2020 Winter Dirt Games | USAC National Midgets

Youth Movement Makes Waves Entering 2020 USAC Midget Season

Youth Movement Makes Waves Entering 2020 USAC Midget Season

The youth movement is no stranger to USAC National Midget racing. The 2020 season is no different entering this weekend's Winter Dirt Games openers.

Feb 7, 2020 by Richie Murray
Youth Movement Makes Waves Entering 2020 USAC Midget Season

The youth movement is no stranger to USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget racing, especially over the past decade, which has seen just one champion over the age of 28 since the 2008 season.

This year’s crop of talent with the series may be young, chronologically speaking.  However, the majority of the wheelmen arriving this weekend for the season opening Winter Dirt Games XI on February 7-8 at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla. are extensively experienced.

Statistically, midget racing champions and race winners in the early years of USAC was primarily the showcase of individuals in their 30s and 40s.  In fact, the USAC National Midget division didn’t find its first driver champion under the age of 30 until its 15th year of existence when 25-year-old Jimmy Caruthers captured the crown in 1970.

Watch 2020 Winter Dirt Games Live!

Feb. 7-8 | 4:30 PM ET

The run of the twenties continued for a four-year string, followed by Jimmy’s 21-year-old brother, Danny Caruthers, in 1971, 22-year-old Pancho Carter in 1972 and 27-year-old Larry Rice in 1973.  Veteran Mel Kenyon, at age 41, halted the streak in 1974.  Kenyon is the only driver to win USAC National Midget championships in his thirties, forties and fifties with his seventh and final title coming at the age of 52 in 1985.

In contrast, the set of talented shoes set to compete this weekend at Winter Dirt Games have an average age around 22 years old.  That number includes two handfuls of racers between the ages of 15 and 18, three of whom are already USAC National Midget feature winners in their careers: Zeb Wise (17), Cannon McIntosh (17) and Tanner Carrick (18).

Angola, Indiana’s Wise already owns four career series wins and became the series’ youngest ever winner in 2018 at Lanco during Pennsylvania Midget Week at the age of 15 years, 8 months and 21 days.  Meanwhile, McIntosh (Bixby, Okla.) and Carrick (Lincoln, Calif.) both became first-time winners with the series a year ago.

McIntosh and Wise are among a four-car Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports lineup that is highlighted by four teenagers with 15-year-old Daison Pursley and 18-year-old Buddy Kofoid joining the fray for the coming season.  Funny enough, the combined age of McIntosh, Wise and Pursley is still three years younger than the age of Kenyon when he captured his 1985 title.

Meanwhile, last season’s series top Rookie Andrew Layser is still just 18 while Oklahoman Noah Gass and Floridian Oliver Akard are 16.

Five teenagers have previous won the USAC National Midget driving championship, led by eventual four-time NASCAR Cup champ Jeff Gordon in 1990 at the age of 19.  Bobby East in 2004 and Spencer Bayston in 2017 were both 19 when they captured their series titles.  Christopher Bell was an 18-year-old series Rookie when he snagged the championship in 2013.  In 2008, Cole Whitt secured his place in series history as both the winner of the closest championship battle (1 point) while also becoming the youngest champ at 17.

Watch 2020 Winter Dirt Games Live!

Feb. 7-8 | 4:30 PM ET

The dynamics of racing are its peak when it pits drivers of various backgrounds, ages and experience against each other in a battle for victory.  We’ve witnessed a plethora of different drivers join victory lane over these past five years, 22 in fact.  However, only one of those drivers was over the age of 30 at the time of his victory, Michael Pickens.

Obviously, age isn’t the sole reason for success.  It’s about talent and being in the right position at the right time with the right team on the right day.  There’s loads of talent among all ages, including past USAC National champions Logan Seavey (22), Tanner Thorson (23), Tyler Courtney (25), Chris Windom (29) and Jerry Coons, Jr. (47) along with series winners Kevin Thomas, Jr. (28) and Steve Buckwalter (42), just to name a few.

Bottom line, there’s talent from top to bottom in this year’s field.  On track excitement and competitive racing is fun for all ages, and you can expect to see that this weekend in the Sunshine State whether your age 8 or 80.


(Age at time of championship is in parentheses)

1956: Shorty Templeman (37)

1957: Shorty Templeman (38)

1958: Shorty Templeman (39)

1959: Gene Hartley (33)

1960: Jimmy Davies (31)

1961: Jimmy Davies (32)

1962: Jimmy Davies (33)

1963: Bob Wente (30)

1964: Mel Kenyon (31)

1965: Mike McGreevy (39)

1966: Mike McGreevy (40)

1967: Mel Kenyon (34)

1968: Mel Kenyon (35)

1969: Bob Tattersall (45)

1970: Jimmy Caruthers (25)

1971: Danny Caruthers (21)

1972: Pancho Carter (22)

1973: Larry Rice (27)

1974: Mel Kenyon (41)

1975: Sleepy Tripp (22)

1976: Sleepy Tripp (23)

1977: Mel Kenyon (44)

1978: Rich Vogler (28)

1979: Steve Lotshaw (28)

1980: Rich Vogler (30)

1981: Mel Kenyon (48)

1982: Kevin Olson (31)

1983: Rich Vogler (33)

1984: Tom Bigelow (45)

1985: Mel Kenyon (52)

1986: Rich Vogler (36)

1987: Kevin Olson (36)

1988: Rich Vogler (38)

1989: Russ Gamester (24)

1990: Jeff Gordon (19)

1991: Mike Streicher (34)

1992: Stevie Reeves (25)

1993: Stevie Reeves (26)

1994: Tony Stewart (23)

1995: Tony Stewart (24)

1996: Kenny Irwin, Jr. (27)

1997: Jason Leffler (22)

1998: Jason Leffler (23)

1999: Jason Leffler (24)

2000: Kasey Kahne (20)

2001: Dave Darland (35)

2002: Dave Darland (36)

2003: J.J. Yeley (27)

2004: Bobby East (19)

2005: Josh Wise (22)

2006: Jerry Coons, Jr. (34)

2007: Jerry Coons, Jr. (35)

2008: Cole Whitt (17)

2009: Brad Kuhn (28)

2010: Bryan Clauson (21)

2011: Bryan Clauson (22)

2012: Darren Hagen (26)

2012: Darren Hagen (26)

2013: Christopher Bell (18)

2014: Rico Abreu (22)

2015: Tracy Hines (43)

2016: Tanner Thorson (20)

2017: Spencer Bayston (19)

2018: Logan Seavey (21)

2019: Tyler Courtney (25)