OCALA, Fla. — After ending last season in a dead tie atop the USAC sprint car national standings, Tyler Courtney and Kevin Thomas Jr. resumed their back-and-forth battle for supremacy on the opening night of the NOS Energy Drink USAC National Midget Series season Friday at Bubba Raceway Park.
In the end, it was Courtney who emerged victorious at the three-eighths-mile clay oval, giving the new series title sponsor something to smile about after parking his No. 7bc NOS-sponsored midget in victory lane and winning the first feature of the new year.
Courtney charged past Tucker Klaasmeyer on lap five of the 30-lap main event and then never looked back, mastering all three restarts thrown at him and driving away effortlessly from his pursuers.
Friday night’s score was Courtney’s sixth-career USAC national midget victory and first at Bubba.
“My Clauson-Marshall team just gave me a really awesome car,” noted Courtney in victory lane. “We were fast from the drop of the green tonight, and that’s what you’ve got to have because the competition in the national midget series is so tough right now at every race.
“I’m really excited about our new partnership with NOS Energy Drink and with them stepping up to be a part of the USAC National Midget Series this year, this is the perfect way to start things off for them,” he added. “We had a bit of a rough go at the Chili Bowl, but we started to figure things out on Saturday (in Tulsa) and I think that’s starting to show through now. We’ve got a really good car here.”
Though Klaasmeyer led the field to green from the pole for Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports, it wasn’t long before Courtney came calling at the front of the field. The Clauson-Marshall Racing driver climbed the banking on lap five and powered past Klaasmeyer to assume command exiting turn four.
From there, only a trio of caution flags slowed Courtney’s march at the head of the field. The first came on the 12th round, when his CMR teammate Andrew Layser stopped in turn two with smoke pouring from the front of his maching, and the second waved with 11 to go after Zane Hendricks shredded a left-rear tire and came to rest on the extreme high side in turn one.
Both times, Courtney easily cruised away from second-running Chad Boat, and he fired off like a cannon for the final five-lap sprint brought about by a stopped Adam Pierson in the second corner.
Meanwhile, Thomas roared from sixth to second in the final three laps, making a last-lap pass of C.J. Leary to secure runner-up honors before climbing from his car and lamenting what he felt was a missed opportunity to sweep the night.
“Going backwards really pisses me off, but it’s just one of those things in racing sometimes,” Thomas noted. “The track didn’t do exactly what we thought it was going to do. The last five laps was where we were fast; we were off the whole race until right there at the end. … We definitely need to run the valves before Saturday night’s program though, because this thing had its tongue hanging out.”
Chris Windom completed the podium, hard charging from 11th to third, followed by C.J. Leary and Zeb Wise. After running second for most of the race, Boat faded late and came home in eighth.
Even on opening night, Courtney was particularly excited to open his account with a victory.
“You never know when you’re going to get rainouts and every point counts,” Courtney smiled. “I think myself and KT (Kevin Thomas Jr.) were a testament to that last year on the sprint car side.”
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.