Story By: RICHIE MURRAY / USAC – YORK HAVEN, PA – C.J. Leary withstood a bevy of bombs fired at him from both Justin Grant and Chris Windom down the stretch to score his first victory of the 2021 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car season during a rare matinee performance on Saturday for the series at BAPS Motor Speedway in York Haven, Pa., round three of Keystone Invasion.
In the process, Leary (Greenfield, Ind.) also provided the first victory by a Ford engine with the series since Bobby East’s triumph at Ohio’s Toledo Speedway in July of 2011.
Furthermore, Leary’s win gave car owner Bill Michael his first career USAC National Sprint Car victory. Michael, of Chino Valley, Ariz., took his team on the road with the USAC National series for the first time this year after previously winning a record 39 USAC Southwest Sprint Car features, most notably with driver R.J. Johnson, while earning an unprecedented four consecutive USAC Southwest Sprint Car championships between 2013-16.
“It’s huge for Bill and me,” Leary exclaimed. “With a new team, you obviously want to win right out of the box, but he let me build whatever I wanted. He said you can build whatever chassis and whatever shocks you want, but the only thing he made sure of was that we were going to run a Ford. The objective is to win a championship and he wanted to give it his best shot. Bill Michael, he’s a helluva guy.”
Leary and Michael’s first racing foray together came in March of 2020, when the pair swept both nights of USAC CRA/Southwest competition at Canyon Speedway Park in Peoria, Ariz., providing them the confidence right off the bat that they truly had something there that could become truly special on the racetrack.
Now, with a National win in their back pockets, the duo feels that, as the lone rangers in the Ford camp, if they were to consistently find that sweet spot as the season moves along, they’d have a leg-up on the rest of the field in their Michael Motorsports/Kodiak Products – Gray Auto – Valvoline/DRC/Cressman Ford.
The car, driver and engine were inserted into a tricky test during the afternoon affair, which had been pushed forward by four hours due to a high probability of inclement weather in the forecast for later that night during the originally scheduled race time.
With track position a cornerstone on this particular day, outside front row starter Leary took control of the 30-lap race from the get-go, driving by pole sitter Matt Westfall in the first two corners while Chase Stockon, then a few laps later, Justin Grant, slotted into second before glancing off the turn two guardrail on a slicked off, but racy surface around the 4/10-mile dirt oval.
Leary was gone at that point, snipping his way through traffic with a full-straightaway lead in hand by lap 12. Attempting to maneuver through a clogged artery of the racetrack, Leary dissected his way high and low around the competition, and at times, teetering over the cushion, and brushing Hoosier rubber with the likes of Thomas Meseraull, which momentarily put Leary precariously sideways in turn three at the midway point.
With Grant cutting Leary’s lead in half, a yellow for debris in turn two reset the deck and cleared the traffic from Leary’s path. Yet, as it turned out, traffic was arguably a safer position to reside in rather than being in the role of “sitting duck” as the leader on a restart.
There, Grant shot his shot with a slider in turn one, going all the way past Leary, and over the turn two cushion, which opened the door for both Robert Ballou and Windom to skate by, though Windom quickly snared second from Ballou with a slide job of his own in turn three moments later.
All that was a major help for Leary who raced away from the skirmish behind him with a clear view ahead.
“After Justin bombed me getting into one, I thought he was going to get upside down and collect me and whoever else was behind me,” Leary said. “I turned, crossed him over, and got back out in clear air, and I felt we had the car to beat on an open track. Even in lapped traffic, I felt pretty solid.”
However, the “great escape” that netted Leary a massive 5.467 sec. advantage was short lived when, on lap 21, Ricky Lewis (14th) and Brandon Mattox (15th) collided in turn one, flipping both over. Joey Biasi (18th) also got caught up in the melee, spinning to a stop. All drivers involved were uninjured.
During the red flag period, Leary received a message from his dear old dad, Chuck Leary, a winner himself in the USAC Silver Crown series who’s been in a similar position a time or two behind the wheel and was there on this occasion to lend a bit of a “heads up.”
“After the red came out, my dad ran all the way around the racetrack to tell me to be prepared on the restart for another bomb. He told me to think about protecting and sliding yourself. I contemplated for three or four minutes while riding around whether or not I should slide myself or keep doing what I was doing. As it turned out, I slid myself and almost gave it away.”
Windom, from the second position, used a massive run off turn two to set himself up for a slider attempt on Leary in turn three. Windom cleared Leary but snagged the cushion. Leary turned down underneath Windom and the two banged wheels, with Leary getting himself back into the lead while Windom fell to third and Grant ducked under to regain second.
“Chris actually made a mistake getting into three and four, and over rotated, and I think he thought I was going to be coming around the outside of him,” Leary explained. “He cleared me by a mile, but we made contact and I just drove off from there, and in clear air, our car was so good.”
Not close enough to fire any more ammo nor close enough to levy a credible challenge following that juncture, Grant and Windom could only look in the distance as Leary pulled away for a 2.651 sec. victory over Grant, Windom, KSE Racing Products / Irvin King Hard Charger Alex Bright (from 16th) and point leader Brady Bacon, who rounded out the top-five.
The win was the first of Leary’s career with USAC in the state of Pennsylvania in what was his ninth trip to compete in the Keystone State. It was also the 2019 series champion’s 12th overall win with the series, tying him with Eric Gordon for 46th on the all-time list.
Grant (Ione, Calif.) finished 2nd in his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink – MPV Express – TOPP Industries/Maxim/Kistler Chevy, by far his best run of the week in Pennsylvania following 13th and 9th place finishes over the past two nights at Grandview and Big Diamond, respectively.
Same for Windom (Canton, Ill.) who equaled his best finish of the season (3rd) aboard his Hayward Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink – B & H Contractors – AMSOIL/DRC/Claxton Mopar just one night after his 21-race streak of top-ten finishes with the series came to a close.
Steven Drevicki (Reading, Pa.) earned his first career fast qualifying time with the series, and also became the third consecutive Pennsylvanian to record fast time during Fatheadz Qualifying this week following Briggs Danner (Allentown, Pa.) at Grandview, and Timmy Buckwalter (Douglassville, Pa.) at Big Diamond. Drevicki, the three-time USAC East Coast Sprint Car champion, finished a career-best 7th in the feature.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: April 24, 2021 – BAPS Motor Speedway – York Haven, Pennsylvania – 4/10-Mile Dirt Track – Keystone Invasion
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Steven Drevicki, 19s, DeGre-19.349; 2. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-19.425; 3. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-19.595; 4. Kevin Thomas Jr., 9K, KT-19.639; 5. Chase Stockon, 5s, KO-19.802; 6. Ricky Lewis, 11L, Lewis-19.908; 7. C.J. Leary, 77m, Michael-19.926; 8. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-19.927; 9. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-20.036; 10. Isaac Chapple, 52, Chapple-20.110; 11. Alex Bright, 20, Hummer-20.149; 12. Jake Swanson, 21AZ, Team AZ-20.181; 13. Tanner Thorson, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-20.187; 14. Mike Meyers, 10m, Meyers-20.351; 15. Chris Windom, 19, Hayward-20.376; 16. Nash Ely, 3BC, Franckowiak-20.383; 17. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-20.412; 18. Paul Nienhiser, 5N, KO-20.439; 19. Joey Biasi, B1, Biasi-20.559; 20. Mark Smith, 3R, Rock Steady/Mach-1-20.731; 21. Thomas Meseraull, 39, Hogue-20.741; 22. Troy Fraker, 12w, Fraker-20.882; 23. Briggs Danner, 5G, Gallagher-21.130; 24. Billy Ney, 83s, Ney-21.332; 25. Tom Savage, 38s, Savage-21.370.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. C.J. Leary, 2. Tanner Thorson, 3. Nash Ely, 4. Steven Drevicki, 5. Kevin Thomas Jr., 6. Joey Biasi, 7. Isaac Chapple, 8. Tom Savage, 9. Troy Fraker. 2:42.437
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Robert Ballou, 2. Alex Bright, 3. Matt Westfall, 4. Chase Stockon, 5. Briggs Danner, 6. Brandon Mattox, 7. Mark Smith, 8. Mike Meyers. 2:45.519
INDY METAL FINISHING/INDY RACE PARTS THIRD HEAT: (8 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Chris Windom, 2. Justin Grant, 3. Jake Swanson, 4. Brady Bacon, 5. Billy Ney, 6. Paul Nienhiser, 7. Thomas Meseraull, 8. Ricky Lewis. NT
ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS SEMI: (10 laps, top-7 transfer to the feature) 1. Isaac Chapple, 2. Mark Smith, 3. Ricky Lewis, 4. Thomas Meseraull, 5. Brandon Mattox, 6. Paul Nienhiser, 7. Joey Biasi, 8. Mike Meyers, 9. Troy Fraker, 10. Tom Savage. 3:26.334
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. C.J. Leary (2), 2. Justin Grant (5), 3. Chris Windom (7), 4. Alex Bright (16), 5. Brady Bacon (11), 6. Robert Ballou (8), 7. Steven Drevicki (6), 8. Jake Swanson (13), 9. Paul Nienhiser (15), 10. Thomas Meseraull (22), 11. Kevin Thomas Jr. (4), 12. Chase Stockon (3), 13. Matt Westfall (1), 14. Mark Smith (18), 15. Isaac Chapple (12), 16. Briggs Danner (20), 17. Nash Ely (19), 18. Tanner Thorson (14), 19. Ricky Lewis (10), 20. Brandon Mattox (9), 21. Joey Biasi (17), 22. Billy Ney (21). NT
**Ricky Lewis and Brandon Mattox flipped on lap 21 of the feature.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-30 C.J. Leary.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Brady Bacon-576, 2-Justin Grant-522, 3-Kevin Thomas Jr.-512, 4-C.J. Leary-494, 5-Tanner Thorson-467, 6-Chris Windom-466, 7-Robert Ballou-445, 8-Jake Swanson-429, 9-Chase Stockon-320, 10-Paul Nienhiser-298.
OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Robert Ballou-50, 2-Brady Bacon-36, 3-Chris Windom-30, 4-Tanner Thorson-29, 5-Thomas Meseraull-27, 6-C.J. Leary-21, 7-Bryant Wiedeman-21, 8-Justin Grant-20, 9-Buddy Kofoid-20, 10-Paul Nienhiser-18.
CONTINGENCY AWARD WINNERS:
GSP Driving Performance of the Night: Briggs Danner
Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier: Steven Drevicki
Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner: C.J. Leary
Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner: Robert Ballou
Indy Metal Finishing / Indy Race Parts Third Heat Winner: Chris Windom
Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Semi Winner: Isaac Chapple
KSE Racing Products / Irvin King Hard Charger: Alex Bright (16th to 4th)
Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher: Matt Westfall
Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer: Mike Meyers
Top-Finishing 360 c.i. Engine: Mark Smith (14th)