Humboldt, KS — Ricky Thornton Jr. wrestled the lead away from Kyle Strickler on lap 19 and proceeded to thrive and survive for the final 31 laps to earn a $12,000 payday and claim the crown of dirt modified racing’s King of America.
Rain throughout the early morning hours created havoc for crews at the Humboldt Speedway and resulted in an extremely fast yet uncharacteristically rough racing surface.
Thornton, however, found the fastest and smoothest way around the quarter-mile bullring.
“We knew the track was going to have a lot of character,” Thornton said following his eighth career USMTS triumph. “I was kind of just trying to bide my time early and then we kept going and going and I’m like ‘Man, they’re going to cut this. I gotta go.’
At 50 laps in distance, it was the shortest distance for a King of America main event which three times has been a 100-lapper, but with a dozen caution flags for one thing or another, it wasn’t the shortest on the time clock.
“We actually passed a lot of good cars there before they broke, so that was kind of cool for me,” Thornton added. “I know we didn’t have as many cars finish as we would like but we definitely had a good run getting through the field there.
“Last year we actually ran a crate motor and I ran out of gas coming to the checkered so this year we brought an open motor thanks to Jason Beaulieu. We knew we weren’t going to run out of fuel this year.”
Polesitter Ryan Gustin shot to the lead at the drop of the green flag and paced the first eight laps before Strickler snuck by on the inside. Two laps later, Gustin’s car began to belch white smoke from underneath the hood and poured fluid onto the track entering turn one.
While Gustin was out of the race, seven others behind him were collected in a slippery melee. Along with ‘The Reaper,’ only Travis Sauer was unable to continue.
Soon after the restart, Strickler had his hands full with former USMTS national champs Jason Hughes and Rodney Sanders, but Thornton was charging to the front and disposed of Sanders on lap 16 and then Hughes began to suffer a mechanical breakdown as Thornton sped past him and Strickler on the same orbit.
Strickler fought back as he and Thornton swapped several intense slide-jobs, but Thornton finally settled into a rhythm and pulled away from the field for his first USMTS win since Aug. 17, 2017, in Memphis, Mo., behind the wheel of the Oreo-sponsored machine.
Hughes, defending race winner Lucas Schott and 2016 King of America winner Zack VanderBeek went pit side between laps 19 and 35 while Strickler dropped out on lap 41 with a damaged fuel cell which had gone empty. Sanders dropped out one lap later in the tenth finishing position.
“We didn’t put a new body on because we figured we were going to tear some stuff up here,” Thornton declared after winning the main event by 5.847 seconds. “We’re not here to win a beauty contest. We’re here to win a feature.
“We finally got us a crown jewel with the USMTS.”
As a promoter’s choice provisional starter, defending Summit USRA Weekly Racing Series national champion Darron Fuqua claimed the runner-up spot after starting 26th with Brady Gerdes and ‘Big Daddy’ Joe Duvall following close behind in third and fourth.
Meanwhile, an undesirable weekend wound up with a delightful finish for Kenny Wallace. After advancing out of the Mesilla Valley Transportation “C” Main and then garnering the final transfer spot in the G-Style Transport “B” Main, the former NASCAR superstar nursed a race car with a bent chassis home in fifth after rolling off 24th on the grid. His effort earned him both the Eibach Spring Forward Award for passing the most cars throughout the three days (28 total) and FK Rod Ends Hard Charger for passing the most cars in the main event.
Tyler Davis finished in the sixth position, 25th-starting Terry Phillips rebounded from his roll-over the previous night and finished seventh, R.C. Whitwell raced from 22nd to eighth and Chad Lyle, ninth, was the last car running at the checkered flag.
Drivers raced in two heat races on Thursday and two on Friday with each driver’s best three efforts counting toward Saturday’s feature lineups. The top 12 in passing points from the first two nights were locked into Saturday’s championship with the remainder of the field coming from Saturday’s “B” Mains, “C” Mains and Last Chance races.
Now in it’s 21st season, the United States Modified Touring Series will continue with the Casey’s General Stores USMTS National Championship invades three of the fastest dirt tracks in Mississippi featuring the Summit USMTS Southern Series powered by MSD.
The titanic tripleheader gets started Friday, April 5, at the historic Jackson Motor Speedway in Byram, Miss., followed by a Saturday night fight at the Whynot Motorsports Park in Meridian. After the date at the ‘House of Hook,’ the action reaches a boiling point on Sunday, April 7, as the meanest machines in America make their maiden voyage to the legendary Magnolia Motor Speedway in Columbus for a wheel-to-wheel showdown at “The Mag.”
To learn more about the United States Modified Touring Series, visit USMTS.com or call (515) 832-7944. You can also like the USMTS on Facebook, visit us on Instagram, follow us on Twitter, connect with us on LinkedIn and watch us on YouTube. Keep up to speed with everything USMTS and subscribe to the USMTS e-Newsletter.
-USMTS Press Release & Photo