By Richie Murray
Gas City, Indiana (September 22, 2022)………Kevin Thomas Jr. and Logan Seavey have had their moments at Indiana’s Gas City I-69 Speedway before, chiefly recalling the last lap 2020 Indiana Sprint Week tangle which saw Seavey get the upper hand.
More than two years later, during Thursday night’s USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship event at the quarter-mile dirt oval, it was KTJ’s turn to get the best of the duel.
Thomas led the opening 20 circuits of the 30-lap feature before giving way to Seavey. Out of necessity, Thomas went where Seavey wasn’t – on the bottom – and found a second wind as he raced back into the lead and straight to victory lane for the third time in his last five series starts.
KTJ’s performance made him the first repeat winner of the James Dean Classic in his BGE Dougherty Motorsports/Altoz – Schaeffer Oil – Hornbeck Concrete/DRC/1-Way Chevy. The Cullman, Ala. native also captured the inaugural event in 2018.
Thomas’ feature score was the 39th of his USAC National Sprint Car career, moving him to within one shy of 1969 and 1971 series champion Gary Bettenhausen’s mark of 40, which stands ninth on the all-time list.
It was a major turn of the tables from Thomas’ last Gas City appearance in July during Indiana Sprint Week when he flipped during qualifying, then proceeded to miss the feature.
“I was a little gun-shy during qualifying,” Thomas acknowledged regarding his first visit since that time. “I didn’t want to go flying through the air again. That’s for sure.”
However, despite an 11th place qualifying run, Thomas’ good fortune paid dividends this time around after he transferred through his heat race while five others missed the cut, moving him to the pole for the night’s main event.
Thomas broke loose to a commanding lead throughout the opening laps of the feature and, by lap five, possessed a two second advantage over the field while outside front row starter Seavey slotted comfortably into second.
“About 10 laps in, I felt really good, especially with that little bit of water that they laid down,” Thomas noted of the brief track work prior to the feature. “I was pretty comfortable and was able to use quite a bit of throttle. But, in about two laps, it went from pretty grippy underneath it to dead slick. It took me a little bit to figure how to maneuver.”
As the track transformed itself, by halfway, the tide of fortunes began to change rapidly. Thomas’ lead was cut from two seconds to one second to a half-second all within the span of two laps when all had just seemed hunky-dory for Thomas with just a third of the race remaining.
“Getting into (turn) three when it’s a big curb like that is just weird,” Thomas explained. “I always feel like I lose the right front and I can’t ever make a good corner. Like one and two, I felt all right, but coming off two, I couldn’t ever figure out if I needed to move down or follow the cushion all the way around.”
Seavey’s surge pushed him to breeze by Thomas entering the bottom of turn three with 10 laps to go. As Seavey skated from high to low and back to higher ground, Thomas stuck to his new guns on the bottom and blazed a path right back by Seavey two laps later to secure the lead right back for himself.
It was a situation all brought about by happenstance for Thomas and, as luck would have it, it turned out it was where he needed to be all along and where he had no intentions of leaving once he found his comfort zone.
“By luck, Logan got by me, and I went down to the bottom to just to see,” Thomas pointed out. “I had really good grip there and, especially, coming down the back stretch, I felt like I could shortcut that entry into three and maybe try to make something happen there. I was searching everywhere.”
With two to go, Seavey was able to pull even momentarily in turn two alongside the bottom-feeding Thomas. Thomas slid the final car on the lead lap, driven by Max Adams, getting into turn three. As Thomas slid off the bottom and to the top, Adams stayed to the low side even keel with Thomas down the front straightaway. Instead of moving off the low line to get around Adams, Thomas stuck his car behind Adams, appearing to initially lose a scant amount of valuable ground. However, Seavey got a little too close to the edge off the top of turn two and saw his chance at a win wither away.
Thomas raced under and past Adams once more in turns three and four on the last lap and finished off a satisfying performance with a 0.720 second margin of victory over Seavey, fast qualifier Kyle Cummins, Robert Ballou (from 11th) and Justin Grant (from 14th).
For Seavey (Sutter, Calif.), who split with the Baldwin-Fox team last week and is finishing out the season for car owner Dwight Cheney, it was his best series result since winning at Port Royal (Pa.) Speedway in June. In turn, he gave the Dwight Cheney/Racing Optics – Steel-Co USA – Barnes Systems/DRC/Claxton Chevy it’s best ever run in USAC National Sprint Car competition with a runner-up finish just five days after failing to transfer to the feature at Indiana’s Tri-State Speedway.
Cummins (Princeton, Ind.) continued his personal tear by recording his eighth consecutive top-four finish with the USAC National Sprint Cars, setting quick time, winning his heat from sixth and notching a third-place result in his Rock Steady Racing/Ultimate Predator Boats – Mid-America Safety Solutions/Mach-1/Stanton Chevy.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: September 22, 2022 – Gas City I-69 Speedway – Gas City, Indiana – 1/4-Mile Dirt Track – 4th James Dean Classic
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Kyle Cummins, 3R, Rock Steady-11.585; 2. C.J. Leary, 77m, Michael-11.627; 3. Jason McDougal, 5m, KO-11.717; 4. Mitchel Moles, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-11.778; 5. Jake Swanson, 21AZ, Team AZ-11.799; 6. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-11.829; 7. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-11.873; 8. Colten Cottle, 57, Hazen-11.875; 9. Logan Seavey, 42, Cheney-11.960; 10. Emerson Axsom, 47BC, Clauson Marshall Newman-11.975; 11. Kevin Thomas Jr., 15K, BGE Dougherty-11.990; 12. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-11.999; 13. Shane Cottle, 74x, Hodges-12.002; 14. Thomas Meseraull, 2E, Epperson-12.034; 15. Max Adams, 17GP, Dutcher-12.042; 16. Anton Hernandez, 2B, 2B Racing-12.046; 17. Evan Mosley, 27, Mosley-12.052; 18. Geoff Ensign, 44, Ensign-12.056; 19. Kyle Shipley, 0G, Shipley-12.075; 20. Chase Stockon, 5s, KO-12.106; 21. Scotty Weir, 24, Simon-12.154; 22. Brent Beauchamp, 11, Beauchamp-12.154; 23. Jadon Rogers, 14, Engler-12.178; 24. Harley Burns, 16, Burns-12.217; 25. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-12.223; 26. Colin Grissom, 00, Grissom-12.265; 27. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-12.314; 28. Gabriel Gilbert, 10G, Gilbert-12.345; 29. Corey Smith, 66s, CS-12.347; 30. Ricky Lewis, 41, Stensland/Halley-12.438; 31. Alec Sipes, 99, Sipes-12.460; 32. Zack Pretorius, 9z, Pretorius-12.540; 33. Dustin Ingle, 2DI, Ingle-12.611; 34. Larry Kingseed Jr., 59, Powell-12.636; 35. Steve Irwin, 0, Flying Zero-12.698; 36. Kevin Newton, 16TH, Newton-12.739.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Kyle Cummins 2. Logan Seavey, 3. Scotty Weir, 4. Shane Cottle, 5. Jake Swanson, 6. Matt Westfall, 7. Evan Mosley, 8. Corey Smith, 9. Dustin Ingle.
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Brent Beauchamp, 2. C.J. Leary, 3. Geoff Ensign, 4. Thomas Meseraull, 5. Robert Ballou, 6. Emerson Axsom, 7. Larry Kingseed Jr., 8. Colin Grissom, 9. Ricky Lewis.
PIT STOP USA THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Kevin Thomas Jr., 2. Jadon Rogers, 3. Max Adams, 4. Brady Bacon, 5. Brandon Mattox, 6. Jason McDougal , 7. Kyle Shipley, 8. Steve Irwin, 9. Alec Sipes.
ROD END SUPPLY FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Chase Stockon, 2. Justin Grant, 3. Mitchel Moles, 4. Harley Burns, 5. Anton Hernandez, 6. Colten Cottle, 7. Gabriel Gilbert, 8. Zack Pretorius, 9. Kevin Newton.
ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Robert Ballou, 2. Jason McDougal, 3. Jake Swanson, 4. Colten Cottle, 5. Emerson Axsom, 6. Matt Westfall, 7. Brandon Mattox, 8. Anton Hernandez, 9. Ricky Lewis, 10. Evan Mosley, 11. Larry Kingseed Jr., 12. Steve Irwin, 13. Gabriel Gilbert, 14. Alec Sipes, 15. Kevin Newton, 16. Kyle Shipley, 17. Colin Grissom, 18. Dustin Ingle, 19. Zack Pretorius, 20. Corey Smith.
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1), 2. Logan Seavey (2), 3. Kyle Cummins (6), 4. Robert Ballou (11), 5. Justin Grant (14), 6. Mitchel Moles (4), 7. C.J. Leary (5), 8. Emerson Axsom (13), 9. Brent Beauchamp (8), 10. Brady Bacon (3), 11. Jake Swanson (10), 12. Thomas Meseraull (16), 13. Jason McDougal (9), 14. Geoff Ensign (18), 15. Shane Cottle (15), 16. Jadon Rogers (20), 17. Colten Cottle (12), 18. Max Adams (17), 19. Chase Stockon (7), 20. Scotty Weir (19), 21. Matt Westfall (22), 22. Harley Burns (21).
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-20 Kevin Thomas Jr., Laps 21-22 Logan Seavey, Laps 23-30 Kevin Thomas Jr.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Justin Grant-2030, 2-Brady Bacon-1950, 3-C.J. Leary-1928, 4-Robert Ballou-1903, 5-Emerson Axsom-1811, 6-Logan Seavey-1726, 7-Chase Stockon-1512, 8-Matt Westfall-1446, 9-Jadon Rogers-1413, 10-Jake Swanson-1291.
OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Justin Grant-146, 2-Thomas Meseraull-122, 3-Brady Bacon-111, 4-Robert Ballou-98, 5-Buddy Kofoid-97, 6-Kaylee Bryson-93, 7-Logan Seavey-83, 8-Kyle Cummins-76, 9-Emerson Axsom-75, 10-Matt Westfall-73.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: September 24, 2022 – Eldora Speedway – Rossburg, Ohio – 1/2-Mile Dirt Track – 40th 4-Crown Nationals Presented By NKTELCO
CONTINGENCY AWARD WINNERS:
Dirt Draft Hot Laps Fastest Driver: Anton Hernandez (11.837)
Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier: Kyle Cummins (11.585)
Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner: Kyle Cummins
Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner: Brent Beauchamp
Pit Stop USA Third Heat Winner: Kevin Thomas Jr.
Rod End Supply Fourth Heat Winner: Chase Stockon
Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Semi Winner: Robert Ballou
GSP Quality Driving Performance: Kyle Cummins
ProSource Hard Work Award: Matt Westfall
Feature Hard Charger: Justin Grant (14th to 5th)