T.J.’s Notebook: High Limit Dominates PRI Headlines; Don’t Sleep on USAC Sprint Cars

Rico Abreu. (T.J. Buffenbarger photo)

By T.J. Buffenbarger

(December 11, 2023) — The 2023 edition of the Performing Racing Industry trade show in Indianapolis is in the books as people throughout the short track industry return home and focus on continued preparation for 2024. There was plenty of news to be had around the industry centered around sprint car racing.

The World of Outlaws and High Limit Sprint Car Series power struggle takes center stage at PRI…

The two major winged 410 sprint car series were the center of most of the discussion throughout the PRI show with both series making various announcements throughout the weekend.

Most of the major news coming out of PRI was centered around sprint car racing and the impending power struggle between the World of Outlaws and High Limit Sprint Car Series.

Leading into the show both series released schedules, some of the teams that were competing in each series, and in some staffing changes as some key people left World Racing Group for positions with High Limit.

While the World of Outlaws had a solid line of leading into the week, the High Limit Series dominated the headlines throughout the show with their team announcements and the story coming out about their ambitions to put in a charter system for car owners in the future.

Having High Limit dominate PRI with announcements was not surprising due to the series being new, which naturally leads to more announcements to be made. High Limit took full advantage of the slow burn steadily bringing out information and I felt utilized the week brilliantly with everything they announced. The well-paced flow of information throughout the week produced plenty of chatter that continues into Monday with another team announcement.

The High Limit Sprint Car Series Roster is compelling…

Rico Abreu (Serena Dalhamer photo)

Looking at the 11 drivers and teams that have signed up for the High Limit Series for 2023 has me excited to see what the product will look like on track.

Rico Abreu was a must get for High Limit. While Brad Sweet has a lot of fan interest as a multiple time World of Outlaws champion, Abreu’s fan following transcends various demographics. I compare Abreu’s fan following to that of a modern day Jac Haudenschild that are passionate, loud, and loyal.

With Sweet being a lightning rod for creating High Limit and the division we face in sprint car racing, having Abreu gives them a built-in fan favorite and most of the focus of Abreu’s social media accounts that do a great job promoting his brand, which will now center around following the High Limit Series.

If you look beyond Abreu the roster is filled with up and coming stars in the sport. Corey Day has been one of the most touted prospects that people have waiting to see on a touring stage for several years, Justin Peck along with the Tom Buch team have built their operation into one that is a threat at every racetrack they pull into, and Brenham Crouch is coming off an Interstate Racing Association point title to come on the road with High Limit.

If you add those drivers to Cory Eliason, Zeb Wise, and Chris Windom moving over from the All Stars, joining Spencer Bayston and Jacob Allen jumping ship from the Outlaws, and you have a very young roster with a high ceiling.
Of all the High Limit announcements as of Monday, Day was the only one that surprised me. I felt it might be another year before Day signed on for anything full time due to him and his family making the refreshing choice of letting him enjoy life as a teenager before being tossed into the pressure cooker of racing full time.

High Limit doing what all good companies are doing now….

Mike Hess (Serena Dalhamer photo)

The news was not all driver related with High Limit after hiring several key employees away from World Racing Group recently. Mike Hess jumped over to High Limit late last season after being the World of Outlaws competition director for several years along with scorer Anthony Corini and announcer Chase Raudman followed Hess to High Limit as well over the past couple of weeks.

Hess and Corini are particularly interesting hires to me because of the jobs they do and the skillset they have. Both officials have jobs that are not glamorous and only tend to get noticed when something goes wrong.

As many of you know from following me on social media, I wear a one-way radio to listen in on the race director position at almost every race I attend and can say that Hess is one of the best, if not the best, at that task. Hess’s job goes far beyond that and he’s very good at multiple aspects of it that we don’t see and has a tremendous respect among competitors for past driving success and still strapping in a race car on occasion.

Scoring falls into that same category of jobs not many people seek out in racing and is key to keeping a program moving along, especially when things go off the rails. WRG put a lot of time and training into Corini, and to lose that is not what any employer wants to have happen to them.

The good news if you are World Racing Group is you have a bench. Running and being involved in multiple tracks and series they have people to pull from short and long term to fill those voids, where an organization that only has one racing entity would take a much larger hit from this.

High Limit I feel took some unnecessary criticism for these hires. They did what most employers are doing in the marketplace today, poaching quality workers they wanted to have from another organization. Like or not a lot of hiring is done like this now. When a scorer or announcer gets picked up by a touring series from a local race track it doesn’t garner this much attention (those typically don’t get social media posts promoting those hires as well), but that’s likely how some of WRG’s open positions are going to get filled.

The World of Outlaws Tried and Proven Veterans anchoring the Series…

David Gravel. (T.J. Buffenbarger photo)

When looking at the eight drivers and teams committing to the World of Outlaws roster veteran names like Donny Schatz, David Gravel, Logan Schuchart, and Sheldon Haudenschild are immediately the names that grab your attention.

The good news for the Outlaws is that Gravel, Schuchart, and Haudenschild have plenty of miles on the road under them yet have more ceiling to grow with major event wins and championships. That’s not saying Schatz couldn’t win another Outlaw title or major event, but Schatz really has nothing left to prove to anyone with his future Hall of Fame resume putting him among the greatest to ever strap in a sprint car.

Giovanni Scelzi continues to get faster and with a year on the road with KCP Racing under his belt should continue to improve.

Landon Crawley teamed up with fellow mid-south resident Jason Sides to run the entire tour. Crawley will turn 16 years of age shortly before the World of Outlaws start their season at Volusia Speedway Park, and will be taking on a Schatz-esc sprint car education moving up from local competition straight to the Outlaw tour. I am intrigued to watch how the talented teenager navigates being a full time Outlaw competitor.

While Winged Sprint Car Racing Dominates the Headlines, Don’t Sleep on the USAC National Sprint Car Series…

Justin Grant. (T.J. Buffenbarger photo)
Justin Grant. (T.J. Buffenbarger photo)

While most eyeballs were focused on winged sprint car racing, mine were also following the United States Auto Club National Sprint Car Division that seems likely to bolster a full-time roster of teams that could climb into the mid-teens.

While Justin Grant, C.J. Leary, and Brady Bacon all return to familiar rides for 2024, several big moves were made this off season for veterans and young drivers alike. Kevin Thomas Jr. moving to Rock Steady Racing while Kyle Cummins success on the tour parlaying him into a new operation with Petty Performance Racing was the most attention grabbed move.

Factor Jake Swanson moving to 2B Racing, up and coming driver Trey Osborn taking his first attempt at the full USAC tour with Baldwin-Fox Racing, with more announcements on the way.

One announcement that grabbed my attention during PRI was Joey Amantea bringing his family team to the USAC tour for 2023. Amantea, from Mt. Pocono, Pennsylvania, is a byproduct of the ever-growing USAC East Coast Sprint Car Series that is producing a high level of competition and tremendous growth to non-wing sprint cars on the east coast. Seeing someone out of that series come to the USAC tour full time shows how tough the competition level is there and how that series continues to grow.

With Jadon Rogers, Rober Ballou, and Carson Garrett also signing on for another year on the tour, it will be tough sledding on the USAC tour this season.

With the mix of youth and veterans I feel the USAC Sprint Cars will be the National Tour you will want to keep the closest watch on this season, and honestly needs to be in the discussion with the two national winged series for what they are bringing to the table.