By Richie Murray
Speedway, Indiana (January 29, 2019)………Ahh, the season opener. The time of the year when confidence is as pristine as a brand-new racecar hitting the track for the initial time. It’s a time for a new beginning. Or a continuation of last year’s triumphs or, ahem, tribulations.
When the USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship rolls into Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla. for the first race of the new year on February 8-9, these notions will be in full effect as teams and drivers get set to tackle the unknown – the dawn of a new season.
Logan Seavey of Sutter, Calif. arrives as the reigning series champ, and with his talent aboard the Keith Kunz Motorsports/Curb-Agajanian ride, he is certainly one of the odds-on favorites, not only for the season-opening victory, but also to take the season’s crown.
One of the aspects that is constantly harped on is getting off to a good start. You have to get off to a good start, they say. That part is certainly true, unshockingly. Only once in past 17 seasons has an eventual USAC National Midget champion finished outside of the top-ten in the season-opening feature event: Spencer Bayston’s 12th at the Southern Illinois Center in Du Quoin in 2017.
In this decade alone, 2010-2018, seven of the nine champions finished inside the top-five in the season-opening race, including three victories: Bryan Clauson at Dodge City (Kans.) Raceway Park in 2011, Rico Abreu at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway in 2014 and Logan Seavey just last year at the Southern Illinois Center.
Outside of those previously mentioned, Clauson grabbed a 6th in the first race of 2010, Darren Hagen was 4th in 2012, Christopher Bell 3rdin 2013, Tracy Hines 2nd in 2015 and Tanner Thorson 7th in 2016.
The recent success of champions winning season openers three times in the last eight years is a fairly recent phenomenon. Prior to 2011, it had only occurred four times in the first 55 years of USAC: Mel Kenyon in 1968, Rich Vogler in 1978 and Steve Lotshaw the following year in 1979, incidentally all coming at the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Memorial Coliseum. Jason Leffler won his under the sunshine at Phoenix (Ariz.) International Raceway in 1999.
Seavey, however, has two statistical tasks at hand to deal with. There’s also been seven USAC National Midget champions from the previous season who’ve opened up the next year in victory lane: Kenyon in 1968, Jimmy Caruthers in 1971 and Rich Vogler in 1984 – all at Fort Wayne; plus, Russ Gamester in 1990 at Chicago’s Rosemont Horizon (former home of the DePaul Blue Demons basketball team); Leffler in 1999 and J.J. Yeley in 2004, both at Phoenix; with Clauson being the most recent in 2011 at Dodge City on his way to defense of both statistical categories.
Seavey can replicate the stats of Kenyon, Leffler and Clauson as the only driver to win the season opener on the road to a USAC National Midget title and also win the following year’s season opener – an exclusive trio of some of the greatest drivers to ever sit behind the wheel of a midget, an achievement Seavey could chip his way toward during his sophomore USAC season of 2019.
The USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship will make its debut at the 3/8-mile D-shaped dirt track in Ocala on Thursday, February 7, with an open practice, followed by two consecutive, full nights of racing on Friday, February 8 and Saturday, February 9.
Cars hit the track for engine heat at 6:30pm Eastern on Friday and at 5:30pm on Saturday.
The following week, USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car racing returns to Ocala once again for the ninth consecutive year to kick off its season at “Winter Dirt Games.” The mini-series will take place at Bubba Raceway Park with an open practice night on Wednesday, February 13, then three complete full programs on Thursday, February 14, Friday, February 15 and Saturday, February 16.
All nights of racing from Ocala will be live on http://www/FloRacing.com/.