Cannon McIntosh's grace under fire was demonstrated literally and figuratively in a multitude of manners Saturday night in the fourth annual "Shamrock Classic" at the Southern Illinois Center.
A fuel leak during hot laps ignited the Bixby, Oklahoma driver's ride, giving the 16-year-old driver a scare he won't soon forget and forcing him to borrow crew member Grady Chandler's firesuit for the remainder of the night as a replacement.
"I got blisters on my ankle right now," McIntosh pointed out. "That was definitely the scariest moment of my life. I had flames up to my eyes and couldn't grab my belt. I was starting to freak out a little bit. There's a great crew around here to put the fire out. God was on my side there."
In turn, the flames lit a fuse under the young driver, and after relinquishing the lead to the defending series champ and reigning race winner, he refused to cave-in to the pressure, snookering Logan Seavey on a lap 30 restart and completed the remaining 21 laps at the point to win his first career USAC feature in just his second series' start.
By accumulating the most passing points throughout the evening, McIntosh earned the pole for the 50-lap feature. However, an opportunity arose that, for some, may have seemed too enticing to turn a blind eye to with a $50,000 bonus awaiting him if he could start from the tail and win the feature.
Yet, McIntosh turned down the opportunity, basically intimating that while the money is nice, he came here to win.
"Fifty-grand would be awesome," McIntosh admitted. "It would've been great to win all that money, but to me, winning that race was the money."
Instead, McIntosh took the pole and, from lap one, showed he wasn't gun shy next to outside front row starter Seavey, instantly rocketing out to a half-straightaway advantage in the opening laps as he quickly closed in on the tail end of the field.
With the bottom occupied, McIntosh had to figure whether to stay in line and try to sneak by on the bottom or snake around the outside to build his lead as Seavey made his blitzkrieg to the front, first around Andrew Layser on the 14th lap before clamping down on McIntosh.
On lap 20, Seavey was right on the cusp, delivering what seemed to be the knockout blow, as he drove around the outside of McIntosh in turn two and beat McIntosh to the position on the back straight before securing the lead exiting the fourth turn.
A turn four tangle on lap 29 sent Matt Veatch on his lid. He would restart. But this set up a lap 30 restart with Seavey and McIntosh running one-two. McIntosh wasn't exactly sure what he had left in the tank, but there was a lot on his mind.
"When (Seavey) got around me, he got me pretty good," McIntosh recalled. "I didn't know if we'd have anything left for him. I didn't know if the car was going away or what was going on. But the caution came out and just going through my mind was all kinds of things. My crew guy on the fence didn't know whether to tell me top or bottom. He's saying top and bottom. We went green and I went to the bottom and it worked. Once we took the lead and it was all good from there."
After multiple cautions with less than 20 laps remaining, the question remained whether Seavey would have something up his sleeve on the restarts in the same manner McIntosh did just moments before. McIntosh wasn't fazed in any aspect, motoring away to solidify his position at the top of the leaderboard.
Zeb Wise made a late-race run, sliding Seavey for second on the 36th lap, then began to make his run at McIntosh, reeling him in in a hurry. But the savvy McIntosh altered his path, moving to the high line in turns one and two while remaining on the inside berm in three and four.
"The bottom was pretty good most of the race," McIntosh explained. "Toward the end, especially one and two, it felt real sandy. I'm like 'it's going away.' Then one corner, going into one and two, I heard somebody on my outside and I knew I had to jump up. We were pretty good in three and four on the bottom, so I stayed on the bottom down there, but went to the top in one and two. We were pretty steady, so I figured we were good from there."
And that he definitely was, mastering one more restart with nine laps remaining to pull away for a 1.645-second victory over Chad Boat, Wise, Zach Daum and Justin Grant. In doing so, McIntosh became the fourth driver in the four-year history of the "Shamrock Classic" to win his first career USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship feature in the event following Shane Golobic (2016), Justin Grant (2017) and Logan Seavey (2018).
-USAC Media Press Release