DeLAY: When A Race Team Is Hunting A Driver…

Andy DeLay Andy DeLay Blog, Other Midgets, Staff Columns 1 Comment

Shane Cockrum wheels the Amati Racing midget during the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals. (TeeJay Crawford photo)

It’s the stuff that dreams are made of when a race car driver sees an ad put out for an open seat with a top tier team in the genre’s biggest event of the year.

Their minds start wandering, the adrenaline kicks in and then they respond to the ad. And why wouldn’t they? After all, they’ve won races and been told that they have “it”.

Let’s face it, every driver thinks they are the best and just need the right break.

But what does a top tier team go through to find a driver for their open seat?

You’re about to have an inside look, as the Amati Racing team has allowed Race Chaser Online inside access to how they are going about finding their driver for the 2018 Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Okla.

But first, here’s a little history about the squad itself.

Amati Racing is based in Marion, Ill. and the open wheel dirt team is a family-owned operation, tracing its roots back to famed founder Chuck Amati, known in dirt circles as “The One Armed Bandit.”

Amati found a ton of success around the country in the very competitive 410 sprint car ranks, both with a wing and without. He raced during a time when sprint car drivers were the stuff of legends across many, many dirt bullrings and bigger tracks alike and their death-defying feats on any given night around the country became .

Fast forward many years and the current day Amati Racing has not really changed a whole lot. It’s still all about winning races, but owner Shane Wade — Chuck Amati’s grandson — also demands that the team have fun while doing so.

The No. 66 team has had its fair share of success with some of the biggest names in the sport, but more recently has made some big noise in the USAC National Sprint Car Series with a slightly lesser-known star, as then-driver Thomas Meseraull won the prestigious 4-Crown Nationals at Eldora Speedway as well as the $10,000-to-win Fall Nationals at Lawrenceburg Speedway back-to-back in 2015.

The Amati team has slowed down their operations over the last year, but has continued entering a dirt midget in some of the country’s biggest indoor races, including the Indy Indoor Invitational, the Shamrock Classic, the Junior Knepper 55 and the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals.

This week, the team posted on Facebook that they were looking for a driver for their #66 DRC/Esslinger RSI midget for the 2018 Chili Bowl, to much fanfare.

In the first few hours after the post, private messages and emails came pouring in faster than the team could filter through them, not to mention the posts of excitement from their fan base.

That’s where the hard work begins, though, as this is not a typical “rental” deal for dirt midget racing’s biggest event of the year.

The team knows that they have, as Wade puts it, “an A-main caliber car and crew and are looking for an A-main caliber driver.”

In other words, they want more than a seat-warmer. They want a winner.

The Chili Bowl has just about every big name in the sport, from all forms of auto racing, who have either tried it at one time, want to try it or just go to hang out over the course of the week-long gathering in Tulsa.

While some would say the seat would go to the highest bidder, and that is the case for some of the rentals available for the event, the Amatis are doing things a bit differently.

Here’s how they’ve got things set up.

Wade’s 13-year-old son Conner is the one who sees the replies to the inquiry post first. I know what you’re thinking, “A 13-year-old kid is filtering the responses?”

Yes, but Conner is not a typical 13-year-old.

He has been by his dad’s side in the racing operation from a very early age, learning the ropes of running a race team and what it takes to be successful. Conner has also been honing his skills and has become a very accomplished track announcer at Southern Illinois Raceway in Marion, Ill., as well as doing live announcing for his local baseball team.

Continued on the next page…

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