Considering the close competition and his total lack of experience, Chase Elliott’s debut in the United States Auto Club’s midget series at Ocala, Fla. was pretty damn impressive.
The 2020 NASCAR champion won a heat race, qualified in the middle of the field for both races, and finished 17th and 14th in the 30-lappers at Bubba Raceway Park’s quick dirt track last Saturday and Monday.
“He liked it, he wants to get better and he wants to do more races,” said Chad Boat, owner of the Spike/Toyota that Elliott drove and was sponsored by NAPA, NOS Energy Drink, K & C Drywall and Pristine Auction during the three-day show. “Considering all the talent around him, his lack of laps and the fact the track was so fast, I thought he did really well.
“For his first time outdoors, it was impressive.”
Elliott made his dirt debut at the Chili Bowl and then had some practice at Millbridge Speedway in North Carolina under the guidance of Cup teammate Kyle Larson.
“We’d been in touch since Millbridge and he reached out about doing some races after Kyle had given him some direction,” Boat (far left in photo above) continued. “And he was teammates with Chris Windom last weekend.”
Windom is the defending USAC national champion for Boat, a successful racer who quit driving a couple years ago to start his own midget team.
Nobody gets much practice at the Chili Bowl and, with 300-plus entries, it’s hardly a good place to begin your midget career. Florida gave Elliott what he needed – laps.
“We had a practice day and Chase got to spend three days at the same track so that helped,” said Boat, who only has one full-time employee in his Mooresville, N.C. operation and intends to compete in USAC and Power-I in 2021. “The other good thing was that he got to see every condition – real heavy, hard and slick, and he got to see how the track changes.”
In the opener, Elliott qualified 16th out of 33 cars (his 14.5-second lap just five-tenths off Kevin Thomas’ fast time of 14-flat) and he finished fifth in the semi to advance to the main event – where he started 18th and finished 17th.
The next day he came back to qualify 15th out of 26 on a hard, slick, daytime surface before the 3/8-mile D-shaped oval was pounded by rain. But, when USAC finally got to go back to racing on Monday night, the son of the former NASCAR great won his heat race ahead of USAC stars Justin Grant, Thomas and Cannon McIntosh. He started eighth in the feature and wound up 14th behind Logan Seavey.
“He said he felt rewarded when he got it right and ran as hard as he could,” continued Boat. “He had to cram a lot into a couple days racing against guys that do this all the time, but the thing that’s cool is that he wants to do more and get better. He’s not afraid to put his right foot down, and it was pretty cool to have the NASCAR champ running a midget.
“Overall it was a great experience and I think we both had a ton of fun.”