BY: RICHIE MURRAY – USAC MEDIA
The swan song of USAC racing in the Midwest this season comes to Wayne County Speedway in Wayne City, Illinois this Thursday night, October 20th for the 4th annual “Jason Leffler Memorial.”
Nestled alongside a cornfield in the heart of southern Illinois, the one-eighth mile dirt track comes alive just once a year for midget racing.
When a driver rolls into Wayne City, he or she has to be on their game. It’s close-quarters, full-contact racing and if you don’t have your elbows up and your right foot on the gas, you’ll get left behind.
Things happen in a hurry here and taking a victory in the “Jason Leffler Memorial” is not something that’s handed to you. It’s earned.
The 20,000-dollar enticement to win this race is enough alone to draw some of the biggest car counts of the season, but this is an event that has quickly been acknowledged as one of the crown jewels on the USAC Midget calendar, not only due to it providing the largest winner’s share of any midget race in the USA, but also because of the namesake of this race, National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Famer Jason Leffler.
Leffler etched his name as one of the legends of the United States Auto Club throughout his career as a 3-time USAC National Midget champ and one-time Silver Crown titlist along with victories in the Belleville Midget Nationals, the Hut 100, the Copper World Classic, the Night Before the 500 and twice at the Turkey Night Grand Prix.
Not only was the Long Beach, California native a champion on the track, he was a champion in life. Even when his success eventually brought him to NASCAR, Leffler never forgot where he came from. He continued to race with USAC whenever his schedule allowed and proved to be an ambassador of the sport through his team ownership in USAC’s three national divisions, including a Silver Crown owner title with driver Bud Kaeding in 2006.
After losing his life in a sprint car accident at New Jersey’s Bridgeport Speedway in 2013, Leffler’s name lives on as the namesake of one the marquee events on the racing calendar; an event that brings names from all across the racing landscape come to Wayne City to race in his name.
NASCAR Sprint Cup regulars Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. are no strangers to midget racing. Larson, a 13-time USAC Midget feature winner was victorious in his first USAC appearance of the season earlier this May at Montpelier Motor Speedway during “Indiana Midget Week.”
Just last December, Stenhouse won in his return to USAC with an indoor triumph at the “Junior Knepper 55” inside the Southern Illinois Center in Du Quoin.
Now a NASCAR Truck Series regular, Rico Abreu has already picked up two USAC Midget victories this season, including the “Indiana Midget Week” finale at Kokomo in June and a pure domination of the field in a stirring drive at Eldora’s “4-Crown Nationals” just one month ago.
Newly-crowned ARCA champion Chase Briscoe has a small amount of seat time in a midget time this season, but was able to score a career-best 5th place finish in last December’s feature at Du Quoin.
2013 World of Outlaws champ Daryn Pittman returns to the seat of a midget Thursday night. The Oklahoma native who currently sits 2nd in Outlaw points, was the winner of the “Leffler Memorial” back in 2014.
Four-time USAC/CRA AMSOIL Sprint Car champion Damion Gardner flies in from the west coast for the “Leffler Memorial” this Thursday to make his first USAC National Midget start of the season. In “The Demon’s” last midget start on Thanksgiving Night 2015, Gardner scored a podium finish in the season-ending “Turkey Night Grand Prix” at Perris.
Three-time POWRi champion Zach Daum is a local favorite from Pocahontas, Illinois and was the inaugural “Leffler Memorial” winner in 2013.
But, the biggest storyline remains the race for the 2016 USAC National Midget Championship. Now, with just two races remaining, Spencer Bayston clings to a scant nine-point lead over Tanner Thorson.
Just two weeks ago, Thorson swept all three nights of the “Gold Crown Midget Nationals” at Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Illinois to close a 30-point deficit to nine.
Chad Boat is 40 points out of the lead while Brady Bacon still holds onto hope as the fourth and final title contender 77 points behind Bayston.
Just one year ago at the “Leffler Memorial,” who could forget the intense battle between for the win between Bryan Clauson and Rico Abreu?
After leading the first 28 laps, Clauson had to fend off a relentless Abreu for the final, classic 12-lap stretch that saw Abreu throw slider after slider in pursuit of Clauson, where he eventually was able to nip Clauson at the line for the lead on lap 29 of the 40-lap feature.
Abreu used all of the racetrack: high, low and even the guardrail to stay in front of Clauson, but BC had an answer each and every time as he fought his back to the front, getting back by Abreu in the closing laps as Abreu nearly spun it out, but was able to kept it going. But, simultaneously, a yellow-flag for the stopped car of Tanner Thorson gave Abreu another shot.
On the final lap, Rico attempted one last slider on Clauson for the lead and the $20,000 prize, but just couldn’t quite make it stick, allowing Clauson to pull away and take the hard-fought, hard-earned victory in the 2015 “Jason Leffler Memorial.”
General admission tickets for this Thursday’s spectacular at Wayne County Speedway in Wayne City, Illinois are just $15 and pit passes are $35!