AMSOIL Sprints
Tuesday, 29 August 2017


#17GP Tyler Thomas and eventual winner #23c Tyler Courtney battle for the lead on the final lap of last Saturday's "Sprint Car Smackdown VI" at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway. #17GP Tyler Thomas and eventual winner #23c Tyler Courtney battle for the lead on the final lap of last Saturday's "Sprint Car Smackdown VI" at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway. Travis Branch Photo


By: Richie Murray – USAC Media

Four consecutive nights lay ahead for the baddest dirt sprint car drivers to shine on America’s baddest bullring – Kokomo Speedway.  A joint that puts drivers to the test and an event which brings out everybody’s best.  Four nights that saw dominating performances by familiar faces, an ultimate display of perseverance and a finale that saw heartbreak, jubilation and fisticuffs all within the span of a single lap - this was “Sprint Car Smackdown VI.”

Kokomo Speedway has been the stage and Kevin Thomas, Jr. has been the show during late August USAC appearances over the past two seasons.

After winning three of four features during last year’s “Sprint Car Smackdown” week, Thomas continued the roll Wednesday night in the prelude to “Smackdown” - “GYATK Night.”

The Cullman, Alabama driver began his race from the outside of row two and quickly worked his way to the front past Jarett Andretti inside turn three for the second position on a lap four restart, then began his pursuit of Chris Windom for the lead.

Thomas showed a nose underneath Windom on both ends of the racetrack on the sixth lap.  In response, Windom protected the bottom, thus opening up the topside for Thomas who blasted around the outside of Windom on the back straightaway on the following lap. 

KTJ extended his lead to three-plus seconds by race’s end to capture his second-straight Kokomo USAC Special Event victory in as many years over Chris Windom and Robert Ballou.

In 2016, “Smackdown” weekend was owned by C.J. Leary and Kevin Thomas, Jr.  The two alternated victories throughout the three nights of racing.  That trend continued Thursday night when it became Leary’s turn to plant the battle flag into the dirt nearly one year to the day after his breakthrough USAC National Sprint Car victory on the very same spot.

Leary set course for the lead at the drop of the green, sliding up to the top of turn one to take the spot.  Outside front row starter Hunter Schuerenberg quickly countered using a high/low move off turn two to pull even with Leary on the back straightaway.  However, Leary was too strong on the top and secured the position off turn four to lead lap one.

A pair of restarts in the second half of the 30-lapper didn’t rattle Leary’s nerves a bit as he pulled away each time.  Bacon ran the middle in pursuit of Leary, pulling alongside multiple times to no avail while Leary ripped the top - a place in which he had no intentions of leaving.

Though his car began the night too tight, Leary and crew chief Donnie Gentry loosened it up to finish off the nearly-flawless performance by two seconds over Brady Bacon and Robert Ballou.

Sprint Car racing is chock full of ups and downs.  Sometimes you’re in victory lane and sometimes you end up on your head.

Tyler Courtney experienced both ends of the spectrum on Friday night of “Smackdown,” first going for a big ride after biking it between turns three and four on his qualifying run just one lap after second quick time.

With help from several crews in the pit area, Courtney’s TOPP Motorsports team got the car back together in time for the remainder of the night.

Initially, it appeared as if the 30-lapper was going to be a carbon-copy of the night before when fourth-starting C.J. Leary ripped the cushion to the lead exiting turn two at the start.  The rocket ship would quickly be grounded, though, when Leary snagged the turn one curb before contacting the concrete and nosing over, ending the race for the previous night’s winner after only one lap.

On lap eight, contact between new leader Hunter Schuerenberg and Kevin Thomas, Jr. pitted Thomas sideways.  The contact was Courtney’s gain as he ate up ground on the bottom to whip past both Grant, then Thomas in quick succession to get to second.

On the tenth lap, Courtney continued to crawl the bottom to move past Schuerenberg for the race lead exiting turn four, holding the spot by a car-length at the line at the conclusion of the lap.

On the final lap, second-running Brady Bacon clocked in with his fastest time of the race and got a nose underneath Courtney entering turn three.  One more lap might have been all Bacon needed, but it was not to be as Courtney secured his first career Kokomo sprint car win in front of Bacon and Kevin Thomas, Jr.

Rarely does an event truly live up to its moniker, but Saturday night’s “Sprint Car Smackdown VI” finale was an apt description of how the final laps and post-race theatrics unfolded at Kokomo Speedway.

One-hundred-eighty-seven USAC National Sprint Car wins were present throughout Saturday night’s stacked feature lineup, yet none belonged to Tyler Thomas coming in.  Thomas used the turn two wall as an extension of the racing surface to dominate the first 39 and three-quarter laps of the 40-lapper.

On the final lap, with victory a near certainty for Thomas, the yellow flag flew for the spun car of Brady Bacon in turn four.  By rule, that set up a green-white-checker, two-lap dash situation.

It became a duel between the two unrelated Thomases – Tyler and Kevin Jr. – when racing resumed.  Kevin attempted a slider for the lead on the restart to no avail as Tyler sped away.  On the final lap, Tyler banged the wall.  Just behind him, Kevin mimicked the same concrete kiss and flipped wildly to end his bid at a repeat “Smackdown” victory.

On the next green-white-checker try, new second-place driver Chris Windom dove to the bottom to take the lead.  Thomas once again hooked the wall, but recovered and was able to slide past Windom into turn three as did Tyler Courtney.  Dropping to third momentarily, Windom used a diamond pattern to miraculously drive underneath both to reclaim the lead as the white flag waved.

Windom once again slid up to the top into one.  Thomas then split between Courtney and Windom to pull wheel-to-wheel with Windom when the two touched, sending Windom into a spin as third-running Courtney ramped over his nose.

During the yellow, Windom took umbrage with Thomas, forcing USAC officials to dislodge Windom’s steering wheel from Thomas’ nerf bar before he could continue.

Some say the third time is the charm, but that would not be the case for Thomas on the third attempt at a green white checker finish.  Courtney shadowed Thomas’ every movement until turn one when he reared back and took his shot at Thomas for the lead.  Thomas countered to the inside, but lost momentum, yet still had one remaining breath left in the tank.

With the white flag in the air, Thomas went to the bottom and slid wheel-to-wheel beside Courtney, so close you could hardly slide a credit card between each’s tires.  Courtney kept his foot in it and sped around the outside of Thomas to remain in front where he would finish off the biggest win of his career just ahead of Tyler Thomas and Robert Ballou.

With just 10 races left, Justin Grant has extended his series point lead to 93 over Chris Windom, Tyler Courtney, Kevin Thomas, Jr. and Chad Boespflug.