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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

“That is when I thought there might be something here. This was a guy making money off us, telling us that it was time to move on.”

His next move was to the micro ranks where he spent considerable time at U.S. 24 Speedway in Logansport, Ind. It took him about four races to get to victory lane. There were plenty of trips to Illinois and Missouri, but there was no set schedule or a need to run for points.

“I feel like we won a lot of races,” Axsom recalled. “I felt like every big race we had a chance to win.”

After taking rookie-of-the-year honors with the All-Star Circuit of Champions T.Q. midget series, a breakthrough moment came when he won the winged outlaw feature during the 2020 Tulsa Shootout.

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Emerson Axsom stands on the gas at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Ind. – DAVE NEARPASS PHOTO

While Axsom was arguably the star of the show during the 2022 Tulsa Shootout, winning the stock non-winged feature, his first Golden Driller was by far the most meaningful.

“The first win was the biggest,” he said. “Jonathan Beason is so tough in that building and so to beat him in the most prestigious class it couldn’t have been written any better. Since then, I have improved so much as a driver that I kind of feel like I should win. But in that winged outlaw race I felt like I put all the pieces together and won.”

With that result alone, many felt he was ready to take the next step in his career. Businessman and racing enthusiast Scott Petry carved out some time to start a USAC midget team and Axsom found it the right place to launch his career.

In 2020, Axsom won twice on USAC’s Midwest Thunder tour and finished a respectable 12th in the standings with four top-five finishes.

“The first year was tough,” he acknowledged. “My dad had never worked on a midget either, but he’s real smart and an underrated crew chief. We were just getting our baseline and it took me a little longer to learn how to drive a midget. I think the biggest problem was that I was overthinking it. I didn’t realize how hard you could drive a midget, maybe harder than you can run a micro.

“To me it was a bigger car with a big motor, so I thought I shouldn’t have to drive it that hard. But the competitiveness in the series was different. You had to drive hard every night.”

Joe Axsom agreed with his son’s assessment.

“It was a big learning curve for him in a midget,” he said. “It was a different style of driving and a different type of car. I think he underestimated the talent level. I don’t know that he ever said that, but I think he realized he had to get serious about it. He couldn’t just show up and win. The first year was all about learning and to see what you can and can’t do in these race cars. I think the second year he put it all together. That’s kind of been his history.”

Learning from a veteran driver also made a difference for Axsom.

“The best thing that ever happened to Emerson was being a teammate with Kevin Thomas Jr. for two years,” Joe Axsom said. “That was a blessing from a parent’s side. Kevin really took Emerson under his wing. Sometimes it was simple things like we need to go to the laundry and get our uniforms clean.”

Emerson Axsom showed marked improvement in his second year on the USAC National midget trail.

He scored a pair of victories and finished in the top five in exactly half of his series starts.

Looking back at the 2021 season, Axsom noted, “When it is going well it is hard to mess it all up, but when it is going bad it is hard to make something happen. It seems like last year I was in the top five every night and that was a blast.”

It’s odd to think of a 17-year-old driver being at career crossroads. However, as odd as it sounds that’s right where Axsom stood at the end of his sophomore season in the midgets. Petry had given him an excellent opportunity to advance in his racing program and he was in position to be a title contender.

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