First Time Winner
Columbus, IN - Once again, the USAC/MSCS sprinters showed us that a racer can start on the pole, lead all 30 laps, and still give the fans a thrilling show. Throw in the fact that Stephen Schnapf was the pole sitter and a first time winner to add more drama. Finally, consider that Schnapf was one of the local favorites and the partisan crowd went home smiling all the way.
The first thing I noticed was long lines, haulers backed up to the county road E1025 South. My usual parking area had plenty of room and I was set to see what had changed and what hadn't. Given these times, a degree of social distancing was the norm—our new reality for now.
Pit walk time. As usual Donnie Brackett's team had claimed their pit spot which featured one of the friendliest dogs you'll ever want to pet. Florida transplant Anthony D'Alessio had secured the services of Mike Dutcher. It's common knowledge that C. J. Leary is back in the family car. Critter Malone was driving a Kent Schmidt car. Also, common knowledge is the return of Jonathan Vennard, one of several Tri-State racers in the house. Shane Cottle hooked up with the Josh Hodges team this spring. And Kurt Gross, who has been AWOL from driving one of these beasts for several years, was back with his familiar 1X.
The track didn't go away as the 45 cars worked it over. Donny Brackett led the first flight of contestants and his sub-14 second lap was looking like the overall quick time until Dave Darland, 32nd in line, topped them all with an impressive 13.647.
Donny Brackett took the first heat by a half straightaway over Robert Ballou, Jaden Rogers and Jonathan Vennard. Shane Cottle led some colleagues to the B.
C. J. Leary took the lead halfway through the second heat and won, leading Brady Bacon, Dustin Clark (who led the first five laps) and Carson Short to the line. Kevin Thomas Jr. prepared for the B.
Kyle Cummins blasted his way to the lead on the first lap and never looked back in the third heat. Aric Gentry and Chase Stockon made it a regional sweep with Dakota Jackson, who lives near me, taking fourth and sending Dave Darland to the B.
On their fourth try, the boys finally got going after three tries with another area racer, Stephen Schnapf, winning the fourth heat by a goodly margin. Chris Windom, Brandon Mattox and Justin Grant locked in feature starting spots.
The C Main lineup contained some strong entries and one of them, Mario Clouser, took Kent Schmidt, Brandon Morin and Logan Seavey with him to tag the B.
The B Main's lineup resembled a typical feature field with Kevin Thomas Jr. prevailing over Kendall Ruble, Charles Davis Jr., Max Adams and Anton Hernandez, who hustled from 12th to grab the last chair from pole sitter Dave Darland. The People's Champ used a provisional.
Schnapf and Ballou led 24 of their best friends to the green. Maybe we shouldn't have been surprised when the local kid beat the seasoned veteran to the corner; at any rate, that's what he did. Third starting Kyle Cummins crashed the party immediately, taking second from Ballou and pressuring the leader for all he was worth.
As the front running duo battled, Donny Brackett quickly caught and passed Ballou for third. Brackett made the pass and it was understandable if the crowd was delirious. The top three can call the track their home and this was both rare and impressive.
Lapped traffic had been an issue since lap 5 but the more experienced Cummins couldn't get much closer than a few car lengths to Schnapf. However, as the halfway mark approached, Cummins closed the gap and labored mightily to get underneath the 61 car in the turns, but it wasn’t happening. Meanwhile, Brackett, Ballou and Brady Bacon were engaged in a dogfight of their own for third through fifth.
The yellow flag waved on lap 20 as Anton Hernandez slowed on the front stretch. The top ten were Schnapf, Cummins, Brackett, Ballou, Bacon, C. Short, Windom, Leary, Rogers and Grant. The green waved and one had to give both Schnapf and Cummins credit. Schnapf deserved kudos for holding off a guy who is very difficult to beat at Tri-State and the guy himself, Cummins, for his persistence.
But that ended for Kyle as his engine became an issue. Brackett passed him for second on lap 24. A lap later Ballou did the same, then Cummins, always a crowd favorite here, coasted to a stop in the infield. It might have been tempting to say that Schnapf was home free. Heh, heh.
On the white flag lap, Kendall Ruble spun in turn two, bringing out the yellow and presenting Schnapf with a green/white/checkered situation, not a leader’s favorite scenario. But the local boy was more than up to the task, motoring to the checkered flag and his first USAC feature victory. Behind him, Brackett was having trouble with what seemed to be a loose condition. His half spin in turn four of the last lap gave Ballou the silver medal. Third place Kevin Thomas Jr. was the KSE Racing Products Hard Charger, coming from 15th. Carson Short started and finished fourth in the Daigh/Phillips machine (though I call them Carla, Steve and Frank). Justin Grant was fifth and maintained his point lead over sixth place Chris Windom. Chase Stockon was a quiet seventh with Brady Bacon eighth. Much improved Jadon Rogers was ninth and Brady Short came from the B to start 21st and finish tenth. Brackett’s last lap boo-boo put him in 11th after an otherwise fine effort.
The trip home was, well, different. From U.S. 50 to I-69 to Indiana S.R. 46 to home, we might have encountered two dozen vehicles. In addition, we lost the hour we’d gained in going to Haubstadt. That added up to a 3 AM arrival home. If that wasn’t enough, we have this virus hanging over our heads, especially us geezers. It’s all a part of life. Even in not dealing with it, you can be assured that it won’t go away.
I’d not have it any other way because sometimes the surprises, like first time winners, are good ones.
Remembering not to wear my mask over my eyes, I’m…