Ocala, Florida (February 9, 2023), A record eight past Bubba Raceway Park Winter Dirt Games feature winners are prepared to suit up and fire off for the start of the 2023 USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car points season.
A substantial cast of cars, drivers, teams and fans will make their way down to the Sunshine State’s 3/8-mile D-shaped dirt track on February 16-17-18 in Ocala, Fla. for Winter Dirt Games XIV.
Two $5,000-to-win events begin the festivities with 30-lap features on Thursday and Friday night with Saturday night’s 35-lap finale offering up a $10,000 top prize.
A dedicated practice night for competitors is scheduled for Wednesday night, February 15, from 6-10 pm ET.
The importance of Winter Dirt Games is significant in a myriad of manners. Regularly, it’s proved to be a positive omen for series champions. A feature winner at Ocala has gone on to win the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car title later that same year on seven previous occasions: Bryan Clauson (2013), Brady Bacon (2014 & 2020), Robert Ballou (2015), Tyler Courtney (2018), C.J. Leary (2019), and most recently, in 2022 with Justin Grant.
One year ago, Emerson Axsom was the toast of the town as he blitzed to his first two career USAC National Sprint Car feature victories in a span of three nights in Ocala. The 2022 series Rookie of the Year scored the season opener, then followed up two nights later by pocketing $10,000 in the grand finale. On night two, he was superb as well, garnering a third place result.
Reigning USAC National Sprint Car champion Justin Grant (Ione, Calif.) added another piece to his sterling Winter Dirt Games resume in 2022, adding his fourth career win in the event after previously capturing victories in 2017, 2019 and 2021. He’s the winningest USAC driver in the state of Florida with six to his credit after also adding two USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship triumphs in Ocala in 2022. Grant has also collected three career fast times in Ocala throughout the past decade in 2012-17-22.
Grant, along with four-time series champion Brady Bacon (Broken Arrow, Okla.), head the field in terms of previous USAC National Sprint Car feature victories at Ocala with four. Bacon swept both nights of Winter Dirt Games in 2020 after previous triumphs in 2014 and 2015, all in the seat of the famed Dynamics, Inc. No. 69, which is the winningest team in the history of Winter Dirt Games with five scores. On three occasions, Bacon has ripped the quickest lap at Ocala, once in 2014 and twice in 2015.
Robert Ballou (Rocklin, Calif.) is one of five drivers in this year’s field to have competed in the very first Winter Dirt Games feature at Ocala in 2011, along with Grant, Chase Stockon, Brady Short and Steve Irwin. Ballou has nabbed a pair of wins at Ocala, first in his USAC championship season of 2015 and again in 2016, while also notching an additional one during Winter Dirt Games at East Bay in 2015. Ballou also holds multiple track records at Ocala, setting the 8-lap mark in 2019 at 1:50.92 and the 12-lap standard of 2:52.77 in 2013.
Kevin Thomas Jr. (Cullman, Ala.), along with Ballou and Damion Gardner, have the rare distinction of being a Winter Dirt Games winner at two different racetracks in Florida. During the 2015 season, KTJ collected a victory at East Bay Raceway Park then landed a spot in Ocala’s victory lane during the 2021 campaign. The first of those wins came with Michael Dutcher Motorsports whom he returns to race for in this year’s edition.
C.J. Leary (Greenfield, Ind.) is one of five USAC National champions in this year’s Ocala USAC Sprint field along with Grant, Bacon, Ballou and Logan Seavey. Leary, who led the way to victory in the 2019 WDG closer en route to capturing the series title later that same season, enters the new year with a new combination as the wheelman of the BGE/Dougherty Racing #15x. It was in 2020 when Leary laid down the fastest lap during qualifying at Ocala.
Chase Stockon (Fort Branch, Ind) won the 2018 Winter Dirt Games opener, one of his 13 career top-five finishes at Ocala over the years, which includes runner-up finishes in 2015 (twice), a 3rd in 2022, a 4th in 2013, 2016, 2019 (twice), 2020 and 2022, plus a 5th in 2014. Additionally, he’s also set the tone with three Ocala quick times, twice in 2013 and once more in 2015.
Thomas Meseraull (San Jose, Calif.) has knocked out both a USAC National Sprint Car and USAC National Midget feature win at Ocala in his career, notching the midget victory in 2021 and the sprint win on the final lap of the final night in 2016. He’s also recorded a 3rd in both 2016 and 2017 and again in the 2022 opener. Furthermore, he was the quickest in the field during qualifying at Ocala in 2016.
TRYING TO BREAK THE ICE:
Following a three-year absence from Winter Dirt Games, Jason McDougal (Broken Arrow, Okla.) was highly impressive in his return, finishing as the runner-up in the 2022 Ocala opener. Logan Seavey (Sutter, Calif.) debuted at Winter Dirt Games in 2018, then left Ocala in 2020 with his best USAC Sprint Car performance at the track, finishing 3rd.
Kyle Cummins (Princeton, Ind.) has been a Rock Steady performer at Ocala, finishing 2nd in both 2016 and 2020 as well as 3rd in 2016 (twice) and again in 2021. Brandon Mattox (Terre Haute, Ind.), the 2020 USAC National Most Improved Driver, finished a best of 12th at Ocala in 2020.
Jake Swanson (Anaheim, Calif.) led a race-high 21 laps on the second night of the 2021 WDG at Ocala before, ultimately, finishing 7th in his first weekend of action at the track. He’d later go on to win the 2021 USAC National Most Improved Driver award for his stout season. He repeated as a 7th place finisher on night two in 2022.
Two-time 2022 USAC National Sprint Car winner Mitchel Moles (Raisin City, Calif.), meanwhile, made his series debut at Ocala in 2022, taking 11th. He’ll pilot the Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports No. 19AZ in the event, which won with Leary at Ocala back in 2019.
A year ago, Brady Short (Bedford, Ind.) made his first WDG start since 2016, finishing 12th. The seven-time Bloomington (Ind.) Speedway sprint car track champion tallied finishes of 3rd and 4th Ocala in 2010.
Matt Westfall (Pleasant Hill, Ohio) has been a steady presence at Winter Dirt Games throughout the past decade. The versatile past BOSS Sprint Car, NAMARS Midget and Eldora late model titlist took 13th at Ocala with the USAC Sprint Cars in 2022 for his best performance so far. Fellow Ohioan Landon Simon (Tipp City, Ohio) made his first trip to the Sunshine State since 2018 last year. His best result of 15th at Ocala came in 2013, 2016 and 2017.
With a new ride in the Baldwin-Fox Racing No. 5, Jadon Rogers (Worthington, Ind.), the 2020 USAC National Sprint Car Rookie of the Year, turned in a best of 13th during his Ocala debut in 2021. Carson Garrett (Littleton, Colo.), the 2021 Midwest Sprint Car Series Rookie of the Year, returns to Ocala after a two-year hiatus. He finished 23rd in his first, and thus far, only Winter Dirt Games appearance in 2021. Steve Irwin (Fenton, Mich.) has corralled two previous WDG starts, in 2011 and again in 2022.
Eying first career Winter Dirt Games feature starts in Ocala is an array of talent, including Daison Pursley (Locust Grove, Okla.), who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors with the USAC National Sprint Car division in 2023 for KO Motorsports. With the USAC National Midgets in Ocala, Pursley has finished inside the top-five in each of his past two starts with a 4th and a 5th in 2021.
Also making their first forays to Ocala are 2019 USAC CRA Sprint Car Rookie of the Year Eddie Tafoya Jr. (Chino Hills, Calif.), plus Englishman Tom Harris (Banbury, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom), USAC East Coast Sprint Car winner Joey Amantea (Mount Pocono, Pa.), NAMARS Midget champ Kevin Newton (Farmersburg, Ind.), Hunter Maddox (Bedford, Ind.), and Eddie Vancil (Olney, Ill.).
Midget racing standout Kyle Jones (Kennedale, Texas) will be making his USAC National Sprint Car debut along with Dragonfly Aviation’s Kevin Reed (Laredo, Texas), RUSH Sprint Car Series victor John Mollick (Toronto, Ohio) and six-time 2022 winged 358 Sprint Car winner Cameron Smith (Spring Grove, Pa.).
Thirty-one previous USAC National Sprint Car events have been held at Bubba Raceway Park since 2011. Emerson Axsom (twice) and Justin Grant (once) won features on each of the three nights back in February of 2022 in Ocala. Brady Bacon, Bryan Clauson and Grant are the winningest USAC Sprint Car drivers at Bubba’s with four victories apiece.
Damion Gardner has won three USAC Sprint features at Bubba’s while Tracy Hines, Tyler Courtney, Robert Ballou and Axsom have each scored a pair of victories. Kevin Thomas Jr., Chris Windom, C.J. Leary, Darren Hagen, Dave Darland, Thomas Meseraull, Chase Stockon and Hunter Schuerenberg have all won once.
Bubba Raceway Park is the longest continuously operating auto racing venue in the state of Florida, celebrating its 72nd season of competition after opening back in 1952. USAC racing and the “Sunshine State” have a history that dates back to the decade of the 1950s as well.
In fact, the first three USAC Sprint Car races ever held took place in Florida in February of 1956. Bob Sweikert won the first such event at Southland Speedway in West Palm Beach, followed by Chuck Weyant at Jacksonville Speedway and Pat O’Connor at Medley Speedway in Miami.
Throughout the three nights of action, a format that pays event points throughout the weekend will be in place. Over the first two nights, total points will be calculated, which will “lock-in” the top-five in total combined points into Saturday night’s feature event.
The program for the USAC Sprints on Saturday night will have no qualifying, and will instead consist of three qualifying races, each 10 laps in length, lined up “straight-up” based on each driver’s best single points night. The lineup will snake with the driver possessing the 6th best single points night on the pole of the first qualifying race, 7th will be on the pole for the second qualifying race and 8th starting from the pole position in the third qualifying race, and so on.
The top-four finishers from each qualifying race will transfer to the feature. Those finishing 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th or 9th in each qualifying race will be placed into the semi-feature. Those finishing 10th on back in each qualifying race will be placed into a 8-lap C-Main, if needed, where the top-4 finishers will transfer to the semi-feature and occupy the final four starting positions of that race.
The winning drivers of each qualifying race will transfer into an eight-car dash along with the top-five locked in drivers. Locked-in drivers will draw for starting positions one through five followed by qualifying race winners drawing for positions six through eight when they stop for their winner’s interview. The finish of the four-lap dash will determine the first four rows of the feature.
The top-5 finishers from the 12-lap semi-feature will transfer into the night’s feature, filling the final five positions in the feature starting lineup.
Saturday’s feature will consist of 22 cars (not counting up to two provisionals) and 35 laps. Thursday and Friday night feature races will be 30 laps in length.
If Thursday’s or Friday’s events are canceled, Saturday night’s event will retain the standard format.
Practice opens up the Winter Dirt Games festivities from 6-10pm Eastern on Wednesday, February 15. Grandstand admission is free while pit passes are $20 apiece.
For the first two nights of racing on Thursday, February 16 and Friday, February 17, the pits open at 3pm Eastern, front gates open at 5pm and cars are on track at 6:15pm with qualifying and racing immediately following. Adult general admission tickets are $30 & kids 12 and under are free. Pit passes are $35 for members & $40 for non-members.
On the final night of racing on Saturday, February 18, the pits open at 3pm Eastern, front gates open at 5pm and cars on track at 6:15pm with racing immediately following. Adult general admission tickets are $35 & kids 12 and under are free. Pit passes are $40 for members & $45 for non-members.
Each and every night of Winter Dirt Games XIII can be watched LIVE on FloRacing at https://bit.ly/3frPoW6.