SAPULPA, Okla. — Back in 2020 when the racing world began to regain its footing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the first dominoes started to fall for Blake Hahn to heighten his focus on 410ci sprint car racing, a plan that will come to fruition in 2023.
Having just added a couple Rider Racing 410 Engines to his race shop, Hahn, like the rest of the country, found himself without a race to run until Terry McCarl decided to promote the Open Wheel Nationals at Park Jefferson Speedway in North Sioux City, S.D.
Hahn made the haul north from Oklahoma for what would be his first 410 race aboard his family-owned No. 52 after years of prioritizing 360s. The trip proved to be productive and ignited a desire to try more.
“We ran Terry McCarl‘s race that he had at Park Jefferson,” Hahn recalled. “We loaded all of our stuff up and went up there because there was nothing going on, so it worked out really good for us. We went there and did alright qualifying and were able to win our heat race. We had some rear end issues in the feature, so we didn‘t finish it. We had a really good heat race and didn‘t know what we could‘ve done in the feature, so we were ready to go racing again.”
As luck would have it, shortly after the Tezos All-Star Circuit of Champions restarted their 2020 campaign they headed toward Hahn‘s home region, the Midwest, for the Thunder Through the Plains. Hahn battled with one of the country‘s best series for a handful of nights early that June.
“Once the All-Stars said they were coming back through Oklahoma, it was like, ‘Man, this is the perfect opportunity,’” Hahn said. “We were able to go to tracks we‘ve been to before with a 410 now. We were able to run five or six races with those guys, and obviously running with them you can learn a bunch of stuff.”
While that stretch in 2020 lit Hahn‘s fire to expand his racing ventures, 360s still remained his focus over the past two years aside from a small stretch of 410 races this season that included a podium effort at Huset‘s (S.D.) Speedway and an attempt at the Knoxville Nationals.
After years of competing full-time with the Lucas Oil American Sprint Car Series, Hahn was able to capture his first championship in 2021. Wanting to prove he was no one hit wonder, Hahn returned to the tour this season and claimed his second straight title.
The ASCS features some of the toughest competition when it comes to 360 racing. Having reached the pinnacle two years in a row, the 27-year-old felt next season was the perfect time for a fresh focus geared toward something he‘s been looking to explore more thoroughly since getting his feet wet with a 410 in 2020.
“After last year being able to pick up the championship, we wanted to go run 410s, but we felt like we had something to prove to these guys,” Hahn explained. “We wanted to go back and win the championship back-to-back and show these guys that it wasn‘t just something that happened once, but that we could do it again. So, we went back, got back-to-back, and we felt like going into the 2023 season that there‘s really no better time for us. With being able to be champions two years in a row, I feel like we have nothing else to prove, and there‘s so much more stuff for us to learn.”
With racing‘s off-season being so brief and the calendar nearing a turn to 2023, what might Hahn‘s outlook be in terms of a schedule for next year?
Well, nothing is set in stone quite yet, but he‘s confident that he‘d like to try a “true-outlaw” route, picking and choosing the races that best suit him each weekend. He‘s awaiting schedule releases prior to penciling in many concrete plans. Once schedules are published, Hahn intends to look most closely at the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars, All-Stars, and newly formed High Limit Sprint Car Series.
“I really want to see how the schedules play out with everybody and kind of go from there,” Hahn offered. “I kind of like what Ryan Timms does. You never really know where he‘s at until he‘s there on Friday. That‘s one thing I want to do is travel around to a bunch of places, but I also want to run with the Outlaws and the All-Stars, just try to get more experience because, at the end of the day, the Outlaws are the fastest guys.
“With the High Limit deal coming out, it‘s hard to not want to be interested in that deal, too” Hahn added. “We kind of want to see what they‘ve got going on with only having 12 races and then being able to have a point fund at the end of the year sure makes it tempting.”
While Hahn is considering running for points with High Limit, the lack of pressure from a season-long points chase is something he‘s excited about for next year. Years of racing on the ASCS tour with the standings in mind instilled somewhat of a reserved mindset behind the wheel, one he‘s eager to free into more of an attacking style.
“For me over the past couple years, my main goal has been consistency, consistency, consistency,” Hahn noted. “That‘s what I‘ve repeated to myself. It was like as long as we could be consistent good things will follow, but not racing for a championship it definitely makes you able to race a little bit different. There‘s going to be opportunities where I‘ll be able to race 10 times harder than I have been before.”
The holidays are here which means 2023 is fast approaching and set to signal a new chapter in Hahn‘s career with a little more horsepower under the hood. The two-time ASCS champ has a learning curve ahead, but he‘s confident he can ascend to a level of consistent contender as he gains more experience.
“Our goal, at the end of the day, I just want to turn heads,” Hahn said. “I want to impress people and make my family proud. I want to go out there and be somebody that‘s relevant. Honest opinion, I just want to be somebody that these guys see and think ‘this is somebody that could win tonight.‘ I definitely want to have a chance to be a contender.”