Knoxville, Iowa — Following qualifying, Brady Bacon and the Dynamics, Inc. team certainly had their work cut out for them. On the second of two qualifying laps, the engine began to sound sour. Immediately after pulling into the infield pit area, the team immediately went to work to swap out the engine for a new bullet under the hood.
Under time constraints, the team prevailed. Under duress for much of the caution-free 25-lap main event, the team once again prevailed, firing on all cylinders figuratively and literally to capture the victory on night one of the inaugural Brandt Professional Agriculture “Corn Belt Nationals” Friday night at Knoxville Raceway.
The 26th career USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car win for the Broken Arrow, Oklahoma native moved the two-time series champion into a three-way tie for 16th on the all-time list alongside Tony Elliott and Dave Steele.
Additionally, he became the first two-time winner in the 11 USAC National Sprint Car events held at Knoxville, his first at the half-mile dirt oval since 2011. He also became the first driver to win three series races this year following an April victory at Bloomington (Ind.) Speedway and in June at Pennsylvania’s Grandview Speedway.
In his heat race, Bacon drove from 5th to 1st in the relative blink of an eye, displaying that the setback was only momentary, and that they were back in play as contenders where the No. 69 lined up 6th for the 25-lap feature.
In the early laps, the show was the side-by-side battle between pole sitter Chris Windom and third-starting Kevin Thomas, Jr. Windom slid up to the top line in front of outside front row starter Matt Westfall to lead the field into turn one as Thomas surged on the bottom.
The two maintained the high/low show on the 2nd lap as Windom lunged ahead by a bumper at the line to take the lead and would retain a nose-length lead over Thomas on the ensuing two laps as well. On the 5th lap, Thomas reversed the roles and found enough of a run off the bottom of four to take his turn at the front.
Just as Thomas found himself up front, Bacon made the Thomas/Windom tussle a three-way battle as he became the hot knife slicing right through the middle in turns three and four. First, sliding up in front of Windom off of four and putting the chase on Thomas. The middle was something Bacon anticipated coming in with extensive experience at Knoxville in the seat of USAC Sprint Cars, Midgets and wing sprint cars.
“I think just having a lot of laps around here, more than the competition, has helped a little bit there to know that that middle could come in,” Bacon explained. “I was having to run a little bit different line, but luckily, I was able to catch the marbles in the middle and get the speed to pass a couple guys.”
The top-three order was a juggling act the following lap with Windom rushing from 3rd to 1st utilizing the high line in three and four to zip by both Bacon and Thomas before cutting down to the now-preferred bottom in turn one.
On the 12th lap, Windom slipped off the bottom in turn one just enough to allow Bacon to capitalize, cutting under Windom between turns one and two to take over the lead. On the following lap, Bacon did the same as Windom, just narrowly missing the traction in turn one to allow Windom to once again lead.
Some say running the bottom is like having a job, but Bacon is certainly an expert at his craft. The bottom can be a test that can be unforgiving, but Bacon was determined to stick with it until it paid its dividends despite the slight hiccups.
“It’s really hard to run the bottom here and I’m usually really good at it,” Bacon said. “The cushion gets so big and it’s flat up there. These cars don’t really like that too much. It is really testing to run the bottom and slow down that much. I missed it a couple of times and Windom almost got back by me. Fortunately, I had a car good enough to make up for my mistakes and be able to get a little grip in the middle.”
Windom went back to the top in turns three and four on lap 14, but this time, it was the top that wreaked a little havoc as he bobbled a tad atop the cushion. Bacon shot by underneath for the sixth lead change of the race and created a little separation between he and Windom with lapped traffic on the horizon and ten laps to go.
With five laps remaining, Bacon was amidst the throes of 5pm interstate traffic. He took the occasion to split the lapped cars of Carson Short and Mario Clouser entering turn three to get some distance on Windom. But that was just as short-lived as Bacon became pinned behind the lapped car of Josh Hodges exiting turn two. Bacon ventured to the outside of Hodges just as Windom was on the path up top midway down the back straightaway. Bacon and Windom swapped lines with Windom diving low into three and Bacon remained topside holding on to the advantage.
With two laps to go, Bacon cleared Hodges, yet Windom remained in his shadow down the stretch, only trailing Bacon by a half-car-length off turn four with the white flag in sight. Bacon was undeterred on the final lap as he found his way to another victory by 0.621 margin over Windom, Thomas, Tyler Courtney and Justin Grant.
Of note, in the C-Main, Kory Schudy broke the 47-year-old 10-lap USAC National Sprint Car track record at Knoxville, formerly held by Billy Thrasher in 1972, with a time of 3:39.34. The night’s main event was the first 25-lap USAC National Sprint Car event at Knoxville to go caution-free, giving Bacon the new standard for the distance and his place in the record books at a time of 9:11.86.
Contingency award winners Friday night at Knoxville Raceway included C.J. Leary (Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier & Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Brady Bacon (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Wesley Smith (AutoMeter Third Heat Winner), Tyler Courtney (Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner), Jason McDougal (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger), Don Droud, Jr. (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher) and Matt Westfall (Roger & Barb Tapy 13th Fastest Qualifier).
FEATURE: (25 laps, starting position in parentheses) 1. Brady Bacon (6), 2. Chris Windom (1), 3. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (3), 4. Tyler Courtney (10), 5. Justin Grant (7), 6. Ryan Bernal (9), 7. Chase Stockon (5), 8. Jason McDougal (20), 9. C.J. Leary (8), 10. Matt Westfall (2), 11. Wyatt Burks (12), 12. Wesley Smith (11), 13. Don Droud, Jr. (13), 14. Korey Weyant (21), 15. Nick Bilbee (16), 16. Timmy Buckwalter (4), 17. Josh Hodges (22), 18. Mario Clouser (23), 19. Carson Short (19), 20. Dave Darland (15), 21. Anthony Nicholson (18), 22. Riley Kreisel (24), 23. Chad Boespflug (14), 24. Landon Simon (17). 9:11.86 (New Track Record)
-USAC Racing Press Release
-Photo credit: Rich Forman