By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Terre Haute, Indiana (May 1, 2022)………Justin Grant was forced to endure a wait of four years to receive an opportunity to defend his Sumar Classic victory from 2018.
Four years later, in the ensuing edition of the event on Sunday night, the Ione, Calif. native retained his throne to become the first driver ever to reign victorious in consecutive runnings of the event at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track.
Grant led 13 laps throughout the mid-portion of Sunday’s 100-lap USAC Silver Crown season opener around the newly-refurbished half-mile dirt oval, which featured a new nine-foot high guardrail in the turns. Yet, after losing the lead 13 laps later to first time series starter Buddy Kofoid, Grant felt as if he’d given the race away as he faded into the distance, falling back to third.
Granted a reprieve of sorts when Kofoid’s masterful drive came to an end as the right front arm on his car came off and unscrewed the shock, sending him flipping in turn two with 14 laps remaining, and elevating Grant to second.
When a caution arrived with four laps remaining for seventh running Kyle Robbins who stalled in turn three, Grant shot his shot on the first lap following the restart, sticking his maneuver to the bottom of turn three under leader Jerry Coons Jr., then exited turn four as the race leader and never looked back, taking the $8,000-to-win race by a 1.094 second margin in his Hemelgarn Racing/NOS Energy Drink – Super Fitness – Hemelgarn Enterprises/DRC/Speedway Ford.
Grant’s score was his first Silver Crown victory on dirt since the 2018 Sumar Classic, and the fourth overall win of his career with the series. Grant has captured feature victories in five of the nine USAC National points-paying events contested thus far this season and became the first driver to win this season in USAC Silver Crown, AMSOIL National Sprint Car and NOS Energy Drink National Midget competition.
“I really thought I gave the race away,” Grant admitted. “I was riding and riding and I let some guys go. We got that red there at the end, then I climbed out and looked at my tires and I’m like ‘ahh.’ I got on the radio and apologized to the guys. I really put us in a hole here, but when you’ve got the best racecar, you’ve got to win the race.”
Initially, Grant had tracked down C.J. Leary just prior to midway on lap 46. Leary, who led a race-high 45 laps, was slid past by Grant in turn one, then subsequently experienced his right rear tire going flat just two laps later. While changing his tire under the yellow flag, Leary lost two laps in the work area. Despite the trouble, Leary managed to climb his way back into the top-ten by race’s end, finishing 10th.
Grant set the pace into the early portions of the second half when a suddenly surging Kofoid powered around the outside of Coons for the second spot on a lap 55 restart, then slid by Grant for the lead in turn one on lap 58. As Kofoid strengthened his lead to 2.5 seconds, Coons slotted into second past Grant in a drag race down the back straightaway, adjacent to the Action Dragway that runs parallel with the back straight, with 33 laps to go.
“I wasn’t doing a very good job through the middle of the race,” Grant acknowledged. “I kept getting in the holes, and just not really doing my job. Fortunately, these races are long enough for a guy like me to figure out. We picked our way through the holes, and once I found my way through the holes, I could rip the fence off two. I knew we were really good, but I thought I just wasted too much time.”
It became a sprint race with 30 to go as Kofoid pulled away by two seconds over Coons. Although Coons was gassing it on the topside and, at times, edged closer and closer to Kofoid, Kofoid broke away from the lapped traffic, splitting between the trio of Brian Ruhlman, Terry Babb and Dallas Hewitt to escape the pressure while Coons nearly kissed the outside turn two guardrail and lost all the ground he had recently gained.
Just as soon as you might’ve thought you knew how it all was going to unfold, on lap 87, all by his lonesome with a commanding 3.462 second lead, Kofoid’s mechanical issue tripped him up and sent him flipping over, handing the lead to Coons, the 2008 USAC Silver Crown titlist.
Grant got right to the back bumper of Coons for the lead in turn three with 10 laps to go but backed out and fell back into line behind Coons for the time being, then reloaded and conjured up his next modus operandi with Coons holding onto a two car length lead over Grant as the laps tick, tick, ticked away. Grant tried once more in turn three on lap 96 and squeezed his way between Coons and the inner rail, but, once again, it didn’t stick.
When seventh running Robbins’ troubles brought out the yellow on lap 97, lapped cars were absent from the equation, and it came down Coons vs. Grant with Brady Bacon a distant third. Grant threaded the needle on the first circuit of the lap 97 restart between the inner rail and Coons, slid across Coons’ nose as he drifted back to the top, and closed the book on the 19th running of the Sumar Classic as Grant won over Coons, Bacon, Logan Seavey and Emerson Axsom who finished fifth in his first career series appearance despite having starting issues prior to the the green flag, then was forced to begin his race from the tail and the 26th position.
“That wasn’t your normal Silver Crown race,” Grant exclaimed. “Normally, you kind of ride around until the end, but I don’t know if I’ve ever ran a sprint car around this place that hard. The track was technical and choppy. It was a ton of fun.”
Coons (Tucson, Ariz.) led 10 laps late and nearly pulled off his first USAC Silver Crown victory in eight seasons aboard his Patty Bateman/Tucker Automotive & Tire Repair of Alton, IL/DRC/Foxco Chevy. He wound up finishing second for his best Silver Crown result since a second at the Belleville (Kan.) High Banks in 2015.
“I’m bummed being that close with four to go and leading it,” Coons said. “To be bummed about a second place is a good thing for sure. (Car owner) Patty (Bateman) and the whole crew, they’re just so much fun to race with. It’s like a family team; there’s no pressure, and they gave me a great racecar tonight. Coming from 12th, we’ll take it, but it certainly hurts.”
Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.) thought he had Grant passed at one point, and same for Coons at the very end. In the end, he made the largest advancement from his starting spot to finishing position, charging from 16th to 3rd in his Five Three Motorsports/Fatheadz Eyewear – Smith Titanium – Indy Powdercoat/Maxim/Kistler Chevy.
“(Justin) was fading on the longer runs and we were better,” Bacon pointed out. “When he passed Jerry, Jerry was expecting us to come after him and pinched us down there to protect his spot, but with less than three to go, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. I caught my runs wrong and it was a little hard to pass getting into three. If you made a mistake, you were going to pay for it dearly.”
Three drivers experienced substantial crashes during the 10-lap qualifying race preceding the feature. Ronnie Wuerdeman barrel rolled in turn three on the opening lap and suffered a broken collarbone. Chris Fetter ramped over Casey Buckman’s right rear tire while battling for the fourth position in turn three, becoming the first to test the strength of the new guardrail, and experienced a deep laceration on his knee that required stitches. Dave Berkheimer, going for the sixth and final transfer spot on the last lap, flipped end-over-end into the front straightaway catchfence following contact with Patrick Lawson, but was able to walk away from the wreckage on his own.
Kody Swanson (Kingsburg, Calif.) was the night’s Fatheadz Fast Qualifier for the 37th time during his USAC Silver Crown career. It was his third career Sumar Classic pole award (2015-2017-2022) and it was also the fourth consecutive fast qualifying time on dirt in the series for a Chris Dyson-owned car dating back to 2021.
USAC SILVER CROWN NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: May 1, 2022 – Terre Haute Action Track – Terre Haute, Indiana – 1/2-Mile Dirt Oval – 19th Sumar Classic
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: (Top-20 locked into the feature) 1. Kody Swanson, 1, Doran/Dyson-20.410; 2. C.J. Leary, 6, Klatt-20.573; 3. Justin Grant, 91, Hemelgarn-20.662; 4. Kyle Robbins, 7, KR-20.689; 5. Logan Seavey, 22, Rice-20.765; 6. Jake Swanson, 10, DMW-20.780; 7. Matt Westfall, 54, Westfall-20.786; 8. Buddy Kofoid, 97, Lein-20.964; 9. Shane Cockrum, 71, BLS-20.994; 10. Carmen Perigo, 52, Stehman-21.011; 11. Shane Cottle, 74, Hodges-21.060; 12. Jerry Coons Jr., 55, Bateman-21.063; 13. Emerson Axsom, 20, Nolen-21.130; 14. Jason McDougal, 27, Daigh/Phillips-21.199; 15. Dallas Hewitt, 57, Hewitt-21.238; 16. Brady Bacon, 53, Five Three-21.356; 17. Bill Rose, 66, Rose-21.544; 18. Austin Nemire, 16, Nemire/Lesko-21.559; 19. Eric Gordon, 99, Armstrong-21.593; 20. Brian Ruhlman, 49, Ruhlman-21.600; 21. Kyle Steffens, 08, Steffens-21.632; 22. David Byrne, 40, Byrne-21.761; 23. Casey Buckman, 110, DMW-21.785; 24. Terry Babb, 88, Babb-21.927; 25. Davey Ray, 8, Cornell-22.002; 26. Chris Fetter, 89, Fetter-22.312; 27. Patrick Lawson, 2, Lawson-22.377; 28. Dave Berkheimer, 31, Berkheimer-22.454; 29. Tommy Nichols, 26, Pierce-22.658; 30. Travis Welpott, 18, Welpott-23.115; 31. Jake Simmons, 3, Simmons-23.259; 32. Gregg Cory, 32, Williams-23.769; 33. Ronnie Wuerdeman, 33, Wuerdeman-NT (Time of 21.688 disallowed); 34. Brian Tyler, 81, BCR-NT; 35. Jimmy Light, 123, Two-Three-NT; 36. Chase Stockon, 69, Pink 69-NT.
QUALIFYING RACE: (10 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Kyle Steffens, 2. Davey Ray, 3. Terry Babb, 4. Casey Buckman, 5. Travis Welpott, 6. Tommy Nichols, 7. Gregg Cory, 8. Dave Berkheimer, 9. Patrick Lawson, 10. David Byrne, 11. Chris Fetter, 12. Brian Tyler, 13. Ronnie Wuerdeman, 14. Jake Simmons. NT
FEATURE: (100 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Justin Grant (3), 2. Jerry Coons Jr. (12), 3. Brady Bacon (16), 4. Logan Seavey (5), 5. Emerson Axsom (13), 6. Bill Rose (17), 7. Kody Swanson (1), 8. Carmen Perigo (10), 9. Terry Babb (22), 10. C.J. Leary (2), 11. Dallas Hewitt (15), 12. Brian Ruhlman (19), 13. Austin Nemire (18), 14. Travis Welpott (24), 15. Kyle Robbins (4), 16. Shane Cottle (11), 17. Casey Buckman (23), 18. Buddy Kofoid (8), 19. Kyle Steffens (20), 20. Jason McDougal (14), 21. Shane Cockrum (9), 22. Brian Tyler (26-P), 23. Matt Westfall (7), 24. Jake Swanson (6), 25. Tommy Nichols (25), 26. Davey Ray (21), 27. Eric Gordon (27). NT
(P) represents a provisional starter
**Ronnie Wuerdeman flipped during the qualifying race. Chris Fetter flipped during the qualifying race. Dave Berkheimer flipped during the qualifying race. Buddy Kofoid flipped on lap 87 of the feature.