EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part one of a two-part story on Illinois micro racer Aiden Purdue, who recently made his USAC midget debut and has been competing on iRacing in various dirt events since the breakout of the COVID-19 virus in the United States.
Part two will be published on the Sprint Car & Midget website on Saturday.
CLINTON, Ill. — It’s rare in racing that a driver would willingly step out of the seat to make way for someone else to drive, but that’s exactly what happened for 15-year-old Aiden Purdue.
Purdue, an established name in Midwest micro sprint racing, made his debut in a national midget during the USAC-sanctioned Shamrock Classic in early March — one of the last racing events before the COVID-19 pandemic brought sports to a sudden halt.
Purdue’s unexpected USAC appearance was thanks to Illinois veteran Daniel Robinson.
“Daniel has raced all his life and I’ve known him since the year after I got into micros. That’s about the time that I got introduced to him,” Purdue recalled. “I think it was at Southern Illinois Raceway, actually. But we met there and my whole family became really good friends with them; he’s a great guy. After that, we raced two or three more years … and then it was about two months ago that he shot me a message, just out of the blue. I was sitting around and had heard they were talking about something and then my crew chief, Brad McDaniel, called me and he said, ‘Hey, do you want to drive a midget?’
“Of course, I’m like, ‘Well, sure,’ because that had always been a dream of mine, you know? And Brad told me that I would be, because Daniel had given up racing for me and wanted to put me in his car,” Purdue added. “It wasn’t something that I expected at all; knowing how competitive he’s always been, but it was just a great opportunity for me that I’m super appreciative to Daniel for.”
Robinson’s step back opened the door for Purdue to jump into the blue-and-orange McCreery Motorsports No. 57, a familiar car to Midwest midget fans.
“I was shook when it happened,” Purdue admitted. “That meant so much to me. I mean, for someone to give up something they’ve been doing their whole life, just for me … that’s insane with the amount of trust that’s there and the amount of everything that goes into that. Me being a race car driver, I live and dream, eat and sleep racing. It’s everything I do.
“For him to give that to someone like me was — and is — absolutely outstanding.”
It was a bold new step for Purdue, who got his start in quarter midgets before advancing into micros.
“My dad took me to an arrive-and-drive … I think it was Terre Haute, Ind., or somewhere. That was my first time in it and I just never got out after that,” said Purdue. “So that started the chain reaction for me, because no one in my family actually even raced, so it was kind of cool to me to be the odd man out. My dad always wanted to race and it was very, very cool to get that opportunity to do it because I didn’t like anything else. I tried every other sport — basketball, baseball, what have you — and this just stuck. This was the one after that.
“After a few years in quarters, he made a bet with me over winning a championship and that he would buy me a micro and I showed him up,” Purdue added with a laugh. “He bought me a micro and that extended that chain. I’ve been in the micro for about five years now.”
Purdue’s Shamrock start in the midget was modest, but enough to leave a wide grin on his face all the same. He finished fifth in his heat race and his qualifier before coming up one spot short of transferring out of his semi-feature into the 50-lap main event.
While a different challenge, Purdue seemed to adapt to the higher-powered car fairly quickly.
“Man, it was so much more than I expected,” said Purdue of the midget. “The team was messing with me back before we even started. They’re like, ‘Yeah, this is going to be crazy, more than you’ve ever experienced. Well, I stepped foot in that thing, and they were right — it was crazy. I could just pop wheelies, almost on command, it felt like. It was like a dream. I didn’t know what to do, just because it was so much more than what I was ever used to. It was just crazy.
“It was so much more than I ever expected. And then when I got out, I had the biggest smile on my face ever,” he continued. “Anyone around me at that time would have seen that smile.”
Purdue doesn’t know when his next race will be, but he does know one thing for sure.
“If I wasn’t hooked long before now, I definitely am after that,” he said with a smile. “Driving that midget was a blast and something I want to do more of.”