Axsom opens USAC Sprint season with two wins

Emerson Axsom of Franklin kicked off the 2022 USAC National Sprint Car season with two wins in three nights at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Florida. Axsom won the season opener on Feb. 17 and the finale of the opening weekend on Feb. 19.

The Columbus-based Keith Kunz Motorsports Team in its full-time return to the series with driver Buddy Kofoid took home finishes of sixth, second and fifth.

Following the Feb. 18 Winter Dirt Games XIII USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Champion feature, Axsom expressed the sentiment that he was pleased with his third-place result because, by doing so, it proved that his victory in the Feb. 17 season opener was no fluke.

The 17-year-old series rookie is $10,000 richer after the Feb. 19 victory, which he began from the fourth position but chased down race-long leader Chase Stockon for the lead with 11 laps remaining in only the second ever 35-lap feature held in series history. The only other event of that distance — a rain-shortened race in May of 2006 at Anderson Speedway — was won by Darren Hagen.

From there, Axsom closed the lid on a breakout weekend by becoming the first driver since Kevin Swindell in 2008 to capture his first two career USAC National Sprint Car wins within a 48-hour span. Axsom did his work at the controls of the Clauson Marshall Newman Racing/Driven2SaveLives – ZMax Race Products/Spike/Kistler Chevy.

“This is way better than two nights ago; we had to race for this one,” Axsom exclaimed. “Like I said after that one, I just had to get after it non-wing sprint car style. This thing was on rails. It wasn’t me; it drove itself out there to be honest. This team is one whole big family, and I love these guys to death. I wouldn’t want to drive a racecar for any other team.”

For the third time in less than a week, Justin Grant won a USAC national feature event at Bubba Raceway Park. The latest of the batch came in the Feb. 18 weather-plagued USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship feature, this coming a week after sweeping both USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship main events at the 3/8-mile dirt track.

In a feature that started at 1 a.m. local time due to a three-hour rain delay, Grant swept around the outside of Carson Short on Lap 3, then staved off a handful of late race cautions to earn his first series victory of the year in his TOPP Motorsports/NOS Energy Drink-MPV Express-TOPP Industries-LA Poly/Maxim/Kistler Chevy.

The win was the 29th of Grant’s USAC National Sprint Car career, moving him into sole possession of 18th all-time ahead of Don Branson, A.J. Foyt, Levi Jones and J.J. Yeley on the list. And, more extraordinary, the triumph added Grant to an elite list of six drivers who’ve won features in at least two USAC National series prior to the end of February: Billy Vukovich (Sprint and Midget in 1968), Tony Stewart (Silver Crown and Midget in 1998), Dave Steele (Silver Crown and Midget in 2006), Darren Hagen (Sprint and Midget in 2009), Levi Jones (Silver Crown and Sprint in 2010) and now Grant (Midget and Sprint in 2022).

For a winning performance to transpire on this evening, the recipe was there, and the ingredients were such that even if he had absorbed a lethal challenge to his stranglehold on the race lead, it would only occur because of his own undoing. However, Grant wasn’t about to let any of that happen.

“I was really confident in our car,” Grant explained. “I felt like I could make enough time getting off four and going back to the bottom of one, that even if someone was really better, I didn’t know what they were really going to be able to do with me. I felt pretty good there, and I just needed to not make any mistakes and bring the thing home.’

For Axsom, a ride that began as merely a brief, three-race stint for Clauson Marshall Newman Racing’s USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship team late last season, turned into a full-time deal for 2022 based on the flashes of brilliance the teenager displayed when he received his initial shot.

Axsom rewarded the team’s faith in him by recording his first career series feature victory in what was just his eighth career series start on Nov. 17 in the season opener at Bubba Raceway Park, Round No. 1 of Winter Dirt Games XIII.

Axsom made his series debut for CMNR in late August of 2021 and finished a best of seventh on two occasions, in the Sprint Car Smackdown at Kokomo Speedway and at Circle City Raceway in Indianapolis. But it was the final start of last season at Lawrenceburg Speedway that stuck in his craw, one in which he led every lap until four to go when his right rear tire gave way, denying him a shot at victory.

But it was those types of flashes that just whetted the appetite and generated excitement for a chance at redemption with a full-scale run as a series rookie this coming year.

“Last year was supposed to be like a three-race deal and it just went so good that I talked (team co-owner) Tim (Clauson) into letting me run a full season,” Axsom explained. “I want to stay with this team as long as possible. These guys gave me a great racecar, and I can’t thank them enough. I’m speechless. I’m glad we got one out of the way early because I felt we got robbed in that one last year. I’m so happy for this team.”

Prior to Axsom, it had been 19 years since a driver won his first career USAC National Sprint Car feature in the season opening race, not since Aaron Pierce in 2003. In all, 11 drivers have accomplished the feat: Bob Sweikert (1956), James McElreath (1977), Paul Pitzer (1979), Dave Peperak (1981), Jack Hewitt (1982), Jeff Gordon (1989), Robbie Stanley (1991), Frankie Kerr (1994), Dave Steele (1996), Pierce (2003) and now Axsom (2022).

Feb. 19 Sprint Car Feature: 1. Emerson Axsom; 2. Tanner Thorson; 3. Chase Stockon; 4. Justin Grant; 5. Brady Bacon; 6. Buddy Kofoid; 7. Logan Seavey; 8. Robert Ballou; 9. Carson Short; 10. Shane Cockrum; 11. Jason McDougal; 12. C.J. Leary; 13. Kyle Cummins; 14. Alex Bright; 15. Jadon Rogers; 16. Brady Short; 17. Matt Westfall; 18. Shane Cottle; 19. Jake Swanson; 20. Thomas Meseraull; 21. Landon Simon; 22. Braxton Cummings.

Feb. 18 USAC Sprint Car Feature: 1. Justin Grant; 2. Buddy Kofoid; 3. Emerson Axsom; 4. Chase Stockon; 5. Tanner Thorson; 6. Kyle Cummins; 7. Jake Swanson; 8. Carson Short; 9. Logan Seavey; 10. Shane Cottle; 11. Shane Cockrum; 12. Jason McDougal; 13. Matt Westfall; 14. Brady Short; 15. Brady Bacon; 16. Alex Bright; 17. Kory Schudy; 18. C.J. Leary; 19. Robert Ballou; 20. Thomas Meseraull; 21. Landon Simon; 22. Braxton Cummings; 23. Steve Irwin.

Feb. 17 USAC Sprint Car Feature: 1. Emerson Axsom; 2. Jason McDougal; 3. Thomas Meseraull; 4. Kyle Cummins; 5. Buddy Kofoid; 6. Justin Grant; 7. Chase Stockon; 8. Carson Short; 9. Logan Seavey 10. Mario Clouser; 11. Shane Cottle; 12. Brady Short; 13. Matt Westfall; 14. Jake Swanson; 15. Kory Schudy; 16. Brady Bacon; 17. Landon Simon; 18. Robert Ballou; 19. Tanner Thorson; 20. Shane Cockrum; 21. Charles Davis Jr.; 22. C.J. Leary; 23. Wesley Smith.

Trowbridge wins Twin Cities Mod Points

John Trowbridge of Hayden was officially named the 2021 track champion at the Twin Cities Raceway Park in Vernon.

The top 10: 1. John Trowbridge; 2. Mike Douglas; 3. Brian Henderson Sr.; 4. Bobby Davis; 5. Jeremy Helton; 6. Cody Hegreberg; 7. Jacoby Hines; 8. Bryson Clark; 9. Trent Green; 10. Jordan Wever.

Brownstown Speedway sets practice dates

Brownstown Speedway will kick off it’s 2022 racing season with practice sessions on March 5 and 12.

For more information, visit brownstownspeedway.com

James Essex writes a motorsports notebook for The Republic. Send comments to [email protected]