SPEEDWAY, Ind. – It was a year of triumph for drivers and teams both experienced and new. It was a year of comebacks, both on track and off. It was a year that inspired us. It was a year that thrilled us. It was a year that gave us everything we desired and delivered. It was year that won’t soon be forgotten.
Here is part one of a look back at the biggest storylines of the USAC Silver Crown, AMSOIL National Sprint Car and NOS Energy Drink National Midget seasons. Check back tomorrow for part two.
Bacon Takes A Licking, Keeps On Ticking
To win a USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship, sometimes you’ve got to take your lumps and persevere through the valleys to make it back to the top. Brady Bacon ran through the full gamut of emotions in a singular night on at least two major occasions in 2021.
Bacon’s remarkable comeback story in May’s Tony Hulman Classic at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track was one that will be talked about for a long time to come. His night began by setting the fastest qualifying time, but in the first heat race, following contact from Anthony D’Alessio, Bacon nearly touched the clouds in a sky-high crash that sent him flipping viciously over the turn one wall.
Following the incident, Bacon and Hoffman Auto Racing’s Matt Hummel and D.J. Lebow led team rolled out the backup car and raced from the tail (14th) to finish third and transfer to the main event, then, to cap it all off, he made another charge from his 9th starting spot to a 3rdplace finish in the feature.
In October at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway, in what became an all too familiar storyline in 2021, Bacon flipped hard between turns one and two during the second heat race as a result of contact with C.J. Leary. The backup Dynamics, Inc. No. 69 was then rolled from the trailer where Bacon promptly utilized it to charge from 15th to third in the semi-feature, then from 11th to fourth in the feature.
Kofoid Overcomes Broken Bones To Win USAC Midget Title
After capturing Rookie of the Year honors in 2020, Buddy Kofoid elevated his game even more the following year, scoring the series title in his second full season of competition on the strength of six victories in a campaign that saw its share of triumphs and tribulations, including an injury that very easily could’ve derailed what became the 19-year-old driver’s destiny.
A late model crash at Minnesota’s Elko Speedway in July resulted in a broken right wrist and a broken left foot for Kofoid. With an arm cast grooved to fit the curvature of his steering wheel, ala Jim Hurtubise, Kofoid was forced to acclimate to his new clime inside the race car, firstly merely discovering a new comfort level in the car.
Since he couldn’t close his right hand all the way, the team beefed up the steering wheel with extra padding on one side to make it fatter and easier to grip. Furthermore, the body on the right side of the car was spaced out a bit more in order for him to lift his arm up higher since he had no wrist movement.
Kofoid reclaimed the point lead late in the going after swapping back-and-forth with defending champion Chris Windom. In the end, Kofoid won six times with the series and became the sixth teenager to win the USAC National Midget driving title, joining Jeff Gordon (1990), Bobby East (2004), Christopher Bell (2013), Spencer Bayston (2017) and Cole Whitt (2008), who was the youngest to win it at age 17.
This was a championship that, admittedly, wasn’t in the plans for Kody Swanson. Without a full-time Silver Crown ride on both dirt and pavement, Swanson had to utilize a full assortment of resources.
A ride in the No. 77 with sports car racing standout and new Silver Crown entrant Doran Racing was secure for all four pavement events, three of which he won at Lucas Oil Raceway twice and Toledo once. But the dirt plan was a different story.
Swanson obtained a ride with the Mark Swanson Encore Team No. 21 for both Eldora rounds, then was tabbed for driving duties in Chris Dyson Racing’s No. 9 for Selinsgrove (Pa.) Speedway and the two Illinois dirt miles in Springfield and Du Quoin, winning at Springfield for the team.
In fact, on just 10 previous occasions did a driver win the Silver Crown championship by utilizing multiple cars throughout the season and no driver had ever won the championship while competing for three different teams in a year. That is, until Kody Swanson did it in 2021.
All Woman Front Row At Turkey Night
November’s Turkey Night Grand Prix was chock-full of historical USAC moments. The tops came in qualifying as Kaylee Bryson recorded Fatheadz Fast Qualifying time to become the first woman to win the pole in Turkey Night’s grand history, which dates back to its inaugural running in 1934.
Her Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports counterpart, Taylor Reimer, qualified second and started alongside Bryson on the front row, making it the first time in USAC National Midget history that two women qualified first and second.
The duo led the field to the green with Bryson controlling the pace early on, leading the initial 17 laps of the event, which were the first ever laps led by a woman in Turkey Night history.
Prior to that night, the best Turkey Night Grand Prix finish by a woman was 13th by Denise Bennet in 1988. In 2021, three drivers finished 13th or better with Kaylee Bryson leading the way in fifth, Taylor Reimer eighth and Macdoel, California’s Maria Cofer 13th.
Pursley Injured, Making Continuous Improvement
The most serious accident of the season occurred during the third heat race of the USAC National Midget Western World Championships at Arizona Speedway in November when Daison Pursley was involved in a vicious flip at the entrance to the high side of turn three while battling for position.
After several flips and somersaults, Pursley was removed from the car and transported to an area hospital for further observation.
Suffering a significant spinal cord injury, Pursley has made an inspiration rally ever since. After spending weeks in an Arizona hospital, Pursley was transferred to a rehab center in Atlanta, Georgia where, just before New Year’s Eve, he is now walking without assistance as his balance and strength have made significant strides. He will even find himself back behind the wheel of a passenger car for the first time since on Jan. 20.
Check back tomorrow for part two of the top storylines of the 2021 USAC season.