|2020 USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Champion,
Brady Bacon of Broken Arrow, Okla.
(Josh James Artwork)
2020 YEAR IN REVIEW:
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
By: Richie Murray - USAC Media
Speedway, Indiana (October 7, 2020).........For just the second time ever, the same driver opened and closed the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship season with a feature victory while also earning the season's driving championship.
In 2020, it was Brady Bacon who became the first individual to perform that version of the hattrick since Pat O'Connor during the 1956 Midwest season. Bacon, of Broken Arrow, Okla., also performed a hattrick of another kind in becoming just the seventh driver to win the USAC Sprint Car title at least three times in his career, joining Parnelli Jones (1960-61-62), Larry Dickson (1968-70-75), Sheldon Kinser (1977-81-82), Steve Butler (1986-87-88-90), Robbie Stanley (1991-92-93), Levi Jones (2005-07-09-10-11).
The entrant title was claimed by Bacon's Dynamics, Inc. / Hoffman Auto Racing team for an unprecedented 12th time, a quarter of which have been captured with Bacon as the driver. Of the three, this one hits a little different, though, for Bacon who ran the team out of his own Union City, Ohio shop.
"Obviously, the dynamics are a little different than the first two, so this one is probably, actually, a little bit sweeter," Bacon revealed. "A little more of the weight of the responsibility fell on my shoulders and my guys for this one at my shop. We built this team with supporters that have been with me for a long time - Fatheadz Eyewear, who's been with me for 10 years; there's (sponsors) Mike and Megan Eubanks, who have been with me forever, just a lot of people. (Engine builder) Gene Franckowiak's been with us for a few years. We have some newer people who are playing a bigger part now as well and it's just great to reward them with a championship. That's the sweetest part, rewarding the people that make it possible."
The victories came early and often for Bacon in 2020. He won the opener in Ocala, Fla. after charging from the 9th starting spot, then doubled up the following night in Ocala with another surge from 9th to 1st. With the victory, Bacon became the ninth driver to win the first two USAC National Sprint Car features of the year, following Jud Larson (1965), Larry Dickson (1970), Pancho Carter (1978), Rich Vogler (1987), Robbie Stanley (1993), Tracy Hines (2002), Jay Drake (2004) and Damion Gardner (2010).
Entering the round at Plymouth (Ind.) Speedway in late June, Bacon had yet to finish outside the top-ten and was just within earshot of the points lead when a string of misfortune haunted theeam throughout the next three events.
A nasty flip by Bacon on the fourth lap at Plymouth, which seemingly spelled disaster at first glance, was salvaged when the crew thrashed during the red flag period to repair the car, miraculously returning in time for the resumption. With a caved-in tail tank and all, Bacon blitzed back through the field to finish 9th.
The following race, the 50th Tony Hulman Classic at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track, second-place running Bacon's engine ceased fire under yellow with four laps remaining, relegating him to 18th at the finish. Another mag issue followed the team two nights later to Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Ind. when the engine wouldn't fire to start the feature, ending the evening before it even began, putting them 24th and dead last in the running order.
Bacon righted the ship the next night at Lincoln Park with another comeback victory after starting 8th, then it was onto Iowa's Knoxville Raceway to defend his $20,000 Corn Belt Nationals triumph from the year before. Bacon and crew were put to the test once again on his Dynamics, Inc./Fatheadz Eyewear - DriveWFX.com/Triple X/Rider Chevy, having to make an engine change before the feature, which was more of a preventative measure due to a persistent oil leak.
With some down time between races, the decision was made to make the change, and the team decided they weren't going to take any chances risking it. After all, the "backup" engine has some clout all its own; it was the same engine Bacon had utilized in his Lincoln Park victory.
Bacon proceeded to victory at Knoxville once again and was amidst a streak of seven-straight top-eight feature finishes. However, a mechanical issue early during the Indiana Sprint Week finale at Tri-State Speedway proved stifling, taking the team back to fourth in the standings and 99 points out of the lead entering late August.
Justin Grant had been the class of the field to that point in first place of the standings over Chase Stockon and Chris Windom in 2nd and 3rd, respectively. At that point, with Grant rolling midseason, hope wasn't all lost for Bacon, but it seemed like a tall order for him to dig his way back into the title hunt.
"At one point, I didn't think we really had a shot," Bacon admitted. "Grant had pulled out to such a big lead and was really consistent, and typically once that happens, it's hard to chip away. He had a lot of things happen all at once and that's when we got on a roll."
Three consecutive top-fives for Bacon at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway's "Smackdown" in late August sent him straight into the point lead for the first time since June while Grant encountered three nights of hardship, finishing outside the top-ten in all three features.
A 10th place run on September 11 at Bloomington (Ind.) Speedway briefly took Bacon out of the point lead, but one night later, he was back on top following a 2nd and a 1st in a single evening doubleheader at Lincoln Park.
The see-saw championship chase took another turn on Sept. 18 at Terre Haute when Windom won the Jim Hurtubise Classic, vaulting him back into the point lead. But a 3rd at Gas City (Ind.) I-69 Speedway and a runner-up finish in the penultimate round of the season at Kokomo gave Bacon his most comfortable advantage to that point, a 30-point lead entering the finale on Oct. 3 at Lawrenceburg.
A 13th place finish or better in the Fall Nationals feature at Lawrenceburg was going to clinch the title for Bacon regardless of how anybody else performed. Yet, Bacon wasn't content to ride around and race inside a bubble to protect himself. Instead, he was trying to put the cherry on top of the icing on the cake. A back-and-forth duel for the lead between he and Tyler Courtney waged into the final stages until Courtney took the lead just six laps from the end.
However, Courtney's car was found to be 15 pounds underweight during post-race tech inspection after spilling water from the radiator throughout much of the second half of the 30-lapper. Thus, second place finishing Bacon was elevated to first while Courtney was repositioned to the 22nd and final position in the results.
Albeit in an unconventional manner, Bacon became the 10th driver ever, and the first since Levi Jones in 2011, to win the final race of the USAC National Sprint Car season and the series championship in a single night, providing him a final margin of victory in the standings by 39 over Chris Windom - the 18th closest points race in the 65-year history of the series.
When Bacon reflects upon 2020, he recalls having a car that was prepared to win at every venue, every night, and that gave him the confidence to do what he has done more of than any other driver with the series over the past decade, win races and championships.
"Fortunately, any issues we had weren't necessarily speed related," Bacon said. "We had one race at Bloomington where we kind of missed it, but other than that, we had a car that was in contention to win the race every time. When we had some misfortune, it wasn't too hard to bounce back from. You've just got to figure it out and make sure it doesn't happen again. It's pretty rewarding; when winning the USAC championship, your name is on that list forever."
Bacon led or was tied atop four major statistical categories with the series during the 2020 season. He led all drivers with six feature wins and laps led with 174. Bacon tied Windom with 24 top-ten feature finishes and was one of six drivers to start all 27 features along with Windom, Justin Grant, C.J. Leary, Chase Stockon and Kevin Thomas Jr.
Windom made the largest advancement of any driver in a single feature event with the series in 2020, charging from 22nd to 5th at Gas City on Sept. 25. Windom also finished the season with 18 top-five results, the most of any driver with the series.
Meanwhile, Leary topped all drivers with six fast qualifying times. Robert Ballou and Stockon each won eight heat races throughout the year. Jadon Rogers led all Rookies with a 14th place finish in the standings.
Justin Grant won four times during the year at Iowa's 34 Raceway, Missouri's Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55, Indiana's Plymouth Speedway and at Indiana's Terre Haute Action Track.
Four drivers won three races each, Tyler Courtney at Knoxville, Iowa and twice at Kokomo, Ind., as did Kyle Cummins at Haubstadt, Ind. and twice at Kokomo. C.J. Leary picked up a trio of Hoosier state victories at Kokomo, Lawrenceburg and Gas City while Chris Windom did likewise at Terre Haute twice, then again at Bloomington.
Indiana Sprint Week champion Chase Stockon captured a pair of wins, first in a race at Putnamville, Ind. that was delayed nearly six weeks by rain, then won another at Haubstadt, Ind. following a post-race disqualification of Kendall Ruble due to a tire violation.
One-time series victors in 2020 included first-time winner Stephen Schnapf in June at Haubstadt, Ind. who promptly stepped away from racing shortly thereafter. He'd return in September for another start at Haubstadt. Shane Cottle scored a win at Putnamville in early July while Logan Seavey snagged a last-lap thriller during the Indiana Sprint Week opener at Gas City in late July.
2020 USAC AMSOIL NATIONAL SPRINT CAR STAT LEADERS:
Most Wins: 6-Brady Bacon
Driver Point Leader: Brady Bacon
Owner Point Leader: Dynamics, Inc. #69
Top Rookie in Points: Jadon Rogers
Most Laps Led: 174-Brady Bacon
Most Top-Fives: 18-Chris Windom
Most Top-Tens: 24-Brady Bacon & Chris Windom
Most Fast Qualifying Times: 6-C.J. Leary
Most Heat Race Wins: 8-Robert Ballou & Chase Stockon
Most Feature Starts: 27-Brady Bacon, Justin Grant, C.J. Leary, Chase Stockon, Kevin Thomas Jr. & Chris Windom
Biggest Charger of the Year: Chris Windom (22nd to 5th) at Gas City I-69 Speedway on 9/25
FINAL 2020 USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP DRIVER POINT STANDINGS:
POS. PTS. DRIVER, HOMETOWN
1 1,739 Brady Bacon, Broken Arrow, Okla.
2 1,700 Chris Windom, Canton, Ill.
3 1,655 Chase Stockon, Fort Branch, Ind.
4 1,616 C.J. Leary, Greenfield, Ind.
5 1,614 Justin Grant, Ione, Calif.
6 1,382 Kevin Thomas Jr., Cullman, Ala.
7 1,271 Dave Darland, Lincoln, Ind.
8 1,250 Carson Short, Marion, Ill.
9 1,175 Kyle Cummins, Princeton, Ind.
10 1,128 Robert Ballou, Rocklin, Calif.
11 1,077 Logan Seavey, Sutter, Calif.
12 1,042 Brandon Mattox, Terre Haute, Ind.
13 981 Shane Cottle, Kansas, Ill.
14 675 Jadon Rogers (R), Worthington, Ind.
15 578 Mario Clouser, Auburn, Ill.
16 569 Matt Westfall, Pleasant Hill, Ohio
17 555 Anton Hernandez (R), Arlington, Texas
18 544 Tyler Courtney, Indianapolis, Ind.
19 525 Max Adams, Loomis, Calif.
20 477 Dustin Smith, Russiaville, Ind.
21 461 Thomas Meseraull, San Jose, Calif.
22 373 Robert Bell, Colfax, Iowa
23 335 Dakota Jackson, Elizabethtown, Ind.
24 327 Chris Phillips (R), Plainfield, Ind.
25 253 Dennis Gile (R), Phoenix, Ariz.
26 249 Dustin Clark, Washington, Ind.
27 247 Sterling Cling (R), Tempe, Ariz.
28 232 Wyatt Burks (R), Topeka, Kans.
29 227 Stephen Schnapf, Newburgh, Ind.
30 223 Anthony D'Alessio (R), Apollo Beach, Fla.
31 223 Scotty Weir, Marion, Ind.
32 192 Kent Schmidt, Owensville, Ind.
33 192 Steve Thomas, Ludlow, Ind.
34 174 Kurt Gross, Washington, Ind.
35 160 Matt Goodnight, Winchester, Ind.
36 156 Nick Bilbee, Indianapolis, Ind.
37 156 Nate McMillin (R), Rosedale, Ind.
38 140 Brian VanMeveren, Woodbury, Minn.
39 120 Chayse Hayhurst, Evansville, Ind.
40 120 Harley Burns (R), Brazil, Ind.