It took 102 starts for Chris Windom to reach USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget victory lane for the first time in his career this past June.
It took just six more for the Canton, Illinois native to get there for the second time Tuesday night in the Pennsylvania Midget Week opener at Grandview Speedway. There, he fought Clauson/Marshall Racing teammate Tyler Courtney for the win on the final lap, losing the lead via a Courtney slider in turn one, then outracing him into turn three to retake the position before sealing the deal to win in the series’ first visit to the 1/3-mile dirt oval in three decades.
“Honestly, it took me a little while this year,” Windom admitted. “I raced midgets quite a bit in 2011 and 2012, but I felt like I never really ran a lot. Being off six years, these things have changed quite a bit. Most of these guys have gotten to do it two or three years straight. It took me a little bit to get back into the rhythm of it. CMR and (crew chief Tyler Ransbottom) and everybody gives us cars to go out and compete first and second with. You know you have a car to win, so you’ve got to go figure out how to do it.”
Windom was slotted into the pole position for the start of the 30-lapper after originally scheduled pole starter Zeb Wise had to go to a backup car after his engine expired at the finish of his heat race. Wise’s misfortune moved him to the tail of the field and fortuitously gave Windom the pole.
Windom slid past outside front row starter Kevin Thomas, Jr. into turn one on the opening lap, with Thomas maintaining a one to two car length distance behind Windom’s rear bumper for most of the first third of the race. Windom utilized the higher line between turns one and two but found comfort on the bottom of turns three and four until the ninth lap when he was forced into taking the high road around the lappers hugging the bottom rail.
As Thomas attempted to close on Windom a couple car lengths back, the bottom was no longer an option as a stack of traffic hung to the low side in the ensuing laps. As it turned out, it forced Windom out of the comfort zone and into the track position it turns out he needed to occupy.
“Before I caught lapped traffic, I felt like the bottom was starting to get slower,” Windom recalled. “I was actually kind of glad to see lapped traffic because it forced me to go up there and then it just felt like I was gaining more and more momentum, so that’s where I stayed. I felt like the only way anyone was going to get us running there was on a caution and a slide job.”
With 12 laps remaining, 11th running Karsyn Elledge spun to a stop between turns three and four, putting a lid on the traffic game for the leaders and bringing a resumption of the battle up front which encapsulated the top-five under a blanket just prior to the yellow.
The see-saw battle between Thomas and Courtney picked up the lap 19 restart where Courtney slid by Thomas into turn one. Thomas countered underneath to retake the runner-up spot in turn three. On lap 25, Courtney returned the favor, sliding by Thomas again in turn one. Thomas tapped Courtney on the rear bumper as the pair exited turn two, with Courtney securing the position.
Moments later, Zeb Wise and Steve Buckwalter got together in turn one while racing for 12th, sending Buckwalter flipping. Both drivers were okay. Wise drove back to an 11th place finish after restarting from the tail.
A wild scramble for second on back behind Windom allowed Windom to distance himself from the pack following the restart, building a 1.2 second lead prior to the stoppage with three to go due to a spin by USAC East Coast Sprint Car champ and 16th running Steven Drevicki between turns one and two.
Courtney was now right Windom’s tail tank once again for the three-lap sprint to the finish. Though he didn’t initially attempt a slider, Courtney began the stint with a decent restart, staying within a couple car lengths of Windom throughout the first lap. A lap later, Windom escaped Courtney, who now appeared to not be close enough to make another last-ditch run at Windom as the leaders passed under the white flag.
Further back in the pack, eighth-running Jason McDougal spun sideways to a stop in turn four to bring a halt to the event, setting up a green-white-checkered finish.
When leading in this situation, a driver is fully aware that they are ripe for the picking and a slide job is most likely going to be delivered. Windom was cognizant of that fact and had readied himself for Courtney.
“He’s on top of his game in a midget right now and he’s a really aggressive driver, so I wasn’t just expecting him to sit back and run second on a restart,” Windom said. “I knew whatever line I went to, he was going to the opposite.”
Courtney remained a car length back on the first lap following the restart, shadowing Windom and anticipating when he, himself, would shoot his shot while a hard-charging Kyle Larson raced side-by-side with Tanner Carrick for third midway down the back straight.
Courtney took his shot in turn one on the final lap and Windom already had the next half a lap planned out before Courtney even made his move.
“I felt like, at some point, it had to be coming,” Windom expected. “I was trying to get as good of a restart as I could, but when guys running second get two and three opportunities at you in the last three laps, they’re going to figure out something normally. He was able to get in front of me there and I knew my only option was to cross him over and beat him to turn three. So, that was my plan when I saw him come across my front end there. I knew I had to cross him over and just hope we got to turns three and four smoothly.”
Windom did just that, after turning his car down at the exit of two to sneak back under Courtney, drive past him on the back straight and clear him high into turn three. Courtney ducked low off turn four underneath Windom, but it wasn’t enough as Windom closed out the victory by a car length (0.191 sec.) over Courtney, Carrick, KSE Racing Products Hard Charger Tanner Thorson (from 15th) and Chad Boat.
Windom’s victory was a breakthrough for him at Grandview where he’d been a frontrunner year-after-year in USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car competition during Eastern Storm, with runner-up finishes in 2009 and 2011, third-place finishes in 2016-17-18-19 and fourth place runs in 2010 and 2012.
Contingency award winners Tuesday night at Grandview Speedway were Kyle Larson (Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier), Tanner Thorson (Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner & KSE Racing Products Hard Charger), Tyler Courtney (Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner), Jason McDougal (AutoMeter/Indy Race Parts Third Heat Winner & (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher).
USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: July 30, 2019 – Grandview Speedway – Bechtelsville, Pennsylvania – 1/3-Mile Dirt Oval – Pennsylvania Midget Week / Ken Brenn Midget Masters
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Kyle Larson, 24, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-14.310 (New Track Record); 2. Tyler Courtney, 7BC, Clauson/Marshall-14.323; 3. Jason McDougal, 76m, FMR-14.344; 4. Chris Windom, 17BC, Clauson/Marshall-14.422; 5. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 5, Petry-14.441; 6. Zeb Wise, 39BC, Clauson/Marshall-14.469; 7. Tanner Carrick, 71K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-14.469; 8. Ethan Mitchell, 19m, Bundy Built-14.520; 9. Chad Boat, 84, Tucker/Boat-14.534; 10. Jerry Coons, Jr., 25, Petry-14.554; 11. Tucker Klaasmeyer, 27, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-14.623; 12. Steven Drevicki, 12, Heckman-14.633; 13. Karsyn Elledge, 1, Tucker/Boat-14.640; 14. Andrew Layser, 47BC, Clauson/Marshall-14.653; 15. Logan Seavey, 67, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-14.671; 16. Tanner Thorson, 98, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-14.708; 17. Steve Buckwalter, 25B, Buckwalter-14.877; 18. Shawn Jackson, 7J, Jackson-15.227; 19. Bruce Buckwalter, Jr., 83, Buckwalter-15.327; 20. Ryan Greth, 4, Mullet-15.365; 21. Bobby Butler, 5B, Myers-15.408; 22. Kevin Woody, Jr., 0, Buckwalter-15.660; 23. Steve Craig, 55, Craig-15.981; 24. Brett Conkling, 0NJ, Conkling-16.109; 25. Zach Curtis, 75, Curtis-16.456.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps, all transfer to the feature) 1. Tanner Thorson, 2. Karsyn Elledge, 3. Chris Windom, 4. Jerry Coons, Jr., 5. Kyle Larson, 6. Tanner Carrick, 7. Bruce Buckwalter, Jr., 8. Kevin Woody, Jr., 9. Zach Curtis. NT
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (8 laps, all transfer to the feature) 1. Tyler Courtney, 2. Steve Buckwalter, 3. Tucker Klaasmeyer, 4. Kevin Thomas, Jr., 5. Andrew Layser, 6. Ryan Greth, 7. Ethan Mitchell, 8. Steve Craig. 1:58.97 (New Track Record)
AUTOMETER/INDY RACE PARTS THIRD HEAT: (8 laps, all transfer to the feature) 1. Jason McDougal, 2. Zeb Wise, 3. Logan Seavey, 4. Steven Drevicki, 5. Shawn Jackson, 6. Brett Conkling, 7. Chad Boat, 8. Bobby Butler. NT
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting position in parentheses) 1. Chris Windom (3), 2. Tyler Courtney (5), 3. Tanner Carrick (7), 4. Tanner Thorson (15), 5. Chad Boat (8), 6. Kevin Thomas, Jr. (2), 7. Tucker Klaasmeyer (10), 8. Kyle Larson (6), 9. Jerry Coons, Jr. (9), 10. Logan Seavey (14), 11. Zeb Wise (1), 12. Andrew Layser (13), 13. Jason McDougal (4), 14. Karsyn Elledge (12), 15. Shawn Jackson (17), 16. Zach Curtis (24), 17. Steven Drevicki (11), 18. Steve Buckwalter (16), 19. Kevin Woody, Jr. (21), 20. Bruce Buckwalter, Jr. (18), 21. Steve Craig (22), 22. Brett Conkling (23), 23. Bobby Butler (20), 24. Ryan Greth (19). NT
**Steve Buckwalter flipped on lap 24 of the feature.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-30 Chris Windom.
KSE RACING PRODUCTS HARD CHARGER: Tanner Thorson (15th to 4th)
WILWOOD BRAKES 13TH PLACE FINISHER: Jason McDougal
NEW USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Tyler Courtney-1,166, 2-Chris Windom-1,078, 3-Logan Seavey-1,033, 4-Kevin Thomas, Jr.-996, 5-Zeb Wise-966, 6-Chad Boat-939, 7-Tanner Carrick-871, 8-Jerry Coons, Jr.-864, 9-Tucker Klaasmeyer-808, 10-Jason McDougal-775.
NEXT USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: July 31, 2019 – Action Track USA – Kutztown, Pennsylvania – "Pennsylvania Midget Week" - 1/4-Mile Dirt Oval