By Richie Murray
Brandon, South Dakota (September 11, 2021)………”Man, I love winning races.”
C.J. Leary has a knack for doing just that, and when everything comes together on both sides of the coin, that’s when reaching victory lane becomes a reality just as it did on Saturday during the second night of the Huset’s Speedway USAC Nationals in Brandon, South Dakota.
The Greenfield, Ind. native charged from sixth to first with a quick progression through the field that saw him come within inches of taking the lead on the opening lap. Finally, on lap three, Leary stuck the position, then withstood a plethora of late-race restarts to score his fourth USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship feature win of the season in his Michael Motorsports/Kodiak Products – Gray Auto – Valvoline/DRC/Cressman.
Leary’s 15th career triumph moved him into 38th all-time on the USAC National Sprint Car win list, equaling Bobby East, Cory Kruseman and Brian Tyler.
“When you get a really good racecar, it gives you a ton of confidence,” Leary explained after collecting $5,000 for his winning efforts. “Last night, I didn’t know how good our racecar was. We all started back there, and we were all kind of running the same speed. We started sixth tonight, made quick work, and got to the front. That was the key to winning the race.”
The initial start to the 30-lap feature was halted by a melee involving several cars. Initiated by fourth-starting Mario Clouser’s spin in turn two, collected into the carnage was Kevin Thomas Jr. who nosed into the left side nerf bar of the spinning Clouser. Justin Grant ramped his right rear over the front bumper of Thomas. Logan Seavey spun to the inside in a valiant effort to avoid the altercation. Glen Saville clipped Thomas and flipped over. Matt Westfall nearly did the same as Saville, but was hit in his car’s undercarriage by Alex Banales, which rotated Westfall back on all four wheels.
All drivers were unharmed in the incident, and all were able to restart, with Thomas carving all the way from near the tail of the 24-car field to finish fifth with Seavey eighth, Clouser 11th, Grant 14th, Banales 20th, Westfall 23rd and Saville 24th.
When action resumed, Leary, the 2019 USAC National Sprint Car driving champion, burst by Tanner Thorson, Jason McDougal, Ryan Bernal and Brady Bacon in quick succession, and soon found himself side-by-side with pole sitter Charles Davis Jr. at the conclusion of the opening lap, with Leary missing out on the lead by a half-car length at the stripe.
At the end of lap two, the difference between the two was about an inch with Davis just a sliver of a hair ahead of Leary. Moments later, Leary powered by Davis with a slider entering turn one to occupy his position at the head of the field while Bacon slotted into second one lap later as the first pair of positions embarked on a two-car breakaway in the early going.
Twelve laps in, the frontrunners were now hustling their way through the backend of the field with Leary splitting between the two lapped cars of Westfall and Chad Frewaldt in turn three. Bacon attempted to go underneath both lappers on the following lap in turns one and two, but lost the momentum, which Jake Swanson now possessed and utilized to rip around Bacon for the runner-up spot nearing midway.
It became a match of point/counterpoint between Leary and Swanson with each of Leary’s escape artist maneuvers being repeatedly answered without an ounce of hesitation by Swanson. Leary completed a double-slider with seven laps remaining between turns three and four with Leary and Chapple bouncing wheels off each other at the exit of turn four. Swanson retaliated by swiftly overtaking both and positioned himself to within a single car length with five laps remaining.
Following in close-quarters with Leary’s rear bumper was a hungry Swanson, a three-time runner-up finisher this season who’s yet to breakthrough with a first career USAC National Sprint Car feature win. Swanson’s hopes for that breakthrough found a roadblock when he bounced off the turn one cushion on lap 26, dropping him back and forcing him to watch as Leary began to stretch his lead out.
With the white flag unfurled, that’s when things got a tad hairy. In their joust for the fourth position, Thorson jumped to the inside of turn one in an attempt to surpass Ryan Bernal. Thorson’s front wheels climbed over the infield berm on entry and contact was made between Thorson’s right rear and Bernal’s left front, sending Bernal backwards hard into the outside wall.
Sixth-running Robert Ballou was caught up as a victim in the fracas as he plowed into Bernal, which spun him around backwards against the wall. Meseraull, in ninth, also slid to a stop to avoid contact with Bernal and Ballou, both of whom were unable to restart while Meseraull returned to finish just where he had been, in ninth.
On the restart, Leary’s prowess of the 1/3-mile rolled on without interruption toward a five-car-length advantage while the fight for second was on. Second-running Swanson, however, banged the right rear tire off the turn four cushion coming to the white flag, allowing both Thorson and Davis to glide by on the low slide while Swanson fell back to fifth momentarily, but was able to drive back past Bacon to grab the fourth spot on the final lap.
Leary finished off his duties with a 0.640 second victory over Thorson, Davis and Swanson, which made it an all-Arizona team top-four with the Grand Canyon State’s Michael Motorsports (Chino Valley), Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports (Gilbert), Davis Race Team (Buckeye) and Team AZ Racing (Phoenix) earning the top-four finishing spots.
A succession of late yellows made for an arduous journey to the checkered flag for Leary, but it resulted in reaching the promised land once again, and for the first time in South Dakota.
“Those late yellows are always tough,” Leary lamented. “You never really know where to go and whether you should protect or just keep doing what you’re doing. The racetrack took rubber at the end, and I was trying to figure out if it was faster to rail the top or come down a lane and get in the rubber. Lapped traffic was hectic too, but we hit this setup pretty good on the 77m.”
Friday night Huset’s winner Tanner Thorson (Minden, Nev.) finished second to record his third consecutive top-two feature result with the series in his Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports/AME Electrical – CSI – MVT/Spike/Stanton Chevy, which was marred by a late-race incident with Bernal and Ballou.
“First off, I want to apologize to Ryan and Ballou,” Thorson said. “I don’t think (Ryan) expected me to be down there. I caught the berm with my left front and got into him. I take full responsibility for that one. I did what I had to do there after that to get to second and (car owner) Andy (Reinbold) gave me a great car to do that.”
Charles Davis Jr. (Buckeye, Ariz.) celebrated unlike any other for a driver who just earned a third-place finish. The 53-year-old veteran performed a cage stand while simultaneously chugging a can of beer on the front straightaway following his best career USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car finish, a third in his Davis Race Team/MP Environmental – Black Magic Bead Breaker – RSS Industries/DRC/Ott Chevy.
“It was awesome,” Davis exclaimed. “We really got the car figured out there yesterday. I screwed up in qualifying so badly; the car was just so tight. I knew I had to win that heat race and that’s all there was to it. That was the only way we were going to be in the show without having to run the B-main. I had no idea it was going to start me on the front row, so everybody was happy about that.”
In Fatheadz Eyewear qualifying, Logan Seavey (Sutter, Calif.) recorded his third consecutive fast time aboard his Baldwin-Fox Racing/Fox Paving – Claxton Engines/DRC/Claxton Chevy before going on to finish eighth in the feature event.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: September 11, 2021 – Huset’s Speedway – Brandon, South Dakota – 1/3-Mile Dirt Track – Inaugural Huset’s Speedway USAC Nationals
FLIGHT ONE FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Chase Stockon, 5s, KO-12.591; 2. Chris Windom, 19, Hayward-12.617; 3. Jake Swanson, 21AZ, Team AZ-12.727; 4. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-12.780; 5. Mario Clouser, 6, EZR-12.875; 6. Cam Schafer, 97, Roach-12.958; 7. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-12.966; 8. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-13.011; 9. Alex Banales, 5x, Baldwin/Fox-13.206.
FLIGHT TWO FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Logan Seavey, 5, Baldwin/Fox-12.589; 2. Thomas Meseraull, 2, Yeley-12.695; 3. C.J. Leary, 77m, Michael-12.719; 4. Kevin Thomas Jr., 9K, KT-12.860; 5. Chad Frewaldt, 4F, Frewaldt-13.139; 6. Glen Saville, 19L, Layton-13.285; 7. Jeremy Kerzman, 3K, Kerzman-13.553; 8. Jeff Pellersels, X, Pellersels-13.728; 9. Robert Bell, 71, Bell-13.911.
FLIGHT THREE FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Tanner Thorson, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-12.688; 2. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-12.712; 3. Ryan Bernal, 17w, Wood-12.825; 4. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-12.844; 5. Jason McDougal, 5m, KO-12.848; 6. Isaac Chapple, 52, Chapple-12.998; 7. Charles Davis Jr., 47, Davis-13.075; 8. Terry Richards, 18, Richards-13.396; 9. Clinton Bruns, 7, Bruns-13.931.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, winner plus top-5 in points transfer to the feature) 1. Robert Ballou, 2. Mario Clouser, 3. Jake Swanson, 4. Chris Windom, 5. Brandon Mattox, 6. Matt Westfall, 7. Cam Schafer, 8. Alex Banales, 9. Chase Stockon. NT
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, winner plus top-5 in points transfer to the feature) 1. Thomas Meseraull, 2. Kevin Thomas Jr., 3. Logan Seavey, 4. C.J. Leary, 5. Chad Frewaldt, 6. Glen Saville, 7. Robert Bell, 8. Jeff Pellersels, 9. Jeremy Kerzman. NT
INDY METAL FINISHING / INDY RACE PARTS THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, winner plus top-5 in points transfer to the feature) 1. Charles Davis Jr., 2. Jason McDougal, 3. Isaac Chapple, 4. Brady Bacon, 5. Ryan Bernal, 6. Tanner Thorson, 7. Justin Grant, 8. Terry Richards, 9. Clinton Bruns. 2:23.90
ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS SEMI: (8 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Brandon Mattox, 2. Isaac Chapple, 3. Alex Banales, 4. Terry Richards, 5. Cam Schafer, 6. Robert Bell, 7. Clinton Bruns, 8. Jeff Pellersels. 2:00.15 (New Track Record)
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. C.J. Leary (6), 2. Tanner Thorson (7), 3. Charles Davis Jr. (1), 4. Jake Swanson (9), 5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (8), 6. Brady Bacon (2), 7. Chris Windom (10), 8. Logan Seavey (11), 9. Thomas Meseraull (12), 10. Brandon Mattox (18), 11. Mario Clouser (4), 12. Chase Stockon (24), 13. Terry Richards (21), 14. Justin Grant (13), 15. Isaac Chapple (19), 16. Ryan Bernal (3), 17. Robert Ballou (14), 18. Chad Frewaldt (16), 19. Cam Schafer (22), 20. Alex Banales (20), 21. Robert Bell (23), 22. Jason McDougal (5), 23. Matt Westfall (15), 24. Glen Saville (17). NT
**Glen Saville flipped on lap 1 of the feature.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-2 Charles Davis Jr., Laps 3-30 C.J. Leary.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Brady Bacon-2204, 2-Kevin Thomas Jr.-2157, 3-Justin Grant-2121, 4-Tanner Thorson-1958, 5-C.J. Leary-1953, 6-Chris Windom-1848, 7-Jake Swanson-1802, 8-Robert Ballou-1708, 9-Chase Stockon-1408, 10-Kyle Cummins-1163.
OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Chris Windom-147, 2-Brady Bacon-137, 3-Justin Grant-131, 4-Tanner Thorson-128, 5-Thomas Meseraull-119, 6-Logan Seavey-115, 7-Robert Ballou-114, 8-Kevin Thomas Jr.-111, 9-Kyle Cummins-84, 10-Buddy Kofoid-79.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: September 12, 2021 – Huset’s Speedway – Brandon, South Dakota – 1/3-Mile Dirt Track – Inaugural Huset’s Speedway USAC Nationals
CONTINGENCY AWARD WINNERS:
GSP Driving Performance of the Night: Charles Davis Jr.
Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier: Logan Seavey
Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner: Robert Ballou
Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner: Thomas Meseraull
Indy Metal Finishing / Indy Race Parts Third Heat Winner: Charles Davis Jr.
Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Semi Winner: Brandon Mattox
KSE Racing Products Hard Charger: Chase Stockon (24th to 12th)
Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher: Terry Richards
Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer: Clinton Bruns