This is the second part of a three-part sequence analyzing the major players in the three USAC national divisions this year, written by longtime historian and announcer Pat Sullivan.
The 2019 season proved to be one of the most unusual campaigns in the long history of the United States Auto Club, with many twists and turns leading to the eventual final outcomes.
In the case of the USAC National Midget Series and USAC Silver Crown Series, the winner of the opening round not only went on to capture the title, they were never passed in the standings at any point during the year.
While the USAC National Sprint Car Series followed a slightly different pattern, in general, C.J. Leary got in front and stayed there.
In terms of personal milestones, Tyler Courtney, with 18 overall national wins, had the greatest single year, using that benchmark, since J.J. Yeley’s sensational 2003 season.
Additionally, Kody Swanson continued to set new marks in Silver Crown competition, in what was arguably his most impressive performance to date.
Then there was the off-season. To say that the winter months were turbulent is a vast understatement. Rarely have we witnessed so much movement among top teams and drivers.
Accordingly, in the 65th year of USAC racing, fans are going to truly need a scorecard.
The following is a dive into the USAC National Sprint Car Series. A similar dive into the USAC National Midget Series can be found here, and a look at the USAC Silver Crown Series will complete the set on Saturday:
For much of his young career, C.J. Leary has shown plenty of speed and, at times, appeared to be unbeatable. The prevailing question was whether he could demonstrate the consistency needed to win a championship.
In 2019, it would have been difficult for Leary to be more consistent. Over the course of 34 events, while Leary mustered just two wins, he finished in the top-five 24 times.
Even more impressive, he was only forced to run the semi (B-main) on one occasion.
A bad night at Eldora late in the year put his point lead in peril, and some doubted if he could stay on top with the west coast swing looming.
But demonstrating the level of toughness it takes to land a championship, when under the most pressure, Leary delivered.
While he didn’t seal the deal when he claimed the prestigious Oval Nationals at Perris Auto Speedway, it created the cushion he needed at the right time.
One of the clear secrets to success was the bond Leary developed with crew chief Davey Jones. For Davey, who has experienced plenty of twists and turns in his own life, it was his first championship.
The win at Perris was particularly meaningful for Jones, given the role his father, the late Norman “Bubby” Jones, played in the development of “The PAS.”
For his effort, Jones was named the Mechanic of the Year at the USAC banquet in December.
However, by then things had already gotten a tad weird, as Leary learned that he had been let go by the Reinbold/Underwood team.
For 2020, Leary is racing for the Arizona-based Gene Gile Racing team, with Jones remaining as crew chief. His teammate will be Dennis Gile, who has competed primarily in USAC’s Southwest Sprint Car Series.
Gile parlayed his years at quarterback for the Central Missouri State Mules into a professional career, including a stint with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League.
It is always difficult to back up a title, but having Jones with him improves his chances.
Leary’s task may have gotten a bit easier when it was revealed that Tyler Courtney would not be back on a full-time basis.
Courtney, who topped the sprint car charts with nine wins in 2019, will run a mixed schedule that includes winged racing. However, when present, there is no doubt that Sunshine will be a force.
The list of possible contenders for the title includes the normal suspects, and a few wildcard entries. One of the most intriguing combinations involves last year’s championship squad.
Reinbold/Underwood is back, but this time with Logan Seavey at the controls.
How this all transpired, and what it means for Seavey’s career, is an open question. He enjoyed great success with Keith Kunz Motorsports, and even raced in ARCA and won.
Nonetheless, one can only speculate that Logan did not see a clear path to NASCAR, or simply chose not to pursue it. Could he be a player by the time the tour hits California? There seems little doubt that he has the talent and, given that former USAC Mechanic of the Year Tyler Ransbottom has joined the team, this will be fun to watch.
To continue reading, advance to the next page.