This year's USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship Rookie of the Year was none other than Emerson Axsom. (Chris Williams photo)

Axsom Sprints To USAC Rookie Of The Year

SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Starting red hot and finishing strong. That’s the playbook Emerson Axsom followed on the road to earning USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship Rookie of the Year honors this year.

The Franklin, Ind., native got off on the right foot back in February with wins in two of his first three starts to open the year at Ocala, Florida’s Bubba Raceway Park. He’d have to wait eight more months to garner win number three when the series ventured west to Arizona’s Cocopah Speedway.

But in the meantime, Axsom and his Clauson Marshall Newman Racing team persevered over the peaks and valleys accustomed to the rookie experience — a first season that was among the best in the history of the series when all things were said and done.

Axsom’s three wins in 2022 are the second most ever by a USAC National Sprint Car Rookie. His fifth place finish in the standings made him just the second driver to finish inside the top five in points in the past 18 years as he wheeled the Driven2SaveLives ZMax Race Products/Spike/Kistler Chevy.

With 15 top-fives and 31 top-10s in 39 starts, as well as three fast qualifying awards to his credit, 18-year-old Axsom became the eighth teenager to win the award. He joined a teenage RoY lineage that also includes Boston Reid (2002), Darren Hagen (2005), Chad Boat (2008), Coleman Gulick (2011), C.J. Leary (2012), Tyler Courtney (2013) and Jadon Rogers (2020).

Axsom got his feet wet the year before with seven series starts coming late in the 2021 season, setting up a rookie run.

He nearly picked off a win at Lawrenceburg Speedway’s Fall Nationals in 2021 and after his torrid start to 2022, the expectations rose. However, Axsom soon hit the expected learning curve where one has to endure the common bumps in the road and figure out a way how to bounce back.

“Going out and winning those two early races lifted the expectations,” Axsom admitted. “But I knew stuff was coming because I did it two years before in a midget. In my second ever midget race, I ran second and that kind of gave me a false sense of security. After going through that, I knew it was going to be tough. These guys are here for a reason and we’re not just going to kick their teeth in every week.

“But still, it was difficult, and it does give you a bit of a false sense because you want to believe that it’s that easy, but we all know it’s not.”

Ups and downs are part of the game, rookie or otherwise. Some nights, you might have a fast car, and everything falls into place. Other nights, the same might not be said. It’s true for every team and every driver who’s ever strapped into a race car.

Axsom acknowledged the difficulty of a team putting several nights of success together, and that the process of “figuring it out” and rebounding from those “not-so-great” nights is paramount. For how you respond will ultimately set up your path to future success, especially among those new experiences that Axsom partook in along the way.

“A lot of it was the size of the tracks we’re running on, the size of the car and the level of competition compared to what I had previously been racing against,” Axsom explained. “I ran a little bit of sprint car stuff last year, but it was only in Indiana. Plus, the level of competition steps up a notch because now I’m racing against people who are doing this for a living.”

Now, Axsom is among this group as well, and much of his growth coincided under the tutelage of crew chief Adam Wallis and team owner Tim Clauson who were on hand to lend their mechanical knowledge and racing know-how in order to help guide Axsom on his way to a successful campaign.

“My crew chief and I worked really well together last year, but we didn’t really run long enough for something bad to happen,” Axsom said. “Everyone knew I was really a rookie last year, but I was a rookie this year too. Last year, I was running my first ever sprint car races. Everyone I’ve talked to said we had a pretty good season this year and we ended up really solid.

“There were a lot of ups and downs, but I feel like when we had the downs, we figured out what was wrong and rebounded well.”