Port Royal, PA — For Tyler Courtney, the date of June 15th and the location of Port Royal Speedway means more than just another stop on the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car tour.
For Port Royal was the half-mile dirt oval where his mentor, Bryan Clauson, recorded his record sixth and final “Eastern Storm” win in 2016. Saturday night also marked what would’ve been Clauson’s 30th birthday.
Courtney, the defending series champ, was bound and determined to make his own personal mark to honor BC on this night during round three of the 13th annual “Eastern Storm” series but felt there was a spirit helping him along the way.
“We’ve kind of struggled all week,” Courtney admitted. “But I think we had somebody looking down on us tonight. This one’s for him. He’s done a lot for my career. He’s done a lot for everybody on this team. Even without him being here, he helped us more than he knows.”
The emotional victory for Courtney aboard his Clauson-Marshall-Newman Racing/NOS Energy Drink – Competition Suspension, Inc./Spike/Rider Chevy appeared as smooth as silk for 30 laps with barely any threats posed en route to his second series victory of the year. His half-mile record with the series in 2019 now includes wins at Eldora and Port Royal to go along with a 3rd at Terre Haute.
Indianapolis, Indiana’s Courtney started from the outside of the front row and was seemingly gone, ripping the top, as Chris Windom attempted to keep pace in second. Courtney’s lead stretched out to three-quarters of a straightaway over Windom in the first-third of the race until 2015 Port Royal winner Robert Ballou made contact in turn three, heavily damaging the torsion bar and the left rear wheel, forcing him on the sideline for the remainder of the night.
Courtney had been solid as a rock at Port Royal in his previous two campaigns, finishing 4th in 2017 and 3rd in 2018. But Windom, who lined up second on the ensuing restart, was victorious in both of those instances. Windom’s best opportunity to get past was to dive low in one to the inside guardrail to throw the slider on the restart. He did just that when racing resumed on lap 12, but there wasn’t enough mustard on the fastball to surge ahead, and instead, tucked in behind Courtney exiting turn two.
Yellows and restarts were the only things tugging on Courtney’s cape this night as each time Courtney stood on the throttle, his competition was left in the distant past. The separation from Courtney to Windom was instantly a half-straightaway while Windom found himself a 10-car length lead over the fierce battle for third between Kevin Thomas, Jr., Chase Stockon and new one-lap track record holder, C.J. Leary.
At the midway point, Thomas slid by Stockon on the bottom of turn three. Stockon countered to regain third exiting four. Stockon’s grasp on the spot was hanging in the balance and Thomas was able to pick Stockon off by the time they reached turn two on the 16th lap. By turn four of the same lap, Leary had slid by Stockon to take ownership of fourth to begin the second half of the 30-lapper.
Meanwhile, Courtney was cruising with nothing but Warren Alston’s double checkers on his mind and vision with six laps remaining. That was until third-running Thomas, who was on the topside of turn three and in the midst of a joust with Leary for third, suffered a blown right rear tire which sent him hard into the outside guardrail with a mighty wallop, elevating all four wheels of his car off the ground before landing back on all fours. The incident ended his night with a disappointing 18th place finish and placed a huge dent in his Eastern Storm title chances where he dropped form 2nd to 8th, and in the National Sprint points in which he fell from 2nd to 5th.
Four lapped cars separated race leader Courtney and second-running Windom on the lap 25 restart, negating any reasonable chance for Windom to toss a slider for the lead heading into turn one. Instead, all Windom could do was stay pat on the topside while the lappers cooperated on the bottom. Once again, any notion of anyone else having a shot at taking down Courtney was all for naught as Courtney opened it up to a lead of three seconds while Leary tried to step up a spot by challenging Windom, to no avail.
Courtney finished off a sterling performance by setting his fastest lap of the race on the 30th and final lap that ultimately resulted in his second career Eastern Storm victory by 3.15 seconds over Windom, Leary, Stockon and Justin Grant.
Courtney fell the struggle was real in the first two rounds this week with 4th and 6th place runs at Grandview and Bridgeport, respectively. The prevailing feeling was that they needed to return to the basics and remember why they do what they do in the first place, and when winning is part of the equation, the fun never seems to find an end.
“We’ve been banging our heads against the wall just trying to figure out what we’re doing,” Courtney explained. “I think we just came to the conclusion that we weren’t really having fun. So, we went back to the basics, ‘have some fun.’ (Port Royal) is a place that suits our style, high speed, and when you get to run it nice and straight up against the wall like that, it’s a lot of fun.”
Courtney’s win was the 19th of his USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car career, moving him to within two of 1967 series champion Greg Weld’s 21 victories for 28th on the all-time list.
Contingency award winners Saturday night at Port Royal Speedway were C.J. Leary (Fatheadz Eyewear/Sprint Car Unlimited Fast Qualifier & Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Brady Bacon (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner & KSE Racing Products/In Memory of Mike Grassmyer Hard Charger), Chris Windom (AutoMeter/Indy Race Parts Third Heat Winner), Chad Boespflug (Roger & Barb Tapy 13th Fastest Qualifier) and Dustin Christie (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher).
1. Tyler Courtney (2), 2. Chris Windom (1), 3. C.J. Leary (6), 4. Chase Stockon (4), 5. Justin Grant (5), 6. Carson Short (7), 7. Brady Bacon (17), 8. Jason McDougal (9), 9. Jarett Andretti (10), 10. Joey Biasi (19), 11. Isaac Chapple (18), 12. Timmy Buckwalter (8), 13. Dustin Christie (20), 14. Carmen Perigo (16), 15. Brian VanMeveren (15), 16. Dave Darland (14), 17. John Stehman (21), 18. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (3), 19. Chad Boespflug (13), 20. Steven Drevicki (12), 21. Robert Ballou (11), 22. Jared Esh (22). NT
-USAC Press Release
-Photo credit: Rich Forman