'Madman' Ballou drives to USAC triumph at Susquehanna Speedway Park
YORK HAVEN — Robert Ballou is in one of those zones.
Even when he makes things difficult on himself, the man nicknamed "The Madman" still finds a way to win.
After convincingly winning the first two races in the United States Auto Club's Eastern Storm on Thursday and Saturday nights, Ballou was at it again Sunday night at Susquehanna Speedway Park. The Rocklin, California, driver spun out in his heat run, putting him in the B-main event. From there, a shot at sweeping the Eastern Storm looked like a long shot.
But Ballou ran away with the B-main, leading from wire to wire, and then, despite starting the A-main seventh, he took over the lead by lap 14 of the 30-lap race and gradually expanded his edge until, for the third time in three races, he was back in victory lane. Sunday's victory paid $6,000.
"I actually think (racing the B-main) probably helped me more than anything," Ballou said. "Because it was only going to cost us one spot, and to get a little extra test session. We knew where we needed to be, but it gave us one more time to fine tune it to get us good for the feature."
If having to go through the B-main first didn't make matters difficult enough for Ballou, the cautions in the A-main could've. Through the first five laps of the race, there were five cautions, making it hard for Ballou, or any of the other drivers, to get into a rhythm. When the race finally began running without any stops, it was all Ballou.
He finished over four-tenths of a second faster than runner-up Jon Stanbrough. Chase Stockton, Dave Darland and Shane Cottle rounded out the top five. Chad Boespflug was sixth, followed by Justin Grant, Jarrett Andretti, Chris Windom and Kevin Thomas Jr.
Much like the entire USAC season up to this point, the night belonged to Ballou. He's been, by far, the most dominant racer on the circuit, with Sunday night's win already his seventh on the season. He's already halfway to the USAC single-season record of 14 victories and this year's campaign isn't even at the halfway point.
Aside from his spinout in his heat run, Ballou was also the smartest driver on the night, as well.
For much of the event, drivers were taking a high line around the corners and then shooting back down into the straightaways. Had Ballou followed that same tactic in the A-main, he may not have won. Instead, he took the low approach, beginning his turn a little earlier than most drivers and hugging the inside wall as close as possible. It allowed him to slowly make up ground on the drivers ahead of him and eventually take over the lead.
"It was just so slimy down there that it was taking some of those slower cars to blow some of it off and get it worked in," he said. "I could see it down there, I was just trying to buy my time. It was so dusty following those guys around the top that I couldn't see where the wall was."
While the entire season has been filled with victories, Ballou seemed to hit his stride in some of the biggest events on the USAC calendar.
Primarily raced on tracks around in the Midwest, the Eastern Storm brings the circuit out east. While the Eastern Storm initially had five events scheduled, only three were run because of rainouts. One was contested in New Jersey, while the final two were held in Pennsylvania, widely considered one of the best states for dirt track racing.
Ballou wasn't afraid of the challenge that comes with the pressure of racing in Pennsylvania. In fact, he more than rose up to it.
He completed, in a sense, the Triple Crown of sprint car racing this weekend. The fans that packed the speedway to support him on Sunday night showed him just how much they enjoy good racing in the area and Ballou was quick to take notice.
"It puts a level playing ground for everybody," he said about racing in Pennsylvania. "And the fans, there's more fans here tonight than at any local track in Indianapolis. The people stick around and the kids are involved. I wish other places would take notice and get the kids involved. This place was packed for a Sunday night. I just like coming out here."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org