SALEM, Ind. – Driving a car honoring three-time ARCA champion Jack Bowsher, ARCA Racing Series championship leader Austin Theriault rolled to his sixth victory of the season Saturday night at Salem Speedway.
Theriault, driving a special blue and white Bowsher Throwback scheme, hunted down Zane Smith in the closing laps, passed him with four laps to go, then drove away to win the 102nd running of the Eddie Gilstrap Motors Fall Classic. In addition to it being his sixth win of the season, it was also his third-straight.
Theriault looked a lot like Bowsher in the lap-leader column too, leading 140 of 200 laps en route to Salem’s winner’s circle. Some race fans of course remember when Bowsher won seven straight ARCA races at Salem from 1963 through 1965.
“What an honor to win here…this seems like everybody’s favorite track,” said Theriault. “This place will beat you up. I didn’t know Jack (Bowsher) obviously but to be mentioned in the same sentence with him is an honor. A lot of his family was here tonight and with me in victory lane…pretty special to be a part of that. Maybe he was riding with us tonight.”
Theriault, with the first pit cycle wedged in, led the first 136 laps before Tom Hessert beat Theriault off pit road on the second and final stop. Hessert led from lap 137 through 141 before Smith, who had already passed Theriault for second, wiggled Hessert out of the way to lead the 142nd lap. Then Smith pulled away by 10 lengths as Hessert fought hard to hold off Theriault. But once Theriault finally cleared Hessert, he tracked down the leader, got underneath him in turns one and two on lap 196 and set sail.
Smith, in the No. 28 KMC Wheels Toyota for MDM Motorsports, held on for second.
“This is the first time I’ve really been able to go for a win,” said Smith. “I learned a lot out there. Everything was going great there at the end. I thought I was saving a lot for the end…I should have saved more. It was a great learning experience…I just need to save a little more for the end.”
Smith had an eventful night, winning his first General Tire Pole after he smacked the turn three wall in practice. To get the car fixed in time, the crew had to forego their ‘in line qualifying time’, which means they had to start at the tail-end of the field. After nearly getting lapped on the first long green flag run, Smith pitted, made the necessary adjustments and drove to the front.
Dalton Sargeant finished third in the No. 77 Big Tine Ford with a Throwback scheme to the late Alan Kulwicki’s 1992 NASCAR Cup championship season.
“That was definitely a fun race for sure,” said Sargeant. “Those last 50 laps were crazy. Hope it was good for the fans…I sure enjoyed it. Thanks to my Cunningham Motorsports crew for all their hard work.”
Josh Williams, making his first ARCA start since Kansas in 2016, stormed through the field in the late going to finish fourth. Williams, running a Throwback scheme to family friend/racer Bob Fields who recently passed away, charged from outside the 10th position inside of 30 laps to go and was the fastest car on the track in the end.
“We changed a lot of stuff on the car throughout the run,” said Williams. “Major swings…six rounds down on the track bar and four rounds of wedge in the left rear. We were so fast in the end…track position was all we needed and just a few more laps.”
Gus Dean finished fifth in the No. 32 GREE Cooling Products Toyota, the last car on the lead lap.
Just three cautions for 20 laps slowed the pace during the 200-lap race while the majority of the laps were under green flag conditions.
Theriault clinched the Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge championship and currently leads the General Tire Superspeedway Challenge title fight.
Austin Theriault, Zane Smith, Dalton Sargeant, Josh Williams, Gus Dean, Chase Purdy, Bret Holmes, A.J. Fike, Shane Lee, Will Kimmel, Justin Fontaine, Bo LeMastus, Mike Basham, Ed Pompa, Tom Hessert, Thomas Praytor, Riley Herbst, Con Nicolopoulos, Christian Eckes, Eric Caudell, Brad Smith, Mark Meunier, Darrell Basham.