Leary Wins Don Smith Classic at Terre Haute
Series News Release from USAC Media
C.J. Leary had waited, waited and patiently waited for this night to arrive – a first career USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship feature victory at the hallowed grounds of the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track.
He’d actually won his first career USAC national event at the half-mile dirt oval back in 2016, piloting a Silver Crown car. However, despite his best efforts over the past decade, the Greenfield, Ind. native had never finished higher than fourth in a sprinter at Terre Haute.
That narrative changed in an instant during Friday night’s 12th running of the Don Smith Classic when a late caution bunched up the field and allowed Leary a renewed opportunity to pen his own triumphant script with just 11 laps remaining.
Diving to the bottom of turn one on the lap 20 restart, Leary surpassed Moles and discarded all the hurdles that had previously stood in his path.
After once and for all exorcising those Terre Haute demons, Leary checked out and checked off his first career victory at the western Indiana track, pulling away to a commanding 6.328 second margin of separation between he and his nearest competition at the finish line.
After exiting his Michael Motorsports/Kodiak Products – Gray Auto – Highsmith Guns – DMI/DRC/Cressman Ford, C.J.’s father, Chuck, greeted him on the front straightway with the universal verbal sigh of relief, shouting, “finally!”
”We’ve been racing for 10 years, and we’ve never been able to win a sprint car race here,” C.J. exclaimed. “This place has escaped me time and time again. I’ve never really been that good here, so it feels pretty special to park this thing in victory lane. I worked my butt off there those last 10 laps. Mitchel was really good and, before that yellow, I think he had the race won; he was so far out there.”
In fact, Moles had dominated since the drop of the green flag from his pole position in his first appearance for the Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports team, which had fielded driver Tanner Thorson, who recently vacated the seat that he had competed in for the past two seasons.
Moles looked every bit the part of a series veteran early on as he appeared to be a prime contender to become the first driver since Tanner Swanson at Anderson (Ind.) Speedway in 2008 to win in his USAC National Sprint Car debut.
By lap seven, Moles had constructed a half-straightaway lead, but the early ascendancy was hushed when Brady Bacon, who had climbed from eighth to fourth in the early going, had his right rear tire give way midway down the front straightaway. Bacon miraculously managed to whoa the car down enough to avoid crunching the outside turn one Armco barrier, but the damage proved to be too much, thus prematurely and permanently ending Bacon’s evening with a 19th place result.
The yellow flag seemed to be just a quick hiccup for Moles, who resumed his prowess following the restart as he sprayed the outer guardrails with western Indiana soil while completely rebuilding his lead, and then some, to the tune of more than three seconds with just 11 laps remaining.
Back a bit to the battle for sixth and seventh, contact between Jason McDougal and Robert Ballou damaged McDougal’s rear bumper and dislodged Ballou’s wheel cover, which fell to the racing surface and forced officials to call for a debris yellow on lap 20.
Much to the chagrin of Moles who was on a comfort cruise up front, the yellow deleted his freeway to history and put him in the unenvious position of having to defend a patented Terre Haute slide job on the restart with the likes of Leary and defending Don Smith Classic winner Logan Seavey tailing him into turn one. Leary ably shot past to the lead while Seavey followed suit by sneaking underneath Moles to grab second spot. Moles, meanwhile, had freefallen back to third within the blink of an eye.
“I felt like if I could break his momentum there on the restart, and maybe get in front of him, we had a car fast enough to win,” Leary explained.
Eluded no more, Leary sprinted away to officially put his name in the book as a series winner at Terre Haute, followed in the distance by Seavey, or so it appeared initially. However, in post-race tech inspection, Seavey’s car was found to be under the minimum weight requirement, which relegated him from second back to a 22nd place finish.
Officially, Moles (Raisin City, Calif.) led a race-high 19 laps and came home as the second place finisher in his AME Electrical – Mesilla Valley Transportation/Spike/Stanton Chevy. The leading Rookie on the USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship trail turned in one of the finest debuts in USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car history, securing the best finish for a driver in his USAC National Sprint Car debut since his predecessor, Tanner Thorson, finished second in his first start for the same Reinbold-Underwood outfit in 2020 at Plymouth (Ind.) Speedway.
“We definitely had the car to win; I screwed that one up on the restart,” Moles admitted. “This is only my second non-wing sprint car race, so I struggled a little bit just knowing where to be, like on the restarts. C.J. ran lower in the grip and I was kind of in the slick stuff trying to get to the top. I think that just allowed him to get a run on me. On green flag laps, I don’t think there was a car better than ours.”
Following a mid-pack qualifying run, Robert Ballou (Rocklin, Calif.) turned his night into gold as he moved from 13th to a 3rd place result as the night's hard charger. Ballou has now finished each of his past four USAC National Sprint Car starts on the podium with a 2nd at Ohio’s Atomic Speedway, followed by a 2nd at Kansas’ Lakeside Speedway and a victory at Missouri’s I-70 Motorsports Park aboard his Ballou Motorsports/Suburban Subaru – Dragonfly Aviation – Berks Western Telecom/Triple X/Ott Chevy. Despite possessing the best average finish of all his peers in this ongoing span, Ballou isn’t ready to settle.
“We’ve just got to get our ducks in a row a little better,” said Ballou. “I tried some things tonight with different gears and stuff in hot laps and qualifying. A tenth of a second would have put me on the front row. Shame on me for trying, but the only way you get better in this deal is to try.”
After hurting an engine during last weekend’s events, Leary’s team owner Bill Michael had been nose-to-the-grindstone in the shop to get the powerplant put back together and back in the car in time for Terre Haute, where they came out early in the night with both guns blazing. Leary’s quick time in Fatheadz Qualifying was the 31st of his USAC National Sprint Car career, tying him for 10th all-time alongside 1977-81-82 series champion Sheldon Kinser.
Furthermore, Leary’s 17th career USAC National Sprint Car feature win moved him past Damion Gardner and Jud Larson into 33rd on the list. He now resides alongside Jerry Coons Jr., Jim Hurtubise and Bud Kaeding in the all-time tally.
FEATURE FINISH: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. C.J. Leary (6), 2. Mitchel Moles (1), 3. Robert Ballou (13), 4. Jake Swanson (3), 5. Shane Cottle (7), 6. Justin Grant (5), 7. Chase Stockon (9), 8. Nick Bilbee (14), 9. Jason McDougal (2), 10. Emerson Axsom (10), 11. Jadon Rogers (20), 12. Charles Davis Jr. (11), 13. Matt Westfall (15), 14. Zach Daum (18), 15. Brandon Mattox (16), 16. Alex Banales (17), 17. Max Adams (12), 18. Dallas Hewitt (21), 19. Brady Bacon (8), 20. Mitch Wissmiller (19), 21. Evan Mosley (22), 22. Logan Seavey (4) (Seavey was initially the second place finisher but was repositioned to 22nd after his car was found to be underweight in post-race tech inspection.) NT
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Emerson Axsom-466, 2-Justin Grant-461, 3-Robert Ballou-432, 4-Brady Bacon-425, 5-Chase Stockon-424, 6-C.J. Leary-408, 7-Logan Seavey-390, 8-Jason McDougal-385, 9-Matt Westfall-317, 10-Jake Swanson-295.