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C.J. Leary in victory lane at the Terre Haute Action Track. (David Nearpass photo)

Leary Gets His Day At Terre Haute

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — C.J. Leary waited, waited and patiently waited for this night to arrive — a first USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship feature victory at the hallowed grounds of the Terre Haute Action Track.

He actually won his first career USAC national event at the half-mile dirt oval back in 2016, piloting a Silver Crown car. However, despite his best efforts over the past decade, the Greenfield, Ind., native had never finished higher than fourth in a sprinter at Terre Haute.

That narrative changed in an instant during Friday night‘s 12th running of the Don Smith Classic when a late caution bunched up the field and allowed Leary a renewed opportunity to pen his own triumphant script with just 11 laps remaining.

Diving to the bottom of turn one on the lap-20 restart, Leary surpassed Moles and discarded all the hurdles that had previously stood in his path.

After once and for all exorcising those Terre Haute demons, Leary checked out and checked off his first career victory at the western Indiana track, pulling away to a commanding 6.328-second margin of separation between he and his nearest competition at the finish line.

After exiting his Michael Motorsports/Kodiak Products — Gray Auto — Highsmith Guns — DMI/DRC/Cressman Ford, C.J.‘s father, Chuck, greeted him on the front straightway with the universal verbal sigh of relief, shouting, “Finally.

“We‘ve been racing for 10 years and we‘ve never been able to win a sprint car race here,” C.J. exclaimed. “This place has escaped me time and time again. I‘ve never really been that good here, so it feels pretty special to park this thing in victory lane. I worked my butt off there those last 10 laps. Mitchel was really good and, before that yellow, I think he had the race won; he was so far out there.”

Moles had dominated since the drop of the green flag from the pole in his first appearance for the Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports team, which had fielded driver Tanner Thorson, who recently vacated the seat that he had competed in for the past two seasons.

By lap seven, Moles had constructed a half-straightaway lead, but the early ascendancy was hushed when Brady Bacon, who had climbed from eighth to fourth in the early going, had his right rear tire give way midway down the front straightaway.

Bacon miraculously managed to whoa the car down enough to avoid crunching the outside turn one Armco barrier, but the damage proved to be too much, thus prematurely and ending Bacon‘s evening with a 19th-place result.

The yellow flag seemed to be just a quick hiccup for Moles, who resumed his prowess following the restart as he sprayed the outer guardrails with western Indiana soil while completely rebuilding his lead, and then some, to the tune of more than three seconds with just 11 laps remaining.

Back a bit to the battle for sixth and seventh, contact between Jason McDougal and Robert Ballou damaged McDougal‘s rear bumper and dislodged Ballou‘s wheel cover, which fell to the racing surface and forced officials to call for a debris yellow on lap 20.

Much to the chagrin of Moles who was on a comfort cruise up front, the yellow deleted his freeway to history and put him in the unenvious position of having to defend a patented Terre Haute slide job on the restart with the likes of Leary and defending Don Smith Classic winner Logan Seavey tailing him into turn one.

Leary ably shot past to the lead while Seavey followed suit by sneaking underneath Moles to grab second spot. Moles, meanwhile, had freefallen back to third within the blink of an eye.

“I felt like if I could break his momentum there on the restart, and maybe get in front of him, we had a car fast enough to win,” Leary explained.

Eluded no more, Leary sprinted away to officially put his name in the book as a series winner at Terre Haute, followed in the distance by Seavey, or so it appeared initially. However, in post-race tech inspection, Seavey‘s car was found to be under the minimum weight requirement, which relegated him from second back to a 22nd place-finish.

Moles led a race-high 19 laps and came home as the second-place finisher in his AME Electrical — Mesilla Valley Transportation/Spike/Stanton Chevy.

“We definitely had the car to win; I screwed that one up on the restart,” Moles admitted.  “This is only my second non-wing sprint car race, so I struggled a little bit just knowing where to be, like on the restarts. C.J. ran lower in the grip and I was kind of in the slick stuff trying to get to the top. I think that just allowed him to get a run on me. On green flag laps, I don‘t think there was a car better than ours.”

Following a mid-pack qualifying run, Robert Ballou (Rocklin, Calif.) turned his night into gold as he moved from 13th to a third-place result.

“We‘ve just got to get our ducks in a row a little better,” said Ballou. “I tried some things tonight with different gears and stuff in hot laps and qualifying. A tenth of a second would have put me on the front row. Shame on me for trying, but the only way you get better in this deal is to try.”

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