By Richie Murray
Bloomington, Indiana (April 14, 2023)……… C.J. Leary knew exactly where he needed to be throughout Friday night’s Larry Rice Classic USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship feature at Indiana’s Bloomington Speedway.
But often times, the gameplan requires certain decisive actions in order to remain on the right track and the Greenfield, Ind. native made all the right moves in all the right places to score his 20th career series victory, and second at the 1/4-mile dirt oval in southern Indiana after previously winning on the red clay during the summer of 2020.
Over the offseason, Leary made the switch over from Michael Motorsports to the BGE Dougherty Motorsports team, and within their first three points-paying race starts with the United States Auto Club, they’re already celebrating a first victory with their Altoz – Hornbeck Concrete – Highsmith Guns – Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts /DRC/1-Way Chevy.
It’s imperative to set the tone right from the start, and Leary / BGE Dougherty have done just that so far, claiming victory number one and promptly taking over as the new series point leader all in one fell swoop following Friday night’s 30-lap main.
“Everybody on this team has been a lot of fun to work with so far in 2023,” Leary exclaimed. “I’m just super pumped to get this first one which, with a new team, is always important.”
Leary was the standard bearer straight from the drop of the green flag from his outside front row starting position. Pole sitter Logan Seavey owned the upper hand by a sliver entering turn one on the opening lap when he slipped from the bottom of the surface and skated toward the middle of the track, losing the top spot to Leary in the process as Leary slithered around the outside of Seavey and into the lead.
Reigning track champion Geoff Ensign, running ninth, stopped on the back straightaway to bring out the evening’s first yellow on lap three, and on the ensuing restart, third starting Jake Swanson darted under Seavey in turn two to take over second. Instantly, Swanson was able to break away quickly and immediately began chasing down Leary who held a commanding 1.3 second race lead at the moment.
Leary began to work traffic on lap 10, which allowed Swanson to hack his way to within seven-tenths of a second from Leary’s back bumper. Leary voluntarily removed himself from the low line in order to navigate without impedance from a tail end lead lap car, drifting ever higher on the course in order to stave off the challenges levied by the rapidly closing Swanson.
Swanson found himself separated by mere inches from Leary with eight laps remaining, but just as soon as he cranked up the thermostat, Leary demonstrated his modus operandi, stepping out a line wider to charge around the lapped car of Sterling Cling, then immediately slotted back down to the bottom in turn one, creating a one-car buffer between himself and Swanson which provided Leary the freedom to break the game wide open once and for all.
“I knew the bottom was probably going to be the place to be, but I knew that if I got too complacent around the bottom and just followed the lappers, I would probably get overhauled on the top,” Leary realized. “I stayed down there as long as I could; I moved up, I moved back down, and I moved back up. I just felt that, if I could clear the lapper then get back to the bottom and get a couple good laps in, then I’d be okay.”
Suddenly, the complexion seemingly changed in an instant with four laps remaining after fourth running Brady Bacon’s right rear tire came apart, sending the four-time USAC Sprint champ bouncing to a stop atop the turn four cushion, and ultimately sending him to an uncharacteristic 18th place result, which dropped him from the top of the standings down to fourth.
Subsequently, Leary’s imposing 1.8 second lead was erased, allowing Swanson and the remainder of the field to bunch up right behind him. However, he embraced the situation in this case although it wouldn’t normally be ideal. But this time was different.
“Honestly, I normally don’t like to see yellows at the end of a race, but I felt like on an open track, it was going to be hard to beat us,” Leary explained.
Correct, he was. Without obstruction and without objection, Leary ran four perfect laps to finish off a stupendous performance, winning by a final margin of 1.477 seconds over Swanson, Seavey, Justin Grant and Emerson Axsom.
For Jake Swanson (Anaheim, Calif.), a runner-up finish was a much needed reset after 13th and 12th place runs to start the points season with the USAC National Sprint Cars down in Florida. Swanson challenged Leary, then he scraped, he clawed, and he delivered his finest performance of the season yet, taking second in his Team AZ Racing/Apache Transport – Stratis Construction – USW Cat Construction/DRC/1-Way Chevy.
“I was intending on going to the top, but the curb was pretty big,” Swanson revealed. “I tried it a couple times, biked on it a couple times and it’s really easy to get thrown off the racetrack if you get to it too soon. My initial plan on the restart was to just cheat it a little bit and catch it just beyond that real tall area, but it didn’t work out that way. I knew the top wasn’t going to make me any time, it was only going to lose me a spot. So I figured I’d make the split-second decision to play defense because I knew we had three to go. I hate that; I don’t want to play defense. I want to attack for wins and I think my restart was the reason that it cost me there. I just need make sure that he doesn’t trick me.”
A rough opening lap pushed Logan Seavey (Sutter, Calif.) back from first to second to, ultimately, third on Friday night in his 2B Racing/Honest Abe Roofing – Benic Enterprises – Goodnight Racing/DRC/Claxton Chevy. Nonetheless, it was still the best performance of the season thus far for Seavey and crew as he scored a third after notching an eighth and a tenth in his first two USAC performances of this season.
“I thought we hit it right by getting the pole, but I just went down into turn one, hit some grease down there and pushed,” Seavey explained. “After that, it was going to be really hard to get back by C.J. They were good and the track was really tough to maneuver around other cars with the outcome of the rain and whatnot. Obviously, you’d like to win when you start on the pole. I thought we were in a great spot, but I didn’t do a great job there on my part, and that got us into trouble.
To start the night, Kevin Thomas Jr. moved into eighth all-time on the USAC National Sprint Car fast qualifying time list. The 36th fast time of his career passed Rich Vogler and moved him into a tie with Bryan Clauson on the list.
That came following a 45-minute delay for rain which doused the surface with moisture just before the completion of hot laps. When the rain ceased, teams returned to the track for another round of hot laps.
The event marked the start of Bloomington Speedway’s 100th anniversary season after the venue opened its doors to auto racing back in 1923. It was also the 30th anniversary of the inaugural running of the Larry Rice Classic, which was first run in 1993. Rice was a three-time USAC National driving champion with the midgets (1973) and Silver Crown (1977 & 1981) division, and was the color analyst for ESPN’s Thunder series during the 1990s and 2000s.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: April 14, 2023 – Bloomington Speedway – Bloomington, Indiana – 1/4-Mile Dirt Track – Larry Rice Classic
QUALIFYING: 1. Kevin Thomas Jr., 17GP, Dutcher-11.263; 2. Mitchel Moles, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-11.278; 3. Chase Stockon, 5s, KO-11.280; 4. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-11.290; 5. Jake Swanson, 21AZ, Team AZ-11.340; 6. C.J. Leary, 15x, BGE Dougherty-11.348; 7. Emerson Axsom, 47BC, Clauson Marshall-11.365; 8. Dalton Stevens, 99x, Stevens-11.414; 9. Logan Seavey, 2B, 2B Racing-11.422; 10. Daison Pursley, 5p, KO-11.451; 11. Geoff Ensign, 17, On The Gass-11.479; 12. Kyle Cummins, 3R, Rock Steady-11.490; 13. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-11.516; 14. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-11.526; 15. Brent Beauchamp, 11, Beauchamp-11.576; 16. Brady Short, 61m, Edwards-11.591; 17. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-11.615; 18. Tim Creech, 31c, Creech-11.626; 19. Alec Sipes, 99, Sipes-11.670; 20. Sterling Cling, 34, Cling-11.684; 21. Jordan Kinser, 04, Burton-11.712; 22. Koby Barksdale, 16K, Knight-11.764; 23. Ricky Lewis, 41, Brown-11.768; 24. Damon Fortune, 39, Hoosier Speed/Fortune-11.802; 25. Harley Burns, 16, Burns-11.839; 26. Tayte Williamson, 20, Williamson-11.929; 27. Kevin Newton, 16TH, Benic-11.944; 28. Hunter Maddox, 24m, Maddox-11.994; 29. Gabriel Gilbert, 10G, GGR-12.113; 30. Carson Garrett, 15, BGE Dougherty-12.186; 31. Braxton Cummings, 71B, Cummings-12.309; 32. Jadon Rogers, 5, Baldwin/Fox-NT; 33. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-NT; 34. Andy Bradley, 86, Hoosier Speed/Fortune-NT.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Robert Ballou, 2. Jake Swanson, 3. Jordan Kinser, 4. Logan Seavey, 5. Matt Westfall, 6. Harley Burns, 7. Carson Garrett, 8. Kevin Thomas Jr., 9. Hunter Maddox. NT
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Justin Grant, 2. C.J. Leary, 3. Daison Pursley, 4. Mitchel Moles, 5. Braxton Cummings, 6. Tayte Williamson, 7. Tim Creech, 8. Koby Barksdale. NT
ROD END SUPPLY THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Geoff Ensign, 2. Chase Stockon, 3. Jadon Rogers, 4. Brent Beauchamp, 5. Alec Sipes, 6. Emerson Axsom, 7. Kevin Newton, 8. Ricky Lewis. NT
T.J. FORGED FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Brady Bacon, 2. Sterling Cling, 3. Kyle Cummins, 4. Brady Short, 5. Dalton Stevens, 6. Brandon Mattox, 7. Damon Fortune, 8. Gabriel Gilbert. NT
ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Kevin Thomas Jr., 2. Matt Westfall, 3. Dalton Stevens, 4. Emerson Axsom, 5. Tim Creech, 6. Harley Burns, 7. Carson Garrett, 8. Tayte Williamson, 9. Hunter Maddox, 10. Braxton Cummings, 11. Brandon Mattox, 12. Alec Sipes, 13. Koby Barksdale, 14. Kevin Newton, 15. Damon Fortune. NT
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. C.J. Leary (2), 2. Jake Swanson (3), 3. Logan Seavey (1), 4. Justin Grant (9), 5. Emerson Axsom (11), 6. Kevin Thomas Jr. (10), 7. Chase Stockon (5), 8. Robert Ballou (8), 9. Mitchel Moles (6), 10. Matt Westfall (17), 11. Daison Pursley (13), 12. Jordan Kinser (20), 13. Brent Beauchamp (15), 14. Jadon Rogers (22), 15. Geoff Ensign (7), 16. Sterling Cling (19), 17. Carson Garrett (23-P), 18. Brady Bacon (4), 19. Harley Burns (21), 20. Kyle Cummins (14), 21. Dalton Stevens (12), 22. Brady Short (16), 23. Tim Creech (18). NT
(P) represents a provisional starter.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-30 C.J. Leary.
**Brandon Mattox flipped during practice. Jadon Rogers flipped during qualifying.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-C.J. Leary-230, 2-Justin Grant-219, 3-Emerson Axsom-205, 4-Brady Bacon-200, 5-Chase Stockon-189, 6-Logan Seavey-182, 7-Kyle Cummins-178, 8-Jake Swanson-174, 9-Matt Westfall-172, 10-Kevin Thomas Jr.-167.
OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Robert Ballou-12, 2-Kevin Thomas Jr.-11, 3-Emerson Axsom-8, 4-Jake Swanson-8, 5-Matt Westfall-8, 6-Jadon Rogers-8, 7-Justin Grant-7, 8-Chase Stockon-7, 9-Kyle Cummins-6, 10-Carson Garrett-6.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: April 15, 2023 – Tri-State Speedway – Haubstadt, Indiana – 1/4-Mile Dirt Track – Spring Showdown
CONTINGENCY AWARD WINNERS:
Dirt Draft Hot Laps Fastest Driver: Jake Swanson (11.245)
Lawrenceburg Speedway 2nd Fastest Qualifier In Memory of Justin Owen: Mitchel Moles