CONCORD, N.C. – Though it didn’t end how he wanted it to on paper, Alex Murray took several positive lessons and plenty of speed from his first year with the USAC Speed2 Eastern Midget Ass’n.
Murray, from Concord, N.C., started off the season strong and actually led the points after the first two races of the season – an impressive show of consistency for the 20-year-old.
However, the wheels for his points chase came off at Virginia’s Dominion Raceway in June, when a radiator hose failure was followed by mechanical issues that left Murray unable to start the second half of a twin-feature program.
From there, the resulting points hole left Murray seeking one goal – victory lane – and while he didn’t quite crack that code by season’s end, he did rack up three fast qualifying times, four podiums and 22 laps led across 10 starts.
Despite missing six races during the 16-race season, Murray ended the year fifth in EMA points, a strong result for his rookie season and a momentum-builder for the future.
“This year was a good year for us; I’m really pleased with how we overcame challenges and learned as we went through the season,” Murray said. “We got better and better every weekend, which is always your goal as a race team. I feel like as a driver, I didn’t necessarily grow from a driving standpoint, but I learned a lot of skills that I needed to be comfortable in the car and got better at making the split-second decisions on the track that it takes to be successful with the Eastern Midgets.
“After sitting out of any type of race car for nearly two years and then kicking off my open-wheel journey with a podium finish at Dillon (Motor Speedway) in April, it’s been an amazing feeling and a great comeback so far, in all of our eyes.”
The biggest hurdle to Murray’s Eastern Midget campaign came after a hard crash at Southern National Motorsports Park in Kenly, N.C., on July 20, which forced him to miss three straight races as a result.
However, his competitive drive never faltered, even as Murray worked to rebuild the car in the shop.
“Southern National hurt us in the worst way; it was a tough one to swallow,” Murray admitted. “We wheel-hopped and got into the wall, which tore the car up pretty badly and forced us to regroup after being inside the top three in points virtually all year long. It was one of those moments that could have beaten us down, but we used it as a motivator to push even harder and come back that much stronger.
“A pair of top-seven finishes to close the year didn’t showcase the speed we were able to find down the stretch, and I feel like with what we know now and everything we’ve learned, we can improve on that going into a new season with a clean slate ahead of us.”
That elusive victory is high on the priority list for the young third-generation racer in 2020, after coming within a whisker of winning more than once early in the year.
“I would’ve liked to have gotten that win checked off this past season; things just didn’t work out in our favor,” he noted. “We were so close – we had the car (to win) at Ace Speedway – and the driver just got in his own head and threw it away. I wish I could have that one back, but it’s got me hungrier than ever and I know we can put all the pieces together to take that last step and take home an EMA trophy.”
Murray isn’t planning on contesting the full EMA schedule this year, but he will be back with the tour part-time, while also planning select SCCA road course appearances in the Spec Miata class and exploring potential opportunities to expand into the dirt ranks in either a sprint car or micro sprint.
But regardless of where the young racer ends up on track in the months to come, one thing can be expected to remain: Murray’s familiar No. 22 and his passion to succeed.
“Winning is the goal in 2020, no matter what series or type of car we’re bringing to the track,” Murray said. “That all comes back to my grandfather (Richard Murray). He’s been racing forever and still does to this day. His number was No. 22 and that’s why I carry the same number on my cars, to carry on the family’s legacy in racing and hopefully, to make my grandfather, family and all our supporters proud.
“Last year was a year where we learned and adjusted a lot as a team, and now that we’ve got everything back to where we need it to be, we’re excited to push forward and keep chasing our goals as a group.”