HAUBSTADT, Ind. — When they make a movie chronicling Daron Clayton’s exploits, his victory in Saturday’s Haubstadt Hustler at Tri-State Speedway will certainly be a key scene.
It would be hard for Hollywood to create a more unbelievable script than Clayton’s adventure in the $10,000-to-win USAC/MSCS co-sanctioned sprint car event.
There was a time, after Clayton’s Ray Morgan Motorsports No. 92 Spike wouldn’t fire for hot laps or heat race, that it looked like they could load up and leave without taking a green flag. But with the help of mechanics from other teams, they finally found and fixed the engine problem and with a robust lineup of cars in the pits, started from the tail of the semi.
By lap three he had charged from 18th to third. He finished second. Then in the 40-lap feature, Clayton raced to the win from 18th starting spot, with Kyle Larson second, Robert Ballou third, followed by Dave Darland and Chris Windom.
“This is huge,” he said afterward. “I don’t think I’ve driven that hard in my life. Now I’ve got $10,000. I had a $5,000 bill, so I’ve got $5,000 in my pocket to go racing again. Things are great.”
Hunter Schuerenberg led early, with Larson in pursuit. Schuerenberg built a straightaway advantage, but it was erased when they caught up with a pack of backmarkers. While working through the slower cars, Schuerenberg slipped high in turn three and Larson slipped past on the inside, taking the lead. Two laps later, Schuerenberg re-passed Larson in the same turn, but then Larson took the spot back as they charged off the fourth turn side-by-side. Then the caution flew for Brady Short on lap 14.
Schuerenberg retook the lead a lap after the restart when Larson got into the loose dirt over the cushion. But Larson battled back and after several more circuits of wheel-to-wheel racing, retook the lead. Chase Stockon moved to third, and then passed Schuerenberg for second. With ten laps remaining, Clayton caught the front runners and began to battle Schuerenberg for third. But Stockon spun, and when Schuerenberg slid into him, Clayton was in second for the restart.
“I just got down a little bit too hot into the marbles and couldn’t hang onto it,” Stockon explained with disappointment. “I hate to say it this way, but I think we just gave away ten grand.”
When they retook the green, Clayton and Larson began to duel for the lead. With a couple laps remaining, Clayton built a ten car-length lead, but Larson quickly closed that gap. At the finish, Clayton held a six car-length lead.
When he caught the Fox Brothers No. 53 DRC in the closing laps, Clayton said he knew that Larson had been up front for all of the race and had figured out where to run the track.
“I knew that if I showed him a nose too soon, it would backfire on me,” Clayton said. “I waited until I got a pretty good run and once I got side-by-side, he switched over to block mode and was trying to go low and high and basically protect his position. I used that to my favor because he was losing momentum by doing that.”
Across the pit lane, Larson noted, “We had a late race caution and I could see the fans in the stands cheering. So I knew Clayton was right there. He got me on the restart and we had a pretty good race there, running side-by-side for a little bit. It’s not a win, but it’s still a good finish.”
It was like a dramatic movie script. Sponsor Ray Morgan admitted that the car was junk before they figured out the motor problem. But Clayton said that he didn’t let it get to him.
“I was frustrated, but I never started getting upset,” Clayton said. “There was $10,000 to win tonight, I had no time to be a baby about it. I had to get in there, find the problem, fix the problem, and get out there and win that money.”
The race was a full MSCS point race and was scheduled as a special event for the AMSOIL USAC National Sprint Car Series and the drivers received show-up points. Bryan Clauson finished fourth, but missed weighing at the scales after the race and was penalized to the last finishing position.