WAYNE CITY, Ill. – Tyler Thomas was bidding to become the first-ever repeat champion of the Jason Leffler Memorial Thursday night at Wayne County Speedway, but Tyler Courtney would not be denied.
Courtney stole the win in the 40-lap feature at the eighth-mile dirt bullring with some late-race heroics, trading sliders with Thomas – the defending race winner – in the closing laps before pulling away down the stretch.
After a defining turn-one slider, Courtney used momentum off the high side of the third turn to take the lead with three laps left and then pulled away to a .972-second victory in the end.
Thursday night’s score marked Courtney’s eighth NOS Energy Drink USAC National Midget Series win of the season and his second in a row. He becomes the sixth different winner in six editions of the event.
“That was good, hard racing tonight,” noted Courtney in victory lane. “Tyler has always raced me pretty well. He won this race last year, so he knows how to get this done. But Rizzy (Tyler Ransbottom, crew chief) has been working his tail off to get this midget where we need to get it. And now, I think we’ve got this NOS Energy Drink/Spike-Stanton SR-11 going in the right direction.”
Though Courtney came on strong down the stretch, it was Thomas who controlled the pace for most of the night, starting from the pole after earning the most passing points through heat races and qualifiers and jetting out to a big lead early despite two attempts at the initial start for a jump by Thomas.
From there, though, the BT Machine No. 91t was untouchable through the first half of the event, rolling away from its pursuers and knifing through traffic effortlessly before a red-flag period with 16 to go after Zeb Wise, Gio Scelzi and Thomas Meseraull all tangled at the exit of the fourth corner.
Wise getting on his side necessitated the stoppage, but all three were able to rejoin and continue.
On the restart, third-running Jesse Colwell got too high in turns one and two and dropped out of podium contention, all while Thomas got away with the lapped cars of Andrew Layser and Holley Hollan as a buffer between himself and second place.
Jason McDougal used the chaos of Colwell’s issue to briefly lay claim to the runner-up spot, but Courtney stormed back by in a hurry with 13 to go and set his sights on Thomas out front.
Thomas, good as he was early, was hindered in the final quarter by a charging Layser, who successfully unlapped himself inside of 10 to go and left Thomas to suddenly deal with a closing Courtney.
As the laps wound down, Thomas’ leading margin slimmed and slimmed, with Courtney’s NOS Energy Drink-sponsored No. 7bc right on Thomas’ back nerf bar with five to go before ducking low to challenge the next time around.
“The end was awesome,” noted Courtney. “I knew we had to be getting close on laps, because we went on a long green flag run there, but man, I didn’t really know if I needed to go to the bottom or not because Andrew (Layser) was holding his own there on the bottom. I knew I had been around the top the whole race, so it was kind of hard to get away from it, but he kept coming back to me a little bit.”
Once Courtney successfully dispatched Thomas for the lead, the Oklahoma native could only watch as his dreams of becoming the first repeat – and back-to-back – Leffler Memorial winner faded into the night.
He ended up a heartbreaking second, one position short of where he hoped to be entering the night.
“I’m just a little disappointed in myself for being too cautious,” lamented Thomas. “Those last five laps, I tried not to mess up and everything, and Tyler was right there and did a great job of capitalizing on what I couldn’t do.
“It was a great night, though. Anytime you can be on the podium with USAC is always a good night,” Thomas added. “We’ll take second here and we’ll try and get a win at Haubstadt.”
Jason McDougal crossed third, marking a rare occurrence where all three podium starters finished in the top-three positions, with KSE Hard Charger Logan Seavey coming from 20th to finish fourth.
Justin Grant completed the top five, ahead of Chris Windom, Brady Bacon, Daryn Pittman, Sam Johnson and Tucker Klaasmeyer.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.