Driving the No. 5s sprint car trimmed out in John Deere colors and logo, the company’s tagline “Nothing Runs Like a Deere” comes to mind when looking back on Chase Stockon’s 2020 season.
Parking his own car and joining forces with the Hutson Inc., John Deere-sponsored KO Motorsports team mid-season, Stockon proceeded to win his first Indiana Sprint Week title, a first Midwest Sprint Car Series championship, and took his third career podium in the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series point standings.
Winning is nothing new for the veteran, but winning championships in equipment other than his own made for a memorable season and fueled high hopes for similar success in 2021.
Stockon’s Superior Tank & Trailer-sponsored team had been a staple on the USAC sprint car circuit since he started running full time with them in 2012. His string of consecutive USAC starts since that time earned him the nickname “Ironman,” a considerable accomplishment for a driver-owned, single-car team.
However, the start of the 2020 season was marked by inconsistencies; the only highlight was a third-place finish at Terre Haute.
“We were never terrible, but it seemed like we couldn’t quit finishing out of about the seventh position or thereabouts,” Stockon lamented.
Tired of spending money and traveling the country just to finish mid-pack, the frustration level reached a point where he considered getting off the “struggle bus” by retiring or just racing part-time.
Meanwhile, KO Motorsports team owners Brian and Tom Davis were relatively new to racing. In his early teenage years, attending races at Haubstadt’s Tri-State Speedway nurtured Brian’s interest in racing.
“I came every Sunday night, knew every driver and was a real fan,” Brian Davis noted.
Today the brothers’ livelihood is in farming, trucking, and building and showing custom trucks and semis. When interest in showing their custom trucks competitively began to wane, racing sprint cars seemed an interesting diversion.
For the past three years KO Motorsports has run cars out of their Owensville, Ind., shop. Brian quipped, “We like to try and work eight to nine days a week, if we can.”
Already friends with the Davis brothers, Stockon piloted their MSCS entry in 2019 and also drove for them at the June World of Outlaws race at Tri-State Speedway last summer.
That evening was a defining moment for both team and driver. Instead of running his own car that was ready to race, Stockon accepted a last-minute invitation to drive for the brothers.
The week of the race he picked up a roller chassis they purchased in Indianapolis on Wednesday, delivered it to the shop where it was assembled the same evening, painted and lettered on Thursday, and raced on Friday.
A stout sixth-place finish resulted in an offer for Stockon and his crew to join the team full time. Tongue-in-cheek, Stockon remembers it taking all of about 10 minutes to accept the offer.
With everyone involved living and working a stone’s throw from KO Motorsports, the merger of the two teams was easy. Stockon, himself, lives just 12 miles away and is able to spend considerable time with team manager Kent Schmidt assembling and prepping the cars.
Stockon’s crew members, DJ Ott and Kent Dix, were also friends with the Davis bunch and, to Stockon’s relief, longtime sponsor Tom Burkey of Superior Tank & Trailer also agreed to come onboard.
“Sometimes change is a good thing, and it just worked out for everybody,” reflected Schmidt. “We just kind of threw our toys in the same toy box.”
There was one adjustment Stockon had to make: not being totally in charge of the operation. Other than a few one-off rides with other teams, Stockon had always been his own car owner and admitted it took a while to get used to his new role of being just the driver.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s totally out of my hands, as far as what we do, and the financial side of things is definitely a lot better. I guess you can say I came around pretty quickly,” Stockon tipped.
What does Stockon bring to KO Motorsports?
Schmidt responds without hesitation.
“Dedication, performance and he’s always in the mix. You can count on him being a solid entry every night,” Schmidt tipped.
Ironically, Stockon’s home track, Tri-State Speedway, played a role in both of the 2020 championship runs.
“It’s one of the places I’ve always enjoyed coming to,” Stockon recalled.. “I grew up in Sullivan (Indiana) so, essentially, we call it our home track. Even when we moved to Elizabethtown, Ind., we still came to every single Haubstadt race that we could, though it was three hours away.”
Over the course of his career, Stockon has developed a loyal fan base at Tri-State Speedway, as has another local favorite, Kyle Cummins.
Stockon and Cummins are Tri-State Speedway’s version of the Pennsylvania Posse. It’s safe to place money for the win on either of those two on any given night.
A movie screenwriter could not have done a better job writing the script for the final Saturday night of Indiana Sprint Week 2020. Going into the feature, Stockon was one of six drivers with a mathematical chance to claim the title. Fast forward 30 laps and Cummins was atop his roll cage, having led all but the first lap, waving the checkers amidst flying confetti and camera flashes.
At the same time, Stockon was taking his place on the champion’s stage – his third-place finish earning him the title by 22 points over runner-up Justin Grant.
Fun and teamwork highlight the memories Stockon took from the accomplishment.
“Not to be cliché, but the teamwork aspect of it was pretty awesome. We had a lot of fun getting things ready night to night and working with each other,” Stockon said. “After racing the USAC circuit for so long, I never thought we’d be able to accomplish something like this. We’ve tried and been so close and then defeated so many times. The pairing and working together, it just eliminated stress from everything and we all had a lot of fun together.
“Night to night, we’re drinking beers and getting stuff ready for the next day, getting the cars prepped and tires prepped. You name it, the list goes on.”
Indiana Sprint Week is the most intense and competitive week on the USAC schedule, and it is not uncommon for the champion to clinch the title without a feature win. In the 32-year history of the series, there have been 12 years when such was the case.
In fact, Levi Jones won three of his four ISW titles without a win (2004, 2008, & 2012) and 2020 was the third consecutive year the champion did not win a feature. Stockon’s box score for the week included a second-place, two third-places, a fourth-place and fifth-place run.
“When we first started running USAC, I really thought that era of the series was the most difficult,” reflected Stockon. “Here over the last handful of years the competition has really gotten tougher. It seems like there’s a lot of power teams now. Just look at the deal I’m in and the amount of money they spend to run up front. They weren’t necessarily a team that’s ever been around, and now they are.”
Consistent finishes also played a role in Stockon’s 2020 Midwest Sprint Car Series championship. The schedule was hit hard with cancellations related to the COVID-19 pandemic, as 12 of the 24 races scheduled were cancelled and another was lost to the weather.
Stockon competed in all 11 of the races run and collected eight top-five finishes, two of which were wins.
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