HAUBSTADT, Ind. – Stephen Schnapf knew he had the speed at Tri-State Speedway. He just had to finish that final third.
After last year’s oh-so-close second-place finish to Kyle Cummins, in which Schnapf led all but the final four laps, the Evansville, Ind., native felt a victory on the big stage was just within reach, but needed to close it out Mariano Rivera style.
“I knew last year we were fast,” Schnapf remembered. “I knew we were able to get out and roll early, but Cummins got us every time last year. That last third of the race, he’d always be quicker and was able to get around us and we just couldn’t quite hang on.”
Sunday night, Schnapf finally found that final third to finish off his first career AMSOIL USAC National Sprint Car victory in the Midwest Sprint Car Series co-sanctioned Showdown at Tri-State Speedway.
It was a monumental victory for the 31-year-old just one day shy of his 32nd birthday.
“This is like 22 or 23 years I’ve been racing now,” Schnapf recalled. “We’ve won local championships, state championships, and have run well. I’ve been close to a feature win on the national level and this is honestly, truly, my first ever national feature win in any type of race car. It’s taken so many years to finally get it, and I’ve had so many great people behind me over those years, and things just weren’t quite able to work out.
“Finally, tonight, the stars just lined up for me,” Schnapf added. “Tonight, it was kind of destiny, and it was going to be hard to be beaten.”
Right from the get go, Schnapf was on point.
But despite Schnapf starting from the pole, Cummins – who swept all nine sprint car feature victories in USAC and MSCS competition at the quarter-mile dirt oval track in 2019 – was the odds-on favorite from third on the grid and was already challenging Schnapf for the lead at the conclusion of lap one.
Schnapf withstood Cummins’ challenge and burst off the top of turn four to beat Cummins to the line and, from there, extended his lead lap-after-lap. Schnapf eventually carved out a half-straightaway lead in the first half of the 30-lapper.
As Schnapf worked his way through the back half of the field, Cummins began to reel him in, shaving a second off Schnapf’s 1.6-second lead.
On the 20th lap, Schnapf encountered Max Adams, attempting to put him a lap down, but Schnapf was caught up just enough to nearly allow Cummins to take full advantage of the door he left open underneath.
However, Schnapf secured his grasp, denying what ultimately became Cummins’ last shot.
Leading AMSOIL USAC National Sprint Car Series rookie Anton Hernandez slowed moments later to bring out the caution, thus putting the intensity of traffic and the immediate pressure of Cummins’ presence off Schnapf for the time being.
With that said, Schnapf was in a rhythm, and some drivers loathe the thought of restarts.
Not so much for Schnapf, who considered it a blessing in a way with how well he could launch each time he saw the green.
Cummins was able to stay within a couple car lengths of Schnapf in the ensuing laps following the last restart, which started the final, crucial third of the race, but Cummins wasn’t quite able to get a run.
With six to go, however, any thought of Cummins making a run at a 10th consecutive Tri-State victory vanished.
Cummins was disposed of by Donny Brackett for second off turn four on the 24th lap, then a half-lap later, was overtaken for third by Robert Ballou.
Suddenly, it was apparent something was amiss as Cummins slowed dramatically and pulled into the infield with an engine issue, ending his astounding winning streak with a 22nd-place finish.
Schnapf stretched his lead out over Brackett and Ballou and appeared headed for surefire victory when 16th-running Kendall Ruble spun to a stop in turn two, presenting a green-white-checkered finish and another instance of Schnapf having to display his prowess this night on another restart.
“I knew I could restart,” Schnapf confidently stated. “The motor was firing really good and I knew that just getting a restart, we got an opportunity to put three or four car lengths between us. I was happy to see that one, but with two go, I really wasn’t as excited to see the caution.
“But I knew that, even there, it was just about getting a good start and not missing the bottom, and it was ours.”
Schnapf zipped away from the pack, leaving the battle to be fought for the runner-up position. Insanity ensued on the final corner of the final lap behind Schnapf when second-running Brackett, headed for his best career USAC finish, spun sideways in turn four, recovering only by driving through the infield and soldiering on to an 11th place result.
Ballou, Kevin Thomas Jr., Carson Short and Justin Grant freight-trained by to take the remainder of the top-five spots at the checkered.
Following a relatively tough start to the night, Schnapf credited his ongoing building of experience to help him forge forward in diagnosing changes to take his ride from a good car to a winning car.
“Tonight, we actually came in way too tight; I couldn’t keep the front end down on the ground,” Schnapf admitted. “But, now with a few years of experience, we were able to keep traction and make a few tweaks just to make it driveable. That’s where it was. It was hard to see Kyle drive away last year. All year, we searched to find that extra speed and we were never able to find it.
“Even though we didn’t find it last year, we finally found that little bit of extra speed we needed here.”
With the victory, Schnapf became the initial first-time USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car feature winner of 2020, and the first since Logan Seavey at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway in August of 2019.
Schnapf was also the first first-time USAC sprint winner at Tri-State since Carson Short in 2016.
Dave Darland’s 61st career fast qualifying time during Fatheadz Eyewear time trials moved him past Tracy Hines for second all-time in series history.
Darland, the all-time winningest driver in series history, now sits just four behind Tom Bigelow’s record of 65 fast qualifying times.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.