ROSSBURG, Ohio — Robert Ballou won the finale of Saturday’s #LetsRaceTwo program for the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series at Eldora Speedway. It was his first USAC victory in 1,056 days.
Ballou survived a 30-lap main event for his first USAC triumph since June 17, 2018 at Pennsylvania’s BAPS Motor Speedway.
The race came down to the final five laps with Ballou fending off a furious charge courtesy of the seemingly unstoppable Tyler Courtney, who won the matinee earlier in the day and had won every series race at the track dating back to 2018, a span of five races.
With a USAC record sixth-straight at The Big E in sight and the lap count dwindling, Courtney tracked down er, throwing everything in his arsenal to get by Ballou. At the line, the two past USAC National Sprint Car driving champions were separated by a single car length with Ballou prevailing over Courtney in what was the closest finish of the series’ season – 0.085 seconds – a win worth $10,000 for Ballou.
In reality, Ballou’s road back to the top is immeasurable. Shortly after the BAPS win, Ballou suffered a compound fracture of his right arm in a sprint car crash at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway. Sidelined for a substantial stretch of time in which he endured both the pain and the rehab, the climb back has been leading to this crescendo at a venue in which he’s earned six of his 30 career wins with the series.
“It’s been a few years,” Ballou noted. “I broke my arm after my last win, and it’s been a humbling experience. You’re either on top or you’re on the bottom. There’s nobody that has more dedication in this sport than my team and my guys and everyone that’s behind me. We have a never-give-up attitude and we never back down.”
However, to get back on top, there are countless hurdles to overcome, and Ballou encountered one more just prior to the feature following a dominant heat race win earlier in the night, one that attempted to derail them and decide their fate prematurely.
“After that heat race, apparently, we blew up that brand new engine,” Ballou stated. “So, we thrashed until the (USAC officials) blew the (eight-minute horn). We got the motor changed, and with everybody here back at the trailer, it was a full-out team effort, and it was down to the wire. We got the thing started and still had a bunch of changes to make to try and keep up with this race track.”
Ballou’s entire crew and family on hand became involved in the process of the engine swap and had the Ballou Motorsports/Suburban Subaru – Berks Western Telecom/Triple X/Ott Chevy ready to roll off from the pole while Courtney pushed off from the seventh position.
The afternoon feature saw Ballou finishing second to a dominant Courtney. The tables were turned in the night session with Ballou blasting away to his own early race superiority while Courtney took on the role of chaser.
By midway, Ballou was already making his way through lapped traffic, high, low and anywhere in between to build as much of a cushion as he could. Meanwhile, Courtney had carved his way to second by Chris Windom on the 15th lap, but still found himself a full straightaway behind and combing through the same traffic that Ballou, himself, had recently cleared.
By lap 23, Ballou’s full straightaway lead over Courtney had been sheared to a half-straight. Two laps later, the lead was a mere two car lengths, setting up a frenzied run to the finish. With both running the fence, the classic, patented Eldora slide job was at the forefront of Courtney’s repertoire as he tried to deliver the knell to Ballou twice between turns one and two with four laps remaining, then again with three to go. Yet, Ballou kept his foot on the throttle and escaped Courtney’s jabs utilizing the momentum up top.
On the 28th lap, the two encountered the lapped car of Isaac Chapple running the middle line entering turn three. Ballou dove low underneath Chapple while Courtney stayed up top. Ballou attempted to slide past Chapple and reclaim the high line up to the wall.
Ballou first cleared Chapple by inches, then he and Courtney banged wheels, with Ballou’s right rear meeting face-to-face with Courtney’s left front. Courtney ricocheted off the wall, straightened it out, ducked low, then followed Ballou nose-to-tail into one.
Courtney shadowed Ballou all the way around the half-mile high banked dirt oval as the pair made their way to the white flag. Seemingly awaiting Courtney’s final slider attempt in turn one, instead, Courtney bounced his right rear off the fourth corner concrete coming to the white, stifling his plans, and putting him back into line