GAS CITY, Ind. — When Michael Pickens rounded turn four and powered off the final corner to win Wednesday night’s Indiana Midget Week feature, flagman Tom Hansing’s twin checkers weren’t the only set of silks waving at Gas City I-69 Speedway.
A large swath of Pickens’ fellow New Zealand countrymen, fans, followers and supporters were on hand, cheering and waving their country’s flag high and proud as Pickens crossed the finish line first, delivering a gift to all those who helped support him monetarily on his successful endeavor to the States.
Pickens fired past defending USAC National Midget Series champion Tanner Thorson with five to go exiting turn two, taking a lead he would never relinquish.
With his run to victory in the Brett & Leigh Morris/Seamount Racing – Tony Elliott Foundation/King/GRD Toyota, Pickens has now won three races in seven starts over the past eight days, claiming the POWRi Illinois SPEED Week championship and now vaulting into the Indiana Midget Week points lead.
“It’s wicked, man,” Pickens said with a grin. “There’s 350-plus people who’ve contributed to this campaign that we’re doing, plus our major sponsors. We couldn’t do this without every single one of them. To get them a win is pretty special. We asked for a lot and they gave it to us. Lucky enough, we’ve been able to deliver. It’s nice for us to say ‘hey, here’s a win for your support.’ That’s pretty special.”
Pickens started from 11th after missing the heat transfer, winning the B-Main then being assessed a two-row penalty for being late to the grid for the start of the main event.
For the second-straight night, USAC/ARDC Midget point leader Alex Bright lead the field to the green from the pole, surging ahead for much of the first circuit before Thorson spurted ahead on the outside of turn four, beating Bright to the line by an inch before scooting away for control in the early stages of the 30-lapper.
Shortly after clearing Bright for second, Justin Grant found trouble at lap four, bopping and bouncing his way trampoline-style multiple times before coming to a rest sideways in turn one. He refired and restarted from the tail.
On the second attempted lap four restart, Rico Abreu began his power surge as he ducked underneath Bright for second on the bottom of turn three. Bright countered to no avail as Abreu hustled to turn one first, then set course on running down Thorson for the top spot.
On the seventh lap, Abreu was in striking position and used a run entering turn three on the bottom before sliding up off the fourth corner to clear Thorson for the race lead.
Abreu and Thorson began to distance themselves from the rest of the pack just before the midway point, as Bright was encircled in a maddening scramble for third that included Kyle Larson, Brady Bacon and Pickens. Larson was the first to emerge from the fray, as he first zipped past Bacon for fourth on the 13th lap and by Bright two laps later for third.
Bright came right back at Larson to momentarily reclaim the spot, but as he slipped up between turns one and two at halfway, Larson took command of third, with Pickens tucked in behind.
With 10 to go, Larson continued to inch nearer to the front, but on lap 21, he lost control on the cushion of turns three and four, spinning sideways and stalling as a result.
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