By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Ocala, Florida (February 17, 2022)………For Emerson Axsom, a ride that began as merely a brief, three-race stint for Clauson Marshall Newman Racing’s USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship team late last season, ultimately turned into a full-time deal for 2022 based on the flashes of brilliance the Franklin, Ind. teenager displayed when he received his initial shot.
The 17-year-old rewarded the team’s faith in him by recording his first career series feature victory in what was just his eighth career series start on Thursday night in the season opener at Ocala, Florida’s Bubba Raceway Park, round number one of Winter Dirt Games XIII.
Axsom made his series debut for CMNR in late August of 2021 and finished a best of 7th on two occasions, in the Sprint Car Smackdown at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway and at Circle City Raceway in Indianapolis, Ind. But it was the final start of last season at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway that stuck in his craw, one in which he led every lap until four to go when his right rear tire gave way, denying him a shot at victory.
But it was those types of flashes that just whetted the appetite and generated excitement for a chance at redemption with a full-scale run as a series Rookie this coming year.
“Last year was supposed to be like a three-race deal and it just went so good that I talked (team co-owner) Tim (Clauson) into letting me run a full season,” Axsom explained. “I want to stay with this team as long as possible. These guys gave me a great racecar and I can’t thank them enough. I’m speechless. I’m glad we got one out of the way early because I felt we got robbed in that one last year. I’m so happy for this team.”
Prior to Axsom, it had been 19 years since a driver won his first career USAC National Sprint Car feature in the season opening race, not since Aaron Pierce in 2003. In all, 11 drivers have accomplished the feat: Bob Sweikert (1956), James McElreath (1977), Paul Pitzer (1979), Dave Peperak (1981), Jack Hewitt (1982), Jeff Gordon (1989), Robbie Stanley (1991), Frankie Kerr (1994), Dave Steele (1996), Pierce (2003) and now Axsom (2022).
However, after setting the fastest time in Wednesday’s practice and securing a spot on the outside of the front row for Thursday’s feature, Axsom had the utmost confidence that this could very well be the night of his breakthrough in the Clauson Marshall Newman Racing/Driven2SaveLives – ZMax Race Products/Spike/Kistler Chevy.
On the opening lap, Axsom drifted around the outside of pole sitter Jason McDougal on the back straightaway entering turn three for the race lead and held strong and content at the front of the field by a half-straight in the early going.
However, the fun and games halted on the fifth lap when fifth-running Brady Bacon uncharacteristically spun sideways on his own in turn three, then was plowed into by the sixth-place car of Ballou. Bacon got kickstarted and resumed under power and promptly drove away from the scene while Ballou’s ride came to a complete stop.
The middle portion was plagued by a bevy of cautions, with Bacon’s not-so-good night getting worse on lap eight when he spun again in turn four. Meanwhile, another tangle ensued and claimed several cars in the latter half of the field from 12th on back with Mario Clouser hopping a right rear, and the ensuing entanglement catching Shane Cockrum and Tanner Thorson in its web as both stopped alongside the infield berm.
The most serious accident of the night occurred on the 13th lap when Wesley Smith tagged the back straightaway wall and flipped several times into turn three. He was able to walk away from the incident with assistance from the medical personnel.
Down the stretch, it appeared as if it was going to be a tale of tire and equipment conservation. He who pushed hard, but not too hard, would last and, thus, would find themselves in comfortable shape at the end of 30 laps. Axsom found and maintained that perfect balance as both McDougal and Meseraull followed closely behind – a single car length separating first from second and from second to third – but not able to budge into the leader’s gap.
That proved to be short lived in the final 10-lap stanza as Axsom steadily increased his lead as each successive lap clicked off, building to a crescendo of 4.002 seconds when he crossed under the checkered flag ahead of McDougal, Meseraull, Kyle Cummins and Buddy Kofoid in the distance, rounding out the top-five.
Axsom’s victory was the third for the Clauson Marshall Newman Racing sprinter at Bubba Raceway Park, having won on consecutive nights in 2018 with Tyler Courtney.
For all intents and purposes, Jason McDougal partied like it was 2019. In his first Winter Dirt Games sprint car start since 2019, the Broken Arrow, Okla. driver snared his best result since finishing 2nd at Bloomington (Ind.) Speedway in 2019. On Thursday night, McDougal started the 2022 season strong with an impressive runner-up finish in his KO Motorsports/Hutson John Deere – S & C Machine – Chrome Dome/Flea RC/J & D Chevy.
“When it started taking rubber, I thought we had something for a minute, but they got really good,” McDougal explained. “I felt my stuff start to vibrate with about seven laps to go, so I just rode it because I figured it’s better to run second than to blow a right rear.”
With just a single podium finish throughout the 2021 USAC National Sprint Car season, Thomas Meseraull already equaled his output after a single race in 2022. The San Jose, Calif. native traveled from 7th to finish 3rd in the A-Main aboard his Chris Dyson Racing/Concord American Flagpole – Racer Magazine/Maxim/Ott Chevy.
"I don’t know what (Crew Chief) Sean (Michael) does, but he does a great job with the car,” Meseraull praised. “He hits and misses USAC shows, but they win every year. I’m super stoked to be a part of the team. We have an awesome car and Chris Dyson always has really nice stuff.”
Following a complete multi-day rebuild of their Curb Records – Mobil 1 – IWX/Spike/Speedway Chevy car following a devastating practice crash last Sunday at Bubba Raceway Park, the Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports team nearly headed home. But it was the determination of the entire crew who stuck it out, stripped down the car and pieced it back together for the team’s first USAC National Sprint Car appearance since the 2013 Smackdown at Kokomo with driver Christopher Bell.
In the newly rebuilt KKM ride, Buddy Kofoid charged from 18th to finish 5th tonight in only his sixth career USAC National Sprint Car start, five of which have concluded with top-five finishes. The Penngrove, Calif. driver’s performance through the pack on this night earned him the Irvin King Hard Charger award.
“We had really good speed yesterday (in practice) and we were good in hot laps today, but I kind of made a mistake and I feel like we didn’t go far enough for qualifying for how late we had to go out,” Kofoid detailed. “We just missed it there, then got a little better, but we were still chasing it in the heat race, then finally got it better in the main event. But I was able to bide my time and ride in the rubber, keep my tires under me and use my knowledge from the wing car of driving it straight and keeping the tires secure and not blowing them off with how abrasive it was. Eighteenth to fifth wasn’t bad, and hopefully we can have a way better day tomorrow so I don’t have to pass that many cars.”
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: February 17, 2022 – Bubba Raceway Park – Ocala, Florida – Winter Dirt Games XIII – 3/8-Mile Dirt Track
FATHEADZ QUALIFYING: 1. Justin Grant, 4, TOPP-13.959; 2. Brady Bacon, 69, Dynamics-13.979; 3. Kyle Cummins, 3R, Rock Steady-14.027; 4. C.J. Leary, 77m, Michael-14.128; 5. Chase Stockon, 5s, KO-14.190; 6. Emerson Axsom, 47BC, Clauson Marshall Newman-14.191; 7. Jason McDougal, 5m, KO-14.206; 8. Carson Short, 21x, RCM-14.214; 9. Shane Cottle, 39, Hogue-14.324; 10. Brady Short, 61m, Edwards-14.404; 11. Landon Simon, 24, LSR-14.406; 12. Thomas Meseraull, 20D, Dyson-14.410; 13. Jake Swanson, 21AZ, Team AZ-14.420; 14. Wesley Smith, 44, Smith-14.433; 15. Matt Westfall, 33m, Marshall-14.477; 16. Kory Schudy, 28K, Sawyer-14.478; 17. Tanner Thorson, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-14.528; 18. Buddy Kofoid, 67, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-14.536; 19. Robert Ballou, 12, Ballou-14.547; 20. Shane Cockrum, 66, Amati-14.548; 21. Braxton Cummings, 71B, Cummings-14.549; 22. Cole Bodine, 57B, DCT/Crow/Bodine-14.583; 23. Charles Davis Jr., 47, Davis-14.642; 24. Carson Garrett, 15, BGE/Dougherty-14.662; 25. Mario Clouser, 6, Eberhardt/Zirzow-14.685; 26. Logan Seavey, 5, Baldwin/Fox-14.739; 27. Alex Bright, 20, Hummer-14.755; 28. Briggs Danner, 5G, Heffner-14.763; 29. Brandon Mattox, 28, Mattox-14.830; 30. Chad Boespflug, 2B, 2B-14.875; 31. Dustin Clark, 75, Clark-14.878; 32. Steve Irwin, 0, Flying Zero-14.971; 33. Jadon Rogers, 14, Engler-15.059; 34. Dallas Hewitt, 21, Hewitt-15.075; 35. Jackson Slone, 16, Slone-15.277; 36. Alex Banales, 5x, Baldwin/Fox-15.343; 37. Jack Hoyer, 57c, DCT/Crow/Bodine-15.397; 38. Jeremy Kerzman, 3K, Kerzman-15.533; 39. Brian Ruhlman, 49, Ruhlman-15.668; 40. Robert Bell, 71, Bell-15.793; 41. Josh Turner, 4x, Turner-15.808; 42. Kyle Shipley, 17GP, Dutcher-15.838; 43. Eddie Vancil, 7v, Vancil-16.523.
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Justin Grant, 2. Shane Cottle, 3. Tanner Thorson, 4. Chase Stockon, 5. Mario Clouser, 6. Brandon Mattox, 7. Braxton Cummings, 8. Jadon Rogers, 9. Jack Hoyer, 10. Josh Turner, 11. Jake Swanson. NT
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Brady Bacon, 2. Buddy Kofoid, 3. Emerson Axsom, 4. Brady Short, 5. Logan Seavey, 6. Cole Bodine, 7. Wesley Smith, 8. Chad Boespflug, 9. Kyle Shipley, 10. Dallas Hewitt, 11. Jeremy Kerzman. NT
PIT STOP USA THIRD HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Robert Ballou, 2. Charles Davis Jr., 3. Jason McDougal, 4. Matt Westfall, 5. Kyle Cummins, 6. Landon Simon, 7. Dustin Clark, 8. Alex Bright, 9. Jackson Slone, 10. Brian Ruhlman, 11. Eddie Vancil. 2:03.66
FOURTH HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Thomas Meseraull, 2. C.J. Leary, 3. Shane Cockrum, 4. Kory Schudy, 5. Carson Short, 6. Carson Garrett, 7. Briggs Danner, 8. Steve Irwin, 9. Alex Banales, 10. Robert Bell. 2:05.47
C-MAIN: (10 laps, top-4 transfer to the semi) 1. Dustin Clark, 2. Jadon Rogers, 3. Steve Irwin, 4. Alex Banales, 5. Jack Hoyer, 6. Jackson Slone, 7. Dallas Hewitt, 8. Kyle Shipley, 9. Brian Ruhlman, 10. Josh Turner, 11. Robert Bell, 12. Jeremy Kerzman. NT
ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Kyle Cummins, 2. Carson Short, 3. Landon Simon, 4. Mario Clouser, 5. Jake Swanson, 6. Wesley Smith, 7. Logan Seavey, 8. Braxton Cummings, 9. Cole Bodine, 10. Briggs Danner, 11. Carson Garrett, 12. Brandon Mattox, 13. Alex Bright, 14. Dustin Clark, 15. Chad Boespflug, 16. Steve Irwin, 17. Jadon Rogers, 18. Alex Banales. NT
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Emerson Axsom (2), 2. Jason McDougal (1), 3. Thomas Meseraull (7), 4. Kyle Cummins (9), 5. Buddy Kofoid (18), 6. Justin Grant (6), 7. Chase Stockon (3), 8. Carson Short (10), 9. Logan Seavey (23-P), 10. Mario Clouser (22), 11. Shane Cottle (11), 12. Brady Short (12), 13. Matt Westfall (15), 14. Jake Swanson (14), 15. Kory Schudy (16), 16. Brady Bacon (5), 17. Landon Simon (13), 18. Robert Ballou (8), 19. Tanner Thorson (17), 20. Shane Cockrum (20), 21. Charles Davis Jr. (21), 22. C.J. Leary (4), 23. Wesley Smith (19). NT