Haubstadt, Indiana.........An unprecedented accomplishment deserves an unprecedented celebration in Kevin Thomas, Jr.'s book.
Just moments after taking the checkered flag to become the first three-time winner of the "Haubstadt Hustler" at Tri-State Speedway, Thomas found himself sandwiched between a pile of racecars in turn one with heavy damage to the front end of his Dynamics, Inc./Mean Green - Jonathan Byrd/DRC/Speedway Chevy.
If it had been one lap earlier, it would've been a devastating heartbreaker for the Cullman, Alabama driver. Instead, it created a memorable celebration from the makeshift turn one junkyard as he emerged from the top of the roll cage to high-five his roommate and third-place finisher Jason McDougal who stacked his ride alongside that of Thomas.
"I've never had that happen. That was something special," Thomas exclaimed. "Immediately, I was kind of pissed off because I probably tore some crap up. But, at the end of the day, I'm the only person to win this race three times. I instantly went from a little frustrated to super pumped. When I got out, it was just a front end. We just won $10,000; we'll put another front end on it."
"Standing up in the middle of the corner on a wrecked racecar and doing a cage stand, it's not normal, but we got the job done," Thomas reflected. "Standing up on the four-wheeler with the crowd going nuts, that's something that'll definitely go down as something special in my memory, something that we'll still be talking about 10 years from now with our friends."
Thomas' voyage to get there began from the third spot behind front row starters Kent Schmidt and C.J. Leary. Schmidt sprinted to the lead on the opening lap, narrowly eclipsing Leary at the line by a foot. However, Leary took sole ownership of the lead entering turn one and would have a Master Lock on the spot for the bulk of the 40-lapper.
As Leary shined through much of the early stages, the night's most gnarly incident occurred on the 13th lap when third-running Schmidt's machine broke entering the third turn. Fourth-running and previous night's Terre Haute winner Brady Bacon was trailing just behind, but with nowhere to go, ramped over Schmidt's left rear wheel, snapped around backwards and flipped over. He was okay and, miraculously, restarted the race from the tail, ultimately finishing 14th.
Throughout the middle stages and within ten to go, Leary was in control, upping his lead to more than a second and a half while Thomas and McDougal duked it out for second. However, as can and will happen often in racing, lapped traffic came into play, at moments being a benefit to Leary and other times, ehh, not so much.
With four laps remaining, as soon as Leary's pace was stifled in traffic, it was almost as if you could hear the theme from the movie Jaws playing in the distance. As Leary drifted just a tad high off turn four, Thomas stuck his ride underneath Leary's, pulling side-by-side along each other in a drag race to the line to snare the lead, one in which he would not relinquish.
Thomas got a bit sideways between turns three and four coming to the checkered, but it was no harm, no foul, as he straightened it out, stood on the gas and finished out his fifth win of the year, followed by Leary, McDougal in his first ever visit to Tri-State, while Dave Darland and Carson Short rounded out the top-five.
"I've been in the same situation the past couple of weeks," Thomas admitted. "Leading is not necessarily the best place to be. C.J. skated up just a little bit off four and kind of got caught behind a lapped car. We were able to get up underneath him and beat him to one. As narrow as the track was, it wasn't necessarily blocking, but you could run a safe line where you don't have to run balls out and you can still make your car work and it makes it really hard to pass you. It's just one of those mind games. We were just trying to figure out the racetrack and it all played out in our favor tonight. We could do it all over again tomorrow and C.J. probably wins this race. We had a good racecar and luck on our side, finally."
Though he carried the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car point lead coming into Tri-State, Thomas' name was MIA on the winners' list for quite a while. He was certainly well aware that it had been just a few days shy of three months since his last triumph. He's had many a good run, qualified well - 14 fast times, in fact - but just wasn't able to get over the hump. Now with a win under his belt and a 21-point advantage in the standings, he's now back at the top of his game heading to next Saturday's "4-Crown Nationals" at Eldora Speedway where he knows the gameplan.
"You have to win races in order to win this deal," Thomas point blanked. "Sunshine (Tyler Courtney) is right behind and he wins every three races it seems like. If you're not winning races, eventually those third places aren't going to do the job. With the way this championship is going, the consistency is what's got us back to the lead, but if you want to secure that lead, you're going to have to win. You have to score the most points every single night and you have to run away with it. As good as they are, when you have one bad night, have one flat tire, or have one little thing go wrong, there's 30 points. You have to give yourself a cushion. You can't bank on a 10-point cushion getting you through the year because it ain't."
Contingency award winners Saturday night at Tri-State Speedway were Brady Bacon (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Stephen Schnapf (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Chris Windom (Chalk Stix Third Heat Winner), Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner), Carson Short (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger), Chet Williams (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher) and Kendall Ruble (Roger & Barb Tapy 13th Fastest Qualifier).
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: September 15, 2018 - Tri-State Speedway - Haubstadt, Indiana - "Haubstadt Hustler" (Co-Sanctioned by the Midwest Sprint Car Series)
QUALIFYING: 1. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-13.810; 2. Chris Windom, 5, Baldwin-13.829; 3. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson/Marshall/Newman-13.847; 4. Stephen Schnapf, 61m, Edwards-13.904; 5. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-13.906; 6. Chase Stockon, 32, 32 TBI-13.920; 7. Dave Darland, 36D, Goodnight/Curb-Agajanian-13.960; 8. Jason McDougal, 71p, Daigh/Phillips-13.966; 9. Chet Williams, 38, Fortune-13.979; 10. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 69, Dynamics-13.979; 11. Kent Schmidt, 5K, Schmidt-13.989; 12. C.J. Leary, 30, Leary-14.046; 13. Kendall Ruble, 17, Ruble-14.058; 14. Dakota Jackson, 3, Jackson-14.073; 15. Isaac Chapple, 52, LNR/Chapple-14.085; 16. Carson Short, 5B, Briscoe-14.112; 17. Stevie Sussex, 17GP, Dutcher-14.260; 18. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox/Nigg-14.287; 19. Critter Malone, 7, Seven-14.310; 20. Brady Bacon, 99, Bacon-14.331; 21. Donny Brackett, 4B, Brackett-14.341; 22. Kyle Cummins, 3c, EZR/Cummins-14.378; 23. Aric Gentry, 10, Gentry-14.411; 24. Tony DiMattia, 50, TDM-14.456; 25. Josh Hodges, 11H, Pottorff/Short-14.564; 26. Daron Clayton, 5o, Schmidt-14.739; 27. Collin Ambrose, 36, Ambrose-14.748; 28. Shawn Arriaga, 56, Arriaga-14.759; 29. Brian Wallace, 27, Wallace-14.817; 30. Patrick Budde, 90, Budde-14.950; 31. Chad Boespflug, 11p, Pottorff/Short-15.147; 32. Chayse Hayhurst, 20, Hayhurst-15.237; 33. James Lyerla, 11, JL-15.328; 34. Eric Perrott, 45, Perrott-16.021.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Bacon, 2. Leary, 3. Cummins, 4. Brackett, 5. Gentry, 6. DiMattia, 7. Boespflug, 8. Mattox, 9. Hayhurst. NT
COMPETITION SUSPENSION, INC. (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Schnapf, 2. Schmidt, 20 Ballou, 4. Chapple, 5. Clayton, 6. Arriaga, 7. Hodges, 8. Sussex, 9. Ambrose. 2:18.38
CHALK STIX THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Windom, 2. Darland, 3. Stockon 4. Short, 5. Williams, 6. Jackson, 7. Budde, 8. Perrott. 2:19.48
INDY RACE PARTS FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Thomas, 2. McDougal, 3. Grant, 4. Courtney, 5. Ruble, 6. Malone, 7. Wallace, 8. Lyerla. 2:16.96
SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Clayton, 2. Gentry, 3. Williams, 4. Ruble, 5. Malone, 6. DiMattia, 7. Jackson, 8. Hodges, 9. Boespflug, 10. Mattox, 11. Lyerla, 12. Budde, 13. Arriaga, 14. Hayhurst, 15. Perrott, 16. Wallace, 17. Sussex. NT
FEATURE: (40 laps - starting positions in parentheses) 1. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (3), 2. C.J. Leary (2), 3. Jason McDougal (8), 4. Dave Darland (7), 5. Carson Short (15), 6. Tyler Courtney (16), 7. Robert Ballou (10), 8. Chase Stockon (11), 9. Kyle Cummins (9), 10. Donny Brackett (13), 11. Stephen Schnapf (5), 12. Isaac Chapple (14), 13. Chet Williams (19), 14. Brady Bacon (6), 15. Critter Malone (21), 16. Kendall Ruble (20), 17. Chris Windom (4), 18. Daron Clayton (17), 19. Justin Grant (12), 20. Tony DiMattia (22), 21. Brandon Mattox (23), 22. Kent Schmidt (1), 23. Aric Gentry (18). NT
-USAC Press Release. Photo Credit: Neil Cavanah