Du Quoin, Illinois………Sophomore sensation or sophomore slump are the two avenues that a driver can take after a successful Rookie campaign. For as many success stories as there are in a driver’s second year of USAC P1 Insurance National Midget competition, there are many who weren’t able to break into victory lane.
Lincoln, California’s Tanner Carrick, the 2017 series Rookie of the Year, aims to be the sensation in 2018 when the season begins this Saturday, March 10 at the Southern Illinois Center in Du Quoin.
Since the inception of the USAC National Midget Rookie of the Year award in 1969, there have been 14 drivers who have earned a victory in the year following their recognition as the top first year driver. Drivers such as Tommy Astone (1973), Bobby East (2002) and Bryan Clauson (2007) have earned three in their sophomore year, Billy Engelhart (1970), Larry Patton (1976) and Kevin Thomas, Jr. (2015) with two apiece and Russ Gamester (1985), Darren Hagen (2006) and Spencer Bayston (2016) with one each.
However, there’ve been a few others who’ve reached the top of their game in that second season. Jeff Gordon racked up an incredible nine wins and the series title in the Rollie Helmling-owned, Diet Pepsi-sponsored No. 4 in 1990, which launched him to super stardom. Two years later, in 1992, Doug Kalitta earned four wins in that second year, which preceded a USAC National Sprint Car title in 1994 and, eventually, a long successful career as a Top Fuel Dragster competitor in the NHRA.
Perhaps more telling is Carrick’s team, the Keith Kunz Motorsports/Curb-Agajanian outfit, that has been the machine that has produced several of the best seasons period, let alone second seasons, in recent memory.
Kyle Larson was a standout right from the start in his Rookie campaign in 2011, then answered the bell in his second verse with another standout year in 2012 that produced six victories. In the ensuing years, Rico Abreu and Christopher Bell’s second years were two of the most successful of all-time. Abreu broke through for his first victory midway through 2013 and finished the year with four wins. Christopher Bell’s Rookie year was simply spectacular, becoming the second driver (Danny Caruthers in 1971) to take both the championship as well as RoY honors in one fell swoop in 2013. A year later, Bell responded with a seven-win campaign.
It’s those recent examples that set the template for expectations of success. This year is by no means a make-or-break year for a second-year driver like Carrick, but it is a good indicator of future successes. However, several Rookie of the Year winners spent their early years cutting their teeth, getting the necessary experience to compete with such talent for multiple years before breaking through for their first prior to becoming a mainstay of success in the series, namely Lonnie Caruthers, Brian Gerster, Ryan Newman, Michael Lewis, A.J. Fike, Aaron Fike, Chad Boat and Zach Daum.
Keep in mind, Carrick just recently turned 16-years old! Right now, making strides in all areas of the game in year two is equally as important as anything else. A ninth-place finish in points after starting 22 of 23 features in 2017, nine top-tens, a top-five run at Susquehanna Speedway (now BAPS Motor Speedway) and a quick time, Carrick is poised to set forth on a path that will elevate him to be one of the top contenders on the circuit.
In one of, if not the largest and deepest fields of talent in series history, the toughest competition may come from his own teammates, surrounded by six others striving to reach the same goals as he: defending series champ Spencer Bayston, returnees Ryan Robinson and Holly Shelton (who will miss the opener at Du Quoin following shoulder surgery), plus newcomers Tucker Klaasmeyer, Logan Seavey and Sam Johnson.
Season two will be a true test of abilities, not only for Carrick, but for the entire field. Judging by the equipment, the key people surrounding him, and recent history, expect Carrick to step his game up in 2018 and maybe even knock down a win or two.
Carrick joins an entry list of 48 Midgets featuring the biggest names in short track, open wheel racing.
The timetable for the “Shamrock Classic” begins with participant parking on Friday, March 9, from 4-7pm. Saturday’s raceday schedule begins with pits opening at 8am. Spectator gates open at 10am, followed by a “pit sweep” at 11am. The micro sprint drivers’ meeting gets underway at 11:30am, with micro sprint hot laps set for noon and their heat races immediately following. A public drivers’ meeting for the midgets is open to all race fans at 3pm in the turn one grandstand. Midget hot laps begin at 4pm with racing for both the micro sprints and midget immediately following. The night concludes with the 50-lap midget feature event.
“Shamrock Classic” tickets are on sale now at https://usacracing.ticketspice.com/2018-shamrock-classic-tickets
. Reserved seats are $25 for the highly-anticipated event that brought over 50 of the top midget drivers in the country in each of the past two seasons, and the highest car count of any USAC National Midget points event during the 2017 season. Fans will receive a free “Shamrock Classic” event t-shirt with their purchase of a reserved ticket.
Adult general admission tickets are $20; kids 6-12 are $10 and kids 5 years-old and under are FREE! Pit passes are $30 for USAC Members/$35 for non-members. Pit passes can be purchased at http://www.tracpass.com/
For any questions regarding the event, email “Shamrock Classic” promoter Lauren Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org.