Future Star Watch

As we wait to see if the racing at Fontana will be better this weekend, what with the 4.5” spoiler rule now in effect…

I’m thrilled to see that RacingOne will now be making USAC Racing part of the site’s regular menu.

Managing Editor Pete Pistone and I have been talking about this for some time. You see, we’ve both been around long enough to recall when USAC Racing was the platinum standard for oval track racing in these United States. USAC has been through its ups and downs, but under the strong leadership of Rollie Helmling, Steve Farmer, Mike Devin, Owen Snyder, Dick Jordan, and many other talented racing people, USAC is in an incredibly strong position these days and may in fact be poised for unprecedented growth.

USAC is marking its 50th year sanctioning racing coast to coast; in the last several years USAC’s number of sanctioned series and events has exploded. While it’s true that USAC success is no longer a sure-fire path to Indy 500 glory, that pathway has now become paved with gold….NASCAR gold.

It’s no secret that most of today’s top stars in Nextel Cup, Busch, and Truck Series racing have come from USAC. Start with Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon, to Tony Stewart, to Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne, and it’s easy to see that NASCAR’s top levels are full of drivers with USAC wins and titles on their resumes’. It’s become one of two realistic pathways to Cup, along with the more traditional stock car ladder system of local late models to USAR (or ASA, if it can be revived) to ARCA to Trucks. But one could argue, as Ray Evernham does, that the experience of sliding 750 HP, 1300 lb sprint cars around on wet clay or none-too-grippy pavement is crucial to developing championship-level skills.

USAC’s Silver Crown and National Midget drivers have already begun their 2005 racing seasons, blasting around Phoenix a month ago at the Copper Classic. The guy who may well become NASCAR’s next great star, former USAC Triple Crown Champ JJ Yeley, stole the midget main on the final lap; Dave Steele, who had a brief fling in the Busch Series a couple of years back with Felix Sabates, continued his Silver Crown domination.

Now, most NASCAR owners want to develop someone who’s in their teens, or early to mid-20’s. Steele, a bit beyond that demographic, may no longer fit the profile. But drivers like Josh Wise and Michael Lewis are waiting in the wings for their opportunity.

And when the USAC National Midget and Sprint Car seasons get cranked up in April, bet on the likelihood that several other capable youngsters will emerge. Keep your eye on teenager Bobby Santos and young veteran Davey Ray to lead the charge.

But the biggest move in USAC racing these past many months is clearly the creation of a new-generation Silver Crown car, suitable for safe racing on superspeedways.

The new SC machine has been shown before the motorsports industry several times, and has been tested by some key drivers. It’s been developed by Riley Technologies in Indy, with help from International Speedway Corporation. It’s not an attractive race car, and the bodywork necessary to make the car drivable on tracks like California and Michigan will keep fans from seeing drivers at work. But if 20 to 30 of these cars are built in time for 2006, and the racing is safe and close, the new initiative will be a success…and USAC’s legacy will grow.

We’ll see how that plan develops over the next six months. It’ll be one of the biggest motorsports stories of 2005. Meantime get ready for another high-intensity USAC season coast to coast. You won’t want to miss a chance to see the country’s best open wheel drivers get after it. You might just be watching the 2010 Daytona 500 winner…before anyone else has figured out who that will be.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2005

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