Justin Grant has characterized Indiana’s Lawrenceburg Speedway as sort of a second home to him throughout his racing career.
He’s won numerous races at the 3/8-mile dirt oval, including the first feature victory of his USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship career in 2012, but none have been more lucrative than the $20,000 payday he pocketed on Saturday night during the 16th running of the Fall Nationals.
Just as he did that night more than a decade ago, the Ione, Calif. native capped the evening with a hat shake, saluting the fans while holding his helmet out of the top of the roll cage during his ceremonial victory lap.
On a night in which he became the 10th driver to achieve 400 career USAC National Sprint Car feature starts, Grant raced away to the most dominant score of the 2023 season, lapping all but the top-seven finishers in a a 6.756 second shellacking behind the wheel of his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink – Bow Foundation – TOPP Industries/Maxim/Kistler Chevy.
His win total on the 2023 USAC National Sprint Car season now stands at 11, the most since Tyler Courtney achieved the same amount during the 2018 season. Grant’s 45th career USAC National Sprint Car victory also moved him into a tie for sixth all-time alongside 1968-70-75 series champion Larry Dickson.
It’s been quite a run for Grant over his last 17 USAC National Sprint Car feature starts, winning eight times in that timeframe with the series, and the Fall Nationals triumph arrives on the heels of last weekend’s $20,039 Driven2SaveLives BC39 USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship victory at The Dirt Track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I’m so blessed to be able to get into these absolute hot rods every night,” Grant exclaimed. “Everything I’ve jumped into lately has been the fastest car on the racetrack. This car was on absolute rails tonight. (Jeff Walker) had us dialed in and I could run wide open even when it was up against the wall; I had grip, and I was stable. The thing has been unreal, and I didn’t feel like I was as on top of my game as I’d like to be. I was a little behind the racecar, but fortunately, we’ve been so good and that makes my job easy.”
Despite winning his heat race, the initial satisfaction of the victory was soon clouded by a sudden issue that had the team scrambling to make wholesale changes to remedy the situation.
“After the heat race, the car shut off coming to the checkered,” Grant explained. “Running down the back stretch, it shut off, then came back on. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it, so we changed ignitions, we changed steering gears, we changed cam spuds and the fuel pump, and we were back there thrashing from the time the heat race was over. We were still putting the body back on when the eight-minute horn went off for the feature.”
Rolling off from the seventh starting position, Grant had some digging to do to work his way to the front while Robert Ballou led the initial eight laps from the pole position. Meanwhile, Grant was already hustling as he made his way up to fourth by lap four with a two-for-one pass on the bottom of turns three and four to slip by Max Adams and Jake Swanson.
The yellow flag was displayed on lap six when 17th running Saban Bibent suffered a flat right rear tire, then slapped the outside turn one wall. He was finished for the evening as was eighth place running Brady Bacon who pulled off during the caution with a driveline issue.
Grant entered the race with a 66-point lead in the USAC National Sprint Car championship fight over Bacon. But with Bacon’s mechanical issue and subsequent 19th place result, the thoughts of any kind of points racing or conservatism for Grant went out the window.
“When Brady fell out, I thought, well, that’s a freebie. I can go out and make $20 grand, and if I crash trying, then it’s no harm, no foul,” Grant mused. “It actually made me drive the thing a little harder probably because I didn’t have to worry about it. I could just go out and bash, and in the worst-case scenario, we come out of here how we went in. It was a good opportunity for us to go try and make some money.”
Shortly after the ensuing restart, second running Thomas Meseraull turned the volume up to 11. He slid Ballou for the lead in turn one on lap seven, and proceeded to lead the next half-lap until he tagged the outside wall with his right rear tire, sending him helicoptering down the racetrack before coming to a rest. The incident eliminated Meseraull from the race and ended his opportunity for a $30,000 payday, which would’ve included a $10,000 bounty that was up for grabs to a driver outside the top-12 in USAC national sprint car points who could win the event.
Grant had moved into third with a low-side pass of C.J. Leary in turns three and four just before the red flag, and with the exodus of Meseraull, Grant lined up second behind Ballou for the seventh sojourn. Two laps later, on the ninth of 30 circuits, Bacon found the lead when he again streamed to the bottom of turn three before sliding up right across the nose of Ballou exiting turn four and beat him to the line by a single car length.
From there, it was curtains for the rest of the field as Grant stretched his lead to more than three seconds by the halfway mark at lap 15, and soon found himself back inside the top-10 by virtue of lapping 10th running Kyle Cummins followed by Emerson Axsom in ninth, and ultimately, eighth-place Mitchel Moles with five laps remaining.
In the end, Grant became a six-time USAC National Sprint Car winner at Lawrenceburg, just one behind Dave Darland for the all-time lead. Just shy of a half-lap behind Grant at the finish line were Robert Ballou in the runner-up spot followed by Jake Swanson in third, Logan Seavey in fourth and Jadon Rogers fifth after starting back in 12th.
Grant’s victory came in the final race of Dave and Kim Rudisell’s 17-year tenure as the promoters of Lawrenceburg Speedway, who on Saturday night, served as the race organizers of their 40th USAC National Sprint Car event at the track, which ranks eighth all-time.
“Thanks to the Rudisells for all they’ve done here,” Grant stated. “This place has been like a second home to me over the years. It’s sad to see them go, but I’m grateful and thankful for everything they’ve done for Indiana non-wing racing. We hate to see them go, but we understand.”
Robert Ballou (Rocklin, Calif.) equaled his best USAC finish of the year with his third runner-up result in his Ballou Motorsports/The Boss Builder’s Outlet Super Store – Dragonfly Aviation/DRC/Ott Chevy. Utilizing a new DRC chassis, Ballou led the first eight laps of the feature and earned his best Fall Nationals finish since winning the first two editions of the event in 2007-08.
Jake Swanson (Anaheim, Calif.) returned to the podium for the first time in exactly one month to earn his best career Fall Nationals finish aboard his Team AZ Racing/Apache Transport – Stratis Construction – USW Cat Construction/DRC/1-Way Chevy. In two USAC starts at Lawrenceburg this season, Swanson finished on the podium both nights, also scoring a second in July.
Reigning Fall Nationals winner Kyle Cummins (Princeton, Ind.) had a night that began tumultuously with engine trouble in hot laps. Armed with a backup, the car proceeded to sputter in qualifying and struggled in the heat before the team tuned it up closer to their liking. Starting 21st, Cummins raced to the 10th spot, earning hard charger honors in his Rock Steady Racing/Avanti Windows & Doors – Tim Mason ReMax/Mach-1/Stanton Chevy. The night was also made special with it being the first race ever attended by his two-week-old son, Krew Cummins.
C.J. Leary (Greenfield, Ind.) also walked away with heavier pockets after driving his BGE Dougherty Motorsports/Altoz – Hornbeck Concrete – Highsmith Guns – Elliott’s/DRC/1-Way Chevy to a sixth-place finish. Leary earned the Bubby Jones Master of Goin’ Faster Series Presented By Spire Sports + Entertainment championship, a 10-race miniseries throughout the USAC National Sprint Car season. In the final tally, Leary captured the crown by 10 markers over Emerson Axsom.
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