OCALA, Fla. — New engines, new cars, new crew members and a new shop. That is among the inventory Justin Grant has had to adapt to for the start of the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series season.
But what isn’t new for the Ione, Calif., driver is finding victory lane early and often with the series, which he did once again Friday night in the second round for the Winter Dirt Games XII at Bubba Raceway Park.
Grant chased down fellow Californian Jake Swanson for the lead eight laps from the finish.
Grant has now won each of his three USAC National Sprint Car features at the Ocala, Florida three-eighths-mile dirt track on a Friday night in an odd-numbered year, previously doing so in both 2017 and ’19.
The latest triumph gave Grant his 21st career USAC National Sprint Car feature victory.
Grant hopes that this victory is an omen of sorts, one that will carry on the tradition of successive drivers who’ve won at Ocala, then parlayed that achievement into a USAC National Sprint Car championship six times in the past 11 years.
“Getting through Florida with some confidence is huge,” Grant stated. “With a month off, there’s almost like another offseason after this weekend, so just being able to go home and feel good is awesome leading into the year. If you run good down here, your car owners are excited, and are wanting to spend money. The crew guys are excited, and they’re wanting to go the extra mile. Good success early just really snowballs, and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the year.”
Grant is grateful for the faith that team owner Kevin Birchmeier has put in him, allowing Grant to take the reins of the team and move it to his own shop in Indianapolis. Two new Maxims were constructed, and two new Kistler engines were installed.
With a dedicated crew on his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink – MPV Express – TOPP Industries/Maxim/Kistler Chevy, it’s an entire atmosphere, situation and climate that Grant embraces, and he wouldn’t have any other way.
“I’m having so much fun,” Grant said. “We’ve been going to the car wash every night afterwards, hanging out, laughing, pressure washing cars, cleaning things up, and then going out for dinner afterwards, then getting up in the morning, doing maintenance; we’re sprint car racing and it’s just a ton of fun.”
Grant started eighth and steadily worked his way to the front as Swanson set the pace.
Making his way to second by lap 10, Grant stalked Swanson through several mid-race yellow flags and restarts.
But on the 23rd lap, Grant found a lane underneath Swanson for the lead exiting turn four. The two drag raced side-by-side to the bottom of turn one with the pair banging wheels, Grant’s right rear and Swanson’s left front.
“(Swanson) left the door open off of four and he was beat down the front stretch and into one,” Grant explained. “He tried to dog me down in there and just wasn’t in a position to be able to do it. We made contact, but I was far enough up under him that he knew what was coming; he knows the game. He’s a good friend of mine, he’s at my house all the time and he’s a good dude. We’ll be fine but I’m sure he might be mad tonight.”
As Swanson regathered himself to stay in front of Thorson for the runner-up spot, Buddy Kofoid stepped up to the topside to race around both Swanson and Thorson, then immediately began to threaten Grant’s supremacy at the head of the pack with six laps remaining.
“Buddy was up there,” Grant remembered. “We got to Davey Ray to lap him, and I’m idling the bottom, so the motor’s really quiet, but I hear this motor just screaming down the frontstretch, pretty close. I’m like ‘Ooh, that guy ain’t coming off the bottom. He’s blazing the top.’ I cleared Davey into one, then in the middle of two, I thought to myself, ‘Do I bail off the bottom, do I go to the top,” and then the yellow lights came on. I remember thinking, ‘Whew, thank god. Now I’ve got a few laps to roll around and think about that decision.'”
On the restart, Grant had no qualms establishing a presence at the topside of turns three and four and began to distance himself from the field while the battle raged for second with Brady Bacon racing around the outside of Kofoid for second just three laps from the finish.
Grant beat Bacon to the checkered flag by 1.164 seconds with Kofoid, Thorson and C.J. Leary rounding out the top five.
To see full results, turn to the next page.