STORM: Axsom Adds Another with Williams Grove Win
Series News Release - USAC Media
Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania (June 16, 2023) - Once you pop, you can’t stop.
The old Pringles ad campaign very well may apply to the trend Emerson Axsom finds himself on following his second consecutive USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship feature win on Friday night during the third event of the 16th edition of USAC Eastern Storm at Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania’s Williams Grove Speedway.
After finding victory lane for the first time this season during the 12th event of the series’ campaign on Thursday at Big Diamond Speedway, it took just 24 more hours for the Franklin, Ind. native to score again in his Clauson Marshall Racing/Driven2SaveLives – ZMax Race Lubricants/Spike/Kistler Chevy.
This time, Axsom’s fifth career USAC National Sprint Car main event triumph came at the half-mile dirt oval known as The Grove, tying him for 85th on the all-time series win list alongside Larry Cannon, Dana Carter, Derek Davidson, Gene Lee Gibson, Jeff Gordon, Chuck Gurney, Shane Hmiel, Kevin Huntley, Frankie Kerr, Kelly Kinser, Eddie Leavitt, Jim Mahoney, Andy Michner, Johnny Parsons, Bill Puterbaugh, Jake Swanson, Tanner Thorson and Cole Whitt.
“It’s pretty cool to win here,” Axsom exclaimed. “It’s a pretty historic place and it’s pretty gnarly. I’m just glad to get it done tonight.”
In turn, Axsom’s victory pushed his Eastern Storm point lead to 25 following finishes of second, first and first in his initial three outings this weekend. Furthermore, the win propelled Axsom past Jake Swanson and into the overall USAC National Sprint Car point lead for the first time since February of 2022.
Starting outside the front row, in the early going, Axsom was on the constant chase of pole sitter and versatile veteran racer Timmy Buckwalter. Axsom took a peek to the inside of Buckwalter for the top spot twice on laps four and five, narrowly missing the lead by a car length each time at the start/finish line before slotting back into line and continuing his quest.
Axsom found himself in the hunt along with a bevy of USAC East Coast Sprint Car talent as the race neared the midway point, running second with a slew of Pennsylvanians surrounding him – Buckwalter (Douglassville) running first with Briggs Danner (Allentown) third and Alex Bright (Collegeville) fourth as each of the trio looked to become the first Keystone State native to capture a USAC National Sprint Car feature victory since Frankie Kerr in 1999.
However, one key piece in the triumvirate, fourth-running Bright, soon found trouble in a spectacular incident that lit up the nighttime sky. Bright spun in turn two, doing a complete 360-degree spin with his front wheels pointed to the clouds as he stood on the throttle in an attempt to save it.
However, just as Bright got pointed himself in the right direction, sixth place Robert Ballou plowed into the back of Bright, punching a sizable hole in Bright’s tail tank, causing a waterfall of methanol to gush out and ignite flames that enveloped the back end of the car. Knowing where the fire and rescue teams were located, Bright made the heady move to drive to turn one and stop directly in front of them where the crew extinguished the flames as Bright jumped out and escaped.
The incident necessitated a red flag, and knocked a trio of contenders out of contention, ending Bright and Ballou’s evenings completely while stifling Brady Bacon’s race as he spun to a stop to avoid the initial catastrophe. After running seventh, Bacon was forced to start at the tail of the field before driving back to a 13th place result.
Sitting second following the lap 13 restart, Axsom made a commitment that would ultimately take him to the front.
“This place isn’t really my style,” Axsom admitted. “We were really good on the bottom, but tonight, we were a little bit free. When I was running the bottom, I felt myself hanging a little bit. I told myself I had to get up and bang the curb or use something to lean on; there wasn’t a whole lot. I watched Mitchel (Moles) run the top down in turns three and four, then pull it back down in one and two, so I figured it was going to be like that for a while. I just waited until someone showed me that in one and two when it smoothed out, because earlier, it was really rough. Once it cleaned off, and got a bit smoother, I was able to carry my momentum.”
Indeed, it worked out for Axsom. On lap 17, he rode the high line and eked out the move by squeezing between Buckwalter and the outside turn four guardrail to take over the race lead. In the ensuing laps, Axsom broke out to a 1.7 second lead and seemed well in command with only 10 circuits remaining in the 30-lapper.
Enter Daison Pursley. In his first Williams Grove appearance, the 14th place starting driver had hustled his way to the front, swiping second from Buckwalter with an outside maneuver in turn four on the 23rd lap to grab second. Pursley was hauling but had nearly two full seconds of ground to make up with the sands in the hourglass nearing emptiness.
However, Pursley gave it all it’s worth, cutting three tenths off Axsom’s advantage on lap 25 and another six tenths off on lap 26 to close to within a second. Another two tenths were shaved off on lap 27, and by lap 28, Pursley was right on Axsom’s rear bumper and contesting for the win, which immediately got Axsom’s full attention.
“Honestly, I was riding and looking a bit over my left shoulder,” Axsom explained. “I didn’t know if it was 25 laps or 30, but once I saw it was 30, I figured I better get back up on the wheel just in case somebody got a run. Luckily, I did because I saw Daison make an attempt into three there.”
On the final lap, four car lengths separated the two recent high school graduates of Axsom and Pursley as they hustled down the back straightaway. With one bullet left in the chamber, Pursley drove himself into turn three deeper than any other individual had all night, pulling his front wheels even with Axsom’s rear axle. Axsom successfully staved off the pressure and smoothly contoured turns three and four to defeat Pursley by two car lengths and a margin of 0.238 sec. Buckwalter grabbed third, Justin Grant fourth and Thomas Meseraull fifth.
In his victory, Axsom became the first driver to win two-straight USAC Eastern Storm features on consecutive nights since Chris Windom in 2018. Windom used those victories to propel himself to the Eastern Storm title. It’s a feat Axsom would love to repeat now that he stands atop the points following finishes of second, first and first during the first three rounds.
Additionally, Axsom scored his first career victory in a Bubby Jones Master of Goin’ Faster Presented By Spire Sports + Entertainment feature event, a feat he chalks up to getting a bit more comfortable on the bigger, higher speed tracks that make up the bulk of the 10-race miniseries schedule, including Friday’s fourth round at Williams Grove.
“A lot of times, at these Master of Goin’ Faster races, we’re not very good just because they’re half-miles or really technical places that the veterans would be good at,” Axsom said. “Last year, we struggled at a lot of those tracks. Here recently, it seems we have a better handle on them. Everything’s kind of working out, and we’ve been in the right position the past couple of nights to get it done. So, we’re going to try to keep that ball rolling.”
Daison Pursley (Locust Grove, Okla.) started 14th and charged all the way to a runner-up result just a couple car lengths behind Axsom at the line. That's Pursley's best career finish in a USAC National Sprint Car points race in his KO Motorsports/Hutson John Deere – S & C Machine – Peterbilt/Flea RC/J & D Chevy. Pursley won a non-points special event with USAC this past February at Florida’s Volusia Speedway Park.
Timmy Buckwalter (Douglassville, Pa.) also notched his best career USAC National Sprint Car finish, scoring a third, besting his previous best career performance with the series, a fourth place run on Tuesday at Grandview Speedway in his Lotier-Hummer Motorsports/Rodota Trucking & Excavating – The Bagel Rack/Triple X/Rider Chevy. The 2018 USAC National Sprint Car co-Rookie of the Year led a race-high 16 laps and also collected a bonus from Gene Franckowiak for leading lap seven of the feature in memory of Bryan Clauson.
Three brand new USAC National Sprint Car track records were set on Friday night at Williams Grove. In Honest Abe Qualifying, Thomas Meseraull lowered the former one-lap mark set by Kevin Thomas Jr. in 2018. Meseraull’s run of 19.016 seconds was his first fast time with the series since August of 2020 at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway.
In heat race action, Brady Bacon surpassed Jerry Coons Jr.’s five-year-old eight-lap record by three seconds with a time of 2:39.14. In the 12-lap Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts semi-feature, Mitchel Moles surpassed one of the longest held records in the USAC history books. Moles’ time of 4:14.26 wiped out Tom Bigelow’s longstanding time for the distance of 4:51.11, set nearly 50 years ago in 1973.
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Emerson Axsom (2), 2. Daison Pursley (14), 3. Timmy Buckwalter (1), 4. Justin Grant (5), 5. Thomas Meseraull (6), 6. Briggs Danner (3), 7. Mitchel Moles (11), 8. C.J. Leary (9), 9. Jake Swanson (18), 10. Chase Stockon (13), 11. Matt Mitchell (12), 12. Mario Clouser (8), 13. Brady Bacon (10), 14. Joey Amantea (22),15. Max Adams (17), 16. Kyle Cummins (19), 17. Logan Seavey (16), 18. Matt Westfall (23-P), 19. Charles Davis Jr. (20), 20. Kevin Thomas Jr. (15), 21. Alex Bright (4), 22. Robert Ballou (7), 23. Shane Cottle (21). NT(P) represents a provisional starter
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Emerson Axsom-861, 2-Jake Swanson-847, 3-Kyle Cummins-817, 4-Justin Grant-800, 5-C.J. Leary-791, 6-Brady Bacon-790, 7-Mitchel Moles-718, 8-Chase Stockon-679, 9-Daison Pursley-666, 10-Robert Ballou-631.
USAC EASTERN STORM POINTS: 1-Emerson Axsom-227, 2-Thomas Meseraull-205, 3-Daison Pursley-194, 4-Justin Grant-188, 5-Jake Swanson-187, 6-Timmy Buckwalter-182, 7-Briggs Danner-161, 8-Robert Ballou-156, 9-Kyle Cummins-152, 10-Shane Cottle-151.