By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Speedway, Indiana (September 29, 2023)………One night after witnessing his RMS Racing teammate, Thomas Meseraull, grab his very own long-awaited first USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship feature victory of the year, Justin Grant didn’t have to wait long to deliver his response.
Grant (Ione, Calif.) tracked down racelong leader Emerson Axsom on the 20th lap of Friday night’s Driven2SaveLives BC39 Preliminary Night Two feature, then led the remaining 11 circuits to capture his first series triumph of the year in his RMS Racing/NOS Energy Drink – EnviroFab – Response Management Services/Spike/Speedway Toyota.
The 15th career series victory for Grant was his first since the Turkey Night Grand Prix at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway in November of 2022 and moved him inside the top-50 all-time in terms of USAC National Midget wins, tying him with fellow USAC National champions Don Branson, Larry Rice and Chris Windom.
Furthermore, Grant became the second driver this year (Logan Seavey) to win features in all three USAC National divisions (Silver Crown, AMSOIL National Sprint Car and NOS Energy Drink National Midget. It’s the fifth time Grant has achieved the feat (2017-18-21-22-23), second most all-time behind Dave Steele’s six.
Entering the season as the odds-on favorite to complete the career USAC Triple Crown as the National Midget champion, it’s been a season of hardship, frustration and disappointment for Grant and the crew on his RMS Racing No. 2. After a pair of subpar runs last weekend, all knew something needed to change with the car, and fast.
“We’ve been trying to pick at it and pick at it and pick at it, trying to get the balance better, but after Eldora, it’s like, we are so bad,” realized Grant. “We changed all four spring rates and all four shock dampenings. We changed everything from front to back. We changed everything we could possibly change and our whole approach to it. It wasn’t going to be any worse, so there was nothing to lose. We were so bad, we changed it all, and it was really good tonight.”
Grant took the car in-house, completely gutted and stripping it, basically restarting from scratch to put them back in the form that guided them to five USAC National Midget feature wins in 2022. Several late nights this week consisted of shop time, eating pizza, drinking beer and working non-stop to come up with a better mousetrap.
“I was able to get the car to my shop this week,” Grant revealed. “Me and a buddy of mine (Robert Brown Jr.) just tore it down and went through it, started over and brainstormed on how to make it better, and I think we did. Matt Hummel at FK Shocks and I drew up four sets of shock numbers. I said, ‘I want that.’ He said, ‘I don’t know if I can build that.’ I said, ‘well, you’ll figure it out.’ He figured it out and got those done for us.”
Grant started fifth in the field as outside front row starter Emerson Axsom raced to the lead on the opening lap by a car length over pole sitter Cannon McIntosh and proceeded to lead much of the 30-lapper.
An early race mover was USAC Midwest Thunder SpeeD2 Midget upstart Zach Wigal who moved into the top-three by lap six after starting back in the seventh spot. In the battle for the third position, Grant and Wigal nearly found calamity in turn two on lap eight, resulting in Wigal running out of room and glancing off the outside wall and dropping him back to fifth.
In turn three, Wigal attempted to make up lost ground by sliding past Karter Sarff before colliding with the outside wall, which knocked out the front end on his machine and concluded what was a solid run in his first career USAC National Midget feature start. Wigal eagerly displayed his chagrin with a salute involving a couple fingers aimed toward Grant, which was made all the more fascinating due to the fact that, in an interview earlier in the night on the PA system, Wigal specifically mentioned Grant as one of his childhood heroes that he’d always looked up to.
Just after the halfway point, Grant turned up the wick, moving to second past McIntosh in turn four as the pair of drivers seeking their first USAC National Midget wins of the year nearly squeezed themselves into the wall of voodoo. With no room to spare, McIntosh wound up bouncing off the turn four wall as Grant scooted by into second.
Now, Grant’s mission was to track down Axsom for the race lead, and it took him just four more laps to erase a half second deficit before clamping down on the top spot. On lap 20, Grant made the move successful, sliding across the nose of Axsom in turns one and two to overtake the position.
From there, Grant shuffled away until he was nearly off the grid, 2.947 seconds ahead of the field at the finish line while an intense tussle was underway to secure the final two lock-in spots for Saturday night’s $20,039-to-win feature. McIntosh drove under Axsom to take second at the stripe off the final turn on the final lap while Axsom grabbed the third and final lock-in spot by a car length over the surging Tanner Thorson in fourth. Ryan Timms, meanwhile, rounded out the top-five.
As far as Grant’s victory, it was both a longtime coming and a relief in many ways. After nearly three full seasons with RMS, Grant and the crew have a rapport that allowed them to endure and overcome this prolonged tough stretch, one that lasted much longer than they would’ve preferred. But when the rewards came on Friday night, there’ve been few wins that were more satisfying.
“Even when we’re not running well, it’s always, ‘hey, we’re going to figure it out,” Grant explained. “We’ve all got to get better. It’s never me that needs to drive the thing better or anything like that. You don’t go through the year we’ve gone through without this car and then come here and win without that support system. I’m super fortunate I’m the one that gets to go out there and celebrate in front of people, but there’s so many people behind me.”
One of those individuals assisting him on this night was his sprint car sidekick, Jeff Walker. Grant explained that Walker gets out of him what he’s really trying to say, then expands on it in order to fix the problem. On this particular night, Walker was able to talk Grant out of doing anything too drastic after the qualifiers.
“Tonight, after the qualifiers, I was saying it was too hard on entry to get in right; it’s snagging me and I want to do this and I want to do that,” Grant relayed. “He told me, that’s why your name’s on the visor. That thing is fast, and if it’s hard to drive, that’s a you problem.”
The early part of this week saw Cannon McIntosh (Bixby, Okla.) change scenery as he switched teams from his Dave Mac-Dalby Motorsports ride to the CB Industries/Gearwrench – TRD – PristineAuction.com/Spike/Speedway Toyota. In his first run for the CBI team, McIntosh posted his best finish of the USAC National Midget season with a runner-up result, thus locking his way into Saturday’s feature at IMS.
Somewhat similarly to McIntosh, Emerson Axsom (Franklin, Ind.) also made his debut for a new team behind the wheel of the Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports No. 68. Axsom proceeded to lead a race-high 19 laps en route to a third-place result, also locking him into Saturday’s main event lineup in his Curb Records – TRD/Lynk/Speedway Toyota.
Following the feature event, the special annual Stoops Pursuit race was held, rescheduled to Friday night after the originally scheduled edition on Wednesday was postponed by rain. Zach Daum (Pocahontas, Ill.) prevailed in the 25-lap event aboard his RAMCO Speed Group/Racers for Autism – The BLRH Group – American Fire Extinguishers/Spike/Toyota.
Daum and Ethan Mitchell slugged it out for much of the affair, exchanging the lead three times during the final 16 laps before the 10th starting Daum made the winning move under Mitchell with four laps remaining. Mitchell led the most laps (19) before slotting into second with Cannon McIntosh third (from 17th), Emerson Axsom fourth (from 19th) while Logan Seavey rounded out the top-five.
USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: September 29, 2023 – The Dirt Track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Speedway, Indiana – 1/4-Mile Dirt Track – Driven2SaveLives BC39
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps, passing points) 1. Ethan Mitchell (#19m Bundy Built), 2. Cannon McIntosh (#86 CBI), 3. Logan Seavey (#57 Abacus), 4. Austin Barnhill (#17B Dave Mac-Dalby), 5. Isaac Chapple (#6 Hall), 6. Landon Brooks (#1D RAMCO), 7. Jeff Schindler (#8x Schindler), 8. Ian Creager (#36 Creager), 9. Mark McMahill (#10c MWR). NT
ROD END SUPPLY SECOND HEAT: (8 laps, passing points) 1. Zach Daum (#7p RAMCO), 2. Daison Pursley (#19 Reinbold-Underwood), 3. Brady Bacon (#21H TKH), 4. Ryan Timms (#67 Kunz/Curb-Agajanian), 5. Jake Andreotti (#25m Malloy), 6. Gavin Miller (#97 Kunz/Curb-Agajanian), 7. Bryan Stanfill (#75AU Griffiths), 8. Aaron Leffel (#11L Taylor), 9. Scott Orr (#5s Hodge). NT
T.J. FORGED THIRD HEAT: (8 laps, passing points) 1. Justin Grant (#2 RMS), 2. Tanner Thorson (#88 Thorson), 3. Zach Wigal (#40x Mounce-Stout), 4. Daniel Robinson (#57A RAB), 5. Mitchell Davis (#56 O’Dell), 6. Scott Evans (#118 Evans), 7. Wes Pinkerton (#9 Pinkerton), 8. Connor Wolf (#1G RAMCO). NT
CAR IQ FOURTH HEAT: (8 laps, passing points) 1. Karter Sarff (#21K Sarff), 2. Emerson Axsom (#68 Kunz/Curb-Agajanian), 3. Clinton Boyles (#11 Beierle), 4. Trevor Cline (#55 Cline), 5. Jake Bubak (#27B Bourke), 6. Justin Zimmerman (#1z Zimmerman), 7. Don O’Keefe Jr. (#99 LOK/Carson-Segur), 8. Kenney Johnson (#46 Johnson). NT
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST QUALIFIER: (10 laps, passing points) 1. Justin Grant, 2. Cannon McIntosh, 3. Jake Andreotti, 4. Jake Bubak, 5. Scott Evans, 6. Ian Creager, 7. Justin Zimmerman, 8. Austin Barnhill. NT
ROD END SUPPLY SECOND QUALIFIER: (10 laps, passing points) 1. Brady Bacon, 2. Logan Seavey, 3. Karter Sarff, 4. Daison Pursley, 5. Landon Brooks, 6. Daniel Robinson, 7. Bryan Stanfill, 8. Connor Wolf, 9. Scott Orr. NT
T.J. FORGED THIRD QUALIFIER: (10 laps, passing points) 1. Gavin Miller, 2. Zach Wigal, 3. Trevor Cline, 4. Ethan Mitchell, 5. Tanner Thorson, 6. Clinton Boyles, 7. Kenney Johnson, 8. Don O’Keefe Jr. NT
CAR IQ FOURTH QUALIFIER: (10 laps, passing points) 1. Zach Daum, 2. Emerson Axsom, 3. Ryan Timms, 4. Mitchell Davis, 5. Isaac Chapple, 6. Jeff Schindler, 7. Aaron Leffel, 8. Wes Pinkerton. NT
ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Clinton Boyles, 2. Jake Bubak, 3. Daniel Robinson, 4. Isaac Chapple, 5. Justin Zimmerman, 6. Kenney Johnson, 7. Aaron Leffel, 8. Jeff Schindler, 9. Bryan Stanfill, 10. Don O’Keefe Jr., 11. Scott Evans, 12. Wes Pinkerton, 13. Ian Creager, 14. Austin Barnhill, 15. Mark McMahill, 16. Scott Orr, 17. Connor Wolf. NT
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Justin Grant (5), 2. Cannon McIntosh (1), 3. Emerson Axsom (2), 4. Tanner Thorson (8), 5. Ryan Timms (9), 6. Karter Sarff (3), 7. Logan Seavey (11), 8. Ethan Mitchell (10), 9. Daison Pursley (12), 10. Jake Andreotti (13), 11. Jake Bubak (18), 12. Mitchell Davis (16), 13. Justin Zimmerman (21), 14. Gavin Miller (14), 15. Zach Daum (6), 16. Clinton Boyles (17), 17. Trevor Cline (15), 18. Isaac Chapple (20), 19. Kenney Johnson (22), 20. Daniel Robinson (19), 21. Zach Wigal (7), 22. Brady Bacon (4). NT
STOOPS PURSUIT: (25 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Zach Daum (10), 2. Ethan Mitchell (2), 3. Cannon McIntosh (17), 4. Emerson Axsom (19), 5. Logan Seavey (8), 6. Daniel Whitley (#58 Abacus) (20), 7. Karter Sarff (15), 8. C.J. Leary (#14 Legacy) (23), 9. Mitchel Moles (#19T Reinbold-Underwood) (22), 10. Kaylee Bryson (#89 CBI) (21), 11. Kameron Key (#21J TKH) (3), 12. Kyle Jones (#7m RAMCO) (6), 13. Jade Avedisian (#71 Kunz/Curb-Agajanian) (7), 14. Tanner Thorson (18), 15. Gavin Miller (1), 16. Ryan Timms (12), 17. Bryant Wiedeman (#81 CBI) (4), 18. Chase McDermand (#40 Mounce-Stout) (16), 19. Kevin Thomas Jr. (#1 Crouch) (5), 20. Taylor Reimer (#25K Kunz/Curb-Agajanian) (9), 21. Hayden Reinbold (#19AZ Reinbold-Underwood) (13), 22. Brady Bacon (14), 23. Daison Pursley (11). NT
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-19 Emerson Axsom, Laps 20-30 Justin Grant.
STOOPS PURSUIT LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-7 Ethan Mitchell, Lap 8 Kameron Key, Laps 9-12 Ethan Mitchell, Lap 13 Zach Daum, Laps 14-21 Ethan Mitchell, Laps 22-25 Zach Daum.
**Kenney Johnson flipped during the fourth heat. Austin Barnhill flipped during the first qualifying race. Scott Orr flipped during the second qualifying race. Austin Barnhill flipped during the semi.
USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Logan Seavey-1347, 2-Bryant Wiedeman-1138, 3-Justin Grant-1116, 4-Ryan Timms-1091, 5-Daison Pursley-1087, 6-Jade Avedisian-1081, 7-Jacob Denney-1015, 8-Gavin Miller-995, 9-Cannon McIntosh-918, 10-Taylor Reimer-868.
OVERALL USAC NATIONAL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Daison Pursley-182, 2-Logan Seavey-134, 3-Emerson Axsom-112, 4-Justin Grant-110, 5-Shane Cottle-106, 6-Matt Westfall-105, 7-Robert Ballou-100, 8-Brady Bacon-92, 9-Chase Stockon-90, 10-Mitchel Moles-79.
NEXT USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: September 30, 2023 – The Dirt Track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Speedway, Indiana – 1/4-Mile Dirt Track – Driven2SaveLives BC39
CONTINGENCY AWARD WINNERS
Dirt Draft Hot Laps Fastest Driver: Justin Grant (12.015)
Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner: Ethan Mitchell
Rod End Supply Second Heat Winner: Zach Daum
T.J. Forged Third Heat Winner: Justin Grant
Car IQ Fourth Heat Winner: Karter Sarff
Simpson Race Products First Qualifier Winner: Justin Grant
Rod End Supply Second Qualifier Winner: Brady Bacon
T.J. Forged Third Qualifier Winner: Gavin Miller
Car IQ Fourth Qualifier Winner: Zach Daum
Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Semi Winner: Clinton Boyles
Green APU Green Flag Challenge First Lap Leader: Emerson Axsom
MPI Up on the Wheel Hard Charger: Justin Zimmerman (21st to 13th)