CONCORD, N.C. — As Hayden Reinbold climbed atop the cage of his midget, checkered flag in hand, the annoying ‘0’ in his win column finally turned to ‘1’.
In the final race of the season for the Xtreme Outlaw Midget Series presented by Toyota at I-44 Riverside Speedway, Reinbold scored his first career national midget feature win.
Showered in red and white confetti, the moment was more like a cherry atop the sundae, highlighting the improvement he and the Reinbold/Underwood Motorsports team had spent all season concocting.
“I was excited, but I felt like it was well-deserved — we worked really hard this season,” Reinbold said. “We came a really long way.”
In the first half of the Xtreme Outlaw season, his rookie struggles entangled him, compiling an average finish of 14.6 with only two top-10 finishes through the first 15 races. But Reinbold spawned a dramatic turnaround through the last 14 events on the schedule, notching three podium finishes, 10 top-10s and an average finish of 7.6.
An improvement of that caliber midway through the season is a rarity in motorsports.
So, what parted the clouds for his “Arizona sun” to shine so suddenly?
“Comfortableness,” Reinbold said. “I feel like Connor (Ridge) and Jacob (Johnston) kept giving me consistent cars, and it just allowed me to keep improving and getting better. They just kept pushing me. They never gave up on me.”
Standing by his side for victory lane photos after I-44 was crew chief Connor Ridge, who had coached the 19-year-old since 2021 after joining the Reinbold/Underwood team the year prior. Earlier, he and Reinbold went through their pre-race routine, but the feeling was a little different this time.
The AME Electrical, Spike/Stanton No. 19AZ was starting on the pole with a massive championship battle going on behind him.
“I always push him out on the four-wheeler, and I just tell him, ‘Give me 30 good laps, and I’ll see you on the front stretch,’” Ridge said.
Reinbold responded with 30 good laps. Thirty untouched laps. Nobody, not even newly crowned champion Jade Avedisian, could get close enough to make a move for the lead by the checkered.
Though the race on the track was over, Ridge’s heartbeat still raced within.
“There were a couple times when I was like, ‘Come on Hayden, keep rolling, keep up your tempo, keep doing your thing,’” Ridge said. “There was a point in time where I was like, ‘Oh man, we’re gonna throw this thing away and all this work’s gonna be for nothing.’ But he pulled through and did his job like he should’ve done.
“I’m very proud of his efforts; very proud to be in the role that I am here at Reinbold/Underwood Motorsports.”
While the team rode the rollercoaster of emotions at the track, quite the opposite emotion was shown from Hayden’s father and team owner, Andy Reinbold, who was watching live on DIRTVision.
“I really felt pretty comfortable about it the whole race; didn’t really worry too much,” he said. “It was apparent to me that he was the best car and the best driver on the track that day.”
Growing up, Hayden was a basketball and football player.
It wasn’t until shortly after the pandemic restrictions of 2020 were lifted that he asked Andy to try racing for himself. The two went out on the road with a midget for Hayden’s first season, and right away, Andy saw the signs of a future national midget series competitor.
“When he started — at the time, I had a crew chief that worked on sprint cars for me, and Hayden and I just messed around with midgets for a very small part of time, about a year,” Reinbold said. “I could just tell he had what it took. I could tell when he’s there to race and when he’s there to win, or when he’s struggling. As a parent, you can see that.”
Andy was a non-wing sprint car racer himself in the early 2000s before expanding ownership into the midget world and handing off the driving duties to other drivers — several of which served as teammates to Hayden when he first got behind the wheel.
“His teammates have always been Tanner Thorson, Logan Seavey, Daison Pursley — it’s never been able to be just Hayden Reinbold,” Andy said. “We always have a high-caliber driver as a teammate. He doesn’t whine or complain about that stuff. He just stays even keeled.”
When Hayden was paired with Ridge as a driver-crew chief duo during the 2021 season, the two started taking steps down the long-and-winding road to the top of the national midget scene. A couple wins notched in local competition at Jacksonville Speedway in Illinois in 2022 were among the first saplings of success they saw and continued to build on in 2023.
“Every night when we get done racing, we always try and take a step back and say, ‘What’s something I need to get better with on the car?’ or ‘What’s something that [Hayden] needs to get better with his driving?’” Ridge said. “He’s a good enough kid and recognizes when it’s him or it’s the car, and he has no problem saying one or the other. I think that helps us out a lot.”
Through Chili Bowl Nationals, the 29-race Xtreme Outlaw Series plus several starts with USAC and POWRi, the two have refined their at-track dynamic. Ridge said it’s been a tough task at times balancing his own instincts as a crew chief and Reinbold’s needs as a driver, but it was that balance they found in the second half of the season that brought them more consistent, competitive finishes.
“What Hayden wants sometimes isn’t the same thing that I see the car needs,” Ridge said. “So, a lot of times, I just started giving him what he wants. If he wants a little bit better of this, or a little bit more of that, I have no problem giving him that. At the end of the day, he’s the one driving it.”
From where they began this year, Reinbold/Underwood’s Midget operation has improved throughout, boasting Xtreme Outlaw wins with Daison Pursley in August and Reinbold’s first only two weeks ago. Now, it’s all eyes on taller mountains in 2024.
“At the beginning of the year, it was just keep getting laps, keep improving, keep getting better,” Reinbold said. “I never would have thought the improvement would have come so fast. As relieved as I was to get the big win, I’m even more excited to see what the future holds for us.”