Knoxville, Iowa – A three-and-a-half hour rain delay and an engine swap just prior to the feature couldn’t deny Brady Bacon from Brandt Corn Belt Nationals domination for the second consecutive year in the second annual event that concluded in the wee hours of early Sunday at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway.
A heavy half-hour-long storm doused the half-mile dirt oval with moisture just prior to hot laps, forcing a lengthy delay that set back the start of hot laps until about a quarter to 11pm Central time.
When things wrapped up just after 3am with a non-stop, green-to-checkered feature, the Corn Belt king had reclaimed his throne and a $20,000 winner’s share as he captured his 33rd career USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car feature victory, moving him past 1973 champ Rollie Beale for sole possession of 12th all-time.
Bacon and the crew on his Dynamics, Inc./Fatheadz Eyewear – DriveWFX.com/Triple X/Rider Chevy made the engine change before the feature as more of a preventative measure due to a persistent oil leak. With some down time between races, the decision was made, and they decided they weren’t going to take any chances risking it. After all, the “backup” engine has some clout all its own; it was the same engine Bacon used in his recent July 4 victory at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Ind.
“(The crew) said it puffed some smoke,” Bacon recalled after finishing third in the second qualifying race. “We looked under the hood and there was quite a bit of oil under there. We found out where it was leaking – a fitting that goes right into the block – and we tried to take it out and put a bunch of tape on it to try to get it to seal up. We put it back in, fired it up again and it was still leaking. We didn’t want to take any chances. There’s a lot of money on the line here, so we just put our other motor in.”
Bacon started his 30-lap race from the pole position, sliding from bottom to top between turns one and two, then settling in a groove up top as Justin Grant put began his racelong chase of Bacon. Grant took a peek to the inside of Bacon in turn three on the seventh lap, but quickly fell back into line behind Bacon on the high line.
Grant remained within earshot of Bacon throughout, and on the 11th lap, Bacon played the role of offense as he split the narrow gap between Glen Saville and Dustin Clark at the tail end of the field in turn three to gain some breathing room from Grant.
“I took it a little easy the first few laps and I saw (Justin)’s nose on the (video) screen,” Bacon recalled. “I was like, ‘alright, I better pick it up a little bit,’ and I wanted to give myself a little gap getting into lapped traffic because I knew that was going to be tricky. Thankfully, we were able to make some pretty good moves in lapped traffic and hopefully keep the gap safe.”
Yet, through the middle section of the race, Grant remained just three to four car lengths back of Bacon, and if there was any ounce of a misstep by Bacon, Grant was there to pounce. Yet opportunities were scarce with the front of the pack running lockstep on the cushion.
“Keeping the gap safe” was the name of the game, and on lap 18, Bacon once again split the alley between Wyatt Burks and another at the rear of the pack just when Grant got as close as he’d get all race, nose-to-tail off turn two and down the back straightaway.
With 10 laps to go, Grant got a tad sideways above the cushion between turns three and four where he lost a measure of ground to Bacon but would reload and resume his everlong pursuit.
However, there was no slip-up, hiccup or crack-up that was going to deter Bacon on this night as the Broken Arrow, Okla. native separated himself from Grant by a 1.6 second margin with five to go and the lapped cars of Riley Kreisel and Logan Seavey now serving as the buffer between the pair.
Bacon finished off his series-high fourth feature victory of the year by 1.212 sec. over point leader Grant, who secured his 11th consecutive top-five finish to begin the season. C.J. Leary finished third following a pass for position with five laps remaining while Chris Windom took fourth and Friday night Corn Belt winner Tyler Courtney was fifth.
“The Knoxville crew worked really hard getting the track ready for us,” Bacon commended. “Obviously, I thought the track was pretty good, but it was a little treacherous up on the cushion. I was like, ‘man, when is that white flag coming out?’ I didn’t even have time to look at the (video) board because the exits were so tricky, you’d pop a wheelie and push into the fence if you weren’t careful.”
The win was the fourth of Bacon’s career at Knoxville, the same place where he made his first career USAC starts 14 years ago in a midget during the 2006 season. Success came naturally to Bacon at Knoxville those particular nights, finishing as the runner-up on back-to-back occasions as a 16-year-old, a run of success that continues to this day.
“I’ve always loved racing here,” Bacon said. “My first ever USAC race was at Knoxville. I think I just have a lot of laps here. I think that adds to me getting around here pretty good and I can kind of read it when a lot of these guys really haven’t gotten to race here much. Last night didn’t really play a big role, but tonight, I think I was able to work through traffic a little bit better knowing what I could and couldn’t get away with.”
Meanwhile, Robert Ballou set two brand new track records for sprint cars without a wing at Knoxville. His 10-lap performance in the third heat race of 3:09.379 lowered the previous record set by Richard Griffin in a 1991 CRA event by more than 10 seconds. Ballou’s 16-lap time during the semi-feature of 5:25.068 broke the former record at Knoxville set by Eddie Leavitt in 1978 by a whopping 18 seconds.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: July 11, 2020 – Knoxville Raceway – Knoxville, Iowa – 1/2-Mile Dirt Oval – Brandt Corn Belt Nationals – Co-Sanctioned by Lucas Oil POWRi WAR Sprint Car League
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST QUALIFIER: (10 laps) 1. Dustin Clark (#75 Clark), 2. Chase Stockon (#5s KO), 3. Shane Cottle (#74x Hodges), 4. Chris Windom (#19 Hayward), 5. Tyler Courtney (#7BC Clauson/Marshall/Newman), 6. Dave Darland (#36d EZR/Curb-Agajanian), 7. Wesley Smith (#12s Helm), 8. Steve Irwin (#0s Flying Zero), 9. Terry Richards (#18 TR), 10. Josh Castro (#4T Terzich/Gile), 11. Steve Thomas (#27 Thomas), 12. Brandon Stevenson (#0 Stevenson), 13. Robert Bell (#71 Bell). 3:12.100
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND QUALIFIER: (10 laps) 1. Matt Westfall (#33m Marshall), 2. Ryan Bernal (#17GP Dutcher), 3. Brady Bacon (#69 Dynamics), 4. Carson Short (#71p Daigh/Phillips), 5. Don Droud Jr. (#1m Burch), 6. Riley Kreisel (#91 DKR), 7. Glen Saville (#19L Leyton), 8. Justin Zimmerman (#9w Williams), 9. Anthony Nicholson (#16 Nicholson), 10. Lane Stone (#ST1 Stone), 11. Clinton Bruns (#7 Bruns), 12. Jason Billups (#2 Billups). 3:12.177
AUTOMETER THIRD QUALIFIER: (10 laps) 1. Robert Ballou (#12 Ballou), 2. Tanner Thorson (#19A Reinbold/Underwood), 3. Justin Grant (#4 TOPP), 4. Wyatt Burks (#11w Burks), 5. Nick Bilbee (#17 Bilbee), 6. Brandon Mattox (#28 Mattox), 7. Jack Wagner (#77J Hockett), 8. Paul Dues (#87 Dues), 9. Braydon Cromwell (#4A Cromwell), 10. Zach Clark (#2c C & C), 11. Mitch Wissmiller (#29 RMB). 3:09.379 (New Track Record)
INDY RACE PARTS FOURTH QUALIFIER: (10 laps) 1. Kevin Thomas Jr. (#9K KT), 2. C.J. Leary (#30 Leary), 3. Dennis Gile (#13 Gile), 4. Logan Seavey (#19AZ Reinbold/Underwood), 5. Jake Swanson (#34AZ Team AZ), 6. Dustin Smith (#77 Smith), 7. Clinton Boyles (#90 Smith), 8. Samuel Wagner (#73 Wagner), 9. Neal Matuska (#48 Matuska), 10. Max Grogan (#66m Grogan). 3:12.071
ALSO AT THE TRACK: Justin Standridge (#8D Schlattweiler) & Brian VanMeveren (#24 VanMeveren)
C-MAIN: (10 laps, top-6 transfer to the semi) 1. Braydon Cromwell, 2. Brandon Stevenson, 3. Josh Castro, 4. Clinton Bruns, 5. Neal Matuska, 6. Zach Clark, 7. Steve Thomas, 8. Robert Bell, 9. Jason Billups, 10. Chuck Alexander, 11. Max Grogan. 3:25.199
INDY METAL FINISHING SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Robert Ballou, 2. Dennis Gile, 3. Shane Cottle, 4. Dave Darland, 5. Don Droud Jr., 6. Glen Saville, 7. Steve Irwin, 8. Dustin Smith, 9. Brandon Mattox, 10. Jack Wagner, 11. Justin Zimmerman, 12. Josh Castro, 13. Paul Dues, 14. Anthony Nicholson, 15. Samuel Wagner, 16. Brandon Stevenson, 17. Braydon Cromwell, 18. Clinton Bruns, 19. Zach Clark, 20. Steve Thomas, 21. Neal Matuska, 22. Terry Richards, 23. Clinton Boyles, 24. Lane Stone. 5:25.068 (New Track Record)
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Brady Bacon (1), 2. Justin Grant (2), 3. C.J. Leary (3), 4. Chris Windom (5), 5. Tyler Courtney (4), 6. Ryan Bernal (8), 7. Carson Short (6), 8. Robert Ballou (19), 9. Chase Stockon (7), 10. Jake Swanson (10), 11. Tanner Thorson (14), 12. Riley Kreisel (15), 13. Logan Seavey (13), 14. Nick Bilbee (9), 15. Wyatt Burks (11), 16. Kevin Thomas Jr. (12), 17. Don Droud Jr. (23), 18. Shane Cottle (21), 19. Matt Westfall (17), 20. Dennis Gile (20), 21. Dustin Clark (16), 22. Wesley Smith (18), 23. Glen Saville (24), 24. Dave Darland (22). 10:19.560
**Brian VanMeveren flipped during practice. Mitch Wissmiller flipped during the third heat. Lane Stone flipped during the semi.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-30 Brady Bacon.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Justin Grant-744, 2-Chris Windom-674, 3-Brady Bacon-668, 4-C.J. Leary-653, 5-Chase Stockon-645, 6-Kevin Thomas Jr.-623, 7-Carson Short-595, 8-Dave Darland-520, 9-Brandon Mattox-464, 10-Mario Clouser-373.
OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Chris Windom-60, 2-Tanner Thorson-57, 3-Logan Seavey-54, 4-Justin Grant-41, 5-Cannon McIntosh-32, 6-Andrew Layser-31, 7-Kevin Thomas Jr.-30, 8-Brady Bacon-29, 9-Chase Stockon-28, 10-Tanner Carrick-27.
FINAL CORN BELT NATIONALS PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Robert Ballou-11, 2-Logan Seavey-11, 3-Ryan Bernal-10, 4-Don Droud Jr.-10, 5-Wesley Smith-9, 6-Shane Cottle-7, 7-Chris Windom-6, 8-Chase Stockon-6, 9-Tanner Thorson-6, 10-Justin Grant-3.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: July 24, 2020 – Gas City I-69 Speedway – Gas City, Indiana – 1/4-Mile Dirt Oval – NOS Energy Drink Indiana Sprint Week
CONTINGENCY AWARD WINNERS:
Simpson Race Products First Qualifier Winner: Dustin Clark
Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Qualifier Winner: Matt Westfall
AutoMeter Third Qualifier Winner: Robert Ballou
Indy Race Parts Fourth Qualifier Winner: Kevin Thomas Jr.
Indy Metal Finishing Semi Winner: Robert Ballou
KSE Racing Products Hard Charger: Robert Ballou
Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher: Logan Seavey
Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer: Steve Irwin
ProSource Hard Work Award: Dave Darland
Jerry Medlin 20th Place Finisher: Dennis Gile
-USAC Racing Press Release
-Photo credit: Rich Forman