Robert Ballou became the fourth driver to win a third Tony Hulman Classic feature event on Sunday night during the 52nd annual running of the event at the Terre Haute (Indiana) Action Track. (Indy Racing Images Photo)
By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Terre Haute, Indiana (May 22, 2022)………Prior to Sunday night, there were just three drivers who could boast possession of three career Tony Hulman Classic victory rifles.
After Sunday night’s 52nd annual running was through, Robert Ballou had bumped that number up to four.
The Rocklin, California driver scored the victory at the Terre Haute (Indiana) Action Track, quickly erasing a two-second disadvantage by masterfully manoeuvring through lapped traffic and sliding past race-long leader Logan Seavey with just seven circuits remaining in the 30-lap main event to capture the $10,000 top prize.
Ballou joined Cary Faas (1992-94-98), Levi Jones (2005-08-09) and Chris Windom (2011-20-21) on the Mount Rushmore of Hulman Classic competitors by earning his lead-tying third career victory in the event following back-to-back triumphs in 2015 and 2016.
In the present tense, Ballou is on a tear, having finished on the podium in five consecutive USAC AMSOIL Sprintcar National Championship outings, including two victories in his last three starts behind the wheel of the Ballou Motorsports/Suburban Subaru – Dragonfly Aviation – Berks Western Telecom/Triple X/Ott Chevy.
Ballou has invested an enormous amount of time and effort into renovating the Terre Haute Action Track throughout the winter and spring months along with his boss Scott Ronk and Bernie Stuebgen, among others.
In Sunday night’s event, Ballou spent quite a bit of time on the bottom of the racetrack to carve a path from his fifth starting position to the front. At the start, Ballou found the top shelf was not to his car’s liking quite yet. Ultimately, he found his way up to the top and, ultimately, he found his way to the front to collect his 33rd career USAC National Sprintcar feature win, moving himself past fellow series titlist Rollie Beale and into sole possession of 14th on the all-time win list.
“I figured the bottom was going to be excellent for 30 laps around the bottom of turns one and two, but it wasn’t so,” Ballou explained. “I was too tight on the top at the beginning, and I was just trying to bide my time. I knew before the start that I was in trouble; I was a little tight on the right rear. It’s a good thing I lost 50 pounds over the winter or else I probably would’ve ended up out at the Chick-Fil-A.”
The nearest Chick-Fil-A location can be found just within a stone’s throw of the half-mile dirt oval, but unlike the restaurant’s “closed on Sunday” policy, the Terre Haute Action Track’s victory lane was open for Ballou, the 2015 series driving champion.
But first, he had to find his way to the front. Of all drivers in the 22 car field, Ballou was the quickest mover, rising up the leaderboard from fifth to second from the time he ducked to the inner rail in turn three on the opening lap until the time he crossed the start/finish line at the completion of lap one. Outside front row starter Brady Bacon took notice and took back control of second on lap two before relenting for good to Ballou, who slipped under in turns three and four on the third lap to reassume the runner-up position.
Meanwhile, it was Logan Seavey who was groovin’ on a Sunday afternoon and holding serve right from the start, leading by a commanding 2.7 second margin at the halfway mark while Ballou, Bacon, Justin Grant and C.J. Leary all followed suit in lockstep on the highline and resided in positions two through five.
In the blink of an eye, Ballou found himself right on the back bumper of Seavey who was working to overtake the 17th place car of Charles Davis Junior as the laps dwindled to less than 10 to go. Seavey was able to move past Davis with a dive into turn three on lap 21 to momentarily stave off Ballou’s pressure, which only proved to be momentary. Ballou lined up Seavey off turn two on the 24th lap and shot to the bottom rail in the third turn before sliding back up and corralling the position at the exit of turn four.
Ballou subsequently crossed the starter’s stand out in front while Bacon was setting up his move to take second from Seavey, successfully doing so in turn one just as the red flag was displayed for 8th running Jadon Rogers who flipped up near the outside guardrail in turn four. He was uninjured.
While Ballou maintained his spot in the lead, Bacon relinquished his second position back to Seavey for the lap 25 restart. Bacon was forced to reload for the resumption, and it took three laps for him to slide job his way back into the second spot past Seavey in turn one. Bacon now had his work cut out for him, down more than a second to Ballou with only four laps remaining.
On the same day in which drivers vying for the pole position at the Indianapolis 500 pushed it to the limits for a four-consecutive-lap qualifying run, Bacon did virtually the same in his pursuit of Ballou, running his two fastest laps of the race on laps 28 and 29, which was the fastest overall in the field. On the final lap, Bacon stood just about four car lengths back of Ballou and made one last ditch effort in turn three, puling even between turns three and four, before falling back into line behind Ballou up top, who rode the final turn to victory ahead of Bacon, Seavey, Grant and Leary.
Ballou’s Terre Haute victory came in race number two of ten for the Bubby Jones Master of Going Faster mini-series. The first event, held at Kansas City, Kansas’ Lakeside Speedway, was won by Bacon with Ballou finishing second. Terre Haute saw the tables turned with Ballou winning and Bacon second. In fact, the “Bacon & Ballou Show” has already witnessed four occasions in which the duo has finished first and second in a USAC National Sprintcar feature this season.
Bacon (Broken Arrow, Oklahoma) put up a valiant effort with a late charge to finish second in his Dynamics, Inc./Fatheadz Eyewear – Gressman Sanitation – DriveWFX.com – Tel-Star/Triple X/Rider Chevy, equaling his best career Hulman Classic result from 2013. It was a nice rebound for Bacon who competed on Sunday using a fully-prepared backup car after the primary suffered damage during a tire blow in the most recent event on Friday at Terre Haute. Bacon feels that the late-race red flag may very well have stifled his bid for a first career Hulman Classic triumph.
“I wish it hadn’t come out,” Bacon lamented. “I had just passed for second right before that, and I think we would’ve had a shot to run Robert down. It took me a couple laps to get back by Logan after the red. Robert made some good decisions early in the race; he ran the bottom and got by me and that’s what put him in position to win at the end. We had a little bit better car at the end, but he had put himself in a spot where we didn’t have enough time to catch him. I should’ve been more aggressive through the middle of the race, but I was biding my time thinking I was going to have a good shot at the end. I almost ran him down and got him, but at these big fast half-miles, we’re both usually up front and it’s hard to beat us once the race plays out and one of us gets in front of the other.”
Seavey (Sutter, California) led a race-high 23 laps before finishing third in his Baldwin-Fox Racing/Fox Paving – AMSOIL/DRC/Claxton Chevy. It’s a welcome comeback for Seavey following a disheartening repositioning from 2nd to 22nd in Friday’s feature after being found light at the scales in post-race technical inspection. Seavey eased the disappointment by rounding out the podium for his best career Hulman Classic finish, outdoing his 10th in 2021.
“When I first got to traffic, I was making some okay moves,” Seavey recalled. “Once I got to some faster cars, it slowed my closing speed down a little bit. I just got a little too soft there; it’s my fault. You’ve got to push hard for all 30 laps here to beat these guys. I backed off for a lap or two and I kind of slipped up down the back stretch. I could almost hear Robert and I didn’t want to protect and give up more time, but he got just enough to clear me. It’s heartbreaking when you lead that many laps and have a good racecar, a car that should win the race.”
Dustin Clark (Washington, Indiana) made an excellent burst from his 19th starting spot to finish 9th in the feature. The 9th place result, which came in his 23rd series start, is his best career finish and the first top-10 result of his USAC National Sprintcar career.
Leary (Greenfield, Indiana) passed Sheldon Kinser for sole possession of 10th place on the all-time list in terms of Fatheadz fastest qualifying times in USAC National Sprintcar competition. The 32nd of his career was his second in the Hulman Classic, with the first coming in 2019.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: May 22, 2022 – Terre Haute Action Track – Terre Haute, Indiana – 1/2-Mile Dirt Track – 52nd Annual Tony Hulman Classic Presented by Jake Dodds
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Robert Ballou (5), 2. Brady Bacon (2), 3. Logan Seavey (1), 4. Justin Grant (3), 5. C.J. Leary (6), 6. Jake Swanson (11), 7. Emerson Axsom (9), 8. Max Adams (13), 9. Dustin Clark (19), 10. Jason McDougal (17), 11. Chase Stockon (7), 12. Nick Bilbee (15), 13. Matt Westfall (12), 14. Shane Cockrum (20), 15. Sterling Cling (14), 16. Cole Bodine (21), 17. Charles Davis Jr. (16), 18. Brandon Morin (22), 19. Mitchel Moles (4), 20. Jadon Rogers (10), 21. Brian Hayden (18), 22. Brandon Mattox (8). NT
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-23 Logan Seavey, Laps 24-30 Robert Ballou.
**Jadon Rogers flipped on lap 24 of the feature.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Justin Grant-529, 2-Emerson Axsom-524, 3-Robert Ballou-511, 4-Brady Bacon-501, 5-C.J. Leary-479, 6-Chase Stockon-473, 7-Logan Seavey-463, 8-Jason McDougal-433, 9-Matt Westfall-356, 10-Jake Swanson-354.
BUBBY JONES MASTER OF GOING FASTER POINTS: 1-Robert Ballou-159, 2-Brady Bacon-158, 3-Logan Seavey-144, 4-C.J. Leary-139, 5-Emerson Axsom-126, 6-Justin Grant-117, 7-Jake Swanson-108, 8-Jason McDougal-108, 9-Chase Stockon-106, 10-Matt Westfall-97.
OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Robert Ballou-31, 2-Jadon Rogers-27, 3-Buddy Kofoid-26, 4-Brady Bacon-25, 5-Tanner Thorson-23, 6-Justin Grant-20, 7-Thomas Meseraull-20, 8-Shane Cockrum-18, 9-Jason McDougal-17, 10-Matt Westfall-17.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACES: May 25-26, 2022 – Circle City Raceway – Indianapolis, Indiana – 1/4-Mile Dirt Track – Week of Indy Presented by Mastin & Cain
NEXT BUBBY JONES MASTER OF GOING FASTER SERIES RACE: June 16, 2022 – Selinsgrove Speedway – Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania – 1/2-Mile Dirt Track – Eastern Storm
CONTINGENCY AWARD WINNERS:
Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier: C.J. Leary
GSP Quality Driving Performance: Brandon Mattox
Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner: Chase Stockon
Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner: Brandon Mattox
Pit Stop USA & Rod End Supply Third Heat Winner: Logan Seavey
Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Semi-Feature Winner: Jake Swanson
Dirt Draft Hot Laps Fastest Driver: Mitchel Moles
Feature Hard Charger: Dustin Clark (19th to 9th)