2020 USAC Karting Battle at the Brickyard – Race Report
The fourth annual USAC Karting Battle at the Brickyard took place on the July 31-August 2 weekend on an ultra-fast course laid out inside the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This year’s event was unique, with the move from the Fourth of July weekend to the end of the month due to rescheduling at the famed Brickyard grounds in Speedway, Indiana. The COVID-19 pandemic also put the onus on social distancing to ensure a safe event with competitors and team members wearing masks throughout the facility during the entire weekend.
Despite the changes and small hurdles, an astonishing number of 435 entries took part in the three-day event. The track and paddock were changed from the three previous years to provide a new atmosphere. The paddock lined up behind the Tower Terrace and Suites on the pavement and stretched out to the grass areas along Hulman Boulevard. This year’s course was much quicker than those in the past, and the finish line was moved to the Harroun Straight on 7th Street. Three corners were revised as well. Speeds reached nearly 100mph for the shifter categories and the Briggs competitors were flat out nearly 100% after coming out of the challenging hairpin.
Weather was on the minds of the competitors all weekend. Friday’s three rounds of practice and then qualifying were conducted without any weather issue, but the threat was there all day. Saturday began with a slightly wet track after overnight rain hit the area, and the rest of the day had a forecast of 80% chance of rain, if not higher. Rain held off until the last two Prefinals were run. On Sunday, more rain came and lasted longer into the morning hours and the opening warm-up sessions were run in wet conditions as a result. The opening main event had a slightly-damp track but thankfully the skies cleared and the warm sun helped to dry the surface as the race went on. In total, 18 names were added to the history book as winners at the USAC Karting Battle at the Brickyard.
Only two names have been on the winner’s list for the Briggs 206 Medium and Heavy categories over the last three years. A new name was added this time around after the young Elmer Edmonson was able to best both fields on Sunday. Briggs 206 Heavy was first in the order and defending two-time winner Gary Lawson (Eagle) was the quickest in qualifying with a 1:07.108 to clear the 52-driver field by two tenths of a second. MGM drivers Eric Fagan and James Michael Sullivan worked past Lawson for the heat race win. Contact in the Prefinal dropped Lawson out of the Prefinal and then a broken chain cost him a chance of driving through the field in the Final. Fagan won the Prefinal and started on the pole position with Margay driver Jeff Dolian on the outside of the front row. A lot of shuffling at the front of the field for the 14-lap Final bunched up the group. This allowed a charging Edmonson (MGM) to knife his way to the front from his P14 starting position. By lap 5, Edmonson took over the point and led with Sullivan on his bumper. Fagan, who fell to seventh at one point, worked his way up to second and was able to push Edmonson away from the rest of the field for a 1-2 finish. Parker Maull (Eagle) shook off Dolian during the final circuits to grab the third step on the podium. Ethan Wolfe completed the top-five.
Briggs 206 Medium was later in the race order, but it ended with the same 1-2 finish by Edmonson and Fagan. It was Fagan with the fast time in qualifying before Chuck Jensen (Margay) took the win in the Heat race. Edmonson came out as the winner in the Prefinal with Fagan second to control the front row for the Final. The two worked together to get away from the rest of the 59-kart field to control the race. Edmonson led 13 of the 14 laps, edging out Fagan at the line by 67 thousandths of a second. Caiden Young (Eagle) won the battle for third over California drivers Sophia Storey (VLR) and David Vasquez (VLR).
Another driver was able to leave the famed IMS grounds with two Brick trophies of his own. John Crow doubled up in Masters racing, winning both the IAME Masters and IAME SSE 175 Masters classes. Crow, who works for Andretti Autosport and will be on pit lane during the month of August for the Indianapolis 500, was able to outlast Ryan Spierowski (Fullerton) in the main event for the IAME Masters. The two were nose-to-tail all race long, with Crow (Will Power Kart) edging out Spierowski by 57 thousandths at the line. Top qualifier Chris Rock (Swiss Hutless) was third on the podium with Lamar Humphries (Parolin) and Don Guilbeault (DR Kart) completing the top-five. Crow then completed the sweep in the IAME SSE division aboard the new Race Factory chassis. The victory was a nine-second advantage in the 14-lap Final over Eric Riggs (GP) and Brandon Reed (CompKart).
The other shifterkart categories provided some excitement and history. The IAME SSE 175 Senior class went down to the wire. Polesitter AJ Myers (Magik), who won both the Heat and Prefinal, was shuffled back as top qualifier Devon Smith-Harden (CompKart) took over the point. Myers was able to reclaim the top spot by lap 5 and the two ran nose-to-tail for the majority of the race. On the final circuit, Myers ran a defensive line into turn 8, only to lose power to the axle with a broken sprocket. That allowed Smith-Harden to run to the checkered flag unchallenged for his first victory in the category, his third overall in his four-year participation at the event. Last year’s KZ winner Race Liberante (Race Factory) was second with Gavin Bayliff (Birel ART) in third after not recording a lap in qualifying. Kyle Kennedy (CompKart) and Jordan Johnson (Croc Promotions) completed the top-five.
In the same race group was the 125cc Shifter Masters class, which saw the top spot change multiple times. Arizona driver Jason Campbell (DR Kart) set fast time in qualifying, clearing the field by two tenths. Eric Riggs (Sodikart) found the speed in the Heat and Prefinal, beating Campbell to the line in both races. The Final was a different story, but similar to last year as Lance Lane (DR Kart) took over with both Riggs and Campbell each having their own issues that took them out of the race. Tim Hannen (CRG), running back-to-back classes, drove to runner-up for a second straight class, with Tommy Plahitko (Praga) in third. Eric Chappell (Birel ART) and Chad Lee (DR Kart) completed the top-five.
The Lane family celebrated two victories on the day with Josh Lane (DR Kart) earning his first Brickyard victory in 125 Shifter Senior. The ‘Wild Thing’ missed Friday practice and qualifying and started from the back of the 13-kart field in the heat race. He was up to fourth in just a half-lap and went on to win by 1.4 seconds. The Prefinal was in wet conditions, which didn’t stop Lane from pulling away to a 14-second advantage over the 10 laps. Lane was able to wire-to-wire in the main event, with he and Lance becoming the first father/son duo to win at the Brickyard. Race Liberante (Race Factory) came from the back of the 14-driver field as a late entry to record the fast laps of the race as he climbed up to second. Joe Ruch (Race Factory) edged out Annie Rhule (Magik) for the third step on the podium with Pierce Baldus (Formula K) in fifth.
One of the great programs with the Battle at the Brickyard is the Margay Ignite categories, bringing drivers from all over the country to compete on the spec package. The Masters class, featuring 33 drivers, was one of the closest finishes of the weekend. The lead group was broken up late with the top two getting away. New York drivers Mike Doty and Tim Hannen settled in for a last lap battle. The two drag-raced to the line with Doty, a former factory driver for Margay in the 1990s, taking the victory by only 31 thousandths of a second. Last year’s winner Keith Scharf finished third with Christ Rock fourth and Prefinal winner Doug Kittelson in fifth.
Evan Stamer added to his Ignite trophy case, having won races at Daytona, Rock Island, and now Indy. Stamer was top qualifier in the 35-driver Senior field and won the Prefinal, but was challenged by former Rock Island winner Jordan Bernloehr and Florida driver Zach Skolnick late in the Final. It was Skolnick leading at the white flag with Stamer in third. Over the final circuit, Stamer went from third to first, beating Bernloehr to the line for the victory. Skolnick settled for third with heat race winner Alexander Searle in fourth and Justin Vancil in fifth.
The Ignite Junior category ran for second time at Battle of the Brickyard with defending race winner Reid Sweeney among the top contenders in the 11-driver field. Sweeney won both the heat race and the Prefinal to start on the pole position. Reid led the first 11 laps of the Final until Isaac Wells took over the point. Wells was able to hold off Sweeney through the final laps and corners, edging him at the line by 85 thousandths for the victory. Top qualifier Christian Weir was third with Will Loller and Owen Elders completing the top-five.
A total of four Junior classes were offered on the weekend. Briggs 206 Junior had 31 drivers in the field with Camden Gruber (MGM) besting them all. Gruber won the heat race but then fell to fourth in the Prefinal with last year’s champion Sam Corry (MGM) winning the race. Corry was shuffled back on the opening circuit of the Final as Gruber and Violet Townsend (Eagle) grabbed the top two spots. Townsend led the majority of the race up to the white flag, however, Gruber was able to get around on the final circuit to claim the victory. Austin Olds (Intrepid) came up from 12th to finish on the podium in third in his Junior debut. Boden Barnwell (Birel ART) and Cale Zimmermann (VLR) rounded out the top-five.
The new FK100 class replaced the KA100 Junior class from last year, including both KA100 and VLR100 engines in the field. The race was ended after 10 laps due to a red flag for an incident on the frontstretch. With the time schedule, the race was called with Sam Corry (Redspeed) at the front of the field when the flag came out. Danny Dyszelski (Tony Kart) was second, earning fast lap honors with Timothy Steele (Birel ART) in third. Camden Gruber (Redspeed) and Mateo Naranjo (Tony Kart) finished the top-five.
Addison Ianniello and Matt Darlison were the class of the Yamaha Junior field with eight drivers taking the green in 2020. Ianniello (FA Kart) was quickest in qualifying before Darlison (Praga) won both the Heat and the Prefinal. The two went back and forth throughout the 14-lap Final. At the line, Darlison held the advantage to score his first Brick trophy. Ianniello was second until she was removed in tech. That promoted Presley Whitney (Tony Kart) to second with Brayden Johnson (Kosmic) in third. Case Smith (TB Kart) and Cole Marr (Energy) completed the top-five.
Last year’s Yamaha Junior winner Adam Maxwell (Intrepid) went from zero to hero in Yamaha Senior this time around. An issue in qualifying put him at the tail of the 16-driver field to begin the racing. Up to third in the eight-lap heat race, Maxwell won the Prefinal to start on the pole position. Heat race winner Blake Korth (FA Kart) worked his way up to the point early in the Final with Maxwell locking up to his bumper. After a race-long run, Maxwell made his move on the final circuit, scoring the victory. Korth settled for second with top qualifier Andrew Bische (Tony Kart) in third. Preston Taylor (Tony Kart) was fourth with Micah Colbert (Tony Kart) in fifth.
Yamaha Master was ‘The Michael Dittmer Show’. It was a near sweep for Dittmer (Margay) in the 12-driver category. After edging out last year’s winner Michael Welsh (MGM) by nine thousandths of a second for fast time in qualifying, Dittmer won the heat race. The Prefinal was his only blemish in what saw a lot of shuffling through the top-10 in the early laps. EKN’s own David Cole (Aluminos) was able to push Dittmer away from the rest of the field and edge him out for the race win. In the Final, Dittmer and Welsh hooked up and drove away from the field as Dittmer led wire-to-wire. Welsh settled for second with contact in the final laps deciding the rest of the top-five. Christopher Hacker (Top Kart) escaped with the position as Cole ended up fourth and Johnny O’Keefe (CRG) fifth after a penalty to Brett Vincent (WPK) for contact dropped him out of the top-five.
Three drivers stood out in the Briggs 206 Masters class, which was the largest of the weekend with 60 karts taking to the track. Four-time Brickyard winner Gary Lawson (Eagle) made his Masters debut at the event, securing fast time in qualifying. The weekend was not perfect like his four other victories were as Mike Doty (Eagle) got him at the line by 30 thousandths for the race win in the heat race. Lawson responded with two thousandths of a second advantage for the win in the Prefinal. In the Final, Lawson put everyone to bed early, leading wire-to-wire for his fifth Brickyard victory. Former Ignite double winner Jeff Dolian (Margay) was second with Doty fighting off Grant Zimmermann (VLR) and Jeff Scott (Ionic) for the third spot on the podium.
Another historic moment of the weekend was the first brothers to each have a victory at the Battle of the Brickyard. The Bayliff family now has two wins to their credit. Gavin won IAME Junior in 2018 and his brother Finnegan scored victory in IAME Senior this year. Bayliff (Tony Kart) qualified second behind Trinity Karting Group teammate Logan Mueller (Tony Kart), as the two were separated by just 17 thousandths of a second. Bayliff went on to win both the heat and the Prefinal, before driving away to a 2.5-second advantage in the Final for his first Brick trophy. Elliott Budzinski (Kosmic) beat out last year’s winner Nicholas Terlecki (Merlin) for the runner-up position. Kyle Ford (Tony Kart) was fourth with Haopeng Zhang (Tony Kart) fifth.
The FK100 Senior class was the new addition to the class roster for 2020, welcoming 28 drivers. Chase Jones (Will Power Kart) and Luca Mars (Redspeed) were the class of the field all weekend. Jones set fast time before Mars took the win in the heat. Rain shuffled things up a bit in the Prefinal, as Adam Maxwell (EVO) drove to the race win. Jones and Mars returned to the front in the 14-lap Final with Jones lead the final 13 laps to score the victory. The margin was only four thousandths of a second at the line with Mars, who recorded fast time of the race, in second. Joshua Carlson (Kosmic) beat Maxwell for the third spot on the podium with Kendall Hedge (Tony Kart) in fifth.
The names are now in the record books, and the memories of the 2020 USAC Karting Battle at the Brickyard have been made. A big thank you to the entire USAC crew for providing what has become a big bucket list event for all karters to be a part of, be it the top ranked drivers in the country, or the new karter looking to be part of the largest club race in the USA.