Column By: RUSTY RHOADES / RPW – BLOOMINGTON, IN – CJ Leary knows his USAC history. He’s also in the process of making a lot of his own history. He and his Reinbold/Underwood team’s entire year of steady persistence again paid off big in Indiana over the last couple weeks, garnering them the high profile homemade rocking chair that comes along with the huge title of 2019 USAC Indy Sprint week champions.
I caught up with a relieved Leary after his 10th place finish at the Tri State Speedway finale Saturday just barely earned enough points to clinch the title over a charging Brady Bacon.
“This is the pinnacle of non-wing sprint racing right here, every driver that races this type of car wants to win Indiana Sprintweek,” CJ stated with a small grin unsuccessful in hiding the very large sense of pride and accomplishment emanating from the homegrown Hoosier hot shoe.
“You’re talking about the two toughest weeks I’d say any of these drivers will have. The competition is so deep here in the Midwest, then add many of the best from out West and it’s just such a grueling stretch.”
Leary and the #19AZ team have done nothing but consistently dictate and maintain a sky high standard of performance throughout the 2019 tour schedule thus far. Their persistent production since race one in February has steadily pressured fellow series regulars to significantly pick their game up and keep it there or put any point title plans on the shelf until next season.
Just run this spectacularly steady statistic through your mind to support my point: CJ has yet to finish one single National Tour event OUTSIDE THE TOP TEN!
That’s a 21 race-long streak of epic proportions, considering all the random mechanical and on track bad luck we’ve all seen hit teams both in single unusual instances as well as the multiple week stretches of misfortune that come out of nowhere. But none of that has denied the relentless focus and drive that has become an evident feature of Leary’s demeanor as he’s matured and become a “veteran” USAC regular.
Although that confidence and steady approach he’s learned and earned to what seems great benefit, he’s still got the self-awareness and humility to respect and appreciate such a streak of superb finishes, and in turn this breakout season he’s compiling.
“We came into Sprintweek feeling like we had a good shot at winning it after getting our Eastern Storm title,” Leary said before his inner perfectionist interjected with, “We didn’t win any races this week but we were close each night before tonight, which I’m pretty pissed off about to be quite honest.”
CJ didn’t dwell on that minor low point for long, however. “I really didn’t know if I or we would ever be able to get this (ISW title) done though. It’s just so tough every year, I mean if you have one bad night it ruins your whole shot. There’s a lot of good guys out here that could be sitting in this same spot right now if I had that really bad night, but our consistent finishes all week allowed us to have this one sort of bad night and still win it.”