Mechanicsburg, PA — For Brady Bacon, it was the best of times. For Steve Buckwalter and Chris Windom, in particular, it was the worst of times.
That about sums up the Helter Skelter roller coaster ride of emotions among the top-three drivers during the final laps of Friday’s “Williams Grove 100” USAC Silver Crown race at Williams Grove Speedway.
For Bacon, the times couldn’t have gotten any better as he avoided the misfortune in front of him. On the 100th and final lap, second-running Windom got into the rear bumper of Buckwalter, sending Buckwalter spinning out of the race lead.
On the ensuing restart, Windom, the new race leader, led the field into turn one on the final lap only to see his right rear tire give out, handing the lead to Bacon who ended the drama once-and-for-all by cruising the last three-quarters of a lap to capture his first career USAC Silver Crown win.
Bacon’s score came in his 23rd series start aboard his Beast Chassis – Wilwood Disc Brakes – Hoosier Racing Tire-sponsored Beast/Ford, the second-straight win for the Klatt Enterprises No. 6 following Kyle Hamilton’s victory on the pavement at Brownsburg, Indiana’s Lucas Oil Raceway in May.
Bacon, the two-time USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car champ out of Broken Arrow, Okla., started third, but dropped to sixth on the opening circuit which, though had him a tad worrisome, became an afterthought as he preserved his equipment and steadily moved up as the race wore on, running fourth as late as nine laps remaining with Buckwalter, Kody Swanson and Windom sitting ahead of him in the pecking order.
Following the lap 90 restart, Bacon surged from fourth to third to second between laps 91 and 93 and was challenging for the lead. Just a lap earlier, Swanson had slid by Buckwalter for the lead in turn one with just a bit too much gusto, sliding up just out of the bottom groove as Buckwalter didn’t fret and drove back by underneath.
That opened up the door exiting turn two, allowing Bacon to sweep past Swanson to second as the field passed under the legendary back straightaway bridge, while Windom presented an inside challenge to Swanson entering the third turn. Windom’s right front and Swanson’s left rear tangled not once, but twice in between turns three and four, forcing Swanson wide off turn four and allowing Windom to take the third position.
Bacon challenged Buckwalter for the lead entering the outside of turn three on three consecutive laps to no avail. With five to go and Bacon unable to make the lane up from the bottom work to his liking, Windom took advantage and skirted underneath on the low line to grab second.
“It took me a lap to get going before I could start trying to squeeze on the outside of turn three,” Bacon recalled. “But Buckwalter was really smart. He races a lot here, so he was keeping himself just far out enough to where I couldn’t get a run on him, and then I slid out.”
The top-four of Buckwalter, Windom, Bacon and Swanson ran practically nose-to-tail entering the conclusion. Heading into turn one on the final lap, though, local favorite Buckwalter from Royersford, Pa., a nine-time wing sprint car and five-time ARDC Midget winner at Williams Grove, seemed poised and primed to capture his first career Silver Crown victory in his 25th series start.
That’s when the complexion of the race, and seemingly the universe, turned on its figurative head. Second-running Windom entered turn one a couple car lengths behind Buckwalter. Windom tagged Buckwalter’s rear bumper with his own front bumper, turning Buckwalter sideways and, ultimately, to a stop in the middle of turn one. Windom barely escaped to the outside behind Buckwalter’s tail tank while third-running Bacon snuck by underneath without getting caught in the melee.
Buckwalter didn’t mince words in his thoughts of what happened just three-quarters of a lap away from payday.
“I knew I had to get in low and protect the bottom,” Buckwalter explained. “I was running as hard as I had to (in order) to make that happen. I just feel bad for all the PA fans. We had them beat. I don’t know what else to say. I guess he just didn’t want to get second, but he just drove through me.”
“You don’t get that many opportunities to win one of these,” Buckwalter continued. “We only run (Silver Crown Cars) four or five times a year. It’s kind of out of my element. These guys are driving non-wing sprint cars all the time and I maybe run half a dozen midget races a year. To get out there and drive from eighth to the lead, and not touch anybody, and on the last corner to have somebody drive through your rear bumper, it’s just heartbreaking.”
From Windom’s point of view, he admitted he just plainly misjudged the entry to turn one.
“I obviously misjudged it and I feel terrible about it,” Windom admitted. “I’d been battling brake issues the last 40 laps of the race and he got in so slow and low to protect the bottom. Once the white flag came out, I got excited going down the front stretch and I got in too hard. I had my left foot through the floor trying to slow the car down. I just knew at that point that I had gotten in way too hard. I tried to turn up at the last second, but it just ended up catching him even harder with the bumper and spun him. I can’t change it now. I had a bad misjudgment there.”
That set up a green-white-checker finish. Though there was a tad fretfulness at the beginning, Bacon’s car had come to life late. Once he gained a close-up look of the leader’s tire situation, he knew there was blood in the water.
“I knew we had a better car at the end,” Bacon noted. “I was a little worried when we weren’t very good at the beginning, then I saw some tire issues come about. Buckwalter’s tire was looking pretty bad and Windom’s was looking bad. Once they had that little altercation over there, that gave us an extra lap. I knew that wasn’t good for Windom because I could see his cords.”
At that point, it was all about hanging on, although Windom still had the feeling that despite all the indicators he was feeling, he would still be able to preserve enough rubber to make it to the end.
“I knew it was low; I could feel it shaking down the straightaway,” Windom remembered. “But I thought it was going to be enough to last to the end, but it just wasn’t.”
As Windom’s tire went down, forcing him to slip up the racetrack in turn one, Bacon scooted underneath and it was in the books as Bacon drove away and got out of Dodge to claim one of the most drama-filled last laps in USAC Silver Crown history. Although confident, another yellow could’ve thrown a wrench into the deal for Bacon with tire wear weighing heavily on the mind and a hard-charging four-time champ in Swanson could have possibly resulted in a different outcome.
“Coming off turn two, maybe,” Bacon explained when he thought he had the win sewn up. “But then I’m like, there’s no telling who’s behind me. I don’t know how much I slowed down to miss (Windom), but I was pretty confident I had it. I was just hoping they didn’t throw the yellow. It feels like I should’ve won a couple of these, but glad to get my first one,” a cheerful Bacon said. “I love coming out here to PA. This is a really cool place to win a race.”
Swanson finished six-tenths of a second behind Bacon in the second spot ahead of Fatheadz Eyewear pole winner Justin Grant in third. KSE Racing Products Hard Charger Mike Haggenbottom earned a career-best fourth from the 15th starting spot while Eric Gordon rounded out the top-five.
The breakthrough win for Bacon comes following consecutive second place finishes in Silver Crown competition at The Grove for the Klatt team, with drivers Bryan Clauson (2016) and Damion Gardner (2017). It’s the first Silver Crown win for a Klatt-owned car on dirt and the first of any kind on dirt in USAC National competition since a 2011 Sprint Car win with Bobby East an hour and a half east at Grandview Speedway in Bechtelsville, Pa.
Friday’s win marked Bacon’s second career USAC-sanctioned win at Williams Grove following his ARDC Midget win in June of 2017.
Contingency award winners Friday night at Williams Grove Speedway included Justin Grant (Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier), Mike Haggenbottom (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger) and Shane Cottle (WIlwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher).
1. Brady Bacon (3), 2. Kody Swanson (6), 3. Justin Grant (1), 4. Mike Haggenbottom (15), 5. Eric Gordon (14), 6. Austin Nemire (5), 7. David Byrne (12), 8. Steve Buckwalter (8), 9. Chris Windom (2), 10. Matt Goodnight (10), 11. Chad Kemenah (11), 12. John Heydenreich (13), 13. Shane Cottle (7), 14. Dallas Hewitt (18), 15. Kyle Robbins (9), 16. Dave Berkheimer (17), 17. Tyler Courtney (4), 18. Johnny Petrozelle (16), 19. C.J. Leary (19).
-USAC Press Release
-Photo credit: Rich Forman