Knoxville, Iowa — One year ago, Tyler Courtney rode out one of the wildest flips of the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car season when the series visited Knoxville Raceway.
Three-hundred-seventy-one days later, the next chapter of Courtney’s Knoxville story played out like a fairy-tale as he swept each and every challenge he confronted: fast qualifying time. Check. Heat race win. Check. Winning the 30-lap main event. Check. Victory lane. Another check, but one he was able to hoist high over his head after collecting his series-leading fourth feature win of the year Saturday night on the famed half-mile.
However, Courtney acknowledges that what happened last year actually did weigh on his mind, but it became a factor he was able to turn into a motivator rather than an obstacle to overcome.
“Obviously, it’s in the back of your mind every time you get up close to that cushion,” Courtney admitted. “When it gets a little tight, you have flashbacks to last year, but you can’t let it affect you too much. You’ve got a job to do and we did that tonight. I was able to redeem myself because I didn’t put myself in as bad of a position as last year and it worked out. I think we definitely had a winning car last year, but I know we had a winning car tonight. I wanted to make sure it happened, and I did everything in my power to keep all four wheels on the ground.”
Starting sixth in a stacked lineup, though, made things challenging for the Indianapolis, Indiana native as 2011 Knoxville USAC Sprint Car winner Brady Bacon checked out on the 24-car field from his pole starting position, quickly constructing a half-straightaway lead in the opening laps.
Meanwhile, Courtney was slicing through the field with the precision of a Ron Popeil Ginsu knife, splitting between Chase Stockon and Chad Boespflug in one swing entering the third turn on lap four to move from fifth to third.
Already meeting up with heavy lapped traffic in the first third of the race, the top-three ripped the top in synch as they separated themselves from the competition. Courtney attempted a big slider on Leary between turns one and two that didn’t quite have enough mustard to achieve, sending Courtney a tad over the cushion, costing him ground as he wiped his brow and regathered himself and his Clauson Marshall Newman Racing/Priority Aviation – Competition Suspension, Inc./Spike/Rider Chevy.
On the 18th lap, Courtney reloaded and tried the same maneuver again in turn one to no avail. Mired in traffic heading into turn three, Leary got stuck in the meat grinder of gridlock briefly, then pointed his ride to the bottom at the exit of four as he fought to hold off the hard-charging Courtney. Courtney then aimed for the bottom of turn one and slid up to the berm in front of Leary to snag the second position.
A lap later, Courtney hunted down Bacon, squared him up in turn one and slid by to take the lead, said ‘sayonara’ and immediately pulled away down the stretch for a 2.5-plus second victory over Leary, Bacon, Justin Grant and Brody Roa.
“I got myself in trouble last year by being impatient,” Courtney recalled. “I knew this year that it’s a longer race than you anticipate. I just rode, rode, rode a little bit behind those guys, got to lapped traffic and I knew I was going to have to do something drastically different than what they were doing because of how hard it was to pass. I was able to stick the bottom there in one and two and get by C.J., then slid up in front of Brady in one and two.”
Courtney became the tenth different driver to win in ten appearances by the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Cars since the series’ debut in 1968. It’s an honor he doesn’t take lightly and considers it one of the highlights of his burgeoning career resume.
“This is one of most historical tracks we go to,” Courtney said. “I’ve gotten to win at Terre Haute and Knoxville this year, which is something I thought I’d probably never do. Winning at Knoxville is not easy to do. To get to do this with the team I’m with, this family and this crew and to get to do the things were doing this year, it’s pretty special. To do this in front of a big crowd like we had tonight is even cooler. This one goes up there with the ‘Hulman’ and the ‘Smackdown.’
In the process, Courtney surpassed what had seemed like an untouchable record of sorts over the past five decades: Gary Bettenhausen’s 30-lap USAC Sprint Car track record at Knoxville, which Courtney defeated in 10 minutes and 45 seconds, nearly 19 seconds faster than the mark set by the 1969 and 1971 series champ.
“That’s pretty cool stat right there,” Courtney exclaimed. “Gary was one of the greatest to ever do this. To be able to break that is pretty dang special. That might be as cool as winning the feature!”
Contingency award winners Saturday night at Knoxville Raceway included Tyler Courtney (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner & Saldana Racing Products Clean Sweep), Justin Grant (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Chris Windom (Chalk Stix/Indy Race Parts Third Heat Winner), Dave Darland (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger), Josh Hodges (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher), Dave Darland (Roger & Barb Tapy 13th Fastest Qualifier).
FEATURE: (30 laps – starting positions in parentheses) 1. Tyler Courtney (6), 2. C.J. Leary (3), 3. Brady Bacon (1), 4. Justin Grant (5), 5. Brody Roa (9), 6. Chase Stockon (4), 7. Robert Ballou (10), 8. Dave Darland (17), 9. Chris Windom (12), 10. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (7), 11. Jarett Andretti (11), 12. Chad Boespflug (2), 13. Josh Hodges (15), 14. Tom Harris (14), 15. Nick Bilbee (8), 16. Glen Saville (21), 17. Wyatt Burks (20), 18. Brandon Stevenson (13), 19. Robert Bell (22), 20. Rob Caho, Jr. (19), 21. Frank Rodgers (23), 22. Kelly Graham (24), 23. Isaac Chapple (16), 24. Katlynn Leer (18). 10:45.63 (New Track Record)
-USAC Press Release
-Photo credit: Rich Forman