The loss of Bryan Clauson will likely have a similar impact on the sprint car world as Dale Earnhardt’s death did to NASCAR. In 2016 Bryan captured our hearts and imagination with his Chasing 200 Tour. He did everything with grace and class while putting up incredible numbers.
Social media allowed us into Bryan’s life to share the highs, lows of Bryan’s incredible career. Every race fan felt like they truly knew Bryan Clauson. He was one of us. He was an everyman that we could relate to who could take down The Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions one night, hop in a midget the next night and win at an Illinois bull ring, race The Indianapolis 500 next and then run a non-wing sprint car.
Bryan picked up wins with The Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions, The USAC National Midgets, The Amsoil USAC Sprints, The Lucas Oil American Sprint Car Series, raced and led laps at the 100th running of The Indianapolis 500. He did things “The right way” and he made every open wheel, short track fan proud to say that he represented us.
We have a small, tight-knit community that will probably never completely heal from the loss of Bryan Clauson and we will never forget all of the incredible racing and life moments he gave to us not only in 2016 but throughout his career. #parkedit
Probably the best compliment you can give Donny Schatz is to look into the crowd and see the reaction when he lost this year’s running of The Knoxville Nationals following a thrilling battle with Jason Johnson. No one REALLY believed Donny Schatz could be beaten straight up at Knoxville in the biggest race of the year. It’s the ultimate compliment.
Of course, the sprint car public can’t be blamed for having those thoughts either. Donny steamrolled the competition everywhere he went. Ever since losing The World of Outlaws (WoO) title to Daryn Pittman it has seemed as though Donny has been on a mission to demoralize the competition. The Minot, ND racer racked up an impressive 25 WoO feature wins this year including The Kings Royal. Schatz’s consecutive races without a DNF streak ended in the very first WoO race of the year but that didn’t stop him from compiling 65 top 5 finishes and 77 in the top 10.
Daryn was fast at the start of the year at Volusia but then went through a rough patch that saw him spend most of the year trying to catch up with the top runners. Pittman has established himself as one of the top title threats with The WoO every year and is the last guy to beat Donny Schatz for the crown.
Pittman turned in an impressive season that saw him score 8 World of Outlaw victories. Included in those victories was a win in his home state at The Salina Highbanks as well as a feature during The Kings Royal weekend. In addition to his success, Pittman earned his first career Knoxville Nationals pole position and led the early portion of the feature before finishing a career-best 4th in the feature.
2016 was the first year that David Gravel emerged as a legitimate WoO title contender. Gravel ranked 2nd highest in World of Outlaw feature wins with 9. The Connecticut native is truly one of the most naturally talented drivers and really has at no point struggled on the WoO tour in his career.
Gravel and veteran wrench; Barry Jackson appeared to click together and nowhere was it more evident than at Lernerville Speedway where Gravel out-duelled Donny Schatz to take The Silver Cup win. The team also won a WoO feature during Kings Royal weekend and established themselves as point contenders having only lost out to Daryn Pittman by 30 points for 2nd in the WoO standings.
Rounding out the top 5 on our list is Grass Valley, California’s Brad Sweet. Ever since Sweet and Kasey Kahne Racing (KKR) committed full-time to The WoO tour Brad has been one of the series premier drivers.
Brad came out of the box quickly in 2016 as he won the season opener at Volusia and led the points standings. Sweet continued to run strong all year but was not quite as consistent as the other top title contenders and he slid slightly in points.
Sweet emerged from 2016 with 8 WoO feature wins, 45 top 5 finishes, 66 top 10 finishes to go along with 13 fast time awards which led the series. Sweet and KKR teammate; Daryn Pittman combined for one of the most exciting finishes of the year which saw Sweet win a photo finish at Cotton Bowl Speedway in Texas. 2017 already looks bright for Sweet as the team has announced that NAPA will join them as a sponsor.
Jason Johnson shot up our list as a result of winning the biggest race of the year; The Knoxville Nationals in epic fashion. The multi-time Lucas Oil ASCS National Tour champion went toe to toe in a battle with the legendary Donny Schatz that left fans on the edge of their seats for the final 25 laps. The pair banged wheels and exchanged slide jobs in a battle of wills that epitomized what winning The Knoxville Nationals means to a driver.
In addition to winning The Knoxville Nationals, Johnson found victory lane 3 more times with the WoO including a win at Placerville Speedway; the track that injured him so badly the year before. The team also scored 19 top 5 finishes and 46 top 10 finishes as they emerged as a contender to win on a nightly basis. At the conclusion of the season, Jason’s crew chief; Philip Dietz was awarded The Mechanic of the Year Award.
“The Brownsburg Bullet” tackled 2016 with a new team in Roth Motorsports. The team did not take long to gel as Joey found victory lane at The Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motors Speedway in early March. Easily the biggest heartbreak of Joey’s season came at Williams Grove where Saldana lead nearly the entirety of The Williams Grove National Open before a lapped car held him up and allowed Danny Dietrich to steal the win in the closing laps.
Ultimately, the team found WoO victory lane 5 times in 2016 to go along with 31 top 5 finishes and 62 top 10 finishes to go along with 10 fast time awards. Unfortunately, at the end of the year car owner; Dennis Roth decided to scale back his racing and Joey was left without a ride. Joey will head into 2017 with a new team in Matt Wood Racing in partnership with NASCAR racer; Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Last year’s runner-up in WoO points had a strange 2016 season. While he racked up only one less win than he had in 2015 (He had 8 this year) he fell 4 positions in the points standings to 6th. There were times when the team was blazing fast but at other points in the season the team struggled.
Once again Shane established himself as one of the toughest drivers at Knoxville Raceway as he drove back past Donny Schatz to win his preliminary night at The Knoxville Nationals. During the feature Shane possibly had a car to win but a plug wire got knocked off and he had to settle for the final spot on the podium.
During the offseason, Shane’s Larson-Marks team lost crew chief; Scotty Martin who went back home to California. If the team can find a successful, new combination they could be back contending for the WoO championship in 2017.
Arguably no driver on our list made a bigger jump than Logan Schuchart. Logan was able to find victory lane for the first time with The Outlaws at Cedar Lake Speedway before backing it up late in the year in his home state of Pennsylvania at Port Royal Speedway with a dominating win.
Schuchart and the whole Shark Racing Team improved immensely and actually got stronger as the year went on which is particularly impressive for a team with a smaller budget. Through the final quarter of the season, Schuchart and his team were arguably a top 5 caliber team. Shark Racing opened eyes with Logan’s first Knoxville Nationals A-Main birth as well as an impressive weekend to close out the year at World Finals.
Look for an improvement next year as Shark Racing continues to grow and learn and if they do Logan may become one of the most sought after, young talents in sprint car racing.
The outspoken Dietrich has never been one to shy away from speaking his mind. He’s also never shied away from competition and as a result, Danny has established himself as one of the top drivers in Pennsylvania.
Danny started off the year slowly by his standards but picked up momentum as the year went on. He scored multiple Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions feature wins and was dominant in winning The Pennsylvania Speedweek. Unquestionably Danny’s biggest win came at The Williams Grove National Open where Dietrich made a late race pass of Joey Saldana to pick up the win and $50,000.
2016 was somewhat a year of re-birth for Chad Kemenah and The Hunter Racing Team. Chad along with mechanic and brother; Brian battled all year long with Dale Blaney for The Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions championship and in the end, Chad was able to secure the title in a close race.
Kemenah also dazzled against The World of Outlaws as he picked up a feature win in his home state at Fremont and turned in back to back charges from 11th and 10th to 2nd at Eldora during the spring. Kemenah also had an impressive Knoxville Nationals where he earned an impressive 7th place finish.
At the start of the year, most people would have laughed if you said Lance Dewease would have been on anybody’s top 25 list at the end of the year. Dewease would have the last laugh however as he scored 2 World of Outlaws feature wins at Williams Grove Speedway.
The key to Lance’s success was teaming up with former racer; Donnie Kreitz Jr. and legendary mechanic; Davey Brown Sr. Together the trio was dubbed “The Dream Team” and they lived up to the moniker by winning an astounding 10 races together despite only racing 25 times. In addition to the 2 WoO features, the team also won The Living Legends Race at Port Royal Speedway.
It’s doubtful that in 2017 anyone will be writing off Lance Dewease.
The most impressive part of Rico making our list may be that Rico’s sprint car efforts were on the back burner to his Camping World Truck Series ride in 2016. Despite racing sprint cars on a part-time basis, Rico continued to inspire and dazzle fans all over the country with his all-out driving style.
Rico along with crew chief Paul Silva was able to take down The World of Outlaws twice, including a victory at the prestigious; Iron Man 55 in Pevely, Missouri. In addition to that win, Rico bagged $50,000 in The Gold Cup at Badlands and 4 Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions feature wins.
Lasoski had a typically strong year in the Midwest as the veteran racer continued to battle with his nephew; Brian Brown for supremacy in the area. The Midwest has seen a resurgence as of late in terms of competition but one thing that has stayed the same is that Danny Lasoski is among the very best in the area. Lasoski proved that by winning not only The Knoxville Raceway track championship with relative ease but The National Sprint League title as well.
“The Dude” racked up 3 NSL wins as well as 5 wins at Knoxville Raceway but in a surprising turn of events, it was not enough to keep his ride with Big Game Motorsports as it was announced at the end of the year that Kerry Madsen would be replacing him. Danny should be able to find something or put something together himself and when he does look for him to attack this season with a vengeance.
Greg Hodnett has clearly found a home in Pennsylvania with Heffner Motorsports. 2016 was another strong year which saw Greg capture The Williams Grove Speedway Track title on the strength of 2 feature wins. Hodnett also picked up an additional 7 wins at Port Royal Speedway and 4 wins at Lincoln Speedway. Greg also turned in an impressive run through the week at The Knoxville Nationals that ultimately netted him an 8th place finish.
Week in week out Hodnett was arguably the fastest, most consistent car in Pennsylvania all year but his lack of a WoO feature win lowered him on the list slightly under Dietrich and Dewease. Hodnett and car owner Mike Heffner are back in 2017 and the duo should once again wreak havoc at home and whenever the team chooses to hit the road.
2016 was a tough year for “The Low Rider” by his standards. Blaney fought all year with Chad Kemenah for The Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions title but fell just short of the crown. Blaney did score an impressive 7 feature wins but was beaten by Kemenah as a result of Chad’s consistency. Blaney did break through with an impressive win at Port Royal and opened the year with a win at Yuma during Winter Heat.
2016 unfortunately though will always be remembered by Dale as a sad year. Blaney’s long time mechanic and more importantly, friend; George Fisher sadly lost his battle with cancer.
2017 will be a year of transition for Blaney as he will step into the seat of The Zemco Racing #1 as well as competing on a part-time basis in Ohio.
Sheldon had an impressive year with The Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions that saw him rack up an impressive 9 feature victories on his way to a 3rd place finish in the series standings. The second generation racer also almost captured his first career WoO feature win with a strong showing at this year’s Brad Doty Classic.
The biggest win of Sheldon’s career came this year in the season finale where he won the $20,000 payday at Atomic. Look for Sheldon to compete for his first Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions championship this year as Dale Blaney will no longer be competing with the series. The title should come down to Sheldon and Chad Kemenah and will be a battle on contrasting driving styles.
2016 was no doubt a disappointing year in they eyes of Brian Brown. Brown has established himself as arguably Donny Schatz’s toughest competition at The Knoxville Nationals so it was a shock to everybody when Brown wasn’t able to qualify for the A-Main.
Brown’s year wasn’t a disaster however as he was consistently fast in WoO competition and won 3 times at Knoxville Raceway on his way to second in the track championship chase. Brown also won 3 times in National Sprint League competition.
Look for Brown to bounce back in 2017 as the Missouri driver and top wrench Chad Morgan will no doubt be working hard in the shop to avenge this season.
Some fans were shocked when Kerry Madsen and his Keneric Racing team decided to scale back in 2016 and run a “True outlaw” schedule. It was even more shocking to fans when Keneric decided to cease operations in the US at the close of the season.
Madsen turned in an impressive performance during the spring when he swept The WoO weekend at Eldora Speedway; a track where he has become a perennial contender. “The Mad Man” also arguably had the car to win The Knoxville Nationals but dropped out late in the race with a mechanical failure.
In 2017 Madsen moves into the seat of The Big Game Treestands ride for car owner Tod Quiring. It will be quite interesting to see how Madsen follows up what have been some successful seasons with Danny Lasoski behind the wheel. When August rolls around one should keep an eye on Kerry at The Knoxville Nationals.
It may surprise some to see that Kyle Larson made our list but a look at his brief time behind the wheel of a sprint car in 2016 makes it hard to keep him off the list. Larson ran sprints on a part-time basis but found plenty of success.
Larson won a feature at Cocopah early in the year during Winter Heat and came back with a strong run against The WoO at Lawrenceburg before turning in an impressive Ohio Speedweek performance that saw him win two Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions features during Speedweek. Had Larson merely signed in for the Speedweek races he missed he’d have been tough to topple for the title.
In addition to those races, Larson charged from the B Main at The Knoxville Nationals all the way to a 5th place finish in the A-Main.
It’s not clear what Larson’s sprint car schedule will be like in 2017, but anytime he straps into a sprint car it is a treat for the fans.
Mark Dobmeier continued to rack up impressive feature win totals in 2016. Dobmeier settled into Badlands on Saturday nights and took home the track championship in addition to a track leading 6 feature wins.
Dobmeier also continued to terrorize River Cities Speedway where he captured an impressive 10 feature wins this year. Despite over 200 career feature wins and 3 World of Outlaws wins in his career, Mark remains one of the most underrated drivers in the country.
The sale of Badlands should mean that Mark will return to competing at Knoxville on Saturday nights where he has won a Nationals preliminary feature win in the past.
“TMAC” had a decent 2016 season. During the offseason, McCarl made no bones about the fact that he would follow the money and as a result chose to race weekly at Badlands as opposed to his traditional Saturday night home; Knoxville Raceway.
Nevertheless, McCarl did win at Knoxville and it was in impressive fashion as he beat The World of Outlaws there in June. McCarl also picked up a $10,000 to win score at I-80 Speedway in addition to 2 National Sprint League wins as well as a feature win at Badlands.
The sale of Badlands will probably result in Terry making Knoxville Raceway his home again in 2017 and that should help stir up some excitement for the upcoming season.
The 2016 season saw Bill make a concerted effort to gain more attention nationally. Unquestionably the top driver in the Wisconsin area; Balog branched out this past year and competed quite respectably against The Pennsylvania Posse in PA as well as at Eldora Speedway with The Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions.
Balog racked up an impressive 20 wins in an aggressive 91 race schedule but none was more impressive than his first career World of Outlaws feature win at Beaver Dam where he dominated nearly the entire feature.
Look for Bill to run an aggressive schedule in 2017 as he continues to try and establish himself as one of the best sprint car racers in the country.
Out West, the driver to beat in 2016 was Kyle Hirst. Hirst captured the 2016 King of the West title on the strength of 5 features wins and an impressive 17 top 10 finishes in 18 series races which are a testament to the throttle stomper maturing as a driver and the hard work of mechanic; Paul Baines.
Hirst has been fortunate to align himself with some of California’s top car owners including the Tarlton’s and Dennis Roth as well as some top-flight Australian rides. Look for Kyle to start making more of a name for himself nationally in 2017, especially early in the year when The World of Outlaws come to town.
Tim Kaeding has settled into the Midwest driving for car owner; Dave Lunstra. The team focused primarily on Badlands where Tim picked up 2 410 feature wins in addition to 5 in the 360 class. Once again Tim proved that he’s underrated at Knoxville Raceway as he captured yet another Knoxville Nationals preliminary night feature win before running 14th in the A Main.
Tim’s 2016 season may be a little unsettled as his Lunstra Motorsports team had planned to once again compete at Badlands. Look for TK to possibly compete on a more regular basis at The Knoxville Raceway and once again be a factor at The Knoxville Nationals in 2017.
The Drivers Project is a media collective devoted to North American open-wheel racing.