By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Bloomington, Indiana (June 9, 2023)………If you didn’t know who Gavin Miller was before USAC Indiana Midget Week, well guess what? Now you know.
The leading USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship Rookie of the Year contender, six-time USAC National .25 Midget champion and micro sprint standout from Allentown, Pa. earned his first career series victory on the big stage Friday night at Bloomington Speedway.
Up to this point, to USAC fans, he’d been known for his passing prowess within the series ranks, passing more cars throughout USAC Indiana Midget Week than any other individual with 34 positions advanced at press time, which places him on top of the IMW ProSource Passing Master standings.
However, on Friday night, it was one pass and one pass only that provided the 16-year-old with his breakthrough moment in the USAC ranks in what was just his 10th career series start aboard his Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports/Eibach Springs – Mobil 1/Bullet By Spike/Speedway Toyota.
On a restart just before the midway point, Miller slid his KKM teammate and fellow first-time USAC win seeker Jade Avedisian for the top spot, and from there, went undenied for the remaining 16 circuits to earn the victory as he became the first Pennsylvanian to capture a USAC National feature win of any kind since Steve Buckwalter during the Indiana Midget Week round at Gas City I-69 Speedway in 2010.
In winning, Miller also became just the second driver to win his first career USAC National Midget feature at Bloomington’s 1/4-mile dirt oval. The only other driver to accomplish the feat was none other than Kyle Larson, who also wheeled a KKM owned car to victory on the red clay.
Miller’s win also comes on the heels of a “what could’ve been” moment when he flipped out of the race while leading 13 laps into the feature on Monday night at Circle City Raceway. It was that performance which put Miller and the team on notice that a first victory could be within his grasp. At Bloomington, that special moment finally arrived.
“It’s unbelievable,” Miller exclaimed. “We’ve been wanting to win one badly and we were finally able to get it done. I just had to be smarter on those long runs because there’s so many good guys behind you; you’ve got to be perfect every single lap.”
Oddly enough, it turns out that June 9 is the prime date to produce first-time USAC National Midget feature winners. For the third consecutive season on that exact date, a driver won his first career series main event: Corey Day (2021 at Circle City Raceway), Jacob Denney (2022 at Lincoln Park Speedway) and Gavin Miller (2023 at Bloomington Speedway).
Miller, whose best career USAC finish to this point had been a pair of ninths at the Belleville (Kan.) Short Track in May and at Lincoln Park Speedway 24 hours earlier, lined up on the outside of the front row alongside his teammate, Avedisian.
Avedisian, similarly vying for a first career USAC National Midget score, split from the field to control the pace during the initial lap. The second go-around, however, was marred when wheel contact between seventh-running Chase Johnson’s left front and eighth-running Logan Seavey’s right rear on the back straight sent Johnson sliding over the turn three banking. Jesse Love (11th) involuntarily joined the fracas and was also caught up in the incident. Johnson was finished for the evening with a knocked out front end while Seavey continued onward, and Love restarted from the tail of the field before charging back to a respectable finish of 11th.
Picking up the action on the lap two restart, Avedisian was absolutely ripping on the high line, advancing her way into lapped traffic 10 laps into the event with a full second lead as KKM teammates ran one-two-three with Miller and Ryan Timms occupying second and third.
Avedisian’s lead evaporated on the 15th trip when Emerson Axsom (8th) stopped on the back straight to bring out the yellow flag. He ultimately returned to finish 16th, but his Indiana Midget Week championship hopes and dreams took a serious beating as he dropped from nine points out of the lead to a 43-point deficit.
The ensuing yellow put Miller right on Avedisian’s back bumper for the restart, which turned the race completely on its head. Miller pulled even with Avedisian in turn two as he slid up next to her. However, Avedisian’s right side tires got sucked into the cushion, which wouldn’t relent. Teetering on the edge, Avedisian could only watch helplessly as seven competitors freight trained past her, dropping her all the way back to eighth, just like that.
Miller spurted away to a 1.273 second lead with 10 laps remaining all while a changing of the guard in second was occurring. There, Justin Grant performed a nifty up-and-under maneuver to nip Kevin Thomas Jr. at the line for second on lap 21.
All throughout the first two-thirds of the race, Miller had maintained a steady presence on the high line. Yet, for the restart with nine laps to go following Chance Crum’s off-track excursion, Miller had a different approach and a new plan to take his talents to the bottom based on his observations.
“I just saw (the high line) going away, and I didn’t feel that great up top as it was,” Miller stated. “So, I figured I’d roll the bottom and it felt really good down there.”
Grant was the closest to present and apply ample pressure to Miller down the stretch, but Grant’s engine began to roar with a sour sound, the result of a dropped cylinder. However, Grant was unable to get close enough to make any attempts to steal away the win from Miller down the stretch.
In the end, Miller flexed the most muscle, and closed out victory number one in his USAC career by a 0.372 second margin over Grant. Seavey worked around the outside of Thomas Jr. with six laps left in the tank to collect a third-place result. Thomas Jr. grabbed fourth while McIntosh capped off the top-five with a season best run of fifth, earning Irvin King hard charger honors and a $100 bonus after starting 12th.
Justin Grant (Ione, Calif.) turned in his best finish of Indiana Midget Week with a runner-up result in his RMS Racing/NOS Energy Drink – EnviroFab – Response Management Services/Spike/Speedway Toyota. Second also happened to be his best result of the USAC National Midget season, narrowly missing a complete sweep after setting fast time and winning his heat earlier during the evening. It was a solid, noteworthy performance that persevered despite mechanical challenges during the final leg of the race.
“I think we lost a cylinder there, but it was so slick, it didn’t matter as much as it normally would,” Grant explained. “I think we still would’ve been able to win if Gavin would’ve kept running the top like he was. It was a good move on his part to drop to the bottom in (turns) one and two. It’s a hard move to make when you haven’t seen anybody down there yet. He did a really, really good job at protecting the bottom coming to the checkered there. We were down a cylinder, but I don’t know how much it hurt us. I kind of had to spin the tires more than I wanted to getting in so that it was stood up when getting off (the turns). We were right in the hunt again tonight, but at least we’re on the podium, so that’s good.”
Logan Seavey (Sutter, Calif.), celebrating his 26th birthday on this night, doubled up as both the new Indiana Midget Week point leader and the brand new overall USAC National Midget championship point leader following a third-place result at Bloomington, his third top-three run in as many nights. Seavey now holds an 18-point lead in the IMW standindgs over Grant entering Saturday night’s penultimate round of the series at Lawrenceburg Speedway in his Abacus Racing/Indy Custom Stone – CG CPAs – Dozer’z Nut’z & Bolt’z/Spike/Stanton SR-11x.
“You always kind of have (the points) in the back of your mind, but in the moment, you’re running hard,” Seavey demonstrated. “If I was points racing, I probably would’ve followed them around in third. But I was trying to win that race. I was giving it everything I had, but I got myself a little tight there by trying the middle. I probably should’ve never given up on the cushion. I feel like we’ve been the best car on the cushion, but I gave up on it for the first time all week. I probably should’ve done that yesterday. I gave up on it a little bit there and fell in line, and with three, four, five to go, I got back up there and ran them back down. You’ve got to make really good decisions to win from ninth, especially when the track is that fast to begin with.”