By Richie Murray
Kokomo, Indiana (August 22, 2023)………
Since Smackdown’s inaugural edition in 2012, those traits have been ingrained in the event, and this year is no exception with record payouts, numerous bonuses and a talented field hovering around 50 USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship drivers and cars that are set for the battle of all battles for three consecutive nights on the quarter-mile dirt oval.
Smackdown is a bucket list item for fans to attend. It’s a bucket list item for drivers and teams to win. The ever-brewing excitement is palpable, and the storylines are in abundance. Let’s hit with you six of the biggest storylines for the 12th installment of Sprint Car Smackdown 2023 right now.
IT’S A NEW RECORD PAYOUT
The prestige of winning Sprint Car Smackdown alone is worth its weight in gold. However, this year’s $30,000 prize provides an extra financial incentive that has both drivers and teams as eager as ever before.
This Saturday’s finale is not only the richest Smackdown on record, it’s the richest sprint car race ever held in the state of Indiana. A pair of $6,000-to-win preliminaries set the stage on Thursday and Friday night followed by the $30 Grand finale on Saturday night.
Additionally, as part of the Super Smackdown draw, a driver will earn $500 for every lap led during Saturday night’s 40-lap feature. That leaves the possibility of a driver walking out of Kokomo this weekend with $50,000 in total prizes when all is said and done.
Just three years ago, the final night of Smackdown paid $10,000-to-win. By 2021, it hit $15,000. In 2022, the $15,000 winner’s share was boosted even further by an extra $20,000 in lap money, which Kyle Cummins collected all for himself.
Additionally, Smackdown XII Saturday night this year will pay $1,500 to start, which is the largest payout for start money on the USAC National Sprint Car calendar during the 2023 season.
CUMMINS – A TRUE MEANING OF THE WORD “SMACKDOWN”
Throughout the first decade of Sprint Car Smackdown between 2012-2021, the term “Smackdown” served as a noun that was utilized to simply refer to the name of the annual August time event at Kokomo.
In 2022, Kyle Cummins fully demonstrated “Smackdown” as a verb, crushing the field in a 40-lap romp. Starting from the outside of the front row, the Princeton, Ind. native punched out to a substantial lead that continuously grew throughout the duration, ultimately cruising underneath flagman Tom Hansing’s checkered more than four seconds ahead of the competition in his Rock Steady Racing owned machine.
After multiple runner-up finishes on the final night of Smackdown in 2019-20 and a pair of preliminary night victories in his career, at long last, Cummins had finally grabbed the brass ring and the victory belt as a first-time Smackdown champion.
“This is by far the biggest win of my career,” Cummins exclaimed at the time. “We finally got one of these. I didn’t know if I ever would. Now I can strike that off the list and I won’t have to endure that pressure again.”
Only two drivers have won consecutive Smackdown final night features: Dave Darland (2013-14-15) and Tyler Courtney (2019-20). Cummins takes his shot this Saturday night.
SPRINT WEEK SUCCESS = SMACKDOWN WEEKEND SUCCESS?
C.J. Leary aims to reprise what Dave Darland (2014) and Justin Grant (2021) accomplished in recent years by following up a USAC Indiana Sprint Week victory at Kokomo with a win later that same season on the final night of Smackdown.
After enduring a vicious flip during 24 hours earlier that wiped out their primary ride, Leary (Greenfield, Ind.) and BGE Dougherty Motorsports turned to a car that had been sitting on jackstands for the past three years and had never seen a racetrack, let alone even touched the ground.
With body panels adorned in the look Leary sported during the 2020 season when he drove the family-owned No. 30, Leary and his Altoz – Hornbeck Concrete – Highsmith Guns – Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts/DRC/1-Way Chevy hit the ground running to win the July 22 round of ISW this season at Kokomo.
Leary is among a group of drivers to have won a Smackdown prelim feature but have yet to break through on the final night. Leary won preliminaries in both 2016 and 2017 and finished a career best 2nd on Saturday night a year ago.
Robert Ballou (Rocklin, Calif.) captured the opening night of Smackdown in 2015. His best finish on the final night was a close second in 2014. Chase Stockon (Fort Branch, Ind.), the only driver to start all 22 prelims and all 11 final nights of Smackdown in his career, corralled a prelim victory in 2015 and raced to a runner-up result a night later in the finale.
Logan Seavey (Sutter, Calif.) made it to victory lane for the first time in his USAC National Sprint Car career during a Friday prelim in 2019. He’s been 5th twice on the last night in 2019 and 2021.
KOKOMO – THE TIME IS NOW FOR A BREAKTHROUGH
Finishing second to Leary this summer was Brady Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.) who, amazingly, has yet to win a USAC National Sprint Car race at Kokomo despite eight career second place finishes.
The four-time USAC National Sprint Car champ owns three USAC National Midget wins at Kokomo and even collected a track championship in 2020. His Dynamics, Inc. / Hoffman Auto Racing team is in the same boat, having competed in 72 straight USAC National Sprint Car events at Kokomo since 1989 without a single victory. Perhaps this is finally the weekend.
Bacon enters Smackdown with the hot hand, coming in off a USAC Indiana Sprint Week title in July and is the current USAC National Sprint Car point leader by 19 points over Emerson Axsom (Franklin, Ind.), the winner of the most recent USAC National Sprint Car event at Bloomington (Ind.) Speedway in July. Reigning USAC National Sprint Car champ and two-time Smackdown king Justin Grant (Ione, Calif.) finds himself just a tick back out of the lead, trailing Bacon by 23.
Within the top-10 of the USAC National Sprint Car standings, half are vying for a first career Kokomo USAC Sprint Car victory: Bacon, Axsom, Jake Swanson (Anaheim, Calif.), Mitchel Moles (Raisin City, Calif.) and Pursley.
BREAKDOWN ON THE SMACKDOWN ROOKIES
One of the finest Smackdown Rookie classes ever will be on hand to take in their first ever appearances in the event with a list of no less than 15 drivers at press time who possess a background of success and a pedigree that makes it a fantastically strong crop.
Among the first timers for 2023 are top USAC National Sprint Car Rookie Daison Pursley (Locust Grove, Okla.). Pursley, a past micro sprint champion under the USAC banner is one of several regional champions making their first Smackdown foray.
Briggs Danner (Allentown, Pa.) has been spectacular on the USAC East Coast Sprint Car trail, having captured the 2022 series title and is the current point leader. Wyatt Burks (Topeka, Kan.) has been the master of the USAC Midwest Wingless Racing Association Sprint Cars as a two-time champ in 2020 and 2022 and is currently leading the standings once more.
Geoff Ensign (Sebastopol, Calif.) is the reigning Bloomington (Ind.) Speedway track champ and a titlist with the USAC Western Classic Sprint Cars in 2010. Chance Crum (Snohomish, Wash.), a newcomer to the Indiana sprint car wars, won a USAC Regional Midget feature at Kokomo on Smackdown weekend in 2021.
Trey Osborne (Columbus, Ohio) has been outstanding in the sprint car ranks on the local Indiana scene this year, already picking up a win at Gas City I-69 Speedway and twice at Paragon Speedway. Osborne, who stands 6’8” and is a disciple of seven-time USAC National Midget champ Mel Kenyon, will be joined in the Rookie class by Ricky Lewis (Camarillo, Calif.) who, as an 11-time winner this year, is the winningest sprint car driver without a wing in America this season.
USAC East Coast frontrunner Joey Amantea (Mount Pocono, Pa.), a top-10 finisher with the USAC National Sprint Cars this past July at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway, debuts at Smackdown along with Rylan Gray (Greenfield, Ind.), Kobe Simpson (Bonham, Texas), Bryar Schroeter (Kokomo, Ind.), Kyle Edwards (Fountain Valley, Calif.), Troy Carey (Tullamore, NSW Australia), Tyler Miller (Kokomo, Ind.) and Devan Myers (Delphi, Ind.).
The top finishing Rookie during this year’s Smackdown Saturday program will receive a $1,000 bonus, the funds of which were driven primarily by fan donations.
FIRST OF THE TRIFECTA
Smackdown XII is also the kickoff for the inaugural USAC NOS Energy Drink Hoosier Trifecta in which USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship competitors will be racing for major prizes across three marquee events in the state of Indiana in August, September and October.
The Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Sprint Car Smackdown is up first followed by the $20,000-to-win Haubstadt Hustler at Tri-State Speedway on Saturday, September 16. Another $20,000 winner’s share is posted for the Fall Nationals at Lawrenceburg Speedway, set to go on Saturday, October 7.
Winning all three Trifecta events in 2023 would net a driver a bonus of up to $30,000. The top driver finishing all three races in second place or better will receive a $20,000 payout. The top driver finishing all three races in third place or better will receive a $10,000 payout.
At the end of the three races during the USAC NOS Energy Drink Hoosier Trifecta, a driver could earn a potential $100,000 prize when all is said and done.
A SMATTERING OF SMACKDOWN STORIES
Former winners of the final night of Sprint Car Smackdown include Bryan Clauson (2012), Dave Darland (2013-14-15), Kevin Thomas Jr. (2016), Tyler Courtney (2017-19-20), Justin Grant (2018 & 2021) and Kyle Cummins (2022).
Darland, Thomas, Grant and Cummins are among the group in this year’s field. Darland picked up his only feature win of the year thus far in July at Kokomo and is the winningest driver of all-time at Kokomo as well in USAC competition with nine wins spanning between 1993-2015.
Kevin Thomas Jr. (Cullman, Ala.) celebrated a Smackdown final night victory in 2016, the same year he captured the track championship. In all, he owns five career USAC National Sprint Car wins at Kokomo, two of which came on the second night of Smackdown in 2021-22.
Grant is among the winningest USAC Sprint drivers at Kokomo with six victories, third all-time. In the past 10 USAC National Sprint Car races held at Kokomo since 2021, Grant has won five of them, including the Smackdown opener in each of the last two seasons in 2021-22.
Cummins scored his first career USAC National Sprint Car triumph at Kokomo in 2016 and is the latest Smackdown champion. A five-time winner with USAC at Kokomo, Cummins is also the track’s defending champion.
IT’S WORTH THE PAIN TO BE KING OF THE HILL
Smackdown preliminary events on Thursday, August 24 and Friday, August 25 will be comprised of complete programs for the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship, culminating in 30-lap feature races each night. At the conclusion of Friday night’s program, the top-8 in overall Smackdown points will be locked into Saturday night’s main event.
On the third and final night, Saturday, August 26, a 40-lap feature will close out the spectacular weekend in grand fashion, which will be preceded by heat races for all drivers not locked in and will be lined up in order of each driver’s best points night.
The unique “King of the Hill” bracket-style tournament of two-car duels for locked-in drivers takes place afterward and determines the first four rows of the feature. The semi-feature will provide the final chance for drivers to lock themselves into a coveted spot for the A-Main.
Past winners of the King of the Hill include Tracy Hines (2012), Chase Stockon (2013), Brady Bacon (2014-15-20), Tyler Courtney (2016-19), Kevin Thomas Jr. (2017), Justin Grant (2018), Tanner Thorson (2021) and C.J. Leary (2022).
This weekend at Kokomo Speedway, gates open at 3pm Eastern on Thursday and at 4pm on Friday/Saturday. Hot laps begin at 6:30pm on Thursday/Friday and at 6pm on Saturday.
On Thursday/Friday, general admission tickets are $30 with kids 12 and under are free. Pit passes are $30 for members and $35 for non-members (all ages).
On Saturday, general admission tickets are $35 with kids 12 and under are free. Pit passes are $40 for members and $45 for non-members (all ages).
Reserved Seating is offered as a 3-Day Pass at $85. To purchase, call Kokomo Speedway at (779) 230-1310.
CONFIRMED 2023 SPRINT CAR SMACKDOWN XII ENTRIES:
06 Rylan Gray (R)
1H Korbyn Hayslett
2 Riley Kreisel
2B Logan Seavey
2E Shane Cottle
3R Kyle Cummins
4 Justin Grant
5 Jack Hoyer
5p Daison Pursley (R)
5s Chase Stockon
5x Max Adams
6T Trey Osborne (R)
9z Zack Pretorius
11w Wyatt Burks (R)
12 Robert Ballou
15 Carson Garrett
15x C.J. Leary
17 Geoff Ensign (R)
17GP Jadon Rogers
19AZ Mitchel Moles
21 Larry Kingseed Jr.
21AZ Jake Swanson
21K Kobe Simpson (R)
21s Bryar Schroeter (R)
26 Chance Crum (R)
28 Brandon Mattox
33m Matt Westfall
34 Sterling Cling
36D Dave Darland
39 Briggs Danner (R)
39E Kyle Edwards (R)
41 Ricky Lewis (R)
42c Brayden Clark
42 Kevin Thomas Jr.
45 Troy Carey (R)
47 Charles Davis Jr.
47BC Emerson Axsom
51T Eddie Tafoya, Jr.
57 Colten Cottle
57B Cole Bodine
67 Tyler Miller (R)
69 Brady Bacon
75 Devan Myers (R)
77s Stevie Sussex
88J Joey Amantea (R)
99 Jack James
(R) represents a Sprint Car Smackdown Rookie
ALL-TIME SPRINT CAR SMACKDOWN WINNERS:
2012: Bryan Clauson (8/23), Chris Windom (8/24) & Bryan Clauson (8/25)
2013: Bryan Clauson (8/22), Dave Darland (8/23) & Dave Darland (8/24)
2014: Jon Stanbrough (8/22), Dave Darland (8/23) & Dave Darland (8/24)
2015: Robert Ballou (8/27), Chase Stockon (8/28) & Dave Darland (8/29)
2016: Kevin Thomas Jr. (8/25), C.J. Leary (8/26) & Kevin Thomas Jr. (8/27)
2017: C.J. Leary (8/24), Tyler Courtney (8/25) & Tyler Courtney (8/26)
2018: Tyler Courtney (8/23), Tyler Thomas (8/24) & Justin Grant (9/27)
2019: Thomas Meseraull (8/22), Logan Seavey (8/23) & Tyler Courtney (8/24)
2020: Kyle Cummins (8/27), Kyle Cummins (8/28) & Tyler Courtney (8/29)
2021: Justin Grant (8/27), Kevin Thomas Jr. (8/28) & Justin Grant (8/28)
2022: Justin Grant (8/25), Kevin Thomas Jr. (8/26) & Kyle Cummins (8/27)
KOKOMO SPEEDWAY USAC NATIONAL SPRINT CAR WINS:
6-Tyler Courtney & Justin Grant
5-Kyle Cummins & Kevin Thomas Jr.
4-Bryan Clauson & C.J. Leary
3-Jack Hewitt, Thomas Meseraull, Jon Stanbrough & Chris Windom
1-Robert Ballou, Tom Bigelow, Chad Boat, Jay Drake, Russ Gamester, Levi Jones, Bud Kaeding, Kelly Kinser, Cory Kruseman, Brad Marvel, Hunter Schuerenberg, Logan Seavey, Dean Shirley, Chase Stockon, Kevin Thomas, Tyler Thomas, Rich Vogler & J.J. Yeley
KOKOMO SPEEDWAY USAC NATIONAL SPRINT CAR WINNERS:
1981: Tom Bigelow (7/22)
1982: Rich Vogler (7/21)
1983: Dean Shirley (7/20)
1984: Jack Hewitt (7/11)
1985: Jack Hewitt (8/4)
1989: Jack Hewitt (6/25)
1990: Russ Gamester (6/24)
1991: Kelly Kinser (6/23) & Tony Elliott (8/25)
1992: Tony Elliott (6/28)
1993: Dave Darland (6/27)
1995: Tony Elliott (7/5)
1996: Tony Elliott (6/30) & Brad Marvel (7/28)
1997: Kevin Thomas (6/15) & J.J. Yeley (7/20)
1998: Tony Elliott (7/19) & Tony Elliott (8/9)
1999: Cory Kruseman (7/25) & Tony Elliott (8/8)
2000: Jay Drake (7/23)
2001: Tony Elliott (7/29)
2003: Bud Kaeding (7/23)
2006: Jon Stanbrough (7/16)
2007: Jon Stanbrough (7/15)
2008: Dave Darland (7/13)
2009: Chad Boat (7/12)
2010: Bryan Clauson (4/18) & Levi Jones (7/11)
2011: Hunter Schuerenberg (7/9)
2012: Dave Darland (7/16), Bryan Clauson (8/23), Chris Windom (8/24) & Bryan Clauson (8/25)
2013: Kevin Thomas Jr. (7/13), Bryan Clauson (8/22), Dave Darland (8/23) & Dave Darland (8/24)
2014: Dave Darland (7/12), Jon Stanbrough (8/22), Dave Darland (8/23) & Dave Darland (8/24)
2015: Chris Windom (8/26), Robert Ballou (8/27), Chase Stockon (8/28) & Dave Darland (8/29)
2016: Kyle Cummins (7/9), Kevin Thomas Jr. (8/25), C.J. Leary (8/26) & Kevin Thomas Jr. (8/27)
2017: Thomas Meseraull (7/8), C.J. Leary (8/24), Tyler Courtney (8/25) & Tyler Courtney (8/26)
2018: Thomas Meseraull (7/24), Tyler Courtney (8/23), Tyler Thomas (8/24) & Justin Grant (9/27)
2019: Chris Windom (7/20), Thomas Meseraull (8/22), Logan Seavey (8/23) & Tyler Courtney (8/24)
2020: C.J. Leary (7/25), Kyle Cummins (8/27), Kyle Cummins (8/28), Tyler Courtney (8/29) & Tyler Courtney (9/26)
2021: Justin Grant (7/24), Justin Grant (8/27), Kevin Thomas Jr. (8/28) & Justin Grant (8/28)
2022: Justin Grant (7/26), Justin Grant (8/25), Kevin Thomas Jr. (8/26), Kyle Cummins (8/27) & Kyle Cummins (9/30)
2023: C.J. Leary (7/22)
TRACK RECORDS FOR USAC NATIONAL SPRINT CARS AT KOKOMO SPEEDWAY:
1 Lap – 7/26/2022 – C.J. Leary – 12.284
3 Laps – 8/27/2022 – C.J. Leary – 39.543
6 Laps – 7/23/2003 – Mike Spencer – 1:32.52
8 Laps – 7/13/2013 – Tyler Hewitt – 1:49.60
10 Laps – 8/26/2017 – Chris Windom – 2:10.23
12 Laps – 8/22/2014 – Dave Darland – 2:41.06
15 Laps – 8/27/2016 – Tyler Thomas – 3:28.93
30 Laps – 8/23/2019 – Logan Seavey – 6:48.92
SPRINT CAR SMACKDOWN KING OF THE HILL WINNERS
2012: Tracy Hines defeated Thomas Meseraull
2013: Chase Stockon defeated Dave Darland
2014: Brady Bacon defeated Dave Darland
2015: Brady Bacon defeated Chase Stockon
2016: Tyler Courtney defeated Thomas Meseraull
2017: Kevin Thomas Jr. defeated Tyler Thomas
2018: Justin Grant defeated Dave Darland
2019: Tyler Courtney defeated C.J. Leary
2020: Brady Bacon defeated C.J. Leary
2021: #4 Tanner Thorson defeated #6 Kevin Thomas Jr.
2022: #2 C.J. Leary defeated #1 Kyle Cummins
PAST SPRINT CAR SMACKDOWN ROOKIES OF THE YEAR:
2013: Brady Bacon (4th)
2014: Kyle Cummins (10th)
2015: Kody Swanson (9th in Semi)
2016: Tyler Thomas (10th)
2017: Josh Hodges (14th)
2018: Jason McDougal (4th)
2019: Max Adams (14th)
2020: Buddy Kofoid (5th)
2021: Tanner Thorson (2nd)
2022: Mitchel Moles (12th)