By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
Owensville, Indiana (January 29, 2021)………For the past decade on the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car tour, Chase Stockon has had the same routine, towing his own No. 32 down south for the season opening Winter Dirt Games at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla.
But now, following a mid-stream switch in July of 2020, the rejuvenated series ironman with a record 321 consecutive feature starts has a new routine as the pilot of the KO Motorsports No. 5s, with aspirations of a coveted series crown in 2021.
The switch from his own operation to the Owensville, Ind. based team made an instant impact on Stockon, as he began a string of consistency that elevated him to his most statistically successful season since 2016, fueling the fire within himself that has supplied him with a boost of confidence for the coming season, but has also required a few sacrifices on his part in his change of scenery.
“It was definitely a change of pace for sure,” Stockon acknowledged. “Over the course of the last nine years, I ran my own program, basically, with help from Tom Burkey. It was kind of tough not having control of everything. From that aspect, it was probably the toughest part. (Team Manager Kent Schmidt) has built me a really nice piece every time I’ve driven for him. That part of it made the decision kind of easy, but with all the guys here, we clicked really well together. Every night, we get everything we can get out of the racecar. As long as I’m putting forth 100 percent and they’re putting forth 100 percent, everybody’s happy.”
The switch over was nerve wracking for Stockon, but as the results have shown, the move has paid large dividends in several ways.
“I was kind of nervous of even asking (sponsor) Tom Burkey of Superior Tank & Trailer if he’d be interested in partnering up with these guys,” Stockon recalled. “It made me sweat, and I had a few sleepless nights thinking about it, but he was all on board with it. That was kind of the determining factor for me to do something different. I was even thinking about maybe retiring or not racing full-time. These guys over here rekindled the fire, and we have a lot of fun together, that’s for sure.”
The origins of Stockon’s relationship with KO came the year prior, in 2019, when he drove for the team solely in Midwest Sprint Car Series competition, making 14 starts and earning a best finish of 2nd that August at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Ind. At the same track in mid-June of 2020, Stockon drove the car to a 6th place feature finish with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series.
Schmidt understood where Stockon was, mentally, in his career at that point in time. With KO being a burgeoning team and having a prior working relationship with Stockon, the trigger was pulled to bring him on full-time. As a result, Stockon’s fire was burning bright again.
“We had talked about that a little bit back and forth,” Schmidt remembered. “Both him and I would get together and share set up information and things like that, bounce crazy ideas off each other, and he’d have the same issues I’d be talking about. I got it, I understood it and I knew where he was at. That’s why it really made sense to throw all the toys into one sandbox and go at it hardcore.”
The instant success the pairing found was of no surprise to Schmidt, with USAC wins coming in September at Indiana’s Lincoln Park Speedway and Tri-State Speedway and being in the thick of the championship race down to the final gun in October at Lawrenceburg Speedway’s Fall Nationals before finishing third in the final standings.
“Honestly, to me, it wasn’t a surprise at all. We work very well together,” Schmidt said. “Anytime you can put his group of guys and our guys together, we have some fun, and we usually have some success doing it. He’s got a core group of guys that come with him and they’re still here. We all live here locally, so it all works out.”
Undoubtedly, the highlight of the 2020 season came in early August when Stockon earned his first career Indiana Sprint Week title, erasing a seven-point deficit entering the feature to claim the championship, sealing the deal after the bitter heartbreak of a runner-up ISW finish in 2015 meant he had unfinished business to settle, using the brief break between events to make sure everything was dialed in for the final stretch.
“The crew worked their butts off during the break between the first half and the second half of the week,” Stockon praised. “Kent said there’s no excuses; we’re going to bring the best piece we can to the racetrack. I think it’s hard work like that that has given us the success we’ve had over here.”
Moving into 2021, Stockon is the not the lone man contesting a full complement of USAC races any longer following the team’s addition of series Rookie of the Year contenders, Paul Nienhiser and Carson Garrett. With the success right off the bat a year ago, Schmidt looks forward to more success in the coming year, and more fun.
“We started off as a one-car deal, then we wanted to add another,” Schmidt said. “That worked out in our favor and we had a lot of fun doing it. It’s just one of those things that kept snowballing. We came across a deal to run Chase full-time last year and I felt like we were pretty good right out of the box. It’s grown over the winter and we’ve added a couple more guys. We just want to continue to try to be successful and have fun doing it at the same time.”
For Stockon, his role remains the same, to win races and compete for a championship. But, in a somewhat different scenario, he will have two full-time teammates to race alongside, which he admits will be different, but a challenge he’s prepared to take on.
“It’s definitely going to be a bit different,” Stockon acknowledges. “I guess you could say that, since I’ve been over here, I’ve been out of my comfort zone a little bit, and I’ve had to learn how to adapt to different things. This year, once again, it’s going to be a learning experience and I think I’m up for the challenge. As far as a mentor, I don’t know what advice I have to offer, really. We’re just going to go out and everybody’s going to put forth 100 percent. If everybody does that, I think we’ll have another successful year across the board, every driver on the team. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
For Schmidt, the goals are abundantly clear what he wants KO Motorsports and Stockon to accomplish in 2021.
“The big picture is that we really want to win a championship; that’s everybody’s big picture,” Schmidt said. “We’ve just got to continue to strive for that goal, work hard, keep our heads down and keep going.”
Stockon, who won the Winter Dirt Games opener in 2018 at Ocala, Fla., begins his 2021 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car season on Feb. 11-12-13 at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla. for Winter Dirt Games XII. A practice night on Feb. 10 for the series precedes three consecutive full nights of racing. Tickets will be available at the gate on race day. No pre-order is necessary.