Sunday, April 30, 2017

USAC Silver Crown Copper Cup 
race report

On Saturday afternoon, a field of sixteen United States Auto Club (USAC) Silver Crown cars and drivers took the green flag for the “Copper Cup,” the 115th USAC race held at the storied Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale Arizona.

The makeup of the field had changed a bit since Friday afternoon time trials, as the Gene Nolen Racing team had affected repairs to the transmission in Jerry Coons Junior’s #20 car but without posting a qualifying time Coons had to start at the back of the field.  Patrick Lawson stepped out of the seat of his previously qualified Rebel Smokers Beast in favor of Chris Windom, whose Kazmark Racing entry was sidelined after it had been damaged beyond repair in a crash during the second Friday practice session.  With the driver change, Windom started alongside Coons at the tail of the field.  

At the drop of the green flag, pole-sitter Bobby Santos III led the field into the first turn with Kody Swanson, David Byrne, Justin Grant and Aaron Pierce all in close pursuit. By lap 9, Windom had carved his way through the field to run tenth, while Damion Gardner in the Klatt Enterprises Best moved into sixth place on lap 10 as Davey Hamilton Junior coasted into the pit area with fire and smoke trailing from the left side of the Mopar engine in the RPM/Fred Gormly Beast to become the race’s first retiree. 

A disappointed “DJ” reported that he had no warning of trouble before there was a loud bang as the #98 car raced down the Phoenix backstretch followed by fire and smoke.   Shortly thereafter, Tanner Swanson brought the Nolen #201 into the pits with terminal mechanical issues.

On lap 12 Gardner moved into fifth place and then Windom moved into ninth of lap 13 behind the lead pack of Santos, Kody Swanson, Grant, Gardner and Byrne. On lap 16, Joe Axsom made the first of several extended pits stops with Nolen Racing #120, and as the leaders closed on backmarker Toni Breidinger, Byrne slipped past Santos to take the lead on lap 22. 

Shortly thereafter, Grant began to pressure Kody Swanson for third place, but his challenge ended with the #91 Hemmelgarn-Carli Racing #91 against the wall in turn four. Grant emerged unhurt and immediately departed the track to race a USAC Southwest Series sprint car later that evening at Arizona Speedway.

Under the five-lap caution period, the running order was Byrne, Santos, Kody Swanson, Gardner and Davey Hamilton Senior with Aaron Pierce in sixth position.   When the green flag re-emerged, Santos challenged for the lead and the lead pair ran nearly half a lap around the Phoenix one-mile oval side-by-side before Santos led laps 31 and 32. 

Byrne reasserted himself at the head of the field on lap 33 and he quickly built up a ten-car length lead over Santos, Windom’s quest for a fourth straight USAC Silver Crown victory ended on lap 40 as the Rebel Smokers #2 coasted silently down pit lane.
As the race entered its middle stage on lap 42 the running order was Byrne, Santos, Kody Swanson, Hamilton, Pierce, Coons and Gardner. 

On lap 43 Swanson ran a 26.695 second lap to close on Santos, but Santos responded a few laps later with a 26.519 second lap. At the halfway point of the race, Byrne passed Shane Butler a second lap down in the #15 as Butler still struggled with apparent engine difficulties, which left eight cars on the leader’s lap.

The yellow flag flew for the third time of the day on lap 59, as Damion Gardner slid to a stop in the fourth turn after the right front wheel had broken off the Klatt Enterprises Beast. Gardner did a skillful job to bring the crippled machine to a halt without significant wall contact.  Under what proved to be an extended ten-lap caution period as track personnel put down “speedi-dry” to clean up oil on pit lane. 

The green flag flew again on lap 69 but that restart was called back. On the second restart, once again Santos challenged Byrne for the lead as the pair ran over a half a lap side by side before Byrne pulled ahead. By lap 73, Aaron Pierce had moved his Sam Pierce Chevrolet Beast into fourth place ahead of Hamilton and over the next few laps both Kody Swanson and Hamilton ran laps in the 26.5 second range as their cars’ fuel load began to burn off.

After a quick yellow flag in for a stalled car on the backstretch on lap 79, Jerry Coons’ #20 Nolen Racing Beast began to fall off the pace, as Coons later reported that the car’s handling went to “dead loose” but he maintained his fifth place position. Attrition continued to mount with eight cars still running on lap 85 as the pack of the top five cars tightened up as Swanson, Pierce, and Hamilton all ran their best laps of the race but with the running order unchanged.

On lap 92, the cars of Byrne and Santos crossed the start-finish line side-by-side, and Santos then moved into the lead on lap 93, as Swanson began to pressure Byrne for second place. On lap 94, Pierce’s care coasted to a stop on pit lane the victim of ignition failure. 

Bobby Santos III 2017 Copper Cup winner

On lap 98, Kody Swanson moved alongside Byrne on the front straightaway and the 2014 and 2015 USAC Silver Crown champion made the pass stick to claim second place behind Santos at the checkered flag, trailed by Byrne, Hamilton Senior, Coons and Shane Butler. Aaron Pierce finished seventh ahead of Toni Breidinger USAC’s winningest female driver who turned in a determined performance in her first Silver Crown start and first start on a track larger than 3/8 of a mile.

In addition to the unique trophy, Santos banked $10,000 for his Copper Classic win, with the KSE Hard Charger contingency award going to Jerry Coons for his charge from fifteenth stating position to finish fifth. Chris Windom undoubtedly the weekend’s hard luck driver received the Wildwood Brakes award for his 13th place finish. The USAC Silver Crown series made a triumphant return to Phoenix Raceway after an absence of over seven years and put on a terrific race; hopefully the “Copper Cup” on the superfast one mile oval will become an annual event.  

Kody Swanson moved into the lead for the chase for the 2017 USAC Silver Crown championship presented by Traxxas trailed by Coons and Windom.  The next race on the schedule is the historic Hoosier Hundred which will be held on May 25 on the one-mile Indiana State Fairgrounds dirt mile. 

As a postscript, in other USAC action in Arizona on Saturday, the author, Patrick Sullivan and Dick Jordan traveled east to attend the USAC Southwest sprint car action presented by Sands Chevrolet at Arizona Speedway. RJ Johnson won the first heat race, Nick Aluto won the second heat race and Stevie Sussex won the third heat race. 

RJ Johnson dominated the 30-lap feature race followed across the finish line by Sussex, Charles Davis Junior and Shon Deskins.  Justin Grant who had competed in the Silver Crown race in the afternoon dropped out late in the feature while he was running in third place. 

1 comment:

  1. these races bring the best of the best to the number one... Nice article... very details. specially for
    transmission repair pros