Tyler Courtney’s grip of the “Kokomo Grand Prix” seems to be as firm as the grip he currently holds on the USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship following Friday night’s victory at Kokomo Speedway, his second straight in the “GP” and his third in the first four races on the 2019 series’ trail.
The Indianapolis, Indiana driver raced to the lead just prior to the halfway point, utilizing the bottom of the racetrack to track down early race leader Kevin Thomas, Jr. on lap 15 and carry on to nab the eighth win of his career in his Clauson-Marshall Racing/NOS Energy Drink/Spike/Stanton SR-11x, tying him for 77thall-time.
Courtney began his expedition from the outside of row three while pole sitter K. Thomas slid up past outside front row starter Thomas Meseraull in turn one for the point on the opening lap.
The first stoppage of the night arrived on the fourth lap of the main when Tony DiMattia took a tumble in turn four from which he walked away uninjured.
On the ensuing restart, K. Thomas once again spurted away to a relatively comfortable margin of one second while CMR teammates Chris Windom and Courtney battled side-by-side for the runner-up spot. Courtney found the bottom of the quarter-mile to his liking and quickly ate up enough ground to nip Windom at the line for second on lap six, just before the yellow flag flew for a turn two spin by Justin Peck.
When racing resumed, K. Thomas and Courtney formed a two-car breakaway to distance themselves from the herd. Courtney kept inching closer and closer, sticking right within earshot of Thomas nearing the midway point. On the 14th lap, Courtney’s stick-to-itiveness paid off when he ran down K. Thomas, beating him to the entry of turn one before sliding up in front to nail down the lead.
Courtney had a plan and executed it perfectly on the bottom, something he attributes to his extensive experience watching, crewing and racing at Kokomo over the years.
“I ran the bottom all night, especially in (turns) three and four,” Courtney explained. “It got pretty rough in one and two, so you had to search to find other ways to go. I knew the bottom was going to be the place to be. I watched a lot of races that were won here on the bottom, especially off of four. Watching those guys and learning from the best, Bryan (Clauson) being one of them, I was fortunate I got to watch him race a lot here and be a part of it. I think I would credit a lot to being a part of it and watching and take notes mentally and using it to capitalize here tonight.”
Courtney’s lead grew to two seconds by the 20th lap as K. Thomas became mired in lapped traffic, allowing Courtney to break away into his own zip code, albeit briefly, as Zane Hendricks slowed to a stop in turn two, thus resetting the landscape for the finish of the 30-lapper.
However, Courtney was unfazed with the lapped car of Cole Bodine separating he and K. Thomas, Windom and Jason McDougal in second, third and fourth. Courtney said ‘sayonara’ as a cornucopia of drivers behind him jostled for position. McDougal eventually prevailed with the second spot using a topside pass of K. Thomas in turn four on lap 24. But, with Courtney a distant three seconds ahead, McDougal needed a caution for any shot and, alas, he would receive one when Andrew Layser flipped between turns three and four on the 28th lap. He was uninjured.
The stage was set for a three-lap dash to the finish with Courtney leading and McDougal in second. Rewind back to last Labor Day Weekend and McDougal was in relatively the same position in Pevely, Mo. to win his first career USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car race. He conquered that quest, and now had a similar storyline setting up for his first career USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget score in his first ever drive for Steve Reynolds Motorsports.
Courtney had other plans, however.
“I didn’t really know what I was going to get with Jason,” Courtney pondered. “He’s good at the end of races; he proved it last year at Pevely. I was a little bit in defense mode, but I knew I just needed to hit my marks and make three good laps there at the end to put ourselves in position to be where we were.”
“I knew he’d be running the top because that’s where he loves to be,” Courtney continued. “But nobody had passed me on the bottom the whole night, so I knew if I could just run where they were running, nobody was going to go where I was going. It was just a matter of putting yourself in the right place at the right time.”
Courtney stuck to his guns and burst away on the restart, never allowing McDougal to get anywhere close enough to throw a haymaker for the win, closing out his fifth career USAC National win at Kokomo (3 sprint, 2 midget) by just a tick under a full second ahead of a wheel-standing McDougal in second, followed by Windom, Zeb Wise and K. Thomas.
Contingency award winners Friday night at Kokomo Speedway were Dillon Welch (Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier), Tanner Carrick (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner), Tyler Courtney (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Ethan Mitchell (Auto Meter Third Heat Winner), Zeb Wise (Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner), Dave Darland (KSE Racing Products/Sundollar Restoration Hard Charger), Tyler Thomas (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher) and Jake Neuman (Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer).
USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: April 5, 2019 – Kokomo Speedway – Kokomo, Indiana – “Kokomo Grand Prix” – ¼-Mile Dirt Oval
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Dillon Welch, 81, Tucker/Boat-12.665 (New Track Record); 2. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson/Marshall-12.695; 3. C.J. Leary, 76m, FMR-12.712; 4. Logan Seavey, 67, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-12.747; 5. Chris Windom, 17BC, Clauson/Marshall-12.819; 6. Jason McDougal, 21KS, Reynolds-12.844; 7. Tony DiMattia, 50, TDM-12.869; 8. Thomas Meseraull, 7R, RMS-12.904; 9. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 5, Petry-12.921; 10. Chad Boat, 84, Tucker/Boat-12.936; 11. Jesse Colwell, 71, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-12.946; 12. Zeb Wise, 39BC, Clauson/Marshall-12.957; 13. Tucker Klaasmeyer, 27, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-12.980; 14. Holley Hollan, 67K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-13.022; 15. Justin Grant, 4A, RAMS-13.027; 16. Andrew Layser, 47BC, Clauson/Marshall-13.033; 17. Tanner Carrick, 71K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-13.066; 18. Ace McCarthy, 28, Neuman-13.100; 19. Jerry Coons, Jr., 25, Petry-13.107; 20. Zane Hendricks, 27z, Hendricks-13.118; 21. Justin Peck, 17, Bus-13.146; 22. Tyler Thomas, 91T, Thomas-13.149; 23. Ethan Mitchell, 19m, Bundy Built-13.247; 24. Dave Darland, 36, RMS-13.250; 25. Tyler Nelson, 88, Nelson-13.265; 26. Sterling Cling, 35, Petry-13.283; 27. Jake Neuman, 3N, Neuman-13.289; 28. Cole Bodine, 15, Petry-13.295; 29. Kyle O’Gara, 67F, SFH-13.458; 30. Karsyn Elledge, 1, Tucker/Boat-13.717; 31. Justin Dickerson, 21D, Dickerson-13.965; 32. Oliver Akard, 41, Akard-14.943.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer) 1. Carrick, 2. K. Thomas, 3. Klaasmeyer, 4. Windom, 5. Welch, 6. Peck, 7. Nelson, 8. O'Gara. 2:10.06 (New Track Record)
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer) 1. Courtney, 2. T. Thomas, 3. McDougal, 4. Boat, 5. McCarthy, 6. Hollan, 7. Cling, 8. Elledge. 2:12.78
AUTO METER THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer) 1. Mitchell, 2. Coons, 3. Leary, 4. Colwell, 5. DiMattia, 6. Neuman, 7. Dickerson, 8. Grant. NT
INDY RACE PARTS FOURTH HEAT: (10 laps, top-4 transfer) 1. Wise, 2. Darland, 3. Meseraull, 4. Layser, 5. Seavey, 6. Hendricks, 7. Bodine. 2:13.62
SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer) 1. Seavey, 2. Welch, 3. Hollan, 4. Hendricks, 5. Peck, 6. DiMatta, 7. Neuman, 8. Bodine, 9. O'Gara, 10. Cling, 11. Elledge, 12. McCarthy, 13. Nelson. NT
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting position in parentheses) 1. Tyler Courtney (6), 2. Jason McDougal (3), Chris Windom (4), 4. Zeb Wise (12), 5. Kevin Thomas, Jr.(1), 6. Logan Seavey (8), 7. Thomas Meseraull (2), 8. Dillon Welch (7), 9. C.J. Leary (5), 10. Tanner Carrick (16), 11. Dave Darland (21), 12. Chad Boat (10), 13. Tyler Thomas (20), 14. Jesse Colwell (11), 15. Tucker Klaasmeyer (13), 16. Andrew Layser (15), 17. Holley Hollan (14), 18. Ethan Mitchell (24), 19. Cole Bodine (22), 20. Karsyn Elledge (23), 21. Zane Hendricks (18), 22. Jerry Coons, Jr. (17), 23. Justin Peck (19), 24. Tony DiMattia (9). NT
**Boat flipped during practice. Grant flipped during the third heat. Nelson flipped during the semi. DiMattia flipped on lap 4 of the feature.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-14 K. Thomas, Laps 15-30 Courtney.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS/SUNDOLLAR RESTORATION HARD CHARGER: Dave Darland (21st to 11th)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Tyler Thomas
SALDANA RACING PRODUCTS FIRST NON-TRANSFER: Jake Neuman
NEW USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Courtney-299, 2-K. Thomas-272, 3-Leary-244, 4-Windom-242, 5-Boat-228, 6-Wise-214, 7-Klaasmeyer-214, 8-Carrick-213, 9-Seavey-212, 10-Colwell-186.
NEXT USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: April 6, 2019 – Kokomo Speedway – Kokomo, Indiana – “Kokomo Grand Prix” – ¼-Mile Dirt Oval