Connor Zilisch once again drove his No. 7 Silver Hare Racing Chevrolet Camaro from last to first, rebounding from a technical infraction to win in the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli’s Big Machine Vodka SPIKED Coolers TA2 Series race on the streets of Nashville. For the second time this season, the young gun started last on a street course and passed every single car on the track to ultimately stand on the top step of the podium.
\While Zilisch experienced the best possible outcome in the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix, points leaders Brent Crews and Thomas Merrill faced disappointment when an early crash took both out of contention, opening the door for Zilisch and Rafa Matos to make gains in the championship fight.
Following a record-breaking lap in Saturday morning’s qualifying session, Crews led the field to green in his No. 70 Franklin Road/Mobil 1/Nitro Motorsports Ford Mustang, with Nathan Herne beside him on the front row in his No. 29 CUBE 3/Berryman Ford Mustang and Merrill behind him in the No. 26 Bennett/HP Tuners/Mike Cope Race Cars Ford Mustang. Both Crews and Merrill got off to a great start, with Merrill immediately passing Herne after the wave of the green flag. The championship contenders dominated the first two positions, with Crews leading the first 10 laps, and Merrill taking over the point position on lap 11.
Un fortunately, disaster struck for the two leaders on lap 17 when a competitor at the back of the pack spun and came to a stop just past a blind corner. That driver was hit by another competitor behind him, and the two stopped cars blocked a majority of the track. Merrill and Crews turned the corner at full speed without warning and made heavy contact with the stationary vehicles and each other, with both sustaining major damage to their race cars.
Merrill’s Mike Cope Race Cars team managed to keep him on the racetrack and just one lap down, and he ultimately finished 21st. Crews was off the racing surface for 10 laps, relegating him to a 27th-place finish.
Herne was fortunate enough to miss the melee and took the green flag as the leader when racing resumed on lap 23, followed by Matos in the No. 88 3-Dimensional Services Group Ford Mustang. Meanwhile, Zilisch had been impressively picking his way through the field behind them, and was scored fifth at the restart. The 17-year-old broke into the third position in only three laps, and after hard battles with Matos and Herne, he took over the lead on lap 31.
Once Zilisch was at the front of the pack, he checked out, leading the final seven laps and crossing the finish line first, followed by Herne and Matos. Behind them, Adam Andretti in the No. 6 Franklin Road Apparel Chevrolet Camaro and Adrian Wlostowski in the No. 3 Hawk Performance/AMT Motorsport Ford Mustang passionately contended for fourth place. After swapping positions repeatedly, Wlostowski was able to make the pass stick on the final lap, coming home fourth with Andretti behind him.
“That was wild, to say the least,” said Zilisch from the podium. “I can’t say enough about my team. They believe in me, they trust me, and they work so hard for me. I couldn’t be more grateful for Silver Hare Racing; they do such a good job. Maurice and Laura Hull gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to come out here and race cars and fulfill my dream.
“This is one of the events I’ve always wanted to win. To come out here and get that win is super special to me, and I’m sure it’s special to my team as well. They invest a lot, being away from their families. It feels so good to be up here and get this win for my team. Also, each and every fan here is awesome. We are nothing without the fans. I’m proud to put on a show for you guys and I hope your hearts were beating as fast as mine.”
Jordan Bupp in the No. 27 Nacarato Truck Center/Averitt Express/SLR-M1 Chevrolet Camaro, who finished sixth and earned the COOLSHIRT Cool Move of the Race, was making his first Trans Am start in two years. Bupp has been fighting cancer for the last nine months and was recently declared cancer free. His last time on the track was at the 2021 Big Machine Music City Grand Prix, where he finished 10th.
“I am so happy to be here and happy to be healthy, thank God,” said Bupp after the race. “It just feels like home being back with all my friends here. I miss my wife and kids back at home, but they’ll be excited to see this on TV. I got a top-six out of this race this year, so we keep making progress. We’ll come here next year and try to do top three. There isn’t much I can complain about on a day like this.”
The re-broadcast of Saturday’s race will air on MAVTV on Thursday, August 10 at 8:00 p.m. ET.
The Big Machine Vodka SPIKED Coolers TA2 Series next heads to Watkins Glen International on September 7-10.