After a very difficult three nights at the Kokomo Smackdown, it was obvious that the USAC National Sprint Car Series championship was out of reach for Justin Grant.
It could have been a situation that knocked a less experienced driver off their moorings.
It was there that Grant relied on his own experience and also recalled some sage advice from an old foe.
“We race so much back here that it makes it easy to move on,” Grant said. “If you have to sit around and think about things for two or three weeks it wears on you a little bit. But when you are worried about getting home and getting things washed, and getting on to the next race track, your mind is busy. So, thankfully, you don’t have time to sit around and stew about things.
“When I first started racing back here, Levi Jones told me it pays dividends in this business to have a short memory and, if nothing else, beating my head against a roll cage for a decade has given me that. I have adopted the basic approach that life will go on.”
While his first sprint car title was out of the question, a championship in the Silver Crown ranks was very much in play. While Kody Swanson largely had things his way over the past few seasons, the record showed that his primary nemesis had been Grant.
In 2019, Swanson had a rare mechanical failure at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. The next date, at Williams Grove, he rebounded by finishing in the runner-up position, but Grant was just one spot behind him.
Heading into the round at Wisconsin’s Madison Int’l Raceway, Grant was still nipping at his heels. Then, to his chagrin, a broken panhard bar sent him into the fence.
In the end that year, Grant finished second in the final standings for the second straight year, but his ability to land in the top five in event after event was what made him a serious title contender.
In order to salvage the 2020 Silver Crown season, the competitors and USAC officials were forced to scramble. The season began in early August at Pennsylvania’s Selinsgrove Speedway and four races were contested in a two-week span.
It was a cadence of events that many participants in the discipline were unaccustomed to, and it was made even more difficult given that the four dates were evenly split between dirt and pavement.
Given the state of affairs in both Illinois and Ohio, some privately felt that the series would conclude with the running of the Hoosier Hundred at Indianapolis. After Kyle Larson’s late race pass of C.J. Leary made him a Silver Crown winner for the third time in his career, it appeared that Grant, who posted a top-10 run, would be the champion.
Then, in a surprising announcement, it was revealed that the scheduled race at Toledo Speedway would be held, in part because of sponsorship from Grant’s car owner Ron Hemelgarn.
It was, at the very least, an odd situation.
Pavement races are right in Kody Swanson’s wheelhouse, and it seemed that Hemelgarn may have actually hurt his driver’s chances for a title. Grant could have cared less.
“I wanted to run Toledo,” Grant revealed. “I think our pavement deal has been getting really good. We tested at Toledo, and Dennis did some things to change the pavement car and I felt leaps and bounds better. I felt we were already getting to where we could run with Kody and Bobby (Santos III) on pavement. So, I was really bummed because I thought if I am going to win a pavement race it is going to be that weekend. I just wanted to race. I think I’m a race guy, not a championship guy.
“Even if running Toledo would have been detrimental to the championship, I would still rather race than sit in the rain.”
There was an added twist. When chief mechanic Dennis LaCava and Grant could secure a time to test, it fell at a time when Ashley Grant generally spent a night out with a group of women.
She had resigned herself to forgoing her night out when a friend stepped in and said he would watch everyone’s kids. The babysitter was Kody Swanson. The irony was obvious.
By watching the children, Swanson was actually helping his main rival for the title.
As Grant pointed out, “So once again he was being the great human that he is. So, being the great human I am, I rubbed it in and made fun of him.”
Not willing to go down without a fight, Swanson did get Grant’s son Quinton to proclaim on Twitter that pavement racing was far superior to dirt.”
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