Just like clockwork, each June when “Indiana Midget Week” rolls around, one has been able to witness what has become a yearly tradition: Christopher Bell standing in Bloomington Speedway’s victory lane. For the third straight year, Bell’s mastery of Bloomington’s red clay was on full display Friday night at the southern Indiana track as he picked up USAC National Midget victory number 17, tying him with Jay Drake and J.J. Yeley for 36th on the all-time list.
Norman, Oklahoma’s Bell also extended the Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports dominance of the past week by becoming the fourth consecutive (and fourth different) pilot on the team to earn a victory in the first four races of the six-race series. At the start, pole sitter Dave Darland stepped out in front of the field and, despite contact from behind by Carson Macedo between turns one and two, was able to take the advantage in the early going, leading his first laps in the series since the “Belleville Nationals” in July of 2014.
Meanwhile, seventh-place starter and ProSource Fast Qualifier Bell was steadfast in his charge to the front, moving into fifth by the second lap and fourth by lap three. On the fifth circuit, Bell surged from fourth to second with a three-wide pass on the outside of Shane Golobic and teammate Spencer Bayston coming off the second turn. On lap seven, Bell continued to use the cushion to reel in race leader Darland, powering off of turns three and four to nip Darland at the stripe. Darland continued to fight back, but was beat back to the line by Bell out of turn four to lead the eighth lap.
After a yellow on lap 12, sixth-running Clauson was the only frontrunner running the high line as the top-five continued to utilize the bottom groove. But Clauson found the topside to his liking, taking the fifth spot away from Macedo at the halfway mark and then running down Shane Golobic for fourth and Gas City winner Spencer Bayston for third with 13 to go. Clauson then set sail toward Darland for second, who was working the low line as Clauson skated the rail up top with 10 laps remaining.
A caution for a Dayne Kingshott blown right rear tire closed the gap at the front of the field with just six laps to go. Immediately, Bell left his challengers in the distance as Darland (inside) and Clauson (outside) continued to battle for the runner-up spot. Each time Clauson was able to inch ahead of Darland, the wily racing veteran refused to relent, regaining the second position on lap 29 after the two champions waged war in a see-saw battle throughout the final run to the checkered. But, once again, nobody could match the sheer speed of Christopher Bell at the end, taking a nearly one and a half second victory over Darland, who edged out Clauson by a mere 27-hundreths of a second and a half-car length to take second, while Golobic and Bayston grabbed fourth and fifth.
In an era of domination at Bloomington in both the USAC National Midget and AMSOIL National Sprint Car divisions, Bell’s three consecutive victories at the track are just one shy of Clauson’s current string of four straight USAC Sprint Car victories. Bell, though, has found that sweet spot on the red clay that has suited his strengths at the wheel of his Keith Kunz – Curb-Agajanian Motorsports/TRD – DC Solar/Bullet/Speedway Toyota.
“This place is really technical and that plays to my advantage,” Bell assured. “Tonight, there was a big ledge up top and I didn’t spend a lot of time up there, but when I did, I could use it to my advantage and pass guys. The bottom here is really tough to run; you have to make sure you have enough angle in your car, but not too much so you miss the moisture. It’s tough, but very fun too, and, obviously, Keith’s (Kunz) cars are always good so that helps.” With his second place result in the Gray Auto – Petry Excavating/Spike/Esslinger, Darland, of Lincoln, Indiana, earned his best series finish since collecting the win in the “Indiana Midget Week” round at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Indiana in June of 2014. Furthermore, he rewarded the Gray team with its best ever series finish, besting the 14th place finish earned by C.J. Leary for the team at Bloomington one season ago.
“I could hit the bottom of (turns) three and four really well, but in (turns) one and two, it was a lot harder,” Darland explained. “When Bryan (Clauson) got up next to me, I might’ve bobbled down there and let him get around me. But I just had to get into turn one easy and not get out into the slick. I did that a couple of time early on, but, luckily, it didn’t cost me anything. Tonight is a great confidence builder. It feels good for the team. These guys are still new to the midget scene, so it feels really good to reward their effort.”
Noblesville, Indiana’s Clauson had his night go sour during heat race action after encountering mechanical trouble. Clauson and the team rolled the backup machine out of the trailer to start at the tail-end of the semi, a race in which Clauson drove from the rear of the 19-car field to earn a coveted transfer spot. During the feature, Clauson started in the eighth position before racing through to grab third at the checkered in the RKR-Dooling Racing/Cancer Treatment Centers of America – B & H Contractors/Spike/Stanton SR-11 to extend his “Indiana Midget Week” point lead to 40 markers over Spencer Bayston heading into Saturday’s penultimate “Midget Week” event at Lawrenceburg Speedway.
“The middle was never really the fastest, but on restarts, I could use it to pick some guys off,” Clauson said. “It made the guys on the bottom overdrive the corner a little bit and let me sneak by and that was really the only option I had. It was a herculean effort tonight to get back into contention with having to pull out the backup car and it kept our ‘Midget Week’ hopes alive.”