OCALA, Fla. – A new year beckons, and all the questions surrounding the NOS Energy Drink USAC National Midget Series season will be answered starting this weekend at Bubba Raceway Park.
Winter Dirt Games XI kicks off the slate Feb. 7-8 at the three-eighths-mile Ocala, Fla., dirt oval, which opens the USAC calendar for the second straight year.
What’s top of mind to many observers are the plethora of new driver and team combos that have formed throughout the winter months.
Much of last year’s field remains intact for this year’s edition, however, many find themselves in new cars, new colors and new surroundings.
One union that remains is the driver and team that captured both nights of last year’s midget events in Ocala, Tyler Courtney and Clauson-Marshall Racing.
The defending driver and owner series champions return after a stellar campaign which saw them win on eight occasions during 2019, the most with the series in nearly three decades.
Courtney also won his heat on night one last year and was the fast qualifier on night two. He and CMR also captured two consecutive sprint wins at the track in 2018.
Courtney’s CMR teammate is Cole Bodine of Rossville, Ind., who competed on a partial schedule with the series in 2019. His 11th place run on night one at Ocala 12 months ago was his best of the 2020 season.
Bodine returns to CMR after last competing with the team in 2018, where he very nearly picked up a victory, finishing second at Sweet Springs (Mo.) Motorsports Complex.
Kevin Thomas Jr. finished as the runner-up to Courtney both nights at Ocala a year ago. On night one, the Cullman, Ala., driver established the one-lap track record for the series at the three-eighths-mile, D-shaped track, with a lap of 13.773 second.
In 2018, Thomas swept both nights of a POWRi midget event at Ocala, meaning in four midget starts there, he has yet to finish outside of the top-two positions.
Thomas is back on a Petry Motorsports squad that also includes USAC Triple Crown champion Jerry Coons Jr., who took 10th and 16th at Ocala in 2019.
Lincoln, Calif., young gun Tanner Carrick – the 2019 USAC Most Improved Driver and a newcomer to Petry Motorsports – finished sixth and 11th at Ocala last season, in addition to scoring a heat race win on night two.
Carrick joins Petry following three years at Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports, a team that has experienced a wholesale driver lineup change from 2019.
Angola, Ind., teenager Zeb Wise, a fifth place finisher at Ocala last year for CMR, will take on the Winter Dirt Games for a second straight year.
Joining Wise at KKM are 2019 Shamrock Classic and recent Chili Bowl preliminary night winner Cannon McIntosh, reigning Fremont Speedway Sprint Car champion Buddy Kofoid and 2017 USAC micro sprint titlist Daison Pursley.
The latter two competed for KKM during last year’s USAC western swing and will be competing for series Rookie of the Year honors in 2020.
Logan Seavey, the 2018 USAC National Midget Series champion will team alongside former KKM teammate Jesse Colwell with Team Ripper for Ocala. Seavey came out of Ocala a year ago with finishes of 12th and eighth, while Colwell was 14th and sixth on his two nights.
Chris Windom has joined Tucker/Boat Motorsports for 2020. Windom, the 2016 USAC Silver Crown and 2017 USAC National Sprint Car champion, finished third on the opening night and ninth on the final night last year at Ocala.
His third place run came after starting 11th, earning him hard charger honors for the evening.
Windom’s teammate at TBM for 2020 is last year’s USAC National Midget Rookie of the Year, Andrew Layser, who was a top-10 runner on night two at Ocala in 2019.
Tanner Thorson scored a pair of top-10 runs at Ocala in 2019, a ninth and a seventh. The 2016 USAC National Midget champion’s run to seventh came after starting from the tail in 24th.
Thorson will race for Hayward Motorsports at Winter Dirt Games, for whom he captured a Chili Bowl preliminary night win earlier this month.
Other expected returnees from last year’s field include North Carolina’s Ethan Mitchell; Oklahoma’s Noah Gass, who made his series debut a year ago at Ocala; Indiana’s Chase Jones and Florida’s Oliver Akard, who aims to make his first feature start with the series in his home state.
Eight previous USAC National Midget points-paying events have been held in the state of Florida. Bob Wente and Tyler Courtney are only drivers to win multiple times with two apiece.
Johnny Riva won the first event at Palmetto Speedway in Miami on March 3, 1963; followed by Chuck Rodee at Golden Gate Speedway in Tampa on March 6 of that year. Wente won the final two in 1963 at Palmetto on March 8 and Golden Gate on March 10.
Kyle Larson won at New Smyrna Speedway in New Smyrna, Fla. on Feb. 17, 2013; while Bobby Santos took top honors the following night at the same half-mile paved oval.