COLUMBUS, Ind. — A solid opening act to the season has 15-year-old Brenham Crouch looking forward to a diverse set of opportunities ahead of him.
Crouch kicked off a campaign — expected to feature more than 100 races — earlier this month with a USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget Series doubleheader at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla., the first two races of a quest for rookie-of-the-year honors with Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports.
Respectable runs of 15th and 16th in the two 30-lappers at the three-eighths-mile dirt oval came as Crouch battled the likes of reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott, defending USAC midget titlist Chris Windom and many of his KKM teammates, including opening-day winner Buddy Kofoid.
The teenager ranks 13th in USAC midget points, and third among series rookies, with a long season ahead. Crouch admitted his results at Ocala weren’t a reflection of the speed his team had.
“We ran a few USAC and POWRi races last year, just getting our feet wet and I think we got rid of most of the hiccups that we had,” said Crouch, who advanced into midgets from micro sprints. “There’s just a lot to learn as a rookie on this tour. I think we can really be competitive and build on where we started out if we just keep our minds to it and work together.
“I was in karts for five or six years before a year-and-a-half of micro experience, so I’m really new to everything, it feels like … but KKM is the best team out there to help me with the learning curve.”
Crouch, who will also compete with KKM in selected POWRi National Midget League events as scheduling permits, feels the head start he got with the team last season will pay dividends down the road.
“Being in the car a whole lot was definitely a big help,” Crouch said. “Getting through qualifying and the heat races is something I learned is the most crucial part of the entire night. The way the USAC format is set up, it’s really what makes or breaks your entire race. It’s something we know we have to work on, but we’re pushing to get better in that regard.
“The midget and the micro (sprint) are completely different cars, and that has been an adjustment. After running some midget stuff, I’ve found that it’s pretty easy to go back and forth. Just getting used to everything has been the biggest thing, but it’s aggressiveness that makes the difference. The midget has taught me so much more than the micro did. It’s unreal.
“After I was comfortable with the car and started driving it harder, everything started to click.”
Aside from his midget endeavors, Crouch’s ambitious schedule includes a mix of ASCS national sprint car races, 410 sprint car races, several prestigious micro sprint events and a handful of asphalt late model starts — all as Crouch eyes a progression up the racing ladder with Toyota Racing Development.
“It’s really fun mixing it up, you know?” said Crouch of his diverse calendar. “I enjoy the midget stuff. I really enjoy the sprint car stuff. I feel like once I get comfortable and everything, and do more than just get my feet wet, that we have a chance to be really good across the board. It, obviously, takes time, and I know I have a lot of proving to do, but I feel like I have it in me to make it to a high level.
“I’m excited just for the chance to race more this year,” he added. “I probably would’ve laughed if you’d told me last year that we’d put together this big of a schedule. We had a big schedule planned out in the micro ranks last year, but a lot changed since the beginning of last year … with the (COVID-19) pandemic and everything that happened, a lot is different not. But this is all a great opportunity for me.
“I know I have to make the very best I can with Keith Kunz, TRD and all our partners every time I’m on the race track and I feel like we’re in a position to do that all season.”
Crouch views his upcoming sprint car experiences as “important” to his development, especially because he’ll have past World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series champion Daryn Pittman overseeing his sprint car program.
“Daryn, obviously, is one of the best and it’s a big deal to be able to learn from him,” Crouch noted. “I’m glad to have him in my corner and looking forward to being able to put our sprint car on track this season with his guidance.”
As for the late model side, Crouch hopes to be the latest young gun to use the opportunity to begin racing on pavement as a springboard to NASCAR, much like Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell — who picked up his first Cup Series win on the Daytona road course Sunday — have done before him.
“I think that anyone who comes into TRD, their main goal is to try and get to NASCAR like Christopher and Kyle did … but we do have things lined out in case that doesn’t work out, where we can go sprint car racing in 2022 or 2023,” Crouch explained. “Toyota has done so much for me the last year, though, and I’d like to be a part of their program as long as I can.
“I have a whole lot to learn. Obviously, I’m still pretty much a rookie at this level, so there are a lot of things I can improve on, but I feel like there were a lot of things that I faced and a lot of mistakes I got rid of last year,” he added. “I feel like this year, if I put it all together and focus on my mentality, we can do big things.”