BALLOU’S LATE-RACE VICTORY AT OVALS NIGHT TWO
By Richie Murray – USAC Media.
Perris, California (November 4, 2022)………During a red flag period 10 laps into Friday night’s feature event at California’s Perris Auto Speedway, Robert Ballou was feeling confident.
Sitting third at the time, the Rocklin, Calif. native felt that he had a good enough car to, at least, run second.
With that said, he wasn’t quite sold on whether another Oval Nationals prelim victory was within the realm of possibility on this night.
In that particular moment, Ballou felt that then-race leader Kevin Thomas Jr. was the class of the field after checking out to a considerable lead in the early stages.
However, that’s why they run the races, and the balance of the 30-lap distance from that point forward ultimately painted a completely different picture in Ballou’s favor.
In fact, it was pure artistry from one of the best to ever do it on the USAC AMSOIL Sprintcar National Championship tour and, despite the earlier estimation, Ballou wasn’t going to go down without a fight.
“(CJ) Leary got under me one lap (with 10 laps to go), but I was too tight to run down there then,” Ballou explained. “I tried to get my shocks a little bit better to where I could hold it down around the bottom and not get tight. It was really tough, but then Brady (Bacon) shot right by me, and I’m like, the 69 isn’t getting by me tonight and I sat up in the seat.”
Running as deep as fourth with just 10 laps remaining, Ballou found a sudden burst that put him right back into the thick of the hunt. It came just as he foretold during the earlier stoppage, that he would be a player for the win once the fuel load began to burn off.
Ballou charged under Brady Bacon for third on the back straight with nine to go. One lap later, Ballou glided his way into second with a turn one slide past Emerson Axsom to put him within a full two seconds of Thomas who seemingly held a commanding lead with the sands in the hourglass collecting piling up.
Finding his way into his front-running position by utilizing the bottom side of the racetrack, Thomas cut a swath of land for his own use by entering turns one and three on the bottom, then letting his car sweep to the top at the exit of turns two and four.
But with two laps until the bell tolled for thee, Thomas faced a bout of traffic. Charging into turn one hot on the heels of the 24th place car of Chris Gansen, Thomas was forced to alter his line on the bottom, skating his ride up the track a tad earlier in the corner than he had all race long.
The loss of momentum for Thomas was all Ballou needed to dig his talons in on the low line and drive his way past on the back straight to rise to the top of the leaderboard once and for all and for good.
Ballou negotiated turns three and four splendidly, scraping the infield berm with his left front wheel along the way as he dipped under Gansen who cleared a courteous path for the frontrunners by swinging wide on the front straightaway just as the white flag was being presented.
Ballou, Thomas and now Leary entered the final lap separated by a single car length between each driver. Ballou gained some much obliged separation from Thomas on the backside of the half-mile dirt oval, carrying onward to a 0.632 second victory in his Ballou Motorsports/Suburban Subaru – Dragonfly Aviation – Berks Western Telecom/Triple X/Ott Chevy.