Aside from the weirdness of 2020 – and there is no shortage of weirdness today, no doubt – this season is notable for some great racing and a dramatic change of personnel from 10 years ago.
A season that looked downright bleak in March and April has turned out to be quite entertaining. The fact that this season happened at all is a testament to track and series officials who worked harder this year than ever before. It was an unprecedented amount of effort, but the result has been thoroughly exciting racing as the season winds to a close.
The Kyle Larson Express thrilled fans at every stop, perhaps overshadowing some extremely competitive point races within the nation’s top touring series.
A quiet reality, lost in the contemporary buzz of competition, is that EVERY major touring series has experienced an almost complete turnover of names and faces at the top from just 10 years ago.
In the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series in 2020, a tight point race continues between current point leader and defending champion Brad Sweet, Logan Schuchart, and Donny Schatz, all three separated by less than 100 points. Of the current Outlaws top-10 in points, only two drivers – Donny Schatz and Kraig Kinser – were among the top-10 a decade ago.
The Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Stars have a tight points race between Aaron Reutzel and Cory Eliason, with Reutzel gunning for his third consecutive series title. Of the current top-10 in All Stars points, only Greg Wilson was a top-10 points competitor with the series 10 years ago.
In Lucas Oil ASCS National competition, perennial series heavyweight Sam Hafertepe Jr. has romped to a big point lead and is on track to clinch his fifth consecutive series title, besting Roger Crockett and Harli White in points. Notably, not one driver in this year’s top-10 in ASCS National points was fulltime with the series in 2010.
In the AMSOIL USAC National Sprint Car Series, fans have been treated to a terrific points battle between fellow SC&M columnist Brady Bacon, Chris Windom, Chase Stockon, Justin Grant, and C.J. Leary. Of the current top-10 in USAC points, only Chris Windom and Dave Darland remain from the top-10 a decade ago.
Let’s total it up: Among the 40 top drivers currently leading the four major touring series, just five current drivers were among the top-10 with their respective series 10 years ago. (A handful of drivers from 10 years ago are still at the top of the charts, but with a different series; most notably Brady Bacon, Damion Gardner, Shane Stewart and Paul McMahon.)
I don’t know much about how to define statistics, but that’s a big change.
Over the past four decades in our sport, a group of longtime stars managed to stay on top of the heap and enjoy an enduring, successful career. Today, most of these legends have reduced their number of races, retired altogether, or were tragically lost.
With the Outlaws that list includes Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell, Jac Haudenschild, Jason Meyers, Stevie Smith, Andy Hillenburg, Joey Saldana, and Craig Dollansky. Longtime All Stars legends included on the list are Kenny Jacobs, Chad Kemenah, Tim Shaffer, and Dale Blaney. ASCS stalwarts were Gary Wright and Jason Johnson. In USAC National series the list includes Levi Jones, Bryan Clauson, Jerry Coons Jr., Jon Stanbrough, and Tracy Hines.
All are legends, and all proved they could stand the test of time. And none of them are currently in the top-10 with any series.
Change can be subtle; not until you look at this in some detail do you realize just how significant the turnover has been.
We continue to honor racing greats who show the capacity to excel over the long haul – that’s why we have a Hall of Fame. We can also celebrate the fact that, maybe now more than ever before, a group of younger racers are thrilling fans every time they unload the car.
Try to forget the weirdness of our present surroundings, and contemplate this good news. Not only are we witnessing some excellent racing today, but a bunch of young racers have moved into position to entertain the current generation of racing fans – and the next generation as well.