INDIANAPOLIS – USAC’s history is full of legends who have won championships, from the likes of A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and Rich Vogler to Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Bryan Clauson.
But who among them and others had the greatest individual season of all time with USAC?
That honor belongs to Phoenix, Ariz., native J.J. Yeley, who racked up an astounding 24 USAC-sanctioned victories in a single calendar year during the 2003 season.
Among those triumphs were 23 national scores and one special-event win. (4 Silver Crown, 13 National Sprint – 1 Special Event Sprint, 6 National Midget
Yeley was simply dominant in his first year with Tony Stewart Racing’s sprint car team.
How dominant? In his first 14 USAC National Sprint Car Series starts, he was a top-five finisher every time out, only interrupted once through the first 25 races of the season.
In that span, Yeley accrued 24 top-five finishes.
During a run through July and August in the sprint car, which included a full eight-race slate of Indiana Sprint Week, Yeley never finished outside the top three.
The only aberration was at Salem where he finished seventh, but led early and spun, then restarted from the tail, got all the way back to second and spun again.
How did the Phoenix, Ariz., driver respond? He reeled off two wins, a second, and two third-place finishes in the final five races to dominant the championship chase in one of the more convincing years by any driver in any discipline.
Yeley’s 13 USAC National Sprint Car Series wins on the year came one short of Tom Bigelow’s record mark of 14 in 1977.
And that was only in the sprint car. Not to be overshadowed were Yeley’s four Silver Crown scores with owners Tony Stewart and Bob East, as well as six National Midget triumphs with the vaunted Steve Lewis team to his credit.
That helped Yeley become just the second driver – behind Stewart himself in 1995 – to win all three USAC national titles in the same season.
It was perhaps the most convincing display ever in USAC competition, and a run that may never be seen again given the depth of the fields in the three USAC national series today.