Reboot: Bacon Gets Back in the Groove with Wilmot Victory

The word “slump” hasn’t been used in a sentence to describe Brady Bacon’s performance very often throughout his illustrious USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship career. Perhaps ever.
But that’s just what transpired for the Broken Arrow, Okla. native during the recent Eastern Storm series where the four-time USAC National Sprint Car titlist strung together three consecutive finishes outside the top-13.
As soon as the series’ tour of Pennsylvania concluded, wholesale changes were made mentally for himself and mechanically to the Dynamics, Inc./A & B Sports Bar Café – Tel-Star Technologies – X/Rider Chevy, to prepare himself for the official 2023 Bacon reboot starting Saturday night at Wisconsin’s Wilmot Raceway.
With newly fresh equipment and a newly fresh perspective, Bacon returned to familiar form in the series’ first visit to the 3/8-mile dirt oval in 11 seasons, leading on two separate occasions for a total of 11 laps with the final winning maneuver coming via a turn four outside pass of Emerson Axsom on lap 21 of 30 to take the lead and score the victory.
It was a welcome change of pace for Bacon whose third victory of the series season netted him his 49th career USAC National Sprint Car feature win, moving him to within three of Tom Bigelow for second all-time and to within 13 of Dave Darland for the all-time lead in that category.
“We went back to square one,” Bacon explained. “This is a new car we just brought out, fresh everything, and talked to some old friends and got our heads back on straight so we could come out and do what we’re supposed to do.”
Bacon knows the drill and he’s been grinding for more than a decade straight on the USAC trail. He’s cognizant of the fact that you can’t just glide in and accomplish what you want to without a sharpened focus on each and every detail in every aspect of the team.
“It was a lot of work this week with a short turnaround after being gone for seven days, but sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Bacon admitted. “It’s not always easy. You’ve just got to stay calm and know that what you do is the right thing. You’ve just got to do all the right things right. We might’ve been missing stuff and maybe became complacent. We’ve got to get back to doing the basics correctly and execute.”
Bacon began the 30-lap main event from the inside of row three while series point leader Emerson Axsom earned a front row starting position for an astonishing fifth consecutive race. Axsom rolled from the pole to the initial lead, but the race immediately turned into a classic high/low tussle between Axsom on the bottom and Ballou up top.
Axsom was able to nip Ballou at the stripe by a narrow single car length margin at the end of laps one and two, but Ballou managed to get the high side working to his liking and propelled himself to the lead by mere inches on both laps three and four. Axsom then dug in on the bottom and fought back to beat Ballou at the stripe by a half-car length on lap five.
The first stoppage of the night came on lap 10 due to a turns one and two spin by 19th running Matt VanderVere, who was making a valiant comeback effort to racing competition following a battle with cancer.
Soon after, Bacon began to find his stride. He burst into the second spot by diving under Ballou in turn three on lap 12 to steal the position.  Moments later, Ballou’s car became way sideways, and subsequently lost substantial ground to Bacon who took off in pursuit of Axsom.
Axsom remained up front by four car lengths over Bacon at the halfway point. However, Bacon began to surge forward on the top shelf, pulling nearly even with Axsom in turns three and four on lap 17. Just as Bacon was setting up a possible pass to overtake Axsom, the caution flag was displayed for VanderVere (19th) who spun to a stop just in front of the leaders in turns three and four to bring out the yellow.
That’s when things officially got spicy between Axsom and Bacon. First, Bacon made a charge around the outside of Axsom to lead by mere inches on lap 18. At that point, Bacon’s initial time up front was short lived, however, as Axsom slid Bacon back to lead laps 19-20. Yet Bacon was just waiting in the wings to strike another blow on lap 21 as he blitzed right back by Axsom on the outside of turn four to lead lap 21. From that point forward, Bacon pulled the rope on the guillotine and immediately distanced himself from Axsom, building up a sizable lead of more than a half straightaway with just three laps remaining.
“I caught him just as he was going to start having to move around,” Bacon explained of his pursuit of Axsom. “I was pretty confident on where I could run to counter whatever he did. He threw some stuff at us, and we were able to get by him and then just didn’t make any mistakes even though the cushion was pretty treacherous.”
Just when all seemed certain to be set in stone, fifth place running Kyle Cummins biked on the turn one cushion with just three laps remaining, sending him into a spin through the middle of turn two. The trailing car of Jake Swanson came within a whisker of clipping the idle Cummins, but narrowly averted disaster and moved up another spot in the running order. The same couldn’t be said for Cummins, who dropped down to 14th at the finish, and as a result, fell two positions to fifth in the season long championship points race.
On the final restart with three laps to go, Bacon remained untouched, blazing away for a 1.458 second margin of victory over Axsom and Ballou. Logan Seavey took fourth to earn his best series finish since a third at Bloomington (Ind.) Speedway in mid-April. Jake Swanson came home fifth in the feature after earlier capturing a new one-lap track record and Honest Abe Roofing Fast Qualifying honors for the ninth time in his career with the series, tying him for 52nd all-time with Ballou, Eddie Leavitt, Mitchel Moles, Johnny Rutherford and Josh Wise.
For Axsom, it was yet a stellar podium finishing performance for he and his Clauson Marshall Newman Racing/Driven2SaveLives – ZMax Race Lubricants/Spike/Kistler Chevy. It was also yet another top-three result for the Franklin, Ind. racer after leading a race-high 17 laps en route to a second place finish. In fact, in his six most recent USAC National Sprint Car starts, the series point leader has finished 2nd-1st-1st-2nd-3rd-2nd.
“I knew (Brady) was up there, but I got lucky with a restart right when he showed me a nose,” Axsom recited. “I think I went to the bottom on the first corner just because I knew it takes a minute to build your momentum, especially with how dirty the top was. I knew you had to build momentum and speed to build grip up there. I tried to hold them off as long as I could and moved around as much as I could and tried to play defense for a minute, but he was just really good tonight. But I felt like we were close once I figured out the top. He had it figured out, so I had to jump up there and try to steal it from him.”
Wisconsin has been very, very good to The Mad Man. In his past five USAC National Sprint Car starts in the Badger State, Robert Ballou (Rocklin, Calif.) hasn’t finished outside the top-three. Since his 2015 USAC National Sprint Car championship run, he’s compiled finishes of 2nd-2nd-1st-1st in Wisconsin races, and on Saturday, he added a 3rd after leading two early laps in his Ballou Motorsports/Suburban Subaru – Berks Western Telecom/Triple X/Ott Chevy.
“We’ve been trying some things in order to make this racecar better because I’ve pretty much sucked this year, but we’re headed back in the right direction,” a candid Ballou acknowledged. “I noticed it was slicking off, but we were just a little too free and too stood up on the right rear. It was good for the heat race but not quite good enough. I pretty much had to commit to the top just so I had something to lean against. I never even went to the bottom, so I don’t know if I slowed down if it’d been okay. Based on the way I felt, I don’t think it would’ve. Hopefully this is a step in the right direction, and we’ll be putting our best foot forward from here on out.”