At this time a year ago, Robert Ballou had already racked up several USAC Sprint Car National Championship victories. In 2016, that continuation in the win column came to a standstill ever since a victory in February.
That was until Wednesday night when Ballou made a pass for the top spot around fellow Californian Thomas Meseraull with less than 10 laps to go. The “Mad Man” went uncontested the rest of the way in the 30-lap Tony Hulman Classic at The Action Track in Terre Haute, Indiana.
“Generally, this is a place we run better than most,” Ballou told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I can keep my tires under me longer. Some of these guys push and push and push way too early.”
While Ballou may have made it look easy returning to his winning ways on the track, it has certainly included its hurdles over recent months. A broken camshaft forced one of their motors to the shop to get rebuilt and their tire bill has already reached approximately three-quarters of the total they spent all of last year due to various track conditions.
The $5,000 payday gives the team more to work with heading into the next five race stretch in Pennsylvania and New Jersey in early June, starting at Grandview Speedway.
“Racing is full of highs and lows, and we were bound to have a low at some point,” Ballou said. “It pretty much started at the beginning of this year. We won one and then we’ve been a tick off every single night. The car funds itself, and when we don’t run good it doesn’t pay. This money will definitely help get us back afloat and in the right direction for the Eastern Storm.”
Meseraull started from the pole and looked to have the best car on short runs. When the race went green for the entire second half of the feature, he could only hold off Ballou for so long.
“He just was getting in a little better than me and it looked like he might have been a little better down the straightaway,” Meseraull recapped. “I saw him early, we had a yellow, and I was driving the wheels off it. Robert’s good here. I watched him and Jesse Hockett put on a slidejob show of the year probably five or six years ago. Those guys are awesome.”
Despite coming up a position short in such a prestigious race with a history dating back to 1971, Meseraull went on to mention still being pleased with the second-place finish. The main reason was because he closed on points leader Brady Bacon, who finished fourth, ever so slightly in the season-long big picture.
Bacon, fastest in time trials, lost a battle for the third position to former event winner Jon Stanbrough near the conclusion of the race. Chris Windom made a last lap pass on semi-feature winner Chase Stockton to round out the top five.
This was Ballou’s second straight victory in the event, which was rescheduled a year back to September due to weather. The fact that it was in the month of May was important in more ways than one.
“Especially being the 100th Running of the Indy 500, it’s pretty special,” Ballou remarked. “My dad had a birthday last Saturday. We thought we were going to be good enough to win and we broke a motor which got us behind, so this one’s for him. He doesn’t get to come out very often. I’m originally from California and his day job keeps him pretty busy.
“Hopefully we can just get this thing back in winning rhythm like we’ve been the last two years. If everything keeps going right we should be right there.”
While the momentum is on his side starting off the Week of Indy on the right note, Ballou does not plan on competing in either USAC Silver Crown events on the ensuing nights. Nevertheless, he is planning ahead for 2017 already.
“Next year I’ll try to get a car put together,” Ballou said. “Dallas Mulvaney and Jim Plew, who brought me to Indiana, they and MPHG promotions want to get back involved with racing heavily so the plan is to build a car.”
Brian Shaw passed and outran former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series veteran Ken Schrader and frequent ARCA Racing Series competitor A.J. Fike for the victory in the 15-lap UMP Modified supporting feature.
The Week of Indy continues with the USAC Silver Crown Series Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on Thursday and the Carb Night Classic at the Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis on Friday.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Central NY & PA Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com