The Ford Focus engines are now built by venerable NASCAR motor builder Roush Yates Engines
And that's the point. "We wanted to bring a true entry level division to USAC's offerings," Miller says.
"It goes back to the idea of creating a complete ladder system. You start in .25 Midgets move up to Junior Focus, then to Ford Focus and evenutally graduating up the ladder to the Gold Crown cars," says Spink. The Junior Focus division will be tied to the .25 Midget clubs with an eye on keeping costs in line. That coupled with a strong marketing program will help Spink achieve his goal of developing a younger USAC, in other words bring more youngsters into the sport.
In the .25 ranks, all eyes are on next year's .25 Midget Nationals which will be held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from July 8-11, 2009. The event consists of three days of racing on a temporary course constructed in the garage area of IMS. Qualifying races for the .25 Midget Nats will be held in Tampa Bay, FL; Las Vegas, NV; and Toldeo, OH. A cool twist is that the event will be streamed to a live audience on www.usacracing.com if you can't make it to Indy. If you can, you'll be greeted by free admission. In all, hundreds of drivers aged 5-17 from across America are expected to compete.
A Junior Focus division with restricted engines will join the Ford Focus Midget ranks in 2
In the original press release, Johnny Capels, USAC Chairman, stated, "USAC is excited to start a new era with Kevin and Jason on board." That new era is embodied in Miller's philosophy which is somewhat different than the previous regime. He doesn't intend to follow anybody's lead or ride on any other sanctions' coattails. His vision is that USAC needs to be a true grassroots organization, bringing new fans into the sport, bolstering youth participation in the sport and becoming a more accessible sport.
"That's a challenge given the number of races we sanction, but I want it to be a major event when USAC comes to town," Miller says. "We have to promote our events, and put on exciting shows where the fans want to be there."
"When we came on board, the schedules and most of the programs were already in place (more than 70 dates between National Sprint and Midget alone)," Miller says. "Now we are looking at where improvements can be made to make our package more marketable and promotable, not only to racetrack owners and communities, but to sponsors as well."
In late 2008, USAC began sanctioning quarter midget racing like these for the first time.
One idea is to grant fans more access to the drivers and teams by creating an open pit area much like NHRA drag racing. "We want to engage the fans and one idea is to open the pits early so that fans can get an up close and personal look at the cars and teams," explains Miller. That's the kind of access that helped build NHRA and NASCAR into the powerhouses they are today.
Another is the USAC website, a completely interactive site that even has a My Space style section for the kids who race in the different divisions.
"I'm excited," says Levi Jones, who finished Second and Sixth in the 2008 Sprint and Midget standings respectively for Tony Stewart Racing. "And I think that is a general feeling among all of the drivers. I know Kevin from his days at Mopar and Jason from when he was here before. I think they'll do a good job. I like the direction they're going."
Jones' teammate, Tracy Hines, is also optimistic about the change in direction. "They haven't been here that long, but so far they're going in the right direction," says Hines, who finished Third in Sprint Car points and Second in Midget. "We've got one of the most exciting forms of racing. There needs to be more promotion and marketing, though. It (USAC) needs to work with the promoters of the tracks to really get the word out that we're coming to town."
If Miller and company can fulfill their vision, you could see leaner, meaner, more exciting wingless Sprint Car racing coming to your town in 2009. We'll check back with the boys at USAC in a year or so and see how they're doing.