WHO COULD EMERGE AS A FIRST-TIME USAC SPRINT WINNER AT ARIZONA AND PERRIS?
Story By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Photos By: Dan DeMarco/RacersGuide.com
A first-time winner is always a joyous sight to see. From a driver perspective, it’s the culmination of a dream to step foot in victory lane against the stiffest competition around. From a fan perspective, it brings new blood to the forefront, meaning a deeper driver lineup, thus, more exciting racing, theoretically speaking.
When the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Cars trekked westward in late 2017, USAC/CRA Sprint Car regular Brody Roa was one of those who entered the fray, winning his first National series race at his home track of Perris (Calif.) Auto Speedway on night two of the “Oval Nationals.”
The Garden Grove, Calif. driver always appeared capable, finishing third the night previous and telling the audience over the P.A. system that, the year before, he would’ve been laughing had anyone told him that he would finished on the podium at the Oval Nationals. Nobody was laughing the following night when he led all 30 laps around the half-mile on his way to National win numero uno.
Roa’s victory marked the lone occasion a “newbie” entered onto the USAC win list in 2017. For 2018, that number has doubled to two drivers – one who’s victory was a long-time coming and one who’s seemingly burst onto the National scene with a flurry of success.
That would be Jason McDougal, the micro sprint hero from Broken Arrow, Okla., who jumped into a sprint car for the first time earlier this season and took to it like a duck to water, driving from 22nd to 3rd in his first USAC National Sprint Car start at Putnamville, Indiana’s Lincoln Park Speedway in July, then winning on September 1 for the first time at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 in Pevely, Missouri, racing past National point leader Kevin Thomas, Jr. on a late-race restart for the win.
Back up to the week before and fellow Oklahoman Tyler Thomas finally got his first “W” at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway on night two of “Sprint Car Smackdown VII.” He recently doubled up last Sunday for his first USAC P1 Insurance National Midget win of his career at Wayne County Speedway in Wayne City, Ill. to become the first driver since Kyle Larson in 2011 to get both firsts in a single season.
With five USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car races remaining on the calendar, the question remains. Can another first-time winner emerge? Let’s look into the numbers and the probabilities of that occurring.
Arizona Speedway, host of the 51st “Western World Championships” on Nov. 2-3, has held just four USAC National Sprint Car races and the winners on that list are all multi-time USAC National Sprint Car winners who’ve been successful at a variety of tracks big and small, including Chris Windom (twice), Thomas Meseraull and Chase Stockon.
Meanwhile, Perris Auto Speedway, which brings the 23rd running of the Budweiser “Oval Nationals” presented by All Coast Construction to southern California on Nov. 8-9-10 has had ten first-time National winners in only 41 races. Among those are Mike Kirby, Rip Williams, Darren Hagen, Damion Gardner, Mike Spencer, Jesse Hockett, David Cardey, Nic Faas, Rickie Gaunt and Roa.
A common thread among them is obvious. All but one is a native of California. All but two were USAC/CRA regulars. Plus, with limited appearances by the National series in the Golden State, it provides less than a handful of opportunities for the USAC/CRA regulars to showcase their talents on the National stage.
Also, one thing to look at is the size of the track that is most conducive to producing first-time USAC National Sprint Car winners. Most events are held on tracks less than three-eighths of a mile in size and both first-time winners this season have been on quarter-mile venues. However, throughout the history of the series, quite a few have gotten their first on tracks on three-eighths of a mile or larger. As has been mentioned, 10 got it done at Perris, but 31 have done it at Eldora and 19 at Terre Haute among others.
As a matter of fact, 204 of the 246-career winners in USAC National Sprint Cars got their first victory on a track three-eighths of a mile or larger. Yes, tracks shorter than a half-mile did not join the schedule until 1981, but even so, 106 of the 148 occurred on track three-eighths or larger from 1981 to present.
Half-mile tracks aren’t usually weekly event tracks where “local” drivers can get quite a few laps and be ready to contend when USAC arrives such as what occurred in 2016 when seven drivers won for the first time, all coming at “weekly” Indiana tracks, Gas City (Scotty Weir & Tyler Courtney), Kokomo (Kyle Cummins & C.J. Leary), Bloomington (Brent Beauchamp), Tri-State (Carson Short) and Lawrenceburg (Josh Hodges).
So, basically, the trend seems to be that a first-time winner will most likely occur at a regularly-running track of three-eighths of a mile in length or longer. Boom. That fits the description of the half-mile Perris Auto Speedway. However, not quite the case for the 1/3-mile Arizona Speedway. But we won’t completely discount that as an opportunity for someone to strike gold for the first time.
Logan Seavey, the USAC P1 Insurance National Midget point leader, has made eight starts with the USAC National Sprint Cars this season with thirds at both Bloomington and Tri-State, but hasn’t reached victory lane as of yet like he has twice with the Midgets in 2018. He’s made two USAC/CRA starts this year as well, both at Arizona in September where he was fast qualifier one night and finished 2nd the ensuing night behind Damion Gardner, showing he can be a contender when he takes the wheel of the Reinbold/Underwood Motorsports ride that won night one of “Western World” in 2017 with driver Thomas Meseraull.
Another driver that has emerged to become a contender is Isaac Chapple of Willow Branch, Ind. who’s shown huge gains this year with a pair of thirds at Eldora and Gas City to close out the month of September. What has Chapple done to prepare for this venture out west? He came out early to get a head start on matters, finishing 9th at Perris last Saturday and even made a venture out west in March to begin the year to get more laps and seat time which have paid great dividends for the 2016 USAC National Sprint Car Rookie of the Year.
As you look down the list of USAC/CRA regulars who are seeking that first national win, the names R.J. Johnson, Austin Williams, Jake Swanson and Richard Vander Weerd stand out. Johnson of Laveen, Ariz., has four career wins at Perris with CRA and an incredible 16 times with the Southwest Sprint series at Arizona. Yorba Linda, California’s Austin Williams has won on four occasions at Perris and twice already this year. Jake Swanson of Anaheim, Calif., has already won at Arizona in USAC/CRA competition this year and is oft-fast at Perris, setting quick time five times in 2017. Visalia, California’s Vander Weerd has won six times at Perris and finished 3rd in the “Ovals” as recently as 2016.
The opportunities are there, and this talented group will have ample opportunity to get it done. But when you have drivers like top National contenders like Kevin Thomas, Jr., Tyler Courtney and Chris Windom as well as top USAC/CRA runners Brody Roa and Damion Gardner on hand, your have your work cut out for you. However, that’s the name of the game and it’s not easy. When you win a USAC National Sprint Car race, you’ll know you have truly earned it.
The 51st “Western World Championships” from Arizona Speedway in San Tan Valley, Ariz. on November 2-3 will feature the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship with the USAC/CRA Sprint Cars as well as the USAC Southwest Sprint Cars.
The 23rd Budweiser “Oval Nationals” California’s Perris Auto Speedway on November 8-9-10 features three-straight nights of USAC AMSOIL National & CRA Sprint Cars, concluding with a $25,000-to-win prize on the final night.
All five remaining races will all be streamed live on http://www.SpeedShiftTV.com/ and live audio will be on the USAC app.