When Conor Daly ventured into the unknown world of dirt racing back in 2018 at the inaugural BC39 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he had the vocal support of fellow IndyCar drivers Alexander Rossi, Spencer Pigot and Jordan King. What he didn’t have was a clue about running a midget on the little bullring inside Turn 3 at IMS.
As most first-timers do, Daly struggled holding the car sideways with the throttle while trying to avoid traffic, and there was plenty of it as he went from the pole to last place in his heat race in about half a lap.
His next outing came at the Chili Bowl last winter and he was a little better. Last September at the BC39, he showed marked improvement.
But last weekend at Arizona Speedway the second-generation racer really earned his USAC wings, so to speak. In a two-day show on the third-mile dirt oval, he made both A Mains, put on a passing show in the B Main, and qualified only a couple tenths off quick time both nights.
“It was fun and it’s much more rewarding to see some progress,” said Daly, who teamed with Kevin Thomas Jr. and Jerry Coons Jr. on Scott Petry’s Toyota team in a deal put together by David Byrd. “I mean, I started right behind Rico (Abreu) in the A Main on Saturday night, and I finished every lap both nights and didn’t get lapped.
“And after the B Main, I got more response from Twitter and Facebook than I did for some IndyCar races. It was wild.”
Since his midget experience consisted of a couple heat races at IMS, an indoor show at DuQuoin, Ill., and the Chili Bowl, a quarter-mile was the largest dirt track he’d negotiated. And when he got to Arizona Speedway in Tan Van Valley, he gulped.
“The track was huge, and I didn’t know if I wanted to be out there because it was going to be way faster than I’d ever driven on dirt,” he continued. “But the nice thing was we had a night of practice, I got three hot-lap sessions instead of three laps, and Kevin really helped me.
“It was fast and you had to run wide open in Turn 1. KT said he was flat out all the way around and I said, ‘All the way around?’ I never did a lap full throttle but I got close in qualifying.”
On opening night, Daly started second, lost a spot but then held off Zeb Wise for third to transfer directly into the A Main, where he finished 21st.
But the next night, despite being just three-tenths behind fast qualifier Tyler Courtney, he had to run the B Main and finish in the top seven to transfer. He started 10th, headed for the cushion and passed four cars to take sixth.
“I went to the top and found some speed, and if I could run in the middle or on top I was pretty good because a lot of people ran the bottom,” said Daly, who wound up 16th in the feature.
“After the race, my dad (Derek) was so pumped up. ‘That was awesome!’ he told me. Later that night I got texts from Rico and a couple drivers saying I did a good job, and that really made me feel good.
“That never happens in IndyCar.”
Speaking of IndyCar, Daly is working hard to put a drive together for 2020 and should know something by Thanksgiving.
“No Turkey Night,” he replied when asked if he’d be running the annual USAC midget race at Ventura, Calif. on Thanksgiving. “I really appreciate David Byrd getting behind me and letting me experience dirt racing. But that’s it for this year; I’ve got to focus on my day job.”