INDIANAPOLIS – The stark contrast between the 2018 and 2019 seasons for the Klatt Enterprises USAC Silver Crown Series team is like the difference between night and day.
More to the point, it was the difference between mechanical woes and DNFs to reliability and results, the latter two of which led them to the series owner title this year.
At the start of 2018, the decision was made by the team to acquire the talents of the two best Silver Crown free agents on dirt and pavement. Two-time AMSOIL USAC National Sprint Car champion Brady Bacon was secured as the team’s dirt driver, while 2017 Little 500 winner Kyle Hamilton was tabbed for the pavement.
Optimism was in abundance as Hamilton checked out in the opener at Phoenix, leading a race-high 54 laps and standing as head of the class when engine trouble spelled doom with 35 laps remaining, sending the team to the sidelines disappointed but hopeful that the strong run was indicative of what the year was going to bring.
Unfortunately, that part of the equation wouldn’t pan out, as the team became plagued by an onslaught of mechanical problems all throughout 2018.
Bacon was done after one lap on the dirt at Terre Haute, finishing 25th. Hamilton returned on the pavement at Toledo and was running well when an ignition issue knocked him out early.
Weeks later at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, Bacon fell out with an engine issue, followed by a handling problem at Lucas Oil Raceway for Hamilton, a driveshaft issue at Madison for Hamilton and a clutch gone askew while Bacon led at DuQuoin early in the 100-miler.
The lone bright spots came in the form of a fifth for Hamilton at Salem and an eighth by Bacon in the Eldora finale.
A flip of the calendar from 2018 to 2019 was a welcome change for all involved, but as the 2019 season unfolded, it became apparent it was so much more than that.
Everybody from top-to-bottom, from crew to each driver, was on point nearly every time they hit the track, whether on dirt or pavement.
A 2018 season that featured just three top-tens in 10 total starts improved to a perfect 10 – 10 top-10s in 10 starts in 2019, including just a single finish outside the top-five.
Hamilton had a fourth-place result at Memphis after stopping early due to an accident in front of him, then charged from the tail of the field to grab the best finish of his Silver Crown career up to that point.
He followed suit with a sixth at Toledo where he was running in second early, but a brief problem sent him to the back of the pack, where he charged up through the field once again, twice overcoming adversity and sending a message that the story the new year was writing was an entirely different one, with a happier ending.
Bacon, meanwhile, took over control on the dirt at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in May, scoring a solid fifth after starting eighth.
The following night, the team brought out it’s pavement car for a run at Lucas Oil Raceway where the patient Hamilton handled the second half of the race with grace, taking advantage of mechanical problems that befell leader Kody Swanson on a lap 54 restart.
However, he still had to fight off Bobby Santos, who was able to whip by Hamilton with just a quarter of the race remaining, but Hamilton was undeterred, retaking the lead the following lap and racing away to his first series victory.
“Last year, it didn’t seem like anything could go right mechanically,” Hamilton recalled. “Our ‘Little 500’ car broke, my teammate Brady’s dirt car broke, we broke right out the box here at (LOR) and had to start the race from the tail with no practice laps. This year, we qualified third tonight at LOR and I thought, ‘well, this is going a lot better.’ Tonight was the night I was a little bit more worried about being slow. We’ve always struggled here, and I didn’t want to disappoint my team, but I was a little nervous inside.
“I grew up about 15 minutes from here and I’d always tell my buddies that we’re racing at LOR,” Hamilton continued. “But I kind of hesitated because I was always so bad here. To say we pulled one off in a Silver Crown car on a big night is pretty cool to me.”
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