By Richie Murray
Speedway, Indiana (April 12, 2023)………USAC Silver Crown racing is back in a big way.
That could be said unequivocally in more ways than one with a record 16 full-time entries set to embark on the National Championship trail throughout the 2023 season.
This Sunday’s, April 16 season opening race on the dirt 1/2-mile of the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track brings us joy and it brings us questions that we’ll soon get to see answered during this year’s 13-race schedule – seven on pavement, six on dirt.
SWANSON IN-HOUSE WITH DORAN-BINKS
After scoring two championships during the last two USAC Silver Crown seasons, Kody Swanson had been in a situation in which he had to utilize multiple teams, multiple crew chiefs and multiple shop locations in order to reach his goal. The method worked, and from the outside vantage point, he made it seem almost seamless as he racked his record-extending seventh series title in 2022.
This year, however, Swanson (Kingsburg, Calif.) and Doran-Binks Racing will have the whole operation in house, in one location at Kevin Doran’s Lebanon, Ohio base with team co-owner Dan Binks coming aboard from the sports car racing world where both he and Doran have had immense success.
The team has been excellent on the pavement with the USAC Silver Crown series over the past two seasons with Swanson winning three apiece, all on the pavement, in both 2021 and 2022. Together, in 10 series starts, the team has won six times, and has never finished worse than fourth. It will be interesting to see how their pavement performance translates to the dirt in the coming year.
SEAVEY TRIES TO JUMP THE HUMP
No driver has been closer to the forefront of the USAC Silver Crown championship during the past two years than Logan Seavey. The Sutter, Calif. native has finished as the runner-up to Swanson in each of the past two years’ title races in 2021-22 where he has either been leading or tied for the number one spot in the standings entering the season finale.
The 2018 USAC National Midget driving king possesses the championship pedigree and has already amassed five Silver Crown victories, all on the dirt, during his first two years on the circuit.
Armed with another year of pavement experience, Seavey collected three top-fives, all on the asphalt in 2022, topped by a 2nd at Winchester (Ind.) Speedway, a 4th at Toledo Speedway and a 5th at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park along the way.
A pair of DNFs hurt Seavey tremendously in the latter half of 2022 that dinged his championship aspirations, yet he still very nearly came through. We’ve routinely seen him get it done on the dirt, but with a bit of cleanup on the DNFs and another solid year of pavement performances, he’ll certainly be right in contention to snag that first Silver Crown title.
After all, the most recent driver to finish as the Silver Crown runner-up in two consecutive seasons was fellow Californian Justin Grant who followed those two years up with a title run in 2020. It’s a road map that’s previously paid off and Seavey hope that trend becomes a reality for himself this time around.
NEW COMBOS, NEW SEATS
A game of musical chairs commenced during the offseason which saw a handful of series stars move into new rides either in full-time roles or in part-time action solely on the dirt or pavement for the season.
Matt Westfall (Pleasant Hill, Ohio), the 2002 Silver Crown Rookie of the Year who has been on the brink of breaking through for his long-awaited first series win, has teamed up with the all-Ohioan BCR Group for 2023. Westfall hasn’t been on the pavement with the series since a 2003 run at IRP two decades ago and now enters the ride which has won races in two of the past three seasons, in 2020 with Shane Cottle and in 2021 with Brian Tyler.
Two-time Silver Crown winner Brady Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.) will belt into the seat of the highly potent Chris Dyson Racing No. 9 for the half-mile dirt tracks only in the coming year. The Dyson machine, wrenched by Sean Michael, was twice a winner in 2021 with drivers Tyler Courtney and Kody Swanson.
In a similar manner, Kevin Thomas Jr. (Cullman, Ala.), who ranks inside the top-10 all-time in USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship victories, will pursue only the half-mile dirt ovals on the Silver Crown slate with Five Three Motorsports, both of whom have been so close to a first series win in recent years and take on that pursuit in 2023.
Mitchel Moles (Raisin City, Calif.) took the USAC Sprint Car and Midget world by storm in 2022, winning in both categories while earning Rookie of the Year honors as a midget chauffeur. Now he takes his talents to Hans Lein’s team for the six dirt races only. Moles possesses zero Silver Crown laps entering the season but has proven to be a quick study as he aims to deliver Lein his team’s first win since 2019 with Tyler Courtney.
ADDING THE OTHER HALF OF THE EQUATION
We’ve seen Justin Grant up his game on the pavement with the Silver Crown series in recent years, turning him into an instant title contender, which came true in 2020. C.J. Leary (Greenfield, Ind.) took a much similar step in 2022, capturing his first asphalt win since his earliest days in racing when the series trekked north to Wisconsin’s Madison International Speedway.
Leary’s continuous progress on the hardtop brough him finishes of 1st at Madison, 2nd and 4th at IRP, and a 19th to 4th hard-charging effort at Winchester. Similar to Grant and Seavey as well, each year has brought more prosperous results for Leary on pavement. A new year and more growth, in addition to his already-established dirt racing acumen, could spell a title for Leary in 2023 one season after finishing a career best third in the standings.
THE TAYLOR & KAYLEE SHOW
The pursuit of a first woman to win a USAC National feature took a major leap forward a year ago due to the historical performances of both Taylor Ferns and Kaylee Bryson in Silver Crown competition.
Ferns (Shelby Township, Mich.) became the first woman to finish on the podium of a USAC Silver Crown event at IRP in May of 2022, scoring third, then repeated her feat with another third place result in July at Winchester (Ind.) Speedway. For 2023, a dirt car has been added to the Taylor Ferns Racing stable for the first time since 2014 in order to chase the entire Silver Crown series schedule.
Bryson (Muskogee, Okla.) captivated the audience with a rim-riding effort on seven cylinders at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in 2022 while becoming the first woman to lead a single lap in the history of the Silver Crown series. In fact, she led 72 out of the 100 laps before finishing in the 5th spot. Like Ferns, she’ll be pursuing the whole schedule on both dirt and pavement as Bryson takes the wheel of Sam Pierce’s No. 26.
THE ROOKIE RACE
Bryson is also front and center in what is one of the more fascinating Rookie of the Year battles in the 53-year history of the Silver Crown division.
Bryson’s main challengers for the top Rookie award sponsored by MPI Wheels includes ASCS champion and multi-time Knoxville 360 Nationals winner Wayne Johnson (Oklahoma City, Okla.) who will shed the wing to go full-time Silver Crown racing on dirt and pavement this year with his Two C Racing team.
Tyler Roahrig (Plymouth, Ind.), who has long been a master of the trade on pavement in stock cars as well as sprint cars, has taken on the task of full-time Silver Crown racing with Legacy Autosport. The two-time Anderson Little 500 winner in 2021-22 hasn’t run much dirt in his career outside of a handful of modified and midget starts, but he’s up to the challenge after already twice finishing on the podium with the Silver Crown series in just three career starts.
Trey Burke (Alvin, Texas) has a family lineage that dates back to the inaugural USAC Silver Crown season of 1971 with Ronnie Burke and continued through 2016 with Jackie Burke. Trey, himself, enters the Silver Crown series full-time in 2023 after embarking on a much varied career thus far, which includes multiple seasons with the USF2000 series, a stop in the NASCAR Truck Series and pavement midgets and was named the youngest ever IMCA Sprint Car Rookie of the Year at age 14.
FIRST-TIME WINNERS ABOUND
There are an abundance of potential first-time Silver Crown winners who are on the verge to emerge in 2023, from the likes of Ferns, Bryson, Roahrig, the previously mentioned Moles, etc., etc. Several others, however, have already experienced much success in USAC Sprints and Midgets who will attempt to tame the champ cars this season.
Emerson Axsom (Franklin, Ind.) came right out of the box with a top-five result after starting deep in the field in his first Silver Crown ride in 2022 at Terre Haute. Due to a very partial schedule, we weren’t able to see him often during the year. Again, he’ll participate in a partial schedule on dirt and pavement with Nolen Racing, but his instant success showed that he has the potential to be a winning threat anywhere he goes.
Kevin Thomas Jr. is in the same boat after four previous runner-up finishes in the Silver Crown series while Chase Stockon (Fort Branch, Ind.) continues to find speed in the big cars as does Jake Swanson (Anaheim, Calif.) who’s already picked up a USAC Sprint Car special event victory this season. Thomas, Stockon and Swanson all find themselves in dirt only duty for the season.
16 TONS OF FULL-TIMERS
A modern-day record 16 drivers have indicated their plans to compete in all 13 USAC Silver Crown events in 2023, several of whom are doing so for the first time like Kyle Steffens (St. Charles, Mo.), Trey Burke, Wayne Johnson, Tyler Roahrig, Kaylee Bryson, Matt Westfall, Mario Clouser (Auburn, Ill.) and Taylor Ferns.
Returning to the fold as series full-timers for 2023 are series titlists Kody Swanson and Justin Grant, plus C.J. Leary, Travis Welpott (Pendleton, Ind.), Logan Seavey, Dave Berkheimer (Mechanicsburg, Pa.), 2022 series Rookie of the Year Gregg Cory (Shelbyville, Ind.) and Tom Paterson (Argos, Ind.).
OPENING RACE DETAILS:
The 20th running of the Sumar Classic features the USAC Silver Crown National Championship along with the UMP Modifieds this Sunday, April 16, at the Terre Haute Action Track 1/2-mile dirt track in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Pits open at 1pm Eastern, grandstands open at 3pm, drivers meeting at 4pm and practice at 5pm followed immediately by qualifications and racing.
General admission tickets are $30 for ages 11 & up and free for kids age 10 & under. Infield tickets are $20 for ages 11 & up and free for kids age 10 & under.