Top Gun: Leary Rides the High Line to Sprintacular Opening Night Win
Rich Forman Photo
Top Gun: Leary Rides the High Line to Sprintacular Opening Night Win
By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Putnamville, Indiana (July 1, 2022)………In order to become a winner, one cannot simply settle on merely being a follower. One must discover their own path, their own journey, to reach their desired destination.
Such was the case for C.J. Leary who refused to stand pat midway through Friday night’s 30-lap Indiana Open Wheel Bill Gardner Sprintacular feature at Putnamville, Indiana’s Lincoln Park Speedway.
Following a mid-race caution, the Greenfield, Ind. native made an in-car adjustment and a race-changing under the helmet adjustment, ultimately deciding on a new plan of attack which took him from the bottom of the 5/16-mile dirt oval to the top in the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship and Midwest Sprint Car Series co-sanctioned event.
In quick succession on the lap 15 restart, Leary darted straight to the high line, first gliding around bottom feeding Kevin Thomas Jr. for second, then by race leader Robert Ballou on the 16th lap by mere inches at the line.
That made all the difference and set Leary forth to his second consecutive “Sprintacular” opener victory, repeating his triumphant performance from one year ago in his Michael Motorsports/Kodiak Products – Gray Auto – Highsmith Guns – DMI/DRC/Cressman Ford.
The midstream change and refusal to stand pat, paid off for Leary as he gained his second USAC National Sprint Car feature win of the season, which was also the 18th of his career, moving him past Jerry Coons Jr., Jim Hurtubise and Bud Kaeding for 33rd on the all-time list.
“I just went to the top there and started pounding the curb,” Leary recalled. “I never heard anyone up there when I was running second and third, but I felt like since there were no points for us tonight, I just needed to move around and try to win the race. I went up there and our car was really good and stable. It’s a lot of fun to come out and bang the curb; there’s only a handful of guys that can do it. It’s super technical.”
To clarify, there weren’t exactly “no points” available on this evening with 50 points being issued to all licensed USAC National Sprint Car drivers and entrants who signed in on this night regardless of finishing position. But the occasion afforded Leary the opportunity to throw caution to the wind, so to speak, in order to do what needed to be done for him to be standing in victory lane once more.
Leary began his journey from the third position in the 23-car field, and briefly fell back to fourth while pole sitter Kevin Thomas Jr. shot out to the early lead in what was his first USAC start of the season. Thomas looked like he hadn’t missed a beat until he snagged the turn four cushion on the first lap, which knocked his car askew and dropped him from first all the way back to fourth in no time flat.
That opened the door on the bottom for Leary who cruised the bottom past Chase Stockon, Robert Ballou and Thomas Jr. for the lead at the stripe. Leary’s grip of the top spot was short-lived as Ballou nosed underneath moments later in turn one, then edged away at the exit of turn two.
The running order remained unchanged with Ballou ringing the bottom while Leary ran a distant three seconds behind with Thomas reemerging to challenge Leary. On lap 12, Thomas played the limbo line to perfection, overtaking Leary in turns three and four to take over second.
By the time the yellow flag flew for 17th running Mitchel Moles’ spin and stop between turns three and four on lap 14, Ballou had ballooned his advantage to a full-straightaway, 4.071 second margin over Thomas while Leary rested a distant third. But now, Ballou’s lead was erased heading into the fateful restart which would ultimately tell the tale.
First, Leary disposed of Thomas on the initial lap of his high line excursion on lap 15. Now running second, Leary repeated the same verse and flew around Ballou to lead lap 16 at the line by the miniscule margin of 0.018 sec.
“Robert was really good on the bottom,” Leary acknowledged. “I don’t know if anybody had much for him around the bottom. I made some shock adjustments under that first yellow. I was a little bit better but still wasn’t good enough to beat him on the bottom. Then, I kind of went the other direction on the shocks.”
With the laps waning down to six to go, Leary continued to stretch his way out from Ballou to the tune of 1.3 seconds. With Ballou seeing his winning chances fade into oblivion, he briefly altered his line to the top. After the surging Brady Bacon nearly ripped away second from him, and seeing Leary up his lead to 2.25 sec., Ballou decided enough was enough and traveled back to the bottom to resecure the line.
Leary had everything well under his control up front down the stretch as he crossed the line for his second overall Bill Gardner Sprintacular feature victory by a 3.267 margin all while chaos was breaking loose behind him. One corner from the finish line, second running Ballou clipped the turn four infield tire with his left front, causing him to spin sideways. Caught up in the melee as an innocent bystander was third-place Thomas who plowed in and came to a halt as well.
With two-thirds of the podium knocked out in the blink of an eye, that elevated Bacon second and Kyle Cummins to third while Chase Stockon scored a fourth and Shane Cottle rounded out the top-five.
Bacon’s runner-up result was the Broken Arrow, Okla. racer’s third-straight USAC National Sprint Car podium finish and his fifth consecutive top-five showing in his Dynamics, Inc./Fatheadz Eyewear – Gressman Sanitation – DriveWFX – Tel-Star/Triple X/Rider Chevy
“Running on a big curb like that, that’s not really our bread and butter, but it’s encouraging that our car is capable of doing that,” Bacon stated.
“I just didn’t get a very good start to the race, and I put myself in some bad spots. There were a couple of yellows that fell right after I passed cars, so we had to pass them again. No one was really sure if the top was going to come or not; C.J. was the first one to get up there and do it. We were kind of forced up there; we did okay but I definitely wasn’t as good as him.”
Kyle Cummins (Princeton, Ind.) was superb in his first USAC National Sprint Car feature start in two-and-a-half months, collecting a third in his Rock Steady Racing/Ultimate Predator Boats – Mid-America Safety Solutions/Mach-1/Cummins Chevy.
“I really feel like we had an unbelievable racecar,” Cummins praised. “My dad built this motor yesterday and we put it in today. This thing is a rocket ship. We put on new shocks, put new torsion bars in and Hank and Michelle Byram gave me a great car. Tim Spindler sets it up and my wife takes care of the baby the whole time and she’s a handful.”
Utilizing the MSCS format of group qualifying, Ryan Thomas (Indianapolis, Ind.) recorded his first career USAC National Sprint Car Fatheadz Fast Qualifying award of his career, besting a field of 58 cars.
The 58 cars on hand were the most for a USAC National Sprint Car event since the Western World Championships of 2008 at the defunct Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix, Ariz.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: July 1, 2022 – Lincoln Park Speedway – Putnamville, Indiana – 5/16-Mile Dirt Track – IndianaOpenWheel.com Bill Gardner Sprintacular – Co-Sanctioned by the Midwest Sprint Car Series
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING GROUP ONE: 1. Chase Stockon, 5s, KO-12.622; 2. Emerson Axsom, 47BC, Clauson Marshall Newman-12.842; 3. Brent Beauchamp, 34B, Olson-12.859; 4. Logan Seavey, 5, Baldwin/Fox-12.876; 5. Jason McDougal, 5m, KO-12.884; 6. Jake Scott, 33, Miller-13.008; 7. Seth Parker, 38p, Parker-13.249; 8. Austin Graby, 7, Lotier/Nemeth-13.259; 9. Geoff Ensign, 04, Burton-13.278; 10. Donny Brackett, 4B, Brackett-13.292.
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING GROUP TWO: 1. Ryan Thomas, 77FR, Wingo-12.439; 2. C.J. Leary, 77m, Michael-12.705; 3. Jadon Rogers, 14, Engler-12.923; 4. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-12.956; 5. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-13.006; 6. Ivan Glotzbach, i1, Hayden-13.209; 7. Blake Vermillion, 73, Vermillion-13.334; 8. Collin Ambrose, 36, Ambrose-13.350; 9. Aric Gentry, 10, Gentry-13.370; 10. Chase Johnson, 2, Yeley/Petty-NT.
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING GROUP THREE: 1. Kyle Cummins, 3R, Rock Steady-12.577; 2. Brayden Fox, 53, Fox-12.713; 3. A.J. Hopkins, 77, Wingo-12.719; 4. Carson Garrett, 15, BGE Dougherty-12.722; 5. Mitchel Moles, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-12.834; 6. Travis Berryhill, 77s, Sturgeon-12.962; 7. Todd Hobson, 77AU, Sturgeon-13.215; 8. Cody Trammell, 27T, Densford-13.377; 9. Tony Helton, 87, Miller-13.787; 10. Michael Clark, 8, Clark-NT.
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING GROUP FOUR: 1. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-12.635; 2. Evan Mosley, 27, Mosley-12.768; 3. Kevin Thomas Jr., 15K, BGE Dougherty-12.899; 4. Zack Pretorius, 9z, Pretorius-12.914; 5. Tye Mihocko, 2E, Epperson-12.954; 6. Cole Bodine, 57B, DCT/Crow/Bodine-12.989; 7. Kyle Shipley, 17GP, Dutcher-13.119; 8. Max Adams, 17, On The Gass-13.151; 9. Jesse Vermillion, 5v, Vermillion-13.708; 10. Tres Mehler, 5A, Hawkins-13.987.
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING GROUP FIVE: 1. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-12.771; 2. Sterling Cling, 34, Cling-12.952; 3. Dave Darland, 36D, Darland/Curb-Agajanian-12.975; 4. Brian Hayden, 2H, Hayden-13.063; 5. Gabriel Gilbert, 10G, Gilbert-13.111; 6. Koby Barksdale, 16K, Knight-13.306; 7. Cindy Chambers, 18c, Chambers-13.621; 8. Derek Crane, 19WI, Crane-13.877; 9. Brandon Smith, 11, Smith-14.623.
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING GROUP SIX: 1. Shane Cottle, 74x, Hodges-12.633; 2. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-13.025; 3. Jake Swanson, 5T, Daming-13.104; 4. Harley Burns, 16, Burns-13.395; 5. Alec Sipes, 99, Sipes-13.561; 6. Matt McDonald, 5mc, McDonald-13.603; 7. Alex Banales, 5x, Baldwin/Fox-13.660; 8. Ryan Bond, 7R, Czoer-13.829; 9. Hunter Maddox, 24m, Maddox-NT.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-3 transfer to the feature) 1. Chase Stockon, 2. Logan Seavey, 3. Jason McDougal, 4. Brent Beauchamp, 5. Emerson Axsom, 6. Donny Brackett, 7. Geoff Ensign, 8. Seth Parker, 9. Austin Graby, 10. Jake Scott. NT
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-3 transfer to the feature) 1. C.J. Leary, 2. Matt Westfall, 3. Jadon Rogers, 4. Brandon Mattox, 5. Chase Johnson, 6. Blake Vermillion, 7. Ryan Thomas, 8. Ivan Glotzbach, 9. Collin Ambrose, 10. Aric Gentry. NT
PIT STOP USA THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-3 transfer to the feature) 1. Brayden Fox, 2. Kyle Cummins, 3. Carson Garrett, 4. Mitchel Moles, 5. A.J. Hopkins, 6. Cody Trammell, 7. Todd Hobson, 8. Tony Helton, 9. Michael Clark, 10. Travis Berryhill. NT
ROD END SUPPLY FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-3 transfer to the feature) 1. Kevin Thomas Jr., 2. Tye Mihocko, 3. Justin Grant, 4. Kyle Shipley, 5. Zack Pretorius, 6. Cole Bodine, 7. Tres Mehler, 8. Jesse Vermillion, 9. Max Adams, 10. Evan Mosley, NT
FIFTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-3 transfer to the feature) 1. Robert Ballou, 2. Dave Darland, 3. Sterling Cling, 4. Koby Barksdale, 5. Gabriel Gilbert, 6. Cindy Chambers, 7. Brandon Smith, 8. Derek Crane, 9. Brian Hayden. NT
SIXTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-3 transfer to the feature) 1. Brady Bacon, 2. Shane Cottle, 3. Jake Swanson, 4. Harley Burns, 5. Alex Banales, 6. Matt McDonald, 7. Alec Sipes, 8. Ryan Bond, 9. Hunter Maddox. NT
D-MAIN: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the C-Main) 1. Seth Parker, 2. Max Adams, 3. Tony Helton, 4. Jake Scott, 5. Ryan Bond, 6. Travis Berryhill, 7. Ivan Glotzbach, 8. Collin Ambrose, 9. Derek Crane, 10. Austin Graby, 11. Michael Clark, 12. Jesse Vermillion. NT
C-MAIN: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the semi) 1. Geoff Ensign, 2. Cody Trammell, 3. Cole Bodine, 4. Blake Vermillion, 5. Tres Mehler, 6. Ryan Thomas, 7. Donny Brackett, 8. Max Adams, 9. Brandon Smith, 10. Alec Sipes, 11. Cindy Chambers, 12. Seth Parker, 13. Matt McDonald, 14. Jake Scott, 15. Todd Hobson, 16. Tony Helton. NT
ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS SEMI: (12 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Mitchel Moles, 2. Brandon Mattox, 3. Emerson Axsom, 4. Koby Barksdale, 5. A.J. Hopkins, 6. Harley Burns, 7. Cody Trammell, 8. Geoff Ensign, 9. Chase Johnson, 10. Cole Bodine, 11. Alex Banales, 12. Gabriel Gilbert, 13. Brent Beauchamp, 14. Blake Vermillion, 15. Zack Pretorius, 16. Kyle Shipley. NT
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. C.J. Leary (3), 2. Brady Bacon (6), 3. Kyle Cummins (9), 4. Chase Stockon (4), 5. Shane Cottle (12), 6. Tye Mihocko (10), 7. Jake Swanson (18), 8. Justin Grant (16), 9. Logan Seavey (7), 10. Jadon Rogers (14), 11. Matt Westfall (8), 12. Emerson Axsom (21), 13. Sterling Cling (17), 14. Brandon Mattox (20), 15. Mitchel Moles (19), 16. Dave Darland (11), 17. Brayden Fox (2), 18. Robert Ballou (5), 19. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1), 20. Collin Ambrose (23-P), 21. Carson Garrett (15), 22. Jason McDougal (13), 23. Koby Barksdale (22). NT
(P) MSCS Provisional Starter
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Lap 1 C.J. Leary, Laps 2-15 Robert Ballou, Laps 16-30 C.J. Leary.**Jesse Vermillion flipped during the D-Main.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Justin Grant-1017, 2-Brady Bacon-1006, 3-Robert Ballou-968, 4-Logan Seavey-947, 5-C.J. Leary-939, 6-Emerson Axsom-920, 7-Chase Stockon-860, 8-Matt Westfall-768, 9-Jake Swanson-666, 10-Jadon Rogers-643.
OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Robert Ballou-54, 2-Brady Bacon-52, 3-Justin Grant-51, 4-Thomas Meseraull-51, 5-Alex Bright-46, 6-Buddy Kofoid-45, 7-Jadon Rogers-41, 8-Logan Seavey-39, 9-Emerson Axsom-39, 10-Matt Westfall-36.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: July 2, 2022 – Lincoln Park Speedway – Putnamville, Indiana – 5/16-Mile Dirt Track – IndianaOpenWheel.com Bill Gardner Sprintacular – Co-Sanctioned by the Midwest Sprint Car Series
CONTINGENCY AWARD WINNERS:
Dirt Draft Hot Laps Fastest Driver: Ryan Thomas
Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier: Ryan Thomas
Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner: Chase Stockon
Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner: C.J. Leary
Pit Stop USA Third Heat Winner: Brayden Fox
Rod End Supply Fourth Heat: Kevin Thomas Jr.
Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Semi Winner: Mitchel Moles
GSP Quality Driving Performance: Jason McDougal
Feature Hard Charger: Jake Swanson (18th to 7th)