INDIANAPOLIS — USAC national driving champions Logan Seavey and Justin Grant shared the spotlight along with other USAC champions and special award recipients at Friday night’s 68th USAC Night of Champions celebration at the Indiana Roof Ballroom in downtown Indianapolis, Ind.
USAC NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
A total of 75 USAC national events were held from sea to shining sea during this year’s campaign, from February’s events in the gator country of Barberville, Florida all the way to November’s night on the beach in Ventura, California.
We were witnesses to milestones, photo finishes, historic streaks, hard charges, a double-up champion, a repeat titlist and a return to the throne.
With the curtain closed on the 68th year of USAC racing, we salute all the individuals and teams who thrived through the yearlong grind on the trail and also those who earned the right to stand on the stage Friday night as one of the very best at their discipline.
USAC SILVER CROWN 1ST PLACE DRIVER: Logan Seavey – Sutter, California
USAC SILVER CROWN 1ST PLACE ENTRANT: Rice Motorsports-Abacus Racing – Brownsburg, Indiana
Logan Seavey and Rice Motorsports fell just a few points short of a USAC Silver Crown championship in each of the past two seasons, but this year, they weren’t denied. Three dirt wins met the expectations of the team’s desires at Port Royal, Springfield and Eldora. However, the pavement side of the equation saw a huge stride for the team with four top-five results.
However, a July accident at Winchester nearly derailed their championship hopes and aspirations. With all hands on deck between Rice Motorsports and new team co-entrant Abacus Racing, and the sands of the hourglass running short, the team rebuilt their car just in time to finish 5th at Toledo, marking the moment when the two factions truly became one team.
When all was said and done, Seavey, Rice and Abacus prevailed with a scant seven-point edge in earning the title, and coupled with his midget championship, Seavey became the first driver since Levi Jones in 2011 to double up with multiple USAC national titles in a season, which earned him a $50,000 bonus, doubling his point fund payout to $100,000 for the year.
USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK NATIONAL MIDGET 1ST PLACE DRIVER: Logan Seavey – Sutter, California
USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK NATIONAL MIDGET 1ST PLACE ENTRANT: Abacus Racing – Noblesville, Indiana
Logan Seavey and Abacus Racing’s 280-point final championship margin at the conclusion of the 2023 USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship season was the largest in nearly two decades since Bobby East’s title in 2004, and it came after they found themselves mired sixth in the standings, 110 points out of the lead in June.
Their run of 22 consecutive top-10 finishes to end the season sealed the deal and tied Jason Leffler’s series record set in 1997, the very same year Seavey was born. Seavey won at Macon Speedway mere hours after winning the USAC Silver Crown race at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, becoming just the third driver to win multiple USAC national events at two different racetracks in a single day, a feat previously only accomplished by Billy Vukovich in 1967 and J.J. Yeley in 2004.
Seavey also performed a complete USAC sweep of the 4-Crown Nationals at Eldora and led the midget series in feature laps led with 214 as well as 21 top-fives and 24 top-tens in 27 starts. He’s now a two-time USAC National Midget champion and his team is a first-time series titlist.
USAC AMSOIL NATIONAL SPRINT CAR 1ST PLACE DRIVER: Justin Grant, Ione, California
RICHARD HOFFMAN USAC AMSOIL NATIONAL SPRINT CAR 1ST PLACE ENTRANT: TOPP Motorsports, Rochester, Indiana
Justin Grant and TOPP Motorsports endured a nearly two-month struggle in the late spring/early summer months which overlapped with a change in team personnel and a period of confidence-shaking woes that found the team as far down as sixth in the standings entering mid-summer.
What followed was one of the most dominant stretches in series history for himself, sidekick Jeff Walker and TOPP Motorsports’ Kevin Birchmeier, accounting for a career-high 11 series victories in 2023, including eight in his final 17 starts, and 13 straight top-tens to close out the year.
Grant became the 13th different point leader in a record setting year in terms of point lead changes and was also victorious at Gas City in the closest USAC finish of the season while earning the most lucrative weekend of his career when he cashed $44,500 in a single night by completing a Sprint Car Smackdown sweep at Indiana’s Kokomo Speedway. To boot, he finished off the year with $20,000 more in his pocket as the winner of the Fall Nationals at Lawrenceburg.
Both Grant and TOPP are now two-time USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car champions, and for the second year in a row, the first team to do so since Brady Bacon and Dynamics, Inc. in 2020-21. The efforts were worth another $50,000 for their title run.
INDIVIDUAL & SPECIAL AWARDS
ROGER McCLUSKEY AWARD: Dave Darland – Lincoln, Indiana
Who would have thought that a straggly kid from Lincoln, Indiana would have come this far? Dave Darland is the absolute epitome of the word “excellence” in every sense of the word. He’s one of seven members of the Triple Crown club, winning championships across all three of USAC’s divisions – Silver Crown, National Midgets and National Sprint Cars where he is the winningest driver in series history.
Darland’s total of 115 USAC feature victories (nationally and regionally) ranks fifth all-time and his 1,334 USAC National feature starts between 1986 and 2023 also ranks number one. He also scored at least one USAC national feature victory in a remarkable 24 consecutive seasons between 1993 and 2016.
He’s raced everywhere and won nearly everything in his long and storied career. He’s won on pavement and dirt, won from coast-to-coast, and titles upon titles, and was one of the most popular drivers to ever compete on the USAC trail. Along the way, he affectionately earned the nickname, “The People’s Champ,” which certainly about sums it up.
The accolades go on and on and we could be here for eternity reciting them, but this man has solidified his position as one of the all-time greats in all motorsports, and that’s a status he will retain for eternity.
It brings me great pleasure to introduce to you this year’s recipient of the Roger McCluskey Award – the incomparable Dave Darland!
MIKE CURB USAC NATIONAL DRIVERS CHAMPION: Justin Grant, Ione, California
A second USAC National Sprint Car championship in as many years isn’t the only impressive accolade Justin Grant repeated in 2023. For the third consecutive season, and fourth time overall, Grant (Ione, Calif.) was rewarded as the Mike Curb USAC National Driver Champion. He amassed the most total points across the three USAC national divisions throughout the duration of the 2023 campaign and is now just the third driver to win the honor in three consecutive seasons, joining J.J. Yeley and Bryan Clauson in that department. He’s also now one of only two drivers to capture this reward four times in his career along with Tracy Hines. For his performance, Grant collected an extra $10,000.
JOHNNY CAPELS “GOLDEN GREEK” USAC CHIEF MECHANIC OF THE YEAR: Ronnie Gardner – Rice Motorsports & Abacus Racing
It’s a rare feat to win multiple championships in a single year in any aspect of the sport, but Ronnie Gardner was able to achieve that as a crewman in 2023. A five-time USAC Western States Midget titlist as a driver in his own right, he turned in the steering wheel for a wrench and has kept on winning. This year, between his efforts with driver Logan Seavey, Abacus Racing and Rice Motorsports, he amassed a pair of championships in USAC National Midget and USAC Silver Crown competition. The Johnny Capels “Golden Greek” award is reserved for those special individuals who are in the trenches and this year’s recipient is certainly among those as he earned a $10,000 reward for his efforts.
BUBBY JONES MASTER OF GOIN’ FASTER CHAMPIONSHIP: C.J. Leary – Greenfield, Indiana
C.J. Leary has won a USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship, an Indiana Sprint Week title and an Eastern Storm crown in his career. In 2023, the Greenfield, Ind. driver added another highlight to his impressive reel by capturing the second annual Bubby Jones Master of Goin’ Faster Championship Presented By Spire Sports + Entertainment. Leary earned $10,000 for his efforts in the 10-race miniseries and an extra $2,500 for his BGE Dougherty Motorsports team. For Leary, it’s another feather in his cap as he also received a custom trophy provided by Potter Metal Art.
PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER: Daison Pursley – Locust Grove, Oklahoma
Daison Pursley’s conquests in USAC’s National Sprint Car Midget divisions saw him pass a total of 199 cars in 62 feature starts throughout the 2023 season. Those efforts paid off for the Locust Grove, Okla. driver as he earned the title of ProSource Passing Master. Pursley earned a $2,500 prize and becomes the third different winner of the season-long award which rewards the USAC nationally licensed driver who advanced the most positions during feature events throughout the entirety of USAC’s 2023 national season between Silver Crown, Sprint Cars and Midgets.
MAX PAPIS INNOVATIONS SILVER CROWN ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Kaylee Bryson – Muskogee, Oklahoma
Throughout the 2023 season, Kaylee Bryson ascended to heights never before reached in USAC’s 68-year history. She became the first woman to finish inside the top-five of the standings in a USAC national series and is now the first woman to earn USAC National Rookie of the Year honors of any kind, earning the honor with the Silver Crown series this past season. One year ago, the Muskogee, Oklahoma native became the first woman to earn USAC National Most Improved Driver honors and she’s also the first Okie to win this award.
MAX PAPIS INNOVATIONS BOB STROUD NATIONAL MIDGET ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Gavin Miller – Allentown, Pennsylvania
Just a few years ago, Gavin Miller stood on the stage at USAC’s Night of Champions as a decorated quarter midget racer. Now the six-time USAC .25 Midget champ is making a name on the USAC National Midget scale by becoming the first Pennsylvanian to win a series feature since Steve Buckwalter 13 years ago. Miller’s win at Bloomington and an eighth place finish in the standings propelled the Allentown, Pa. racer to becoming just the third Keystone State native to receive recognition as the Max Papis Innovations Bob Stroud USAC National Midget Rookie of the Year after John Andretti in 1983 and Andrew Layser in 2019.
MAX PAPIS INNOVATIONS USAC NATIONAL SPRINT CAR ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Daison Pursley – Locust Grove, Oklahoma
There are comeback stories and then there is the comeback story of Pursley. In 2021, the Locust Grove, Okla. native suffered a spinal injury that kept him inside hospitals and rehab centers for several months. His perseverance and desire ultimately led him back to the driver’s seat. Right out of the box in 2023, he got the racing world’s attention with a $10,000 score at Florida’s Volusia Speedway Park, a night he said he’ll always remember. Defying the odds is part of Pursley’s game, and in 2023, he became the first Oklahoman to win the Max Papis Innovations USAC National Sprint Car Rookie of the Year award since Gary Cameron in 1992.