One of the more impressive and welcomed storylines of the recently completed Indiana Sprint Week was the emergence of area driver Chase Stockon on the national sprint car scene.
Stockon’s solid efforts over the seven-race series solidified the Sullivan County native’s status as a legitimate frontrunner among the best in non-wing sprint car racing.
Certainly no stranger to area race fans, Stockon is enjoying a career breakthrough season in 2012 on the prestigious U.S. Auto Club sprint car circuit. His strong and consistent runs of top-10 finishes have earned the 24-year-old the label among fellow competitors and officials as one of the sport’s fastest up-and-coming drivers.
His years of campaigning on the many Midwest short track ovals are starting to generate noteworthy results. Although he is still searching for that elusive first USAC feature win, many agree that it’s only a matter of time before Stockon pilots his distinctive-colored No. 22 First Finanical Sprinter into victory lane.
During a recent visit to Lincoln Park Speedway, the personable young racer took time from his hectic ISW schedule to evaluate his season to date and what the future might hold.
When the season opened in Florida back in February, Stockon was keenly aware that his tentative plans to run the USAC circuit on a regular basis would test his driving skills and independently financed efforts to the limit.
As the season reached the midway mark, the determined Stockon had encountered the usual arrays of ups and downs that go with racing. As a third generation racer, he learned to accept the good and bad that goes with the sport he grew up around.
After some earlier mechanical problems, things appear headed in the right direction.
“We had some motor issues early, the usual ups and downs. We’re starting to figure things out. Hopefully we can keep things on a roll,” voiced Stockon, who had a solid fourth-place showing on the high banks of Eldora Speedway over this past weekend.
“We don’t have a lot of money to work with, so we just keep plugging along,” conceded Stockon, who alongside his father Sam has struggled with the costs of running at the local level. Surprisingly, the team has learned that running with USAC provides more than its prestigious status.
“Personally, I think USAC has the best thing going,” he said. “They take better care of their drivers than any track or organization I’ve ever run with. At the same time, if you want to be one of the best you have to run against the best.”
The challenge to stay competitive night in and night out has been every bit as demanding as Stockon and his team predicted.
“You constantly have to be on your game,” he said. “A lot of places we go to is our first time. That’s where the guys who have run with USAC so long have the advantage on us. Bascially, for us at some of the new tracks it’s been a guessing game. I’ve been able to put everything that my dad has taught me to get some pretty decent finishes. You take what you learn and go the next track.”
He has nothing but praise for those he now competes with on a regular basis under the USAC banner.
“The difference between running the local shows on the Indiana tracks [is] most of the guys do it for fun,” he said. “Who knows what they are going to do going into the next corner. These [USAC drivers] do it at a professional level. They have a lot of respect for each other. It’s how they make a living.
“I grew up watching these guys race. They were my heroes. It’s been nice to earn their respect.”
That’s not to say there haven’t been those moments when the new kid on the block didn’t have to earn his place at the race track.
“I’ve had a couple run-ins,” said Stockon, who calls Elizabethtown his home. “Thats part of it. You learn quickly that respect goes both ways. When you run as hard as you do in USAC, you learn to be aware of who is around you. That makes a big difference.”
One of those who Stockon has gained the respect of is veteran driver Dave Darland.
“He’s a good race driver,” lauded Darland, the former USAC champion. “He’s come a long way. He’s done quite a bit on what appears to be a limited budget. He does well with the equipment he has, drives clean, drives hard. He has a bright future ahead of him it he can stay with it. When your young doing it on your own that’s not always easy.”
Also in Stockon’s corner is high-ranking USAC official Jason McCord.
“It’s been pretty awesome what he has been able do in such a short time,” praised McCord. “He’s always been quick on the faster, wider tracks. It’s been the short tracks – the bull rings – that were lacking. This year it’s like lightning in a bottle. He’s put together consistent runs. Some nights he gets burned with bad qualifying. He’s been good at digging himself out of those nights.
“He doesn’t tear up equipment, races hard, races clean. It’s been fun watching him mature over the past couple seasons. I really think he could be one of the great ones. He’s that good.”
Joe Buckles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.