Thornton Conquers King of America IX

Ricky Thornton Jr. wrestled the lead away from Kyle Strickler on lap 19 and proceeded to thrive and survive for the final 31 laps to earn a $12,000 payday and claim the crown of dirt modified racing’s King of America.

Rain throughout the early morning hours created havoc for crews at the Humboldt Speedway and resulted in an extremely fast yet uncharacteristically rough racing surface.

Thornton, however, found the fastest and smoothest way around the quarter-mile bullring.

“We knew the track was going to have a lot of character,” Thornton said following his eighth career USMTS triumph. “I was kind of just trying to bide my time early and then we kept going and going and I’m like ‘Man, they’re going to cut this. I gotta go.’

At 50 laps in distance, it was the shortest distance for a King of America main event which three times has been a 100-lapper, but with a dozen caution flags for one thing or another, it wasn’t the shortest on the time clock.

“We actually passed a lot of good cars there before they broke, so that was kind of cool for me,” Thornton added. “I know we didn’t have as many cars finish as we would like but we definitely had a good run getting through the field there.

“Last year we actually ran a crate motor and i ran out of gas coming to the checkered so this year we brought an open motor thanks to Jason Beaulieu. We knew we weren’t going to run out of fuel this year.”

Polesitter Ryan Gustin shot to the lead at the drop of the green flag and paced the first eight laps before Strickler snuck by on the inside. Two laps later, Gustin’s car began to belch white smoke from underneath the hood and poured fluid onto the track entering turn one.

While Gustin was out of the race, seven others behind him were collected in a slippery melee. Along with ‘The Reaper,’ only Travis Sauer was unable to continue.

Soon after the restart, Strickler had his hands full with former USMTS national champs Jason Hughes and Rodney Sanders, but Thornton was charging to the front and disposed of Sanders on lap 16 and then Hughes began to suffer a mechanical breakdown as Thornton sped past him and Strickler on the same orbit.

Strickler fought back as he and Thornton swapped several intense slide-jobs, but Thornton finally settled into a rhythm and pulled away from the field for his first USMTS win since Aug. 17, 2017, in Memphis, Mo., behind the wheel of the Oreo-sponsored machine.

Hughes, defending race winner Lucas Schott and 2016 King of America winner Zack VanderBeek went pit side between laps 19 and 35 while Strickler dropped out on lap 41 with a damaged fuel cell which had gone empty. Sanders dropped out one lap later in the tenth finishing position.

“We didn’t put a new body on because we figured we were going to tear some stuff up here,” Thornton declared after winning the main event by 5.847 seconds. “We’re not here to win a beauty contest. We’re here to win a feature.

“We finally got us a crown jewel with the USMTS.”

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