Mechanicsburg, PA. — Chris Windom was able to fend off a furious late-race rally by Bryan Clauson to win in the return of champ car racing to Williams Grove Speedway after a 35-year hiatus in Friday night’s “Horn/Schindler Memorial” 100-lap USAC Silver Crown race.
C.J. Leary was the first car to hit the track for ProSource Qualifying and the first to break Steve Kinser’s long-standing one-lap track record from 1981 by three and a half seconds. None of the remaining drivers were able to reach the bar that the Greenfield, Indiana driver set, which placed him on the pole for the main event.
Leary and outside front row starter Justin Grant engaged in a side-by-side battle for the top spot on the opening lap with Leary assuming and maintaining control throughout the early stages. However, turn four proved to be a Bermuda Triangle of sorts in the first quarter of the race, plaguing a bevy of drivers that halted the action on four separate instances involving three different drivers.
Race leader Leary had seen nothing but daylight in front of him during the first several laps, but on the lap 29 restart, all Leary had was smoke in his eyes as a continuous plume billowed from the headers of the number 30. Leary began to slow dramatically, eventually coming to a stop in the first turn one lap later before being towed off to the pit area. The night for April’s “Sumar Classic” winner at the Terre Haute Action Track was finished after such a strong performance in his first visit to the Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania track.
Justin Grant inherited the lead for the lap 35 restart, but, by lap 37, Windom had sliced into Grant’s lead, setting Windom up for an outside turn four pass to take the top spot.
Meanwhile, Clauson was picking cars off at a rapid pace from his 16th starting position, crossing over from the topside to the inside of Mark Smith for fourth out of turn 4 on lap 39.
Windom sailed away on a comfort cruise after the race’s final caution flew for the stopped car of Austin Nemire on lap 40. The Canton, llinois driver built his lead to a full-straightaway advantage with 35 laps to go.
Yet, Clauson was determined not to give in yet, taking third from Grant on lap 65 and sliding up in front of Brady Bacon for second on lap 69. However, Clauson still had a long row ahead of him to catch Windom who was on cruise control up front.
With 10 laps to go, some fans were seen leaving the grandstands with the feeling that the conclusion would be inevitable with Windom rolling to an easy victory. It appeared that Clauson would need a caution to close the gap on Windom’s seemingly insurmountable lead, but with the pedigree that Clauson has attained over the last decade plus in the United States Auto Club, nothing was outside the realm of possibility.
Shot out of a cannon, Clauson continued to chop and slash the interval between him and leader Windom little-by-little, driving on the edge, appearing as if he was on a single-car qualifying run in the final laps.
With two laps to go, Windom jumped the skyscraper-high turn three cushion, allowing Clauson to close in right behind the tail tank of Windom’s machine as the two exited turn four.
As the two sprinted down the front straightaway, Clauson got the bite off the bottom and was able to pull ahead by a car length inside of Windom at the exit of two on lap 99. Yet, Windom was able to find each and every morsel of horsepower to muscle his car back in front into turn three.
As Clauson and Windom ran Hoosier-to-Hoosier between turns three and four, the duo had to contend with the lapped car of David Byrne immediately after passing under the white flag indicating one more lap to go. The two split Byrne with Windom aiming for the topside and Clauson cutting to the low side. Clauson attempted to slide job Windom at the entrance to one by drifting up to the top line in front of Windom, but came up just shy, getting his car too far sideways and killing his momentum between turns one and two.
But, like Michael Myers in the “Halloween” movie series, Clauson would not go away, re-emerging yet again to make one last run at Windom into the final two turns. However, it was simply not enough as Windom led the final 63 laps to claim his third career USAC Silver Crown Series victory over Clauson, Kody Swanson, Bacon, Grant, Smith, Casey Shuman, Jerry Coons, Jr., Steve Buckwalter and Shane Cottle.
Like Kody Swanson’s stranglehold on the dirt miles over the past few seasons, Windom appears to have taken a shine to the half-mile dirt tracks, previously taking victories at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg Ohio in 2013 and the Belleville (Kans.) High Banks in 2015. In those two races, Windom led a combined 97 of 100 laps. Friday night at Williams Grove, Windom led the final 63 laps of the contest, but putting his RPM-Fred Gormly/RPM Auto Enterprise/Maxim/J & D was no cinch as he had to hold off the hottest open-wheel driver in the nation, Bryan Clauson, in the closing laps.
“Holy cow,” Windom exclaimed. “My guys came on the radio with about 10 (laps) to go and screamed at me to go. I saw that (number) 6 car down there and I knew Clauson was coming. What a hell of a race for these fans at the end!”
“I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet,” Windom stated. “With all the history here, I can’t believe we’re here! This track was awesome. These guys did a great job of prepping it. It was superfast early on in practice and qualifying. It’s probably my new favorite Silver Crown track. In the feature, it slicked off there. You just had to be very easy on the top because it built a big curb and it was very easy to jump over. I did it a few times and thought I was going to lose the lead there. At the end, it was just the lap cars that were running side-by-side in front of me and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to completely come off the top and go to the bottom and have someone drive around me, so I just tried to use them as a pick, and then I saw the 6 car down there, so I had to start sliding, going as quickly as I could.”
Noblesville, Indiana’s Bryan Clauson hoped to become the first driver since Rodger Ward in 1959 to lead a lap at the Indianapolis 500 and win in a champ car at Williams Grove Speedway in the same season. Clauson came up just short despite a valiant effort after his car experienced mechanical problems during qualifying, finishing second while earning KSE Racing Products/Martens Machine Shop Hard Charger honors in his Klatt Enterprises/Cancer Treatment Centers of America – Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality & Restaurant Group/Beast/Ford.
“We had a tough night all the way around until the feature,” Clauson reflected. “But these guys worked hard to get this car good for the feature. We were really strong, especially late. I got to him there and really wanted to run the bottom in (turns) one and two, but I kind of had a lapper pinning me down. I just decided to try and clear him and get up in front of him, but didn’t get it done. We made up a lot of ground there late by just driving my butt off to try and get there; I just needed 105 (laps) or so. We dug out of a big hole there and it was a spectacular run there for sure.”
Kody Swanson, of Kingsburg, California came home third in his DePalma Motorsports/Radio Hospital – Champion Oil/Maxim/Hampshire Chevy while maintaining his series point lead by 15 over Windom heading into the June 25 “St. Louis Silver Crown Showdown” at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois.
“What an honor it is to be here at Williams Grove and it’s great to drive this DePalma family 63,” Swanson said. “They’re a great family to race for and a great group of people to work on it. They put a great racecar on the track for us every time. I always hate it when I can’t win for them, but we gave it everything we had tonight. We struggled a little early, but as the track got a little wider and a little trickier, we were able to find something there late and battle our way up to third.”
-USAC Press Release
-Photo Credit: Rich Forman