By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Speedway, Indiana (December 31, 2021)………It was a year of triumph for drivers and teams both experienced and new. It was a year of comebacks, both on track and off. It was a year that inspired us. It was a year that thrilled us. It was a year that gave us everything we desired and delivered. It was year that won’t soon be forgotten.
Here, we take a look back at the biggest storylines of the 2021 USAC Silver Crown, AMSOIL National Sprint Car and NOS Energy Drink National Midget seasons.
BACON TACKES A LICKING, KEEPS ON TICKING
To win a USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship, sometimes you’ve got to take your lumps and persevere through the valleys to make it back to the top. Brady Bacon ran through the full gamut of emotions in a singular night on at least two major occasions in 2021.
Bacon’s remarkable comeback story in May’s Tony Hulman Classic at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track was one that will be talked about for a long time to come. His night began by setting the fastest qualifying time, but in the first heat race, following contact from Anthony D’Alessio, Bacon nearly touched the clouds in a sky-high crash that sent him flipping viciously over the turn one wall.
Following the incident, Bacon and Hoffman Auto Racing’s Matt Hummel and D.J. Lebow led team rolled out the backup car and raced from the tail (14th) to finish 3rd and transfer to the main event, then, to cap it all off, he made another charge from his 9th starting spot to a 3rd place finish in the feature.
In October at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway, in what became an all too familiar storyline in 2021, Bacon flipped hard between turns one and two during the second heat race as a result of contact with C.J. Leary. The backup Dynamics, Inc. No. 69 was then rolled from the trailer where Bacon promptly utilized it to charge from 15th to 3rd in the semi-feature, then from 11th to 4th in the feature.
BUDDY OVERCOMES BROKEN BONES TO WIN USAC MIDGET TITLE
After capturing Rookie of the Year honors in 2020, the Penngrove, Calif. driver elevated his game even more the following year, scoring the series title in his second full season of competition on the strength of six victories in a campaign that saw its share of triumphs and tribulations, including an injury that very easily could’ve derailed what became the 19-year-old driver’s destiny.
A late model crash at Minnesota’s Elko Speedway in July resulted in a broken right wrist and a broken left foot for Kofoid. With an arm cast grooved to fit the curvature of his steering wheel, ala Jim Hurtubise, Kofoid was forced to acclimate to his new clime inside the racecar, firstly merely discovering a new comfort level in the car.
Since he couldn’t close his right hand all the way, the team beefed up the steering wheel with extra padding on one side to make it fatter and easier to grip. Furthermore, the body on the right side of the car was spaced out a bit more in order for him to lift his arm up higher since he had no wrist movement.
Kofoid reclaimed the point lead late in the going after swapping back-and-forth with defending champion Chris Windom. In the end, Kofoid won six times with the series and became the sixth teenager to win the USAC National Midget driving title, joining Jeff Gordon (1990), Bobby East (2004), Christopher Bell (2013), Spencer Bayston (2017) and Cole Whitt (2008), who was the youngest to win it at age 17.
This was a championship that, admittedly, wasn’t in the plans for Kody Swanson. Without a full-time Silver Crown ride on both dirt and pavement, Swanson had to utilize a full assortment of resources.
A ride in the No. 77 with sports car racing standout and new Silver Crown entrant Doran Racing was secure for all four pavement events, three of which he won at Lucas Oil Raceway twice and Toledo once. But the dirt plan was a different story.
Swanson obtained a ride with the Mark Swanson Encore Team No. 21 for both Eldora rounds, then was tabbed for driving duties in Chris Dyson Racing’s No. 9 for Selinsgrove (Pa.) Speedway and the two Illinois dirt miles in Springfield and Du Quoin, winning at Springfield for the team.
In fact, on just 10 previous occasions did a driver win the Silver Crown championship by utilizing multiple cars throughout the season and no driver had ever won the championship while competing for three different teams in a year. That is, until Kody Swanson did it in 2021.
ALL WOMAN FRONT ROW AT TURKEY NIGHT
November’s Turkey Night Grand Prix was chock-full of historical USAC moments. The tops came in qualifying as Kaylee Bryson (Muskogee, Okla.) recorded Fatheadz Fast Qualifying time to become the first woman to win the pole in Turkey Night’s grand history, which dates back to its inaugural running in 1934.
Her Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports counterpart, Taylor Reimer (Bixby, Okla.), qualified second and started alongside Bryson on the front row, making it the first time in USAC National Midget history that two women qualified first and second.
The duo led the field to the green with Bryson controlling the pace early on, leading the initial 17 laps of the event, which were the first ever laps led by a woman in Turkey Night history.
Prior to that night, the best Turkey Night Grand Prix finish by a woman was 13th by Denise Bennet in 1988. In 2021, three drivers finished 13th or better with Kaylee Bryson leading the way in fifth, Taylor Reimer eighth and Macdoel, California’s Maria Cofer 13th.
PURSLEY INJURED, MAKING CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT
The most serious accident of the season occurred during the third heat race of the USAC National Midget Western World Championships at Arizona Speedway in November when Daison Pursley was involved in a vicious flip at the entrance to the high side of turn three while battling for position.
After several flips and somersaults, Pursley (Locust Grove, Okla.) was removed from the car and transported to an area hospital for further observation.
Suffering a significant spinal cord injury, Pursley has made an inspiration rally ever since. After spending weeks in an Arizona hospital, Pursley was transferred to a rehab center in Atlanta, Georgia where, just before New Year’s Eve, he is now walking without assistance as his balance and strength have made significant strides. He will even find himself back behind the wheel of a passenger car for the first time since on January 20.
KODY, THE $77,100 MAN
On a night in which he pocketed a total of $77,100 in total prizes, Kody Swanson saved his best for his last in an encore performance during August’s inaugural Hoosier Classic USAC Silver Crown feature at Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg, Ind.
After winning the Sprint Car feature and finishing third in the midget earlier in the evening, the Kingsburg, Calif. native wrapped up the evening with a dominant, picture-perfect Silver Crown performance at the .686-mile paved oval, leading all 100 laps in his Doran Enterprises ride.
By winning two of the three features throughout the program, Swanson netted the Fatheadz Challenge $50,000 bonus and, added in with his $12,500 Silver Crown victory, $1,100 pole award courtesy of Fatheadz Eyewear and PJ1, along with his winnings from the sprint car and midget events, it totaled the richest day for any driver walking out of a Lucas Oil Raceway USAC event, surpassing the $60,280 captured by Dave Steele following his sweep of the Mopar Twin 25 Midget races in 2002.
USAC RETURNS TO WINCHESTER
In the first USAC sanctioned event at the famed eastern Indiana venue, Justin Grant had to muster every ounce of grit, determination and moxie on the last lap of Thursday night’s 100-lap Rich Vogler Classic presented by The Pallet Builder USAC Silver Crown National Championship race at Winchester Speedway.
Driving that point home is the fact that the driver chasing Grant on the green-white-checkered dash to the finish, Kody Swanson, posted his fastest lap of the race on the 100th and final lap in his pursuit of the win.
Simultaneously, Grant answered the bell by laying down his fastest lap of the entire race on the 100th and final lap to keep Swanson behind him.
At the line, Grant finished just a miniscule half car length ahead of Swanson in a dramatic ending to the heavyweight slugfest in the series’ debut on the 37-degree banked, three stories high oval. For Grant, it was his first pavement win with USAC and a triumph that he considered surreal after thinking it was the gnarliest thing he’d ever seen as a kid.
BRIAN TYLER JOINS NEW TEAM, WINS FIRST USAC RACE IN A DECADE AT Du QUOIN
In his storied USAC Silver Crown career, which has spanned three decades and 199 starts, perhaps none were more improbable than his performance on Labor Day afternoon at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds in southern Illinois.
For instance, it was his first run in the BCR Group, taking the reins of the ride exactly two weeks earlier following the parting of ways between the team and longtime driver Shane Cottle.
Secondly, it had been two years since the Parma, Michigan driver last sat in the seat of a USAC Silver Crown car, keeping the fires burning in the meantime by winning in a Gold Crown car at several of the most famed road racing circuits in the United States.
Tyler returned to the series in grand fashion to “steal their lunch money” so to speak, by charging from 11th to 1st to win his second career Ted Horn 100, and first since 2008, at the Magic Mile.
With a mid-race snooker of Kody Swanson for the lead, then thwarting repeated challenges from Logan Seavey down the stretch, Tyler’s performance put him in the win column with the series for the first time in more than a decade, since a victory on the Springfield Mile in 2011.
Furthermore, Tyler’s stretch of 10 years and 17 days between USAC Silver Crown wins is the second longest gap in series history. Cottle set the record in 2020 at 12 years, 11 months and 7 days, and achieved the feat in the same BCR Group No. 81 that Tyler won with at Du Quoin on Monday afternoon.
In doing so, at 53 years, 10 months and 10 days old, Tyler became USAC Silver Crown’s oldest race winner, surpassing the record of Chet Fillip, who was 51 years, 2 months and 25 days when he won at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway in 2008.
FROM 0 TO 9 IN 365 DAYS: KTJ HAS CAREER BEST YEAR
Kevin Thomas Jr. (Cullman, Ala.) earned a series best, and career best, nine USAC National Sprint Car victories in 2021 following a winless 2020 season. En route to a runner-up finish in the standings, Thomas scored the opener in February at Ocala, Florida’s Bubba Raceway Park, then added an April win at Bloomington and a June triumph in the series debut at Pennsylvania’s Bloomsburg Fair Raceway.
Moving into July, Thomas added an early July victory at Putnamville, Indiana’s Lincoln Park Speedway after starting all the way back in 14th, then tabbed a second career Indiana Sprint Week championship in late July.
In August, KTJ notched a victory at Indiana’s Paragon Speedway, the first series race held at the track in 23 years. A daytime prelim Sprint Car Smackdown win followed at Indiana’s Kokomo Speedway in August, as did a $12,000 Haubstadt Hustler victory at Indiana’s Tri-State Speedway in September, a $10,000 win at the Lawrenceburg Speedway Fall Nationals in October and a third Oval Nationals victory lane celebration worth $10,000 at Perris in November.
AROUND THE USA IN 93 USAC RACES FOR GRANT
The 93 combined USAC National Sprint, Midget & Silver Crown events collectively held in 2021 were the third most all-time and the most since the 1977 season. Justin Grant was the lone driver to compete in all 93 USAC national features during the year, blowing away the former all-time record of starts in a season, 77 set in 2010.
Jumping between the Hemelgarn Racing Silver Crown car, the TOPP Motorsports Sprint Car and the RMS Racing Midget, Grant won a series-best-tying 12 times between the three series in 2021 – 7 Sprint, 4 Midget & 1 Silver Crown.
Furthermore, Grant is also just the sixth driver to finish inside the top-three in all three series in a single year, joining Rich Vogler (1980, 1981 & 1989), Ken Schrader (1983), Tony Stewart (1995), J.J. Yeley (2002 & 2003) and Chris Windom (2020).
Along the way, Grant added a ProSource Passing Master Award, passing 230 total cars in feature events throughout the season and also captured a second career Mike Curb Super License after scoring the most combined points between the three series.
SEAVEY’S INDIANA SPRINT WEEK TRIFECTA
Logan Seavey’s three-straight Indiana Sprint Week victories in July were the most since Kevin Thomas Jr. won three consecutively in 2013 and marked the longest winning streak in all of USAC National racing in 2021.
Jay Drake also captured three-straight Indiana Sprint Week wins in 2000 as did Cory Kruseman during the 2002 series. The longest winning streak in Indiana Sprint Week history belongs to Jon Stanbrough with four-in-a-row between 2006-07.
Seavey took over the reins of the standings after the rounds at Lincoln Park and Bloomington and led the standings entering the feature on the final night at Tri-State by nine over Brady Bacon and by 10 over Kevin Thomas Jr.
LEARY & WINDOM NET $20K AT HUSET’S
Repeating their performances from the night before, C.J. Leary and Chris Windom won again for their personal largest paydays of the 2021 season, taking $20,000 each in September’s inaugural Huset’s Speedway USAC Nationals in South Dakota.
In a race where multiple leaders fell by the wayside, Windom found himself in a seemingly envious position with 15 laps to go in the 100-lap USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship feature. However, Windom had already been entrenched in this scenario multiple times throughout the weekend with varying degrees of success.
With just less than five laps left in the preceding, accompanying USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship feature, for just a brief, fleeting moment, Windom thought he had the $20,000 prize just within his grasp. However, he didn’t let the midget feature slip from his grasp.
Furthermore, when C.J. Leary gets on a roll, he’s routinely displayed his ability to ride that hot streak as long as he possibly can. In fact, since 2016, no driver has won two-in-a-row more often in USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car feature events than the Greenfield, Ind. native with five.
In the Sprint feature, Leary became the first driver in the series’ 2021 season to win consecutive races on multiple occasions, turning the 1/3-mile dirt oval into his personal ATM as he followed Saturday’s preliminary win with the biggest payday of his racing career in the 40-lapper.
JAKE SWANSON WINS FIRST BY 1 ONE HUNDREDTHS
With four runner-up finishes throughout his first full USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car season, Jake Swanson wasn’t about to settle for yet another in his ongoing pursuit of a first career series victory during November’s opener for the 25th Oval Nationals at southern California’s Perris Auto Speedway.
In fact, running second entering the final set of turns on the last lap wasn’t sufficient enough to satisfy the Anaheim, Calif. native who was making his first trip back to his home track since becoming a permanent resident of Indiana about a year ago.
Swanson threw a “Hail Mary” through the marbles on the final circuit, removing himself from the bottom to take one last shot at the top of turn four. Swanson ignited the sky with a shower of sparks as his right-side wheels glanced off the outside front straightaway wall, then promptly brushed Thomas’ left side wheels in a drag race to the finish line with Swanson ahead at the stripe by a mere 0.010 of a second for the closest finish of the year, and one of the closest in series history.
SEAVEY WINS ALL 3 DIRT FINALES
Logan Seavey knows how to close the curtain, fade to black and roll credits in style. Seavey slammed the door on the 2021 USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship campaign with a monumental score in November’s 80th running of the 98-lap Turkey Night Grand Prix.
The season closing victory with the series at southern California’s Ventura Raceway allowed Seavey to become the first driver to win the season finales on dirt for all three of USAC’s National divisions.
In September, he etched his name as the winner of the final USAC Silver Crown race of the year on dirt at Eldora Speedway. In mid-November, he shut down the Arizona Speedway dirt oval for the final time with a triumph in the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship season finale.
CHASE ELLIOTT GOES USAC MIDGET RACING
He followed the tour to Florida, Oklahoma, Kansas, Indiana and California, just to have some fun in his “spare” time. Chase Elliott, the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion, was a frequent visitor throughout the 2021 USAC National Midget season and showed well for a racing discipline in which he wasn’t accustomed to and hadn’t before attempted.
His highlight came at Ocala, Florida’s Bubba Raceway Park in February where the Dawsonville, Ga. native trounced the competition to win his heat race. In four feature starts, his best result was a 14th later that same night.
Moving out west, in November, at California’s Placerville Speedway, the night marked the first time that two NASCAR Cup Series champions started a USAC National Midget feature as both Elliott, along with Hendrick Motorsports teammate and 2021 titlist Kyle Larson, competed in the event.
RICE-A-RONI BECOMES FIRST SECOND GENERATION SILVER CROWN CHAMP
Robbie Rice had a dream to become a USAC Silver Crown champion, and in 2021, that dream was fully realized as the series’ entrant champion in 2021, making him the first ever second-generation Silver Crown champ, following his father, Larry Rice, who won titles as a driver in 1977 and 1981.
The team materialized as a dirt-only outfit on the 2020 USAC Silver Crown trail, contesting three events with 2018 USAC National Midget champion and 2021 Silver Crown Rookie, Logan Seavey, at the wheel where they displayed immediate speed and brilliance that just scraped the surface of the potential the Brownsburg, Ind. team possessed.
During the offseason prior to the start of the 2021 campaign, the team’s initial plans were to have Seavey compete solely on the dirt side of the equation. However, mere weeks before the season opener on the pavement of Brownsburg’s Lucas Oil Raceway in late May, a pavement car was added to the team’s arsenal, setting the course for an assault on the series championship.
Seavey finished second in the driver standings behind champion Kody Swanson after winning two races for Rice, both on dirt, at Selinsgrove (Pa.) Speedway and Ohio’s Eldora Speedway.
THORSON, A RECORD SETTING USAC SPRINT ROOKIE
Tanner Thorson’s first season in USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car competition was downright historic. His five wins are the most ever by a Rookie with the series. His fourth-place finish in the final standings was the best for any driver in the past 31 years. His seven fast qualifying times were also the most for a series Rookie ever.
Starting all 43 events, he accumulated 22 top-fives and 32 top-tens. He’s a past USAC National Midget champion in 2016. Now, the Minden, Nevada driver is the 2021 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Rookie of the Year for the Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports team.
GAMESTER & TYLER REACH 200 SILVER CROWN STARTS
Brian Tyler and Russ Gamester both surpassed the 200th USAC Silver Crown start mark in 2021. Together, both reached number 201 during the season finale at Ohio’s Toledo Speedway, which tied them for the all-time record in that category alongside Dave Darland.
Gamester became the second ever driver to reach the 200 start mark in August at Lucas Oil Raceway while Tyler became the third individual to hit 200 at Eldora in September.
IRONMAN'S STREAK ENDS AT 324
Perhaps the most incredible of all longevity streaks in the history of USAC National Sprint Car racing came to an end in April at Bloomington (Ind.) Speedway when Chase Stockon finished 10th in the semi-feature, coming up shy of a transfer spot to the feature event.
Although the team did have a provisional starting position available, they elected not to utilize it. Thus, Stockon’s all-time record streak of 324 consecutive feature starts in USAC National Sprint Car competition was over, a record which dated back to every series race run since 2012.
TIMMS BECOMES YOUNGEST USAC MIDGET WINNER
At just 15 years, 3 months and 12 days old, Ryan Timms made history in November on night one of the Elk Grove Ford Hangtown 100 at California’s Placerville Speedway by becoming the youngest feature winner in the history of the USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship.
The Oklahoma City, Okla. native rewrote the record books just a mere five months after Corey Day’s triumph during Indiana Midget Week at Circle City Raceway, which he accomplished at 15 years, 6 months and 12 days old.
In just his 12th career USAC National Midget feature start, Timms earned not only his first career win, but also his first career top-five finish.