By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Speedway, Indiana (December 22, 2021)………Throughout the past decade, Brady Bacon has consistently positioned himself as the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship’s prolific driver, winning more titles and feature races in that time span than any other individual.
That fact alone makes it even more remarkable that his fourth career series championship in 2021 just very well may have been his best of the bunch.
The Broken Arrow, Okla. driver’s 36 top-fives in 43 features starts throughout the 2021 USAC National Sprint Car trail was the most in series history. Sheldon Kinser previously held the record of 31 top-fives in 50 starts, set back in 1977.
Bacon’s 41 top-ten finishes in 2021 were also an all-time record for the series, breaking Sheldon Kinser’s record of 39, also set in 1977.
In 2021, Bacon shot to the point lead in race number three after winning at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway on April 3 and patrolled the standings from that point forward, possessing the number one spot uninterrupted for the remaining 40 events to score the title by a 120-point margin over runner-up Kevin Thomas Jr.
In the process, Bacon became just the third driver to capture at least four USAC National Sprint Car driving championships in his career, joining five-timer Levi Jones (2005-07-09-10-11) and fellow four-time titlist Steve Butler (1986-87-88-90) while also garnering Dynamics, Inc. a record-extending 13th series entrant championship (1989-1992-1993-1996-1997-1999-2002-2004-2008-2014-2016-2020-2021).
During his banner 2021 season, Bacon also became just the ninth driver to win at least 40 career USAC National Sprint Car feature events. His 40th, in the penultimate race of the campaign at Arizona Speedway in November, tied him with Gary Bettenhausen for eighth on the all-time series win list. Bacon’s 43 career fast qualifying times also shot him to fourth all-time in that category.
Between Lawrenceburg and Arizona, Bacon sandwiched three more feature victories, for a total of five, including a fourth-straight win at Bechtelsville, Pennsylvania’s Grandview Speedway in April after previous “dubs” in 2017, 2018 and 2019. He captured the Indiana Sprint Week round at Bloomington Speedway in July and a prelim night of the Oval Nationals at California’s Perris Auto Speedway in November.
Perhaps, above all his wins, were Bacon’s comeback performances in 2021. A major, wall clearing turn one heat race incident in May at Terre Haute forced a black-eyed Bacon to the team’s backup car where he promptly drove to a 3rd place finish in the feature. A similar spectacular heat race crash in October at Lawrenceburg sent the team straight to the backup once again, returning to finish 4th in the feature.
It’s an asset Bacon feels fortunate to have on his side, led by 2021 USAC Chief Mechanic of the Year, Matt Hummel, and D.J. Lebow.
“We just try to stay calm, do what we can do and, fortunately, this year, we were always able to get it done and get back out and get decent finishes,” Bacon explained. “There’s a lot of experience and a lot of time working together with the same crew. The chemistry over the years means a lot and we can get a lot more done faster when everyone kind of knows the routine and knows what the other people’s responsibilities are.”
With four series titles to his credit in 2014-2016-2020-2021, the 31-year-old Bacon shows no signs of letting up on this run of success with the series following the conclusion of the 2021 season. The hunger is strong for Bacon to attain championship number five in 2022.
“To get back-to-back championships, I’ve never been able to do that before,” Bacon exclaimed. “We’re going to go for another USAC National Sprint Car championship in 2021. I have a lot of great sponsors and supporters that help us make this happen, and we’ll try to keep everyone together and maybe add a few to come back even stronger next year.”
Despite a record-setting year, Bacon certainly had his fair share of obstacles, of which they overcame with a paramount of success in the Dynamics, Inc./Fatheadz Eyewear – Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts – TelStar/Triple X/Rider Chevy. However, Bacon and his crew still managed to make it look easy even when those two most notable of incidents would have resulted in a DNF for many other teams.
“Hopefully our team can just maintain this momentum and get another one next year,” Bacon pined. “Hopefully, we won’t have so many obstacles to climb and maybe it will be a little easier. My guys overcame a lot of stuff this year and it’s pretty much what won us the championship.”
Meanwhile, Kevin Thomas Jr. (Cullman, Ala.) earned a series best, and career best, nine USAC National Sprint Car victories in 2021 following a winless 2020 season. En route to a runner-up finish in the standings, Thomas scored the opener in February at Ocala, Florida’s Bubba Raceway Park, then added an April win at Bloomington and a June triumph in the series debut at Pennsylvania’s Bloomsburg Fair Raceway.
Moving into July, Thomas added an early July victory at Putnamville, Indiana’s Lincoln Park Speedway after starting all the way back in 14th, then tabbed a second career Indiana Sprint Week championship in late July.
In August, KTJ notched a victory at Indiana’s Paragon Speedway, the first series race held at the track in 23 years. A daytime prelim Sprint Car Smackdown win followed at Indiana’s Kokomo Speedway in August, as did a $12,000 Haubstadt Hustler victory at Indiana’s Tri-State Speedway in September, a $10,000 win at the Lawrenceburg Speedway Fall Nationals in October and a third Oval Nationals victory lane celebration worth $10,000 at Perris in November.
Justin Grant (Ione, Calif.) added seven wins of his own in his personal best season on his way to third in the final points after wins at Ocala in February, Grandview in June and again two nights later in the series’ first event at Pennsylvania’s Selinsgrove Speedway in 50 summers.
For Grant, an 18-lap Kokomo win came in July in what was the first-ever rain-shortened Indiana Sprint Week main event in the series’ 34-year history. Exactly one week later, Grant capped ISW with a win in the finale at Tri-State. Grant dominated Smackdown at Kokomo in August with victories on back-to-back evenings, including the final night worth $15,000.
Tanner Thorson’s first season in USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car competition was downright historic. The Minden, Nevada native’s five wins were the most ever by a Rookie with the series and his fourth-place finish in the final standings was the best for any first-year USAC National Sprint Car driver since Rick Howerton in 1990. Thorson’s seven fast qualifying times were also the most ever for a series Rookie.
Thorson accumulated feature wins at Pennsylvania’s Big Diamond Speedway and Path Valley Speedway Park in April, then bagged the Indiana Sprint Week round at Lincoln Park in July, as well as the Huset’s Speedway USAC Nationals opener in September in South Dakota, before winning the first dirt track race for the series in Indianapolis in 37 years during the debut at Circle City Raceway. The 2016 USAC National Midget champion was rewarded at season’s end as the 2021 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Rookie of the Year.
A new combination featuring C.J. Leary and Michael Motorsports garnered five series wins in 2021, including the first for a Ford-powered engine in 10 seasons in April at Pennsylvania’s BAPS Motor Speedway. Two sets of back-to-back wins followed for the Greenfield, Ind. driver at Indiana’s Plymouth Speedway on July 1 and at Lincoln Park on July 2. His biggest career payday came in successive victories at Huset’s on September 11-12, the latter of which paid $20,000 to win, all of which helped him to a fifth-place finish in the series standings.
Logan Seavey (Sutter, Calif.) joined forces with Baldwin-Fox Racing in April, a combination which produced four series victories in 2021, three of which came in a season-best three-race winning streak in the middle of Indiana Sprint Week that netted the 2018 USAC National Midget champion victories at Lawrenceburg, Gas City I-69 Speedway and the Terre Haute Action Track. The 10th place finisher in series’ points, Seavey finished strong with a win in the final race of the season in November, the curtain closer for Arizona Speedway during the 54th annual Western World Championships.
Chris Windom (Canton, Ill.) made Terre Haute his personal playground in 2021, getting both of his USAC Sprint Car victories on the year at the famed half-mile and finishing 6th in series points. Windom snagged his third career rifle, and second straight, in May during the 51st annual Tony Hulman Classic. In October, Windom engineered his eighth career series victory at Terre Haute, elevating him into a three-way tie with Gary Bettenhausen and Jack Hewitt as the track’s winningest USAC National Sprint Car driver. That win made Windom the lone five-time victor of the Jim Hurtubise Classic with scores in 2011, 2016, 2017, 2020 and now 2021.
Robert Ballou (Rocklin, Calif.) raced to his first USAC National Sprint Car victory in nearly three years after a spirited and daring duel with Tyler Courtney at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway in May, denying Courtney a series record sixth consecutive series win at a single track. Ballou followed in suit with a win in the series’ debut at the new Bridgeport Motorsports Park in June on his way to a second career Eastern Storm championship (2015) and 8th in the series standings.
Tyler Courtney (Indianapolis, Ind.) made just five series starts in 2021, but won two of them, both at Eldora. The first came in the daylight in May during which he captured his fifth consecutive feature event at Eldora, Courtney became just the third driver in USAC National Sprint Car history to win five-in-a-row at one track following Jim Hurtubise at Terre Haute between 1960-62 and Steve Chassey at Winchester (Ind.) Speedway in 1979.
Just last year, Jake Swanson (Anaheim, Calif.) was in the process of migrating from California to the Midwest to chase his dream of competing on the USAC National Sprint Car trail. After four runner-up finishes during the 2021 season, Swanson finally broke through to become a USAC National Sprint Car winner late in the year at Perris, winning the closest finish of the entire USAC National slate (0.01 sec.) with a last corner, last lap, spark-showering triumph. For his efforts with the Sprints as well as the USAC Silver Crown division, Swanson was honored as USAC’s 2021 National Most Improved Driver.
Kyle Cummins (Princeton, Ind.) returned to victory lane in April at Tri-State with his sixth career USAC National Sprint Car win at the southern Indiana track, although it was his first career in the Spring Showdown in what was his ninth career start in the event.
Chase Stockon (Fort Branch, Ind.) finished 9th in the final standings for 2021, marking 10 consecutive seasons in which he has finished inside the top-10 in points, tied for the sixth best streak in series history. His record run of longevity came to a close in April at Bloomington when his all-time series streak of 324 consecutive feature starts in USAC National Sprint Car competition ended after making an appearance in every starting lineup dating back to 2012.
The 43 USAC National Sprint Car events held in 2021 were the third most in series history, and the most in 44 years. The only other seasons that were busier had 44 race sin 1976 and a record 51 back in 1977.