Westfall, 9. Craig Pellegrini, 10. Alex Banales, 11. Chris Allen Jr. 3:43.172 (New Track Record)
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Robert Ballou (5), 2. Shane Cottle (1), 3. Chris Windom (2), 4. Brady Bacon (14), 5. Briggs Danner (4), 6. Justin Grant (6), 7. C.J. Leary (3), 8. Timmy Buckwalter (8), 9. Steven Drevicki (19), 10. Kevin Thomas Jr. (15), 11. Jake Swanson (9), 12. Tanner Thorson (10), 13. Logan Seavey (12), 14. Charles Davis Jr. (16), 15. Isaac Chapple (11), 16. Paul Nienhiser (13), 17. Alex Bright (22), 18. Chase Stockon (7), 19. Brandon Mattox (18), 20. Mark Bitner (21), 21. Mark Smith (20), 22. Matt Westfall (23), 23. Nash Ely (17). 8:47.620 (New Track Record)
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-16 Shane Cottle, Laps 17-30 Robert Ballou.
**Jake Swanson & Paul Nienhiser flipped during the second heat.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Brady Bacon-981, 2-Justin Grant-942, 3-Kevin Thomas Jr.-888, 4-Robert Ballou-867, 5-Chris Windom-845, 6-C.J. Leary-787, 7-Tanner Thorson-760, 8-Jake Swanson-736, 9-Chase Stockon-568, 10-Paul Nienhiser-537.
USAC EASTERN STORM POINTS: 1-Robert Ballou-149, 2-Brady Bacon-146, 3-Justin Grant-142, 4-Briggs Danner-131, 5-Chris Windom-128, 6-Kevin Thomas Jr.-122, 7-Tanner Thorson-112, 8-Shane Cottle-110, 9-Timmy Buckwalter-109, 10-C.J. Leary-96.
OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Tanner Thorson-83, 2-Thomas Meseraull-81, 3-Robert Ballou-68, 4-Kevin Thomas Jr.-62, 5-Brady Bacon-60, 6-Chris Windom-52, 7-Buddy Kofoid-41, 8-Justin Grant-41, 9-Logan Seavey-37, 10-Emerson Axsom-35.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: June 17, 2021 – Selinsgrove Speedway – Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania – 1/2-Mile Dirt Track – Eastern Storm
CONTINGENCY AWARD WINNERS:
GSP Driving Performance of the Night: Jake Swanson
Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier: Justin Grant
Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner: Timmy Buckwalter
Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner: Robert Ballou
Indy Metal Finishing / Indy Race Parts Third Heat Winner: Chase Stockon
Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Semi Winner: Paul Nienhiser
KSE Racing Products / Irvin King Hard Charger: Brady Bacon (14th to 4th)
Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher: Logan Seavey
Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer: Matt Westfall
Doug Rose Top-Finishing 360 c.i. Drivers: Mark Bitner & Craig Pellegrini