HAMPTON, Ga. — Story by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Chris Seelman photo — All paved roads lead to Atlanta.
After four races, six months and twists at every turn, the United Sprint Car Series filtercharged by K&N’s five-race “Road to Atlanta” Asphalt Thunder pavement series will conclude Friday night on the quarter-mile “Thunder Ring” at Atlanta Motor Speedway with the 2nd annual Wind Creek Casino/Hotel Wetumpka USCS Sprint Car Shootout.
Last year’s inaugural event, won by California pavement sprint car ace and two-time Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series champion JoJo Helberg, drew a record crowd in excess of 30,000 people for fifty action-packed laps under the lights and on the biggest stage ever for paved 360 sprint car racing. The race was well-received and no more the first one was over, there was already buzz about a second one.
Now that the renewal of the most prestigious asphalt sprint car race in the Southeastern United States is upon us, let’s take a look back, as well as ahead, to see what story-lines are most important to watch on Friday night.
New Atlanta Winner Certain on Friday Night
Defending winner JoJo Helberg officially told the USCS he will not be able to make the trip down south this weekend for the 2nd running of the USCS Sprint Car Shootout at Atlanta, meaning we will have a new winner on the quarter-mile Friday night.
Drivers already pre-entered for the big show include 10-time USCS national champion and four-time USCS Asphalt Thunder champion Terry Gray, current USCS Asphalt Thunder points leader Morgan Turpen and two-time Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series champion Troy DeCaire, meaning that the field will be stacked with a mix of the most talented dirt and pavement sprint car drivers in the country when the green flag drops.
If you want one driver to keep a close eye on for the weekend, look no further than Tampa, Florida’s Joey “the Ace” Aguilar. Aguilar swept the most recent two USCS pavement races at Anderson (SC) Motor Speedway in July, and has three career USCS asphalt wins to his name since his debut with the tour in 2010. While Aguilar doesn’t run full-time on the USCS circuit, he does run predominantly at Showtime Speedway and with the Tampa Bay Area Racing Association (TBARA) pavement sprint car series, and barring any mechanical failures, he should likely be in contention for the win at the finish.
Pavement Points Battle to be Decided
For teammates Morgan Turpen and Terry Gray, Friday night’s Atlanta race carries with it much more than just a shot at a check — it carries with it crucial championship points that will determine the champion for the 2014 USCS “Road to Atlanta” Asphalt Thunder mini-series.
Going into Friday’s pavement finale, Turpen leads Gray by 16 points — 8 finishing positions on the race track. With a total of 60 points (50 for the feature and 10 more for winning the Hoosier Speed Dash) up for grabs once both drivers pull into the track and receive their 100 show up points, it’s not over by any stretch, but Turpen still has to be on her game if she wants to become the first female champion in any USCS division.
The scenario is as complex as it is simple — both drivers will be in the dash, so their finishing positions there will impact how the gap shakes out for feature time — but if Gray wins the dash and Turpen were to finish sixth (which would result in Gray cutting the gap by five points, down to 11) and then Gray goes on to win the feature, Turpen can still finish sixth and claim the asphalt title by one point.
In short, no matter what Terry Gray does on Friday at Atlanta, if Morgan Turpen finishes sixth or better in the main event, she will claim the 2014 “Road to Atlanta” championship.
Fifty Laps Provides Opportunities for Disaster at Every Corner
Friday night’s Wind Creek Casino/Hotel Wetumpka Sprint Car Shootout will be 50 laps in length — the longest single race by laps of any USCS event on the 2014 schedule. The extra distance provides more opportunities for great racing, but also provides more opportunities for disaster to strike as well.
50 laps means 50 laps of green flag racing, let’s clear that up. That doesn’t count caution laps in the total. Fuel becomes an issue the more yellows fly on Friday night. Could we see a red flag to refuel the cars? 50 laps also provides extra wear and tear on these sprint car drivers’ equipment — putting them more at risk of a mechanical failure or even a tire problem should something happen or debris strike over the course of the race.
And of course, 50 laps means more possibilities for contact on the race track to turn into trouble, potentially sweeping up top contenders. Attrition could be a big key to the race as well — you’re going to have to have a little bit of luck to hoist the trophy at the end of the night Friday night.
Point here — the driver who goes to victory lane Friday night will have to have everything on the race track and within their car fall their way — and a little luck on their side as well.
While 2015 Event Uncertain; Prestige of Atlanta to Sprint Car Racing is Unmatched
With the announcement of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series schedules on Tuesday night come many questions as to the potential fate of future runnings of the USCS Sprint Car Shootout at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The NASCAR weekend at Atlanta moves all the way back to the end of February/beginning of March for 2015 and adds a Camping World Truck Series event on the Saturday of that weekend. Questions have arisen as to whether there would be time on Friday to run the sprint car program amidst all the NASCAR practices, etc. Could the USCS run on Friday, or even Thursday pending practice schedules, perhaps as the tour’s season opener for 2015?
A lot of those questions will be answered after this weekend, but beyond the questions, one thing is certain. Sprint car racing on a stage as prestigious as NASCAR’s Atlanta weekend brings a bright spotlight to a sport that has dealt with much tragedy in the past two years.
The event is a marquee race now, with drivers from as far away as Indiana (Troy DeCaire) and Florida (Joey Aguilar) making the trek to compete this weekend and showcase their talents in front of NASCAR’s top brass and team owners. In just one year, the buzz about the event has grown across the country, and a lot of eyes will be on this race. Just to start it is a feat in itself, to win it means you have accomplished something that is special indeed. For the driver who goes to victory lane, it will be a moment they will remember for the rest of their life — winning a winged sprint car race in front of NASCAR’s finest.
While the details for 2015 are worked on — and hopefully produce a way to keep the USCS Sprint Car Shootout at Atlanta Motor Speedway for years to come — let’s sit back and enjoy what’s ahead right now, fifty laps of fire-breathing, ground-pounding, heart-stopping winged sprint car action on Friday night under the lights. If you’re in the area, come on out and join the party.
It’s a race you don’t want to miss.