By Richie Murray
Ocala, Florida (February 10, 2020)………The beginning of a new USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car season is one in which drivers and teams either resume their cohesiveness or, for new teams, try to meld successful relationships that will ultimately reap their rewards with wins, and if everything works out just right, a championship at season’s end.
Five drivers and teams over the past seven seasons have used a Winter Dirt Games victory as a springboard to a championship, a number that seems less coincidental than it does a trend that should not be taken lightly entering this week’s slate at Ocala, Florida’s Bubba Raceway Park, February 13-14-15.
C.J. Leary debuted with a new team in Reinbold/Underwood Motorsports in 2019, winning the final of the three nights in Ocala, then translated that into a string of consistency throughout the year that saw only one more victory, in November at Perris, Calif., but netted 32 top-ten finishes in 34 starts.
The Greenfield, Ind. driver corralled the season title at the end of 2019, and this year will carry the #1 on his ride as he makes his debut for Gene Gile Racing out of Arizona.
Similarly, Tyler Courtney was victorious on the two final nights of the three-race pack at Ocala in 2018. The Indianapolis, ind. driver was strong right out of the box, stamping his winning footprint on 11 occasions during the year for one of the most prolific seasons in the history of the series en route to the title.
Robert Ballou also notched two early season wins in February at Winter Dirt Games in 2015 but did so at two different tracks back when the mini-series spanned two weekends at both Bubba’s and East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton.
The Rocklin, Calif. native was nearly unbeatable in the 2015 campaign, racking up 13 wins for the second winningest USAC Sprint season in series history behind only Tom Bigelow’s 14 in 1977. Ballou aims to make his return to the cockpit as soon as possible in 2020 following an arm injury last summer in a Kokomo Speedway sprint car feature.
Brady Bacon snared a victory at Ocala in February of 2014 during Winter Dirt Games. The win catapulted him into championship contention immediately, and the Broken Arrow, Okla. native cruised to the first of his two USAC National Sprint Car driving titles, also duplicating the feat in 2016. Bacon, the winningest driver for the Hoffman family in USAC competition with 21 triumphs, returns to the team’s No. 69 for another championship run in the 2020 season.
The trend of Winter Dirt Games winners to go on to capture the USAC National Sprint Car championship later that same season began in 2013 with Bryan Clauson. Interestingly, like Courtney in 2018 and Leary in 2019, Clauson was in the midst of his debut weekend with a new team. For Clauson, it was Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing, for whom he would capture the championship with later in the year.
We very well could see history repeat itself once again this week. It’s happened in five of the last seven years with the eventual champ standing in victory lane at Winter Dirt Games. This year could be no different with a driver and team finding the right combination on opening weekend and sustaining that success throughout a whole year – a string of success that ultimately begins right from the first time the car’s rolled out of the trailer at Winter Dirt Games.
Winter Dirt Games XI resumes this week, Thursday, Feb. 13, Friday, Feb. 14 and Saturday, Feb. 15. Pits open each night at 4pm Eastern, the grandstands open at 5pm, the drivers meeting begins at 6pm with cars getting on track at 6:30pm.
Each night, general admission tickets for adults are $30 and $20 for kids age 11-15. Pit passes are $40 apiece. You can watch all the action live on www.FloRacing.com. You may also follow along with live timing from the event on the USAC app as well as on the Race Monitor app.
A practice night for the sprints opens the second week of Winter Dirt Games XI festivities on Wednesday, February 12, at Bubba Raceway Park. Grandstand tickets are free while pit passes are $20 apiece. The Bilstein Modified Lite Stars will also be on the event card with the sprints all three nights.
WINTER DIRT GAMES WINNERS
TO CAPUTRE USAC SPRINT TITLE IN SAME YEAR:
2013: Bryan Clauson
2014: Brady Bacon
2015: Robert Ballou
2018: Tyler Courtney
2019: C.J. Leary