Terre Haute, Indiana — The old adage ‘Good things come to those who wait’ is a noble thought. But, in motorsports, the saying can be an endeavor that can be arduous and, at times, fruitless.
C.J. Leary’s time finally arrived at the “Sumar Classic” in Terre Haute back in 2016 where he made his long-awaited debut in USAC National victory lane in his fourth year on the National tour, his second in Silver Crown. In the process, he made history by joining his father Chuck, who won the 1997 “Hoosier Hundred” at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, to become the first, and still only, father-son duo to win races in the 49-year history of the Silver Crown Series.
Since that time, Leary has blossomed into a threat in any type of racecar, recently notching his eighth career USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car victory in Ocala, Fla. and currently leads the series standings heading into this weekend’s batch of USAC action in Indiana with the Sprint Cars Friday night, April 12, at Bloomington Speedway and Saturday night, April 13, at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, and concluding with the 19th running of the “Sumar Classic” Sunday, April 14, when the big cars of the Silver Crown division take on the half-mile Terre Haute Action Track in Terre Haute.
The Greenfield, Ind. driver has also secured a top-of-the-line midget ride with FMR Racing and is third in points in his Rookie season thus far with three top-fives in four starts.
Midway through last season, Leary made the jump from the family-owned No. 30 Silver Crown car that had been a fixture on the racing scene for the last quarter century and driven by the likes of his father and Tracy Hines to much success. Though the results didn’t bear it out, Leary was tough as nails on the Illinois dirt miles in the DMW Motorsports No. 10 last summer with a pair of successful runs at Springfield and Du Quoin before mechanical and fuel troubles interfered with a shot at victory.
Leary jumped back into the No. 30 for the 2018 season finale at Eldora and rode the rim to victory in one of the most competitive races in series history, swapping the lead with Kevin Thomas, Jr. seven times officially at the start/finish line seven times during the final 17 laps before prevailing.
That was his last time on the dirt in a Silver Crown car. But now, with the DMW car and Leary teaming up for the full tour, the look will be slightly different with a new number and new colors than the familiar No. 30, but expect to see Leary at the top of his game this Sunday at Terre Haute, right where he was back in the 2016 opener.
In that one, Leary, a past Rookie of the Year with USAC in the National Sprint Cars and Silver Crown, took the lead from Justin Grant on lap 94 and reversed his fortunes from last year’s “Sumar Classic” second place finish to take the victory.
The afternoon sunshine created a challenge for each of the teams from the get-go on that Spring day three years ago. Within the first 10 laps, turn two took rubber and became a treacherous test as the drivers had little room for error between the paper-thin cushion and the Action Track’s infamous red, white and blue cement.
Leary, who started outside the front row, continuously made runs at fast qualifier and race pole sitter Grant for the lead, but was never able to pull ahead, having to settle for the second spot throughout the middle portion of the race. On lap 55, Grant tagged the wall with the right rear in turn two, briefly disrupting his rhythm and momentum, but Leary was unable to close the gap, hitting the wall in the same spot as Grant moments later, with both continuing without damage.
With less than 20 to go, Leary closed on Grant once again after Grant bounced his right rear off the turn two wall, but Leary was unable to shrink the advantage, getting pinned behind the lapped car of Neil Shepherd on the bottom, allowing Bacon to run down Leary a few laps later and clear him for the second position with just 21 laps to go.
Just when Brady Bacon appeared to be Grant’s top challenger for the lead, Leary returned the favor, beating Bacon to the bottom in the first turn to regain second. With Grant able to ward off every single challenge that was thrown at him, a lap 89 caution for the stopped car of Austin Nemire reset the field.
With just seven laps remaining, Leary used a run off the bottom of turn four to jet past Grant for the lead and pull away from the field, ultimately winning by a 0.424 second margin over Grant, Kody Swanson, Bacon, Chris Windom, Shane Cottle, Shane Cockrum, Bryan Clauson, Jerry Coons, Jr. and Dave Darland.
“I never thought my first USAC win would come in the (Silver) Crown car,” Leary said. “It kind of feels surreal. The track was rough with it taking rubber, so we had to be a little patient there. That yellow (on lap 89) helped a lot because they had been telling me that Bacon was down there (on the bottom of the track) and that it finally took rubber, so I moved all the way down on that restart and got around Justin (Grant).”
Leary has elevated himself to a status of perennial contender in all three of USAC’s national divisions this year, and a win at any three of this weekend’s events is certainly within realm. Terre Haute, in particular, could become even more special with a victory this Sunday. After all, it will always hold a special place for him – the place where he got that first one. Though it may have been the first, it certainly wasn’t the last by a long shot. And, judging from what we’ve seen through February, March and April of this year, we are possibly on the cusp of seeing something special from the 22-year-old in 2019.
Pits open at 1pm Eastern on Sunday with grandstands opening at 2pm, an open pit party from 2-3:15pm, drivers meeting at 3:30pm, practice at 4:30pm, Fatheadz Eyewear Qualifying at 5:30pm and racing at 6:30pm.
Adult general admission tickets are $25, infield tickets $15 and kids 11 and under FREE. Pit passes are $30 for USAC/UMP members and $35 for non-members.
The “Sumar Classic” can be watched LIVE on http://www.FloRacing.com/.
-USAC Racing Press Release
-Photo credit: Mickey Meyer