VENTURA, Calif. – Spencer Bayston hasn’t had the year he hoped to have, and he’ll tell you that straight up.
A tumultuous season that saw him start off with Pete Grove in the winged 410 sprint car ranks, later saw him leave Grove’s team mid-year and bounce around just to stay in the seat.
Injuries haven’t helped, either. Bayston had to sit out for nearly two months prior to the Knoxville Nationals, then took a second hard tumble in a midget at Spoon River Speedway in Illinois that put him out for an extended period yet again.
But despite all that turmoil, the Lebanon, Ind., driver is still as motivated as ever to excel.
Bayston returned to one familiar ride, the Swindell SpeedLab No. 39, during the season-ending World Finals for the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series in early November and showed speed before a crash that wasn’t of his own making.
He’s returned to another seat he’s been in before seeking victory over the last two weeks in California. Driving for Brodie Hayward, Bayston is targeting a win in Friday’s rain-postponed Turkey Night Grand Prix, set to ignite at the beachside, fifth-mile Ventura Raceway.
Bayston and Hayward teamed up early in the fall, before Bayston’s accident in the No. 19 midget at Spoon River, and they’re both hoping that Turkey Night treats them much better.
“We just need some luck,” Bayston told Sprint Car & Midget after Wednesday’s midget practice at Ventura. “I’ve struggled all season to catch a break, and this is the last shot we have, so we’re hoping to make the best of it. It would be a big (win), that’s for sure.”
In years past, when Bayston has arrived in California for Turkey Night, he’s been running the full NOS Energy Drink USAC National Midget Series schedule. He even won the series championship in 2017, then driving for Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports.
This time, however, he’s a part-timer invading the ranks of the regulars. That’s a unique experience for him, Bayston admitted.
“It’s definitely a different feeling. Obviously, I’ve got a lot of laps in these cars, but when you don’t run them a lot … in a year’s time, you do get a little rusty,” Bayston explained. “These guys that race 40, 50 or 60 midget races a year, they’ve kind of got the advantage just because they know exactly what they’re feeling right away, where the practice night was based on getting me a little more confident and comfortable around a place I’ve never really been that comfortable at. But I think we definitely did that.
“Every time we got out there, we got faster, and by the end of the night we were right up there in the hunt and running top five (speeds),” Bayston continued. “It definitely makes it more challenging, not running as many races in a season, but putting yourself in a good situation with a good car and good people lets you build on it and increase your speed in the hopes of having a better result.”
Bayston expounded on his struggles at Ventura, noting that the track is one of the most unique venues that the USAC National Midget Series comes to in a given year.
“I think the biggest challenge for me has been just not having that many laps this year in midgets,” Bayston admitted. “These cars race differently than the winged stuff that I’ve been in more recently. Just knowing what the car needs is one place I need to get faster and be a little bit better.
“The surface (at Ventura) is always really weird compared to a lot of places we run. It’s always very inconsistent … sometimes rough, sometimes really sandy, and there’s not a lot of grip,” Bayston added. “So that’s where I struggle a little bit, is having to carry momentum and speed around a place that doesn’t have much to grab ahold of.”
After a year in which he’s endured so many rocky roads, Bayston would love nothing more than to kiss the Aggie Trophy awarded to Turkey Night victors and celebrate on the frontstretch Friday night after 98 laps.
“It would be huge,” Bayston said of the prospect of winning Turkey Night. “This is a race I’ve run the last few years. It’s got quite the title. It’s got quite the history. I know Brodie looks at that trophy and really, really wants it bad.
“It means a lot for me, too. For him to hire me, to bring me out here and take our best shot at getting that trophy,” Bayston added. “It would mean a lot just because I’ve been trying to get this race for a few years now, and it’s the final race of the season here in California. There’s a lot of really, really good cars here that I would love to beat.
“We’ll see what happens, but I’m excited because I think we’ll have a shot at it.”