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Emerson Axsom aboard the Nolen Racing USAC Silver Crown car at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track. - DAVE NEARPASS PHOTO

Emerson Axsom

When Emerson Axsom headed north from Ocala, Fla., in early February he could be excused for feeling a bit giddy.

He had dabbled with sprint cars during the 2021 season but was anxious to maintain his rookie status with USAC. Those who witnessed those first steps will attest that it was a memorable experience. Axsom was not afraid and the ferocity he displayed behind the wheel left many both impressed and terrified.

Those who held fast to the old prejudice that few can make the jump from midgets to their larger counterparts were forced to check their preconceptions at the door. Now before the chill had left the air in the Midwest, Axsom had two USAC National sprint car victories on his résumé. Many wondered if the talented teenager could contend for the championship.

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Team owner Tim Clauson and driver Emerson Axsom. – FRANK SMITH PHOTO

Auto racing is a great humbler. One can never become too comfortable with success. Not that things have gone array for Axsom. Far from it. However, when racing nightly with people who do this for a living, his peers are not willing to concede an inch to anyone. Victories are hard fought and during the course of a long season there are ebbs and flows.

Though patience is never viewed as a trait of youth, Axsom seems to take it all in stride. However, while this kid sports an almost unruly mop of hair and an infectious smile, he is competitive to the bone. He is all about winning races.

His drive to be the best comes naturally. Axsom’s father has been close to the sport his entire life. While his time behind the wheel began a bit later than what is normal in today’s world, Joe Axsom was a successful and versatile racer, particularly on the hardtop.

Because of a family tragedy, Joe Axsom’s father was essentially raised by his uncles and the love of speed began there. Joe Axsom soon tagged along on trips to the track and quickly fit right in. Later he began traveling to dirt late model races with his friend Steve Barnett.

Barnett, who is currently the mayor of Franklin, Ind., took the checkered flag many times over the course of his career.

As is so often the case, those who pitch in on the sidelines often get the itch to grab the wheel themselves. Joe Axsom was no different. When he was in his early 20s, he built a stock car with the help of his brother. It all began at the Indianapolis Speedrome and from there he began racing trucks and modifieds at Indianapolis Raceway Park.

As he progressed in his career, he helped respected owner Gene Nolen and eventually spent some time in the USAC Silver Crown ranks. Soon his life became even more of a balancing act. Not only did Axsom need to devote time to his construction company, but he and his wife Jenny were raising three daughters and a son.

Emerson Axsom remembers sitting in the stands watching his dad race and realizes that the last time Joe turned a lap in anger was not that long ago.

“He says he is officially retired,” Emerson said. “He felt it was time to help me because he had topped out on his career.”

Like many budding racers, Emerson Axsom started at an early age, but it wasn’t without a slight hiccup. He began in quarter midgets at Mini Indy Speedway at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, but his first race didn’t go as planned.

“I really didn’t like it,” he admitted. “I didn’t want to do it, but I can’t remember why. But the next year I came back and raced again and I won. That’s when I was hooked.”

Not surprisingly, Joe Axsom remembers that first day vividly as well, but he adds some relevant tidbits.

“It was different,” he said. “We were getting ready to push off and he decided he didn’t want to run the race. I always made sure he knew we were doing this for him, so if he didn’t want to race it wasn’t a big deal. So we didn’t push him out that night but then right after the race he said, ‘Dad, I want to practice.’ When I asked him again why he didn’t race he said, ‘Well, because we aren’t fast enough to win.’ I said, ‘Fair enough. He’s serious about this.’”

By 2016 Axsom was the USAC Light 160 and Formula Mod champion and it was clear he possessed real talent.

“He would have been around 11 and we were at Pocono for a quarter midget race,” Joe Axsom explained. “He got in a wreck in the first lap so we brought the car in and got it to where it would roll, but it was still bent. Then he went out and won the National Light 160 race that day. I didn’t think much about it but after the race John Nervo of Nervo Chassis came up and said, ‘That kid needs to be done with quarter midget racing. I can’t believe he won the race with the chassis bent like that. He has nothing to gain by staying and running quarter midgets.’

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