Rising to the Storm! Moles Marches to 2024 USAC Eastern Storm Title

There is a stark contrast to be found when you begin comparing Mitchel Moles’ initial USAC Eastern Storm experience in 2023 to the results he put forth en route to his championship with the series in 2024.

The Raisin City, California native’s run to the 2024 USAC Eastern Storm title was built upon a foundation of consistency throughout the six-race tour of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Moles’ weeklong resume consisted of 12th, 5th, 2nd, 2nd, 5th and 3rd place results, and each night, he and his striking Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports No. 19AZ were contenders.

At each stop, he substantially improved upon his finishing position in each event, from an average finish of 11.6 in 2023 to a 4.3 in 2024. That includes the opening night at Grandview Speedway where he was running fifth with 10 laps to go when his car slowed to a stop with a mechanical issue. Ultimately, he restarted at the tail and returned to finish 12th.

Following the Grandview heartbreak, Moles put together a string of five consecutive top-fives. Even more impressive is the fact that Moles entered Eastern Storm with only one top-five finish in his last 19 series starts dating back the end of the 2023 campaign.

Moles reeled off a fifth in his debut at New Jersey’s Bridgeport Motorsports Park, then followed that up by leading the first 15 laps of the round at Pennsylvania’s Big Diamond Speedway before finishing as the runner-up. He collected another runner-up result one night later on the half-mile at Williams Grove Speedway to go along with a third at the similarly sized Port Royal Speedway.

Entering the finale at Action Track USA, Moles needed a little bit of assistance in his push toward the Eastern Storm crown. Trailing point leader Brady Bacon by 13 points entering the feature, Moles needed to finish five positions ahead of Bacon to give himself a shot.

By lap five, Bacon was running fourth. But as the field whoa’d up due to a caution, Bacon was tagged in the left rear tire by fifth place Kyle Cummins. Although the contact seemed fairly significant, the culprit ending Bacon’s quest was actually engine related. Under the subsequent yellow flag, Bacon pulled into the pits and did not return, abruptly ending his title hopes.

From there, Moles advanced even further up the ladder from ninth to third, thus clinching the title by 28 points. In a remarkable twist, the 12-point deficit he overcame in the final event is tied for the largest comeback in series history, equaling Bryan Clauson’s triumph over Daron Clayton in 2013. Furthermore, Moles’ 28-point margin is the second largest in series history, trailing only Emerson Axsom’s 31-point triumph over Daison Pursley in 2023.

In the end, Moles’ title provided Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports its second Eastern Storm championship and first since they first achieved the deed in 2019 with C.J. Leary.

As for the rest of the 2024 USAC Eastern Storm series, this is the first year since 2018 in which every race on the calendar was run as scheduled and was not hampered by either Mother Nature or Father COVID. Eastern Storm also featured an all-new set of winners without a single repeat feature victor returning to winner’s circle from 2023 to 2024.

A BANNER DAY FOR DANNER

Outside of Moles, the breakout star of the week was undoubtedly Briggs Danner (Allentown, Pa.) who won the opener at Grandview to become the first driver to win his first career USAC National Sprint Car feature during Eastern Storm since Chris Windom all the way back in 2010. In doing so, he also became the first Pennsylvania native to capture an Eastern Storm victory.

Furthermore, the two-time USAC East Coast Sprint Car champ posted several firsts. Danner became the first Pennsylvanian to win a USAC National Sprint Car feature of any sort since Selinsgrove’s Frankie Kerr in 1999 at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track. Furthermore, Danner became the first Pennsylvanian to win a USAC National Sprint Car race in his home state since Paul Pitzer at Reading in 1979.

BACON BREAKIN’ RECORDS

Moving on to night two at Bridgeport, Brady Bacon’s seventh career Eastern Storm triumph made him the winningest driver in Eastern Storm history, which debuted in 2007.

How dominant was Bacon at Bridgeport? In the 18th event of the 2024 USAC National Sprint Car season, he became the first driver to lead a feature from start to finish without interruption.

Bacon’s latest Eastern Storm win moved him past Bryan Clauson, Levi Jones and Chris Windom to move atop the series’ all-time win leaderboard. The win also thrusted Bacon to the top of the Eastern Storm standings as he pursued his first title in the series since 2014.

SEAVEY’S SHINY NIGHT AT BIG DIAMOND

If the term “resilience” ever needed an image attached to it in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, it would be apt to include one of Logan Seavey and Abacus Racing after their victorious performance at Big Diamond Speedway.

The team’s outing one night earlier at Bridgeport proved to be among the most challenging of the year. An engine failure forced them into a backup car where they proceeded to finish an undesirable 15th, dropping them to 11th in the USAC Eastern Storm standings.

Further demonstrating their resolve, in Seavey’s only previous Big Diamond appearance in 2023, he missed out on transferring into the main event, making this race his first feature start at the 3/8-mile dirt oval. This time around, he stalked Mitchel Moles for the first half of the 30-lap event before making his stride to the outside of turn two to get by for the lead, and ultimately, the victory.

A BIRTHDAY IS A WINNING DAY FOR KTJ

Kevin Thomas Jr. celebrated his 33rd birthday by achieving the rare feat of not only winning a USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship feature but also doing so in spectacular fashion at Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania’s Williams Grove Speedway.

Thomas (Cullman, Ala.) ran third for the first 23 circuits of the 30-lap distance around the 1/2-mile dirt oval before sprinting past Mitchel Moles for second with seven to go. While running second on the final lap, Thomas was in position to pounce when racelong leader

Briggs Danner ran out of fuel exiting the final turn on the final lap.

Thomas made the decisive move, banging wheels with the suddenly slowing Danner in turn four before escaping with the victory, the 42nd of his USAC National Sprint Car career, which surpassed Bryan Clauson and moved him up a spot on the series’ career win list alongside 1974 and 1976 champ Pancho Carter for eighth most all-time.

IT’S BRADY’S COURT AT PORT ROYAL

It had been a full decade since Brady Bacon last raced into victory lane at Pennsylvania’s Port Royal Speedway. This one proved large as it elevated Bacon into the USAC Eastern Storm point lead past Mitchel Moles with one race remaining.

Bacon assumed the lead with eight laps to go after racelong leader Briggs Danner’s encounter with the turn two outside guardrail which ended in absolute heartbreak for Danner for the second night in a row. Danner’s hopes for victory unraveled in an instant when his right rear tire snagged the cushion, grabbing him and shoving him into the outside turn two fence.

After riding his right-side wheels atop the guardrail for several feet, Danner landed on all fours and slid sideways into the path of Bacon. Bacon whoa’d himself up and narrowly avoided contact with Danner before continuing on with the race lead. From there, Bacon pushed forward to become the first two-time winner of the week.

PHOTO FINISH FINALE FOR SEAVEY

While Logan Seavey wasn’t quite in the mix to replicate his 2022 Eastern Storm championship this time around, he was certainly game for making a spectacular splash in the Eastern Storm finale on Sunday night at Action Track USA.

Seavey’s racelong battle for victory with Briggs Danner came to a head on the final corner of the final lap at the 1/6-mile dirt oval when Danner made one last move, but came up about a wheel short, as Seavey defeated Danner by a scant .043 second margin, which ranks among the closest finishes in Eastern Storm history.

While Seavey was in the midst of capturing yet another victory in a career year with the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship, Mitchel Moles was busy locking up his first career USAC Eastern Storm title with a third-place finish.

EPILOGUE

Twenty-nine drivers participated in 2024 Eastern Storm with 19 drivers starting all six feature events: Joey Amantea, Brady Bacon, Robert Ballou, Alex Bright, Kyle Cummins, Briggs Danner, Charles Davis Jr., Carson Garrett, Justin Grant, Tom Harris, C.J. Leary, Ricky Lewis, Mitchel Moles, Daison Pursley, Logan Seavey, Chase Stockon, Jake Swanson, Kevin Thomas Jr. and Matt Westfall.

Danner led four of the six races during Eastern Storm and led the most laps throughout the week with 78. Moles led all drivers with five top-five finishes and was one of four drivers to finish inside the top-10 on five occasions along with Robert Ballou, Justin Grant and Daison Pursley.

For the first time, six different drivers recorded a fast qualifying time during Eastern Storm: Brady Bacon (Grandview), Mitchel Moles (Bridgeport), Alex Bright (Big Diamond), Logan Seavey (Williams Grove), C.J. Leary (Port Royal) and Kyle Cummins (Action Track USA). Bacon and Moles’ runs resulted in new track records.

Four drivers won two heat races during Eastern, including Brady Bacon, Anton Hernandez, Matt Westfall and 56-year-old Charles Davis Jr. who enjoyed christening his pair of wins with a new sponsor – AARP. Meanwhile, the biggest hard charge of the week belonged to Ricky Lewis at Big Diamond as he stepped into a backup car, started at the tail and drove from 25th to 10th.

USAC PR