Kansas City, Kansas………One of the statistics bandied about in the week leading up toSaturday night’s USAC return to Lakeside Speedway was the fact that the most accomplished drivers in the sport, more often than not, seem to rise to the occasion when the venerable club visits the Kansas City, Kansas oval.
Coming into the event, 13 of the 17 drivers who had won USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car features at the old Lakeside Speedway half-mile and the newer Lakeside Speedway 4/10-mile were either USAC National champions or National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductees.
One of those names absent from the list entering the Saturday night was Broken Arrow, Oklahoma’s Brady Bacon. The two-time USAC National Sprint Car champ came within a lap of stamping his initials on that list in 2016. One year later, though, redemption was on his mind as he led all 30 laps to score his first triumph at Lakeside.
On the start, Bacon jumped ahead from the pole while third-place starter, young Riley Kreisel stepped into second. Right off the bat, though, a campfire broke out underneath the hood of Bacon’s ride as a trail of smoke clouded the sky behind him. No harm, no foul, though, as it was merely a little overflow spilling out of the oil tank. Bacon glanced down at the oil pressure gage and reassured that everything was perfectly fine from his vantage point.
As Bacon stretched his lead up front, series point leader Justin Grant had pedaled his way to second past Kreisel midway down the back straightaway on lap 12 and began to race his way toward Bacon, who had just begun to enter the toils of negotiating lapped traffic.
Bacon split between the lappers down low, around the outside and anywhere he could go to escape the net Grant had begun to cast. Grant chiseled away at the lead as the gap between he and leader Bacon sunk down to the closest margin it had been all race.
Suddenly, third-running Kreisel emerged from the exit of turn four on the 18th lap with a flat right front tire, ending a superb run for the young Missouri driver who had wowed the crowd with his dazzling, rim-riding performance through the first half of the event.
While the news for Kreisel and, to an extent, Grant, was sour times, Bacon was pleased with how the circumstances played out for himself as the seas were now parted and lapped traffic would no longer play a factor in the immediate future.
“We just got caught in a bad spot a couple times with the lapped cars,” Bacon explains. “A couple laps like that and they can really reel you in pretty fast. If we had reached an open track again, I think we would have been okay and probably pulled away, but it just kind of slowed everything down briefly.”
When racing resumed with 13 laps remaining, Bacon consistently clung to the top line as Grant searched low (turns 1 and 2), high (turns 3 and 4) and anywhere in between, but was unable to make up any significant ground.
“We got to where we weren’t catching him,” Grant remembers. “I started searching the racetrack trying to find something, anything that I could make work to get back to him. Running second is good and all, but you want to win these things. We were really good before the caution. We really fought air pressure under yellows and reds after that. The tires would get so low that when coming back to green, the frame rails were in the dirt and we’d start bucking around, which allowed Brady got away from us.”
Under the red flag period, Bacon and Grant were amongst those pondering changes to be made. In the end, however, both made the decision to enter the final standoff playing the cards they had been dealt.
“I knew we were pretty well set,” a confident Bacon stated. “I knew we were going to lose a little tire pressure and didn’t want to tighten it up any because I knew the air was going to tighten us up anyway. I just tried to not make any mistakes on the last restart. I slipped a little bit off two on the first lap of the restart, but was able to keep it underneath me to get a decent run through turns three and four and get our speed back up.”
Grant was in a similar position, ultimately deciding to stand pat.
“I wanted to work on the shocks and tighten the thing up a little bit before the air pressure built up again on the restart,” Grant said. “But, I was afraid to do it with the tires being so low when we went back green. I was fighting the car as it was, but it probably would have been better off if I’d have tightened the car up with the shocks a little bit and just hung on for the first lap of the restart. I was timid about doing it. I didn’t want to turn the thing over on the restart!”
For the green-white-checkered two-lap sprint to the finish, Bacon knew what he had, but racing up front for the full duration of the event doesn’t allow a driver to see what his fellow competitors running behind him have up their respective sleeves.
“It’s definitely not ideal,” Bacon admits. “It felt like a really long race being up front. The whole time, you really don’t know what’s going on behind you and what everyone else is doing, but we were pretty good on the restarts, so I felt that as long as I didn’t stumble, or slip the tires, we’d be alright.”
Bacon held true to form, running the middle to top groove to gap Grant behind him, who was unable to make up any ground and was never close enough to set up a final move on him for the win. Bacon sealed the deal with his 19th career series win (26th all-time) just a tick under a second over Grant, Chris Windom, Chase Stockon and Tyler Courtney.
Bacon admitted that he anticipated the track getting hard and slick after his hot lap session to begin the night. But, as time wore on, the track continually got faster and faster with new one-lap and eight-lap track records being established in the preliminary events. Bacon’s car remained mostly tight from start-to-finish after attempts to free it up, but ultimately, the car was performing its best at the end.
“I was a little nervous at the beginning of the race,” Bacon admits. “We were really tight, but as it turned out, everyone else was pretty tight too. We were better at the end. I felt I had to keep my tires underneath me. You can lose a lot of speed if you start spinning them. I guess our hard gamble of being a little too tight early paid off in the end.”
Twenty-four hours after competing in a pavement 100-lap USAC Silver Crown race 736 miles away in Toledo, Ohio, Grant was behind the wheel of a completely different animal at Lakeside. As the only driver in USAC to have full-time rides in each of its three national divisions, Grant has found out just how rigorous it truly is, but the Ione, California native has found a way to adapt.
“We’ve been on the road a lot this year,” Grant acknowledges. “I’m running a lot heavier schedule than I’m used to. I’m starting to settle in and get used to it now. I’ve been leaning on some people that have run heavy schedules like this before and getting advice on what I need to be doing to keep myself sharp. Earlier in the year, I think I was starting to get a little worn down just with all the travelling and being away from home and everything, but I feel good now and I’m loving it. I think part of its adapting and part of it is just making sure that when you have a moment to rest or a moment of quiet time, you take it. That’s what I’ve been told to do, so that’s what I do and it’s been helping a lot.”
Along with Grant, Chris Windom of Canton, Illinois was the only other driver to successfully tackle the challenge of the Toledo/Lakeside double. Though admittedly a bit sore after a physically-demanding two-day stretch, Windom collected a pair of third-place finishes in two settings that were nearly polar opposites of each other.
“Those two cars are completely different animals,” Windom, Lakeside’s KSE Racing Product Hard Charger, pointed out. “Tonight was fast right up on the wall and it was a tough track to pass on. If you missed a slide job or didn’t clear a guy, you’d lose a lot of momentum. I think we were about a third-place car, which is where we ended up. I’ll take it, especially coming from ninth.”
Contingency award winners Saturday at Lakeside Speedway include Chase Stockon (ProSource Fast Qualifier), Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Simpson Race Products 1st Heat Winner), Justin Grant (Competition Suspension, Inc. 2nd Heat Winner), Robert Ballou (Chalk Stix/Indy Race Parts 3rd Heat Winner), Chris Windom (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger) and Patrick Budde (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher).
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: July 30, 2017 – Kansas City, Kansas – Lakeside Speedway
PROSOURCE QUALIFYING: 1. Chase Stockon, 32, 32 TBI-16.438 (New Track Record); 2. Justin Grant, 11, McGhee-16.597; 3. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-16.751; 4. Riley Kreisel, 90, Smith-16.809; 5. C.J. Leary, 30, Leary-16.851; 6. Brady Bacon, 63, Dooling/Hayward-16.851; 7. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 9K, KT-16.994; 8. Jarett Andretti, 18, Andretti-17.049; 9. Chris Windom, 5, Baldwin-17.161; 10. Tyler Courtney, 23c, TOPP-17.168; 11. Chad Boespflug, 69, Dynamics-17.239; 12. Josh Hodges, 74x, Hodges-17.444; 13. Ryan Kitchen, 21, Kitchen-17.654; 14. Brandon Stevenson, 0, Stevenson-17.657; 15. Rob Caho, Jr., 78, Caho-17.898; 16. Steve Thomas, 20, Thomas-18.025; 17. Patrick Budde, 90x, Budde-18.462; 18. Terry Richards, 18R, Richards-18.843; 19. Robert Bell, 71, Bell-18.866; 20. Mike Sosebee, 50LP, Sosebee-NT; 21. Chris Morgan, 81A, Goams-NT.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps) 1. K. Thomas, 2. Stockon, 3. Courtney, 4. Kreisel, 5. Kitchen, 6. S. Thomas, 7. Bell. 2:17.79
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (8 laps) 1. Grant, 2. Leary, 3. Andretti, 4. Boespflug, 5. Stevenson, 6. Budde. 2:17.84
CHALK STIX/INDY RACE PARTS THIRD HEAT: (8 laps) 1. Ballou, 2. Bacon, 3. Windom, 4. Hodges, 5. Caho, 6. Richards. 2:17.20 (New Track Record)
FEATURE: (30 laps) 1. Brady Bacon, 2. Justin Grant, 3. Chris Windom, 4. Chase Stockon, 5. Tyler Courtney, 6. C.J. Leary, 7. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 8. Josh Hodges, 9. Jarett Andretti, 10. Chad Boespflug, 11. Brandon Stevenson, 12. Robert Ballou, 13. Patrick Budde, 14. Rob Caho, Jr., 15. Terry Richards, 16. Robert Bell, 17. Steve Thomas, 18. Riley Kreisel, 19. Mike Sosebee, 20. Ryan Kitchen. NT
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-30 Bacon
KSE RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER: Chris Windom (9th to 3rd)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Patrick Budde
NEW USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Grant-1440, 2-Windom-1407, 3-Boespflug-1281, 4-K. Thomas-1259, 5-Stockon-1233, 6-Courtney-1232, 7-Leary-1082, 8-Bacon-991, 9-Dave Darland-937, 10-Thomas Meseraull-932.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: July 30 – Moberly, Missouri – Randolph County Raceway