By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Speedway, Indiana (June 22, 2023)………The road goes on forever and the party never ends.
From the Keystone State of Pennsylvania last week to the Badger State of Wisconsin this weekend, the highway takes us from the east coast to the prairie, but not quite to the oceans white with foam.
Robert Earl Keen would be proud.
It’s a Wisconsin double for the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship, first on Saturday, June 24, at Wilmot Raceway and on Sunday, June 25, at Sun Prairie’s Angell Park Speedway.
Here’s six storylines we’re watching – and that you should watch – this weekend.
A SHAKE UP AFTER THE STORM
At the conclusion of the Wisconsin weekend, the USAC National Sprint Cars will have run seven events in a 13-night span following a string of five races in a six-night span during Eastern Storm just a week ago.
Only USAC NOS Energy Drink Indiana Sprint Week is comparable to this mid to late-June stretch with an eight-race in nine-night slate in late July. That presents an opportunity for drivers and teams to make up substantial ground, find their groove and begin to make a surge toward a championship push.
A handful of drivers have heated up to a championship level since the start of June at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway. Eastern Storm champ Emerson Axsom (Franklin, Ind.) has won twice to elevate him from sixth to first in the standings in that time frame.
Jake Swanson (Anaheim, Calif.) has advanced from fourth to second in the overall USAC National Sprint Car standings by virtue of an 11-race stretch since early May that includes 11-straight top-ten results and three victories.
Reigning USAC National Sprint Car champ Justin Grant moved up one spot from fifth to fourth since the start of June, which was at a time when Grant was in a funk of five finishes 13th or worse in a six-race span. Grant recovered and thrived over the last four nights of Eastern Storm with a 3rd, a 4th, a win at Port Royal (Pa.) Speedway and a 5th.
AXSOM IN THE SPOTLIGHT
The focus of attention of late has been on Emerson Axsom, and deservedly so. He’s finished inside the top-five in each of his past seven feature starts and has finished inside the top-three in his last five consecutive outings. That’s one shy of Jake Swanson’s run of a season-best six-straight podium results from early May to early June this year.
Also to be cognizant of is the feat of winning both Eastern Storm and the USAC National Sprint Car driving championships within one season. It’s been achieved on nine occasions by six different drivers in the 16-year history of Eastern Storm: Levi Jones (2007-10-11), Bryan Clauson (2012-13), Brady Bacon (2014), Robert Ballou (2015), Chris Windom (2017) and C.J. Leary (2019).
So, it’s pretty much a 50/50 proposition for Axsom and his Clauson Marshall Newman Racing team based on the statistical history. But, for all intents and purposes, the team’s performance has shown and proven that they can put together a string of consistency, an attribute that always has and always will be a trait of a series champion.
THE DAISON EMERGENCE
Perhaps no driver showed more improvement throughout the recent running of Eastern Storm than Daison Pursley. The top 2023 USAC National Sprint Car Rookie of the Year contender has displayed it right before our eyes as he continues to gain more experience and aptitude with each start.
Pursley started the points season with six consecutive finishes outside the top-ten, but then strung together eight-straight top-tens, a streak that ended with an 11th in the most recent round at Pennsylvania’s Action Track USA. It helped him climb from 13th in the standings to ninth entering the weekend.
He’s now coming off his two best runs with the series, finishing second at Williams Grove (after starting 14th) and third at Port Royal (after starting 10th). He also recorded his first two fast qualifying times and appears to be on the brink of a breakthrough. Will it translate to his first career points victory with the series? We’ll find out soon.
HOME SWEET WISCONSIN FOR BALLOU
Robert Ballou enters the weekend having won the two most recent USAC National Sprint Car events in the state of Wisconsin, both of which have come at Angell Park Speedway, host of this Sunday’s series event.
In both cases, Ballou was a monster as he charged up through the pack. He came from ninth to first to win in 2015 on his way to the series championship after clearing C.J. Leary for the lead on lap 18 of 30.
Almost identically, in 2022, Ballou raced from eighth to the win in just seven laps, working his way into the top spot past early race leader Davey Ray before going relatively unscathed and relatively unchallenged for the balance of the 30-lap distance.
During Eastern Storm, Ballou recorded his two best results of the USAC season, a 3rd at Grandview and a 4th just last Sunday at Action Track USA but aims to bump that up a couple more to become a first-time winner during the 2023 season.
BOUNCING BACK FOR BACON & LEARY
A pair of recent USAC National Sprint Car champions endured Eastern Storm experiences they’d sure like to forget during this past week. However, all three finished on a relatively good note to conclude the week and would like to translate that into more consistent success starting post haste.
After three-straight 13th or worse finishes to open Eastern Storm, Brady Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.) finished with a pair of top-tens to close out the weekend, but now finds himself with some ground to cover after the four-time series champ dropped from second to fifth in the standings.
C.J. Leary (Greenfield, Ind.) finished off Eastern Storm with his best performance in six weeks by taking the runner-up spot at Action Track USA, after enduring a similar run of three finishes outside the top-15. That’s dropped the 2019 USAC titlist from third to sixth in series points.
A RARE WISCONSIN TREAT
Just 24 times have the USAC National Sprint Cars ventured up north to the dairyland. Ten of those dates belong to this weekend’s venues alone with Wilmot previously hosting four and Angell Park six.
USAC National Sprint Car racing’s debut at Wilmot came in 1990 with a pair of events, one winged and one non-winged. Danny Lasoski and Jack Hewitt took top honors in each, respectively. Four years later, in 1995, Hewitt continued his stranglehold of the USAC competition at Wilmot with yet another victory.
The most recent USAC National Sprint Car event at Wilmot took place in 2012, and saw three leaders, including Kevin Thomas Jr. who led the bulk of the distance, a race-high 20 laps, until Jon Stanbrough tracked him down with three to go and yanked the rug out from under KTJ’s bid for a first career USAC win.
Long deemed “a midget track,” when the USAC National Sprint Cars ventured to Angell Park for the first time in 2001, Jack Hewitt emerged as the victor. J.J. Yeley led all but the first three laps to win a duel between the two USAC Triple Crown champs in 2002. Dave Darland picked up a fast win in 2012 at Angell Park, in just under eight minutes. Jon Stanbrough darted into the lead with just three to go to win in 2014. Meanwhile, Ballou scored wins in each of the two most recent series visits in 2015 and 2022.
This Saturday, June 24, at Wisconsin’s Wilmot Raceway, the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship is joined by the Wisconsin wingLESS Sprints and A Modifieds. Pits open at 2pm Central, grandstands open at 4pm, drivers meeting at 5:30pm and cars on track at 5:45pm followed by qualifying and racing. General admission tickets are $30. Kids age 7-11 are $5. Kids 6 & under are free. Pit passes are $35.
On Sunday, June 25, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin’s Angell Park Speedway welcomes Kevin’s Klassic featuring the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship and Badger Midgets. Pit gates open at 1:30pm Central with front gates opening at 4pm, drivers meeting at 4:30 and cars on track at 4:45pm followed by qualifying and racing. General admission tickets at the gate for adults are $25. Military/seniors are $20. Advance general admission tickets at www.angellpark.racing for adults are $22. Military/seniors are $18. Students age 12-17 are $12. Kids age 6-11 are $5. Children age 5 & under are free. Pit passes are $25 for members and $30 for non-members.
All races this weekend can be streamed exclusively on FloRacing at https://flosports.link/3Kdc2na.
USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Emerson Axsom-983, 2-Jake Swanson-952, 3-Kyle Cummins-927, 4-Justin Grant-926, 5-Brady Bacon-907, 6-C.J. Leary-878, 7-Mitchel Moles-827, 8-Chase Stockon-793, 9-Daison Pursley-790, 10-Robert Ballou-727.