Kevin Thomas Jr wins first USAC Sprint Car run at Paragon in 23 years
By Richie Murray, USAC Media (Paragon, IN) -- In what has been a renaissance 2021 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car season following a winless 2020 campaign, Kevin Thomas Jr. added one more tally to his ever-growing win list for this year, conquering a Sunday night, caution-free duel between he and Logan Seavey at Indiana’s Paragon Speedway.
In the series’ return to the 3/8-mile dirt oval following a 23-year absence, Thomas couldn’t hardly wait to end his personal absence from victory lane, moving to the lead past Seavey eight laps in, then spending the remaining 23-lap distance trying to simultaneously press through lapped traffic while keeping Seavey behind him.
PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Pedersen
Thomas’ 32nd career USAC National Sprint Car feature win tied him with USAC and National Sprint Car Hall of Famer Rollie Beale for 13th on the all-time win list and provided Thomas with a win in both the final race leading into Indiana Sprint Week in July at Putnamville, Ind. as well as the first race leading out of Indiana Sprint Week Sunday at Paragon.
In fact, Thomas, of Cullman, Ala., is the first driver in more than two decades to capture the Indiana Sprint Week title, then win the first race held afterward. Only Tony Elliott (1999) and Jay Drake (2000) have previously accomplished the feat.
Oh, and wedged between those two victories, he also was crowned as the Indiana Sprint Week king. The Paragon win further demonstrated that Thomas’ roll is still ongoing and shows no sign of letting up in the latter half of the year for he and his KT Motorsports/Dr. Pepper Presents the Ronald McDonald House Charities/DRC/Speedway Chevy.
“I’m glad to get the win,” Thomas stated. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been to Paragon, and I’m glad we’re back. It’s a fun little racetrack. It’s a good win for us, and coming right after winning Sprint Week, it just carries over momentum-wise.”
Pole sitter C.J. Leary initially edged ahead at the start for the first three-quarters of a lap, but off turn four, Seavey muscled his way through on the cushion to reach the point from his outside front row starting position while Thomas followed suit on the topside past Leary exiting the fourth corner to slot into second.
Thomas hovered all over the back bumper of Seavey as the pair crossed the stripe to complete lap eight. Seavey went straight the top through turns one and two while Thomas stuck the middle and surged ahead to take over the race lead at the exit of turn two.
The name of the game for the remaining two-thirds of the race was traffic, and both Thomas and Seavey blasted their way through the back half of the field with precision, Seavey remaining a half second back and desperately trying to reel himself back into contention.
Any single mistake or misstep in negotiating the racetrack itself or another car would prove costly, and twice throughout the middle portion of the race, Seavey got oh-so-close to the back of Thomas but encountered issues atop the tricky curb between turns three and four that cost himself a half-second of ground each time on laps 14, 17 and 24.
Running two distinct lines – Thomas through the middle and Seavey up top – the two worked on the 14th place car of semi-feature winner Koby Barksdale as Seavey closed the gap to two car lengths with three laps remaining. Thomas pulled to the inside of Barksdale exiting turn two as Barksdale hiked the front end and veered right just as Thomas was overtaking him to his left field of vision, leaving nothing but open space in front of the leaders for the final two-lap run to the checkered.
Crossing under the white flag, less than two car lengths separated both Thomas and Seavey. Thomas nailed his path through turns one and two to open up a separation of six car lengths that ultimately proved insurmountable. In turns three and four, Thomas slid through the middle and up to the top to take away Seavey’s line at the exit of turn four to be greeted by twin checkers for the fifth time during this season with the series.
Thomas’ 0.375 second margin of victory at the finish line put him ahead of Seavey, Kyle Cummins, point leader Brady Bacon and KSE Racing Products Hard Charger Chris Windom, who came all the way from 18th to finish 5th.
For the duration of his time up front, Thomas was unsure of himself regarding where to attack the racetrack. Lapped cars dictated that in certain aspects, so Thomas found a tactic that worked for him and pushed him to victory lane once again, the fifth different month he’s won in this year: February, April, June, July and August.
“The whole race, I was kind of in defense mode,” Thomas recalled. “I felt alright at the beginning after the track work. Once I got to the lead, about five to eight laps later, I didn’t know where to run. I saw lapped cars pulling me certain places and I wasn’t really good where they were getting me. I tried other things and ended up sliding myself for 30 laps.”
It had been a span of 22 days since the most recent USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship event and Thomas had run seven USAC National Midget races in that timeframe. Thomas relished the opportunity to get back to work in the No. 9K sprinter, while his crew chief Davey Jones offered some poignant advice.
“It feels good,” Thomas said. “I like getting back in the sprint car, and running the midget during our off weeks really keeps me up to par. But after qualifying, Davey said if you don’t quit driving that thing like a midget, we’re going to have trouble. I enjoy doing it, and I enjoy racing sprint cars and coming to new places.”
The resulting success has moved Thomas to within 39 of Bacon’s series point lead as he seeks his first career USAC National championship. Offering a quick quip regarding his championship outlook, Thomas got right to the point to show where his mindset is with so many races lying ahead.
“I ain’t even going to talk about that,” Thomas remarked.
Logan Seavey (Sutter, Calif.) led the first seven laps and took second to Thomas in his Baldwin-Fox Racing/Fox Paving – Claxton Engines/DRC/Claxton Chevy. For Seavey, it was his second consecutive day of finishing second after finishing in the runner-up spot to Kody Swanson in Saturday afternoon’s USAC Silver Crown event at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.
“I had a lot of runs at him, but it’s so hard to get an opportunity to pass here, especially when you have to pass good cars,” Seavey explained. “We were struggling to lap guys, and it’s really narrow down the straightaways, which makes it tough to go by people. You really have to clear them through the corner or else you’re kind of in trouble.
(Thomas) ran just a little better than I did in the beginning,” Seavey continued. “I was just floating around the middle and my car wasn’t wanting to be there. Once he went by, he started hammering the cushion. It was tricky and it was over the edge; you have to ease it up there and ease it back off. I feel like that was an awesome race. It’s been many years since we’ve been back here, and to put on a race like that, is really cool.”
Kyle Cummins (Princeton, Ind.) scored his third-straight top-four finish with USAC in his Rock Steady Racing/Mid-America Safety Solutions – Project Oversight/Mach-1/Cummins Chevy. His dad, Mark, won at Paragon. Kyle has won at Paragon numerous times in his career. While hoping to get a first USAC win on Sunday night, Cummins admittedly was pleased to finish third and pleased just to finish, all things considered.
“I wish we had a little bit better car there at the end,” Cummins said. “At the beginning, I was really good. It was pretty hard to pass, and it was a pretty tricky cushion. I don’t think ever figured it out in turns one and two. In the heat race, we had a fuel filter plug up, so we thrashed and changed all kinds of stuff. I’m glad we just finished the race to be honest.”
Thomas’ time of 8:28.95 in the non-stop, green-to-checker feature shattered a 39-year-old record for USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car racing at Paragon. The 30-lap record for the series, formerly held by Rich Vogler, was set in 1982 with a time of 12:01.780.
USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget standouts Emerson Axsom and Chase Randall made their USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car debuts Sunday at Paragon. Axsom (Franklin, Ind.) won his heat race and finished 10th in the feature while Randall (Waco, Texas) ran second in his heat and collected a 13th place result in the feature.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: August 22, 2021 – Paragon Speedway – Paragon, Indiana – 3/8-Mile Dirt Track
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Kyle Cummins, 3R, Rock Steady-14.905; 2. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-15.017; 3. Kevin Thomas Jr., 9K, KT-15.061; 4. Shane Cockrum, 17G, On The Gass-15.067; 5. Logan Seavey, 5, Baldwin-15.094; 6. C.J. Leary, 77m, Michael-15.184; 7. Chase Stockon, 5s, KO-15.218; 8. Tanner Thorson, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-15.273; 9. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-15.283; 10. Emerson Axsom, 39BC, Clauson Marshall Newman-15.308; 11. Brandon Spencer, 22, Spencer-15.334; 12. Jake Swanson, 21AZ, Team AZ-15.373; 13. Koby Barksdale, 16K, Knight-15.455; 14. Jadon Rogers, 14, Rogers-15.493; 15. Ricky Lewis, 11, Lewis-15.513; 16. Jason McDougal, 5m, KO-15.539; 17. Chase Randall, 19A, Reinbold/Underwood-15.541; 18. Jake Scott, 33, Miller-15.546; 19. Brayden Fox, 53, Fox-15.673; 20. Brandon Morin, 98, Morin-15.713; 21. Chris Windom, 19, Hayward-15.759; 22. Braxton Cummings, 71B, Cummings-15.826; 23. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-15.851; 24. Kyle Shipley, 0G, Shipley-16.010; 25. Tye Mihocko, 2E, Epperson-16.125; 26. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-16.178; 27. Alex Banales, 5x, Baldwin/Fox-16.366; 28. Tony Helton, 87, Miller-16.681; 29. Justin Meneely, 100, Meneely-17.414; 30. Dave Gross, 37, Gross-19.403.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (10 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Emerson Axsom, 2. Jason McDougal, 3. Shane Cockrum, 4. Chase Stockon, 5. Kyle Cummins, 6. Brayden Fox, 7. Tye Mihocko, 8. Tony Helton, 9. Braxton Cummings, 10. Koby Barksdale. NT
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (10 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Logan Seavey, 2. Chase Randall, 3. Jadon Rogers, 4. Justin Grant, 5. Robert Ballou, 6. Tanner Thorson, 7. Brandon Morin, 8. Brandon Mattox, 9. Justin Meneely, 10. Brandon Spencer. NT
INDY METAL FINISHING/INDY RACE PARTS THIRD HEAT: (10 laps, top-5 transfer to the feature) 1. Kevin Thomas Jr., 2. Jake Swanson, 3. Ricky Lewis, 4. C.J. Leary, 5. Brady Bacon, 6. Chris Windom, 7. Jake Scott, 8. Kyle Shipley, 9. Alex Banales, 10. Dave Gross. NT
ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS SEMI: (12 laps, top-7 transfer to the feature) 1. Koby Barksdale, 2. Chris Windom, 3. Jake Scott, 4. Brayden Fox, 5. Brandon Morin, 6. Brandon Mattox, 7. Tye Mihocko, 8. Tanner Thorson, 9. Brandon Spencer, 10. Alex Banales, 11. Tony Helton, 12. Justin Meneely, 13. Dave Gross, 14. Braxton Cummings, 15. Kyle Shipley. NT
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Kevin Thomas Jr. (4), 2. Logan Seavey (2), 3. Kyle Cummins (6), 4. Brady Bacon (9), 5. Chris Windom (18), 6. C.J. Leary (1), 7. Robert Ballou (19), 8. Justin Grant (5), 9. Jason McDougal (13), 10. Emerson Axsom (7), 11. Jake Swanson (10), 12. Tanner Thorson (23-P), 13. Chase Randall (14), 14. Koby Barksdale (11), 15. Brayden Fox (16), 16. Jake Scott (15), 17. Brandon Mattox (21), 18. Brandon Morin (22), 19. Tye Mihocko (20), 20. Chase Stockon (8), 21. Jadon Rogers (12), 22. Ricky Lewis (17), 23. Shane Cockrum (3). 8:28.95 (New Track Record)
(P) represents a provisional starter
**Braxton Cummings flipped during the first heat.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Laps 1-7 Logan Seavey, Laps 8-30 Kevin Thomas Jr.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Brady Bacon-1891, 2-Kevin Thomas Jr.-1852, 3-Justin Grant-1814, 4-C.J. Leary-1667, 5-Tanner Thorson-1619, 6-Robert Ballou-1587, 7-Chris Windom-1569, 8-Jake Swanson-1542, 9-Chase Stockon-1196, 10-Kyle Cummins-1008.
OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Chris Windom-128, 2-Brady Bacon-119, 3-Tanner Thorson-118, 4-Justin Grant-116, 5-Robert Ballou-109, 6-Thomas Meseraull-103, 7-Kevin Thomas Jr.-97, 8-Logan Seavey-91, 9-Kyle Cummins-71, 10-Buddy Kofoid-71.
NEXT USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACES: August 26-27-28, 2021 – Kokomo Speedway – Kokomo, Indiana – 1/4-Mile Dirt Track
CONTINGENCY AWARD WINNERS:
GSP Driving Performance of the Night: Koby Barksdale
Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier: Kyle Cummins
Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner: Emerson Axsom
Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner: Logan Seavey
Indy Metal Finishing/Indy Race Parts Third Heat Winner: Kevin Thomas Jr.
Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Semi Winner: Koby Barksdale
KSE Racing Products Hard Charger: Chris Windom (18th to 5th)
Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher: Chase Randall
Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer: Tanner Thorson
Submitted By: Kirk Elliott