In early August 1955 the American Automobile Ass’n, the nation’s leading sanctioning body announced it would walk away from racing at the end of the year. It was a potentially crippling blow.
It was then that Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Anton “Tony” Hulman sprang into action and by Sept. 16, 1955, the United States Auto Club was incorporated.
Thus, USAC was born amid crisis and has been navigating choppy water ever since. The issues and drama that have unfolded since the day it was formed are too numerous to list but somehow the club has survived.
Today, the greatest external threat comes from the World Racing Group and the announcement of the Xtreme Outlaw Series for both sprint cars and midgets. For now, the stated goal is to work together. However, most are skeptical that this is truly the long-term plan. At issue is live streaming and the revenue that can be accrued and redistributed. Does WRG have a bigger war chest than USAC? Perhaps.
There have been isolated moments in history where a rival group has tried to topple USAC from its perch, but to date no organization has had the resources to effectively challenge the USAC’s stature. That may have changed.
This is a critical year. To survive and thrive the club must continue to offer quality programs and attract teams, fans, and sponsors. Of keen interest to drivers and owners, point fund money has been increased in all three national series.
A bonus program was also announced offering $150,000 to a driver who wins two national championships and a $300,000 prize should they pull off a sweep.
For USAC regulars it will be another busy year with 99 national races on the dance card. Action commenced in Florida in February and runs through the 81st running of the Turkey Night Grand Prix at California’s Ventura Raceway on Nov. 28.
In 2020, Keith Kunz arrived for the Florida openers with a bevy of young drivers and pronounced that he was energized by the challenge that awaited. One year later to no one’s surprise Michael “Buddy” Kofoid emerged as a frontrunner. Then a mini disaster struck.
While racing a stock car on the pavement at Minnesota’s Elko Speedway in late July, Kofoid crashed and suffered a broken right wrist and left foot. It was time for crew chief Jarrett Martin to go to work and motivate his young driver. In the end, Kofoid, 19, was the series champion and Martin was USAC’s Mechanic of the Year.
It was the 11th USAC midget title for Keith Kunz/CURB-Agajanian Motorsports, breaking a tie with Steve Lewis for No. 1 all-time among USAC owners.
Can Kunz make it a dozen?
To the surprise of some, Kofoid and Kaylee Bryson will be back full time for KKM this season, with Kofoid slated to mix in some sprint car races, something Kunz always feels helps his drivers. Bryson became the first woman to capture the pole position in 80 editions of the Turkey Night Grand Prix and ran up front on several occasions in 2021.
Taylor Reimer, who joined Bryson on the front row at Ventura, will also race full time for KKM. Reimer will graduate from the University of Oklahoma in the spring, giving her a chance to truly focus on her racing career.
Texas youngster Brenham Crouch has a stellar record in go-karts and bagged a POWRi victory in 2021. He’s back and hopes to build on a year that saw him finish fourth in USAC rookie points. Also returning to the KKM stable is Kansan Bryant Wiedeman, the 2021 POWRi champion. Expect Wiedeman to take a big leap forward this season.
Chad Boat will begin the year with an interesting driver lineup. Chris Windom will still be in the fold for several races, providing an important veteran presence. Raisin City, Calif., driver Mitchel Moles will also have a part-time role. Moles is a versatile talent, who could make some noise in the championship tussle should he stick with the tour.
Jade Avedisian also joins the team. Beginning in quarter-midgets where she was a standout, Avedisian has enjoyed success at every step of the way. Dominic Gorden, a graduate from the outlaw karts and micro world is set to make the jump to more regular midget action as will Jace Park from the greater Kansas City area. Park has a strong background in karting.
Dave and Matt Estep’s RMS team will return with the series’ odd couple — Justin Grant and Thomas Meseraull. One can count on both drivers making their way to victory lane. Last season, T-Mez seemed to have the lucrative BC39 in hand before heartbreak struck, but Grant claimed a $20,000 paycheck at the Hangtown 100 at California’s Placerville Speedway.
Andy Reinbold has assembled a first-class operation and watched 2022 Chili Bowl Nationals champion Tanner Thorson tie Chris Windom with seven USAC wins last season. How much Thorson will be racing in the midget ranks is unclear, but ever-improving Hayden Reinbold returns to the team.
Cannon McIntosh will be in the family car and the same can be said for Bundy Built driver Ethan Mitchell. It has been a trying offseason for Ethan as his father Bundy Mitchell suffered a severe heart attack but is on the mend.
Finally, Logan Seavey, the Turkey Night Grand Prix winner is back with Tom Malloy with steady Jerome Rodella turning the wrenches. Seavey had a banner 2021 season in all USAC national divisions and must be champing at the bit to get the year started.
When it comes to the title the main question centers on how much Kofoid can dial in and focus on his midget duties. He will be pulled in multiple directions. It has been over a decade since the late Bryan Clauson successfully defended the top spot. Still, Kofoid is the odds-on favorite to repeat.
Justin Grant will also be a force, with former national champion Logan Seavey a true dark horse. Among the 38 races on the schedule, drivers and teams will circle the BC39 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the USAC Nationals at Huset’s Speedway, the Hangtown 100 at Placerville and the 81st Turkey Night Grand Prix.