CLERMONT — CJ Leary’s promising career brought him to the bright lights of Lucas Oil Raceway Thursday night.
Oil happened to be a three-letter word as far as the 18-year-old Greenfield racer was concerned, and not a pleasant one.
Leary’s maiden voyage into the USAC Silver Crown series – the top rung of the Speedway-based sanctioning body – lasted about two minutes. He was caught up in what became a three-car pileup at the first-turn wall on the sixth lap of the J.D. Byrider 100 Rich Vogler Classic.
It was no fault of Leary’s, as another car leaked oil on the track, and as a result Leary became tangled up with A.J. Fike and Ryan Litt. All three cars were eliminated, and the cleanup of the wreckage and oil brought out a red flag resulting in about a 30-minute halt to the action.
“Someone blew a motor and USAC decided not to throw a yellow, and the end result was three race cars got torn up,” Leary said. “As I came through, (my) car picked up a drift and it smacked the wall. There was no indication that there was oil on the track and the spotter didn’t see it, so USAC didn’t throw the yellow.”
Leary was credited with a 20th-place finish out of 24 starters, piloting the No. 35 machine for 6R Racing in which his family’s Leary Construction is the main sponsor.
“I learned quite a bit,” he said. “But I would have liked to run 100 laps and get the experience.”
This wasn’t Leary’s first race at Lucas Oil Raceway. He competed once there in the CRA sprint car series.
During practice, Leary turned about 45 laps, getting valuable time in the seat. Team co-owner Brad Armstrong said Leary was running progressively faster in the hot laps and that his qualifying time was quicker than in practice.
Leary earned the 15th starting spot, with a time of 21.782 seconds around the 5/8ths-mile oval.
“The car started (being) a little loose,” Leary said. “We made some adjustments and tried to get some push. We thought we had a competitive car, but we got into the wall. I’m disappointed that I didn’t get to run the full 100 laps.”
Among the other drivers in the field were NASCAR veterans Ryan Newman (he started second) and Ken Schrader, along with longtime Silver Crown star Tracy Hines of New Castle. Leary, though, said he was more focused on his own efforts.
David Byrne won the race, overtaking polesitter and race-long leader Tanner Swanson on the final turn. Newman finished fourth, Schrader 10th and Hines was also knocked out on a crash on lap 17.
The 6R team has two Silver Crown cars. The one Leary drove Thursday is for pavement tracks, and it is out of commission until next year both because of the damage and the Thursday race was the last one of the season on pavement.
However, there are five races left in which Leary can drive the dirt-track car, beginning next weekend in Belleville, Kansas. The other Silver Crown events are in Springfield and DuQuoin, Illinois, Eldora, Ohio, and Syracuse, New York.
In the immediate future, Leary will continue on the USAC sprint-car trail, with races today in Lawrenceburg and Sunday in Kokomo. He stands 10th in the season standings.
“He’s knocking on the door,” Armstrong said. “Hopefully he can get that first sprint-car win real soon and also he can get some experience (in the Silver Crown cars) and hopefully we’ll be competing for the Silver Crown championship next year. It’s very nice to have a second-generation Hancock County driver that people can follow (his father Chuck also drove).”