ANAHEIM, Calif. – Robert Dalby has quietly put together a campaign that has him in striking range of the USAC Western States Midget Series championship with three weeks to go in the season.
Dalby, 19, won three straight races spanning from late July through mid-September to open up a sizable lead over his nearest opposition.
Though a bit of an off night saw Dalby have to come from 17th to finish ninth in the most-recent Western States midget event at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway on Oct. 26, he still has a 36-point lead over Cory Elliott going into the stretch run of the season – which takes place against USAC’s National Midget Series stars.
It’s a lead that, while solid, Dalby doesn’t necessary consider comfortable as he pursues his first title – meaning he wants to keep attacking and not let up the intensity in the closing stages of the year.
“It’s definitely not over, and for sure not exactly a cakewalk,” Dalby told Sprint Car & Midget. “We’re just trying to do what we’ve been doing, which is not worry about the points and just do our own racing. Obviously three in a row was a good way to build up our momentum before these last six races.
“For us, it’s about keeping the status quo … running a smart race and just going for wins,” he added. “That’s what got us in this position, so that’s what we’ll continue to do. There’s no reason to change the game plan now.”
Dalby has had a breakout campaign this season, leading the Western Midget Series in wins so far and carrying a confidence that hasn’t been as prominent until this year with his No. 4d team.
That mojo, Dalby said, can be traced back to the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Okla., back in January. There, he raced his way into the championship A-main with his family team, taking the last of seven transfer spots in his B-main and holding off NASCAR star Chase Briscoe in the process.
“Contending for a championship has definitely been something that, as the year starts to close here, we’ve put ourselves in position for. We obviously started out the year on a high note at Chili Bowl, with making the A-main, and then I think that just built up a lot of momentum and confidence and led us into the season,” Dalby noted. “Since then we’ve just been performing the last couple months out west.
“I think the Chili Bowl was definitely a major part of this run, and I do think anytime you get into the later months of the year or at the beginning of the year, everybody’s thinking about Chili Bowl and I think the way that we performed there just set the bar right there on expectations for the year, as far as what we could really achieve,” he added. “Making the Chili Bowl A-main; that’s what everybody wants to do, so it was definitely a confidence boost and something that I think propelled us (forward) pretty well.”
Dalby has taken pride in the position that he and his team are in going down the stretch, because in his eyes, the depth of field is the best it has ever been since he started racing midgets out west.
“It’s definitely, I feel like, gone up,” he said of the competition level. “You’ve lost a couple of guys, but you’ve also gained a couple of guys, and everybody’s stepping up their equipment out here; it’s not just the guys. Everybody’s going out and buying Toyotas and SR-11s … and two or three years ago you didn’t see any of the big motors out here, you just saw a bunch of Esslingers.
“I think now everybody’s trying to step up their equipment, and step up their game, and it just elevates everybody else’s game,” Dalby added. “So I think it’s definitely a positive and makes the racing better and makes the whole West Coast region better in general.”
Another thing that has allowed Dalby to step up his game was a recent opportunity to jump into a Tucker-Boat Motorsports entry for the Harvest Cup at Indiana’s Tri-State Speedway on Oct. 19.
He qualified fourth overall, and gridded up third for the feature before a wild feature relegated him back to a 14th-place finish. Still though, the experience of a top-flight ride was valuable, he explained.
“That chance was definitely a privilege and something that I’ll never forget,” said Dalby. “It was definitely a great piece. Chad (Boat) and Billy (Boat) and Corey Tucker, they build such nice race cars and it shows week in and week out when they run on the national tour. … Last year, Chad was running top three for quite a few races in a row going into the Leffler, Turkey Night and DuQuoin, and it has continued this year.
“If you want to be the best, you’ve got to go against the best, and that’s what made my decision to go out there and do that race with those national guys,” he added. “They all help to elevate your game.”
To that end, Dalby has the next phase of his career mapped out for 2020, as he plans to move to Indianapolis and race in the Midwest against the USAC national field on a more-regular basis next year.
“It’s the right time to make the jump, regardless of how the points turn out,” he noted. “We’re ready for the challenge and I’m looking forward to it, but we hope to bring a championship along with us first.”