TERRE HAUTE —
When the U.S. Auto Club sprint-car contingent rolls into the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds next week for the scheduled running of the Tony Hulman Classic, young Chase Stockon will find himself cast in the role as a pre-race favorite.
It’s a position that’s well-deserved and one that carries its own degree of pressure and challenges. But the pressure hasn’t been a burden for the former Wabash Valley resident, who not only welcomes it but rightfully looks upon it with a degree of pride and satisfaction.
Although he no longer calls the Wabash Valley his home after moving to Elizabethtown to be closer to his wife’s work place in Columbus, the former Valley resident still maintains a strong fan following, especially in Sullivan County.
Not only will he be a strong sentimental fan favorite, but the talented newcomer will join an impressive list of drivers hoping to capture the coveted Classic crown.
Entering his third full season in USAC, Stockon rightfully goes to the race track these days with the lofty reputation as serious contender to not only run up front but a driver capable of winning each time he takes to the oval.
His past success in recent years including a win locally has elevated his status to pre-race favorite at most tracks he visit these days. He currently ranks sixth in national points, only two markers out of fifth place.
Although he’s still looking for that first USAC win in 2014, his consistent top-10 showings make him a viable contender for the national sprint-car driving title.
He had hoped to get an early Classic test session with the scheduled Midwest Sprint Car Series show last month at the Terre Haute Action Track but the event fell victim to the elements. While waiting to compete in the show, Stockon took time to reflect on a fledging career that has put him in the open-wheel limelight.
He spoke on his decision to venture into what is nationally recognized as the most competitive non-wing sprint-car circuit in the country and the challenges he faces competing at such a high level.
After testing the waters at a host of short tracks across the Midwest and a run at the MSCS championship Stockon took on the bold move of branching out his comfort zone in 2009.
The first real step came when he was invited to compete in the newly formed USAC Eastern Tour series. Knowing it would offer a new set of challenges, Stockon couldn’t pass on the opportunity to showcase his talents at a broader level. He jumped at the opportunity and wasted little time heading out east.
“They [USAC] had the confidence in me. They believed in me to be a decent representative of what Indiana sprint-car racing was all about, so we put one foot in the water when we did the Pennsylvania thing,” Stockon said, looking back on the fateful decision.
He’s been a model of consistency since joining USAC full time. Over the past three seasons, he’s compiled an impressive string of 28 top-10 finishes — a run that included three feature wins. He was fourth in national points a year ago and seventh in his first full attempt at running for the points in 2012.
While he been knocking on the door, Stockon will be the first to concede moving up three more spots in the points is a tall mountain to climb.
Falling into the small independently financed base operation, Stockon faces the challenges of competing against the likes of Tony Stewart Racing and their driver Bryan Clauson.
“When things have a tendency to go south, we don’t have the resources to rebound as quickly as they [Stewart Racing] can,” Stockon explained. “Technically, they should be outrunning us. At the same time, when we outrun them, it really makes for a good night.
“Having a couple off nights [performance-wise] can put you in a hole quickly.
“You try to stay consistent with your runs. When you don’t have a full-time crew, you don’t have the luxury of just being the driver. I do the setups and motors with the help of D.J. [Orr] and [wife] Breanne is normally there with us, so it’s a small-team operation.”
To elevate his point ranking, he knows he must run better at a pair of ovals that have been stumbling blocks in the past.
“We’re slowly getting the handle on a couple of tracks we’ve struggled at, places like Putnamville and Gas City,” Stockon mentioned. “There’s tracks where you seem to run better than others. You have to shore up your weaknesses if you hope to move up a notch.”
Stockon is quick to point out he wouldn’t be in the position he is today without the backing of his sponsor and long-time supporter, Ohio businessman Tom Burkey.
“Without him we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Stockon emphasized. “It’s that simple. Running for the USAC championship is something he has always wanted to do and together we feel we have a shot at it.”
Joe Buckles can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.