MESERAULL ROUTS LINCOLN FOR NIGHT TWO EASTERN STORM VICTORY
Abbottstown, PA.........Each night, every driver's plan is to reach victory lane. Tuesday night at Grandview Speedway's Eastern Storm opener, Thomas Meseraull did just that. But not exactly in the way that he had planned.
On the final lap of that race, Meseraull found himself speeding through victory lane as he tangled with another car on the front straightaway and careened through the area reserved for the race winner on his way to a 13th place finish. A few signs were trampled by the No. 27 as a swath of onlookers scattered from the scene of his oncoming car.
One night, later, Meseraull came to a stop in victory lane. This time as the race winner after dominating the final 25 laps of Wednesday night's 30-lap USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship feature in the second round of Eastern Storm presented by DMI at Lincoln Speedway.
In a car that was as a completely new piece put together this past offseason, many of the bugs had to be worked out before the team found its stride at Lincoln. In the Eastern Storm opener, throughout the night, the team had to thrash after losing their brakes and had to swap out the rear end, the brakes and various other bits and pieces in the back end of the car.
Then, on the final lap incident, the front of the car took the brunt of the damage with both front wheels, the front axle, front left shock and right side nerf barf all being bent up as he passed the checkered flag, requiring the team to utilize much of their supply of spares after only a single night.
A seat in the No. 27 was a situation that came out of necessity for the San Jose, California native this past offseason. With the potent ride available solely for the intention of running Eastern Storm, Meseraull would have to wait half a year to take his first ride in the Heffner Racing/Lelands.com - Fatheadz Eyewear/Maxim/Rider. In the meantime, "T-Mez" has piloted rides for team owners Rick Pollock, Stan Courtad and even his own car in USAC competition since February. As it turns out, the situation would be more than worth the wait. Something that Meseraull had an inkling about.
"At the beginning of the year, (crew chief Sean Michael) and I talked at the Chili Bowl and he said Gene Franckowiak was thinking of putting a car together for Eastern Storm," Meseraull recalls. "He said if you're down to drive this thing, I'll put a car together for Gene. He said he'd give me a motor and a frame, wheels, tires, everything. He calls me up and says 'are we going to do this? You got to commit to this thing. I don't want to build this thing and not have you come drive it.' It was seriously the best ride I had going this year and I just had to wait for it."
Meseraull started from the fifth position as pole sitter Jarett Andretti sprinted away to the lead at the start of the main event, surveying the bottom rail as his pursuers, Tyler Courtney, Chad Boespflug, Meseraull and Kevin Thomas, Jr. trailed in a two-by-two formation behind him.
On the fifth lap, Andretti got bogged down at the exit of turn four. Boespflug spurted forward as Andretti clung to the lead, staying put by a single car length at the line. Third-running Meseraull followed Boespflug on the cushion through turns one and two. Boespflug drifted just a tad high at the exit of two, allowing Meseraull to flash by for second. Meseraull slid up to the cushion in front of Boespflug entering turn three before rocketing off the fourth corner, going wheels up to the line as he surged into the lead past Andretti
"The bottom was really good for a couple laps, then I moved up and, boom, it was game on," Meseraull detailed.
The track was a little greasy at the top, so I really had to be mindful of that. You don't want to jump on the outside and stick it in the fence early in the race. I was just trying to be smart. I knew right from the start, this thing was on fire."
On the ninth lap, the top-two in USAC National Sprint points - Justin Grant and Chris Windom - found themselves in a rugby scrum for the fifth position. Contact was made between the two in the third and fourth turn, sending Grant around, thus ending an 11-race streak of top-five finishes to begin the season for the Ione, California driver. Grant's 20th place finish also marked the first time he's finished outside the top-eight of a USAC race since joining the Sam McGhee Motorsports team last August.
After the restart, the final 22 laps went caution-free as Meseraull built an insurmountable full-straightaway lead that went unchallenged the remainder of the way, building a more than four-and-a-half second lead by race's end to defeat Andretti, Thomas, Boespflug and Windom to the line for his first win of the season.
Mooresville, North Carolina's Jarett Andretti grabbed a career-best runner-up finish in his Andretti Autosport Short Track/Window World - Harding Group/DRC/J & D.
"Up near the fence where it's slick to the curb isn't necessarily our strong suit, but it was tonight," Andretti said. "This is actually the first feature I've run at Lincoln. I've been here three times, rained out twice and flipped in qualifying once, so it's nice to finally get a feature under our belt."
What was essentially meaningful to Andretti was that his father, John, was able to make the trip with his son for Eastern Storm in the midst of his own well-documented health battle, which brought about a level of comfort and normalcy.
"He hadn't come racing with us for a couple months, so it was like old times," Jarett said. "I really enjoy racing with my dad. We've been racing together since I started my career, so it's what I'm used to. It calms me down a little bit. It's cool to have him come east, though. He actually called me last Thursday saying he was bored. I said, 'why don't you come racing with us?' He flew in last Friday; we picked him up at the airport and went to Bloomington and Lawrenceburg. Then, he's going to fly out and have his surgery next Monday. Hopefully we can have a couple more good runs and make him feel good for his surgery."
The 2017 season has certainly been a standout year for the 24-year-old driver. One year ago, Eastern Storm seemed to be his breakout as he led six laps en route to an, at the time, career-best fifth-place finish. This year, he took another step up the ladder, one rung closer to reaching that first USAC victory.
"Every time I strap in, we're qualifying just a bit better and we're putting ourselves in a better position to win," Andretti said. "You have to qualify in the top-10 to put yourself in those positions and the results are starting to show. It's been a gradual improvement. Some people think it's an overnight thing, but I've been coming here for three years trying to get better. We've made motor changes and chassis changes and other things that have helped that as well. We've built this team from scratch, so we're not only working on the team, but on me as a driver. When those both come together exponentially, it moves you further up the grid."
Cullman, Alabama's Kevin Thomas, Jr. equaled a season-best third-place finish in his Pace Brothers Racing/Pace Performance Coating - DC Dyno/DRC/J & D. Following a fourth-place run the night before at Grandview, Thomas finds himself at the top of the Eastern Storm standings with three races remaining.
"At the beginning, I lost quite a bit of track position," Thomas admits. "I started fourth and fell back to about seventh. I was hesitant to go up to the top at first. Somebody else did it before me, so we fell back a few positions, but once we got up there, we were able to make some headway, do some sliders and get up to third. Jarett ran a good race, though. I threw everything I had at him."
KTJ turned a year older on Wednesday, but the 12-time USAC National Sprint Car feature winner is pleased with the direction his season is headed.
"I feel like I'm getting old," Thomas joked. "Two days ago, I bought my first pair of Walmart shoes and, today, I turned 26. It's all going downhill for me, but our racing is going good, so I can't complain."
Contingency award winners Wednesday night at Lincoln Speedway include Justin Grant (ProSource Fast Qualifier), Shane Golobic (Simpson Race Products 1st Heat Winner), Chris Windom (Competition Suspension, Inc. 2nd Heat Winner), Aaron Farney (Chalk Stix 3rd Heat Winner), Robert Ballou (Indy Race Parts Semi Winner & Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher) and Alex Bright (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger).