By Richie Murray
Speedway, Indiana (February 3, 2020)………Throughout the span of a season, it can take a little while, or a short while, for one driver to rise above the rest to become the first two-time winner in USAC’s NOS Energy Drink National Midget division.
The 64-year history of the series has run the gamut from seasons in which balance has been the staple during the early-going, such as 1956, 1960 and 1977 where it took Shorty Templeman, Jimmy Davies and Rich Vogler, respectively, 11 races to become the first two-time winner. In Templeman and Davies’ quests, their second tallies helped elevate them toward becoming the series champion that same year.
In other cases, as recently as last year in 2019, it took Tyler Courtney just two races to become the series’ first multi-time winner of the season where he swept both ends of the opening weekend at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla., the same place where the series meets again this weekend, Friday, February 7 and Saturday, February 8.
While Courtney’s double-dip weekend a year ago set him on a course for a championship-winning season, as well as the winningest campaign by any driver with the series in nearly three decades (Jeff Gordon, 1990) with eight victories, he became just the latest in a line of drivers who’ve used repeat victories in the first two races to the start of the year as a springboard to a championship: Bryan Clauson (2011), Rico Abreu (2014) & Tyler Courtney (2019).
On average, it has taken 5.2 races for the first multi-time winner to emerge during a USAC National Midget season. On 10 occasions in the history of the series, the first repeat victor came during race number five: Bob Wente (1961), Billy Vukovich (1968), Jimmy Caruthers (1973), Bob Wente (1979), Jeff Nuckles (1981), Dan Drinan (1995), Ricky Shelton (1998), Ryan Newman (1999), Darren Hagen (2009) & Tracy Hines (2012).
Oddly enough, in those “average” years of five races before a driver first reached victory lane twice in a season, not a single USAC National Midget champion arose.
In fact, across the board, it’s almost a scattershot of whether a first multi-time winner will eventually become the champion later that year. Sometimes it occurs, sometimes not so much. What isn’t accounted for is consistency, which is the ultimate statistic that defines a champion.
One correlation seems to have rung true in most recent years with a driver winning the first two. There’s no discounting a hot start, but that hot start must transition into repeatedly finishing within the top-five and top-ten on a night when winning isn’t in the cards. The last three to have been down that road, Clauson, Abreu and Courtney, mastered the course of consistency throughout their championship seasons.
And it’s a safe bet that a driver and team that win the first two of the year will be one to keep an eye on. However, from night one (and night two) onward, these individuals have already made you sit up and take notice. The opportunity will arise once again this weekend and we’ll be certain to have our eyes affixed on who’ll quickly make a strong case for what could become the beginning to a possible championship season.
General admission tickets for adults are $25 and $20 for kids age 11-15. Pit passes are $35 apiece. You can watch all the action live on www.FloRacing.com or listen to free audio of the broadcast on the USAC app or on your desktop or laptop at http://mixlr.com/usac-official/. You may also follow along with live timing from the event on the USAC app.
A practice night for the midgets opens the Winter Dirt Games XI festivities on Thursday, February 6, at Bubba Raceway Park. Grandstand tickets are free while pit passes are $20 apiece. The Sunoco Southern Fuels Gladiators will also be on the event card with the midgets all three nights.
NUMBER OF RACES UNTIL A FIRST REPEAT USAC MIDGET WINNER:
Race 11: *Shorty Templeman (1956), *Jimmy Davies (1960) & Rich Vogler (1977)
Race 10: Mel Kenyon (1969)
Race 9: Frank Burany (1958), Don Branson (1959), Merle Bettenhausen (1970), Steve Lotshaw (1980), Mel Kenyon (1986), *Kevin Olson (1987)
Race 8: *Mel Kenyon (1974), Ken Schrader (1982) & Kevin Thomas, Jr. (2018)
Race 7: Doug Kalitta (1992), *Tony Stewart (1994), Michael Lewis (2005), Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (2007), Bobby East (2008), Rico Abreu (2015) & *Tanner Thorson (2016)
Race 6: Chuck Weyant (1962), *Bob Wente (1963), Ken Schrader (1983) & Mike Fedorcak (1989)
Race 5: Bob Wente (1961), Billy Vukovich (1968), Jimmy Caruthers (1973), Bob Wente (1979), Jeff Nuckles (1981), Dan Drinan (1995), Ricky Shelton (1998), Ryan Newman (1999), Darren Hagen (2009) & Tracy Hines (2012)
Race 4: Billy Garrett (1957), Mel Kenyon (1965), Chuck Rodee (1966), *Mel Kenyon (1967), Jimmy Caruthers (1971), *Rich Vogler (1978), *Stevie Reeves (1993), Jay Drake (2000), Kasey Kahne (2001) & Kyle Larson (2013)
Race 3: Parnelli Jones (1964), Gary Bettenhausen (1976), Sam Isenhower (1988), Russ Gamester (1990), Jim Hettinger (1991), Kenneth Nichols (1996), Tracy Hines (1997), *J.J. Yeley (2003), J.J. Yeley (2004), Bobby Santos (2006) & Brady Bacon (2017)
Race 2: Lee Kunzman (1972), Gary Bettenhausen (1975), Rich Vogler (1984), Rich Vogler (1985), Dave Steele (2002), Brad Sweet (2010), *Bryan Clauson (2011), *Rico Abreu (2014) & *Tyler Courtney (2019)
* represents the eventual series champion