By: Richie Murray – USAC Media
SPEEDWAY, IN-For the larger part of the past decade, Justin Grant has stepped into each and every USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship season pondering if this was going to finally be the year he broke through and overcame the hurdle that had separated him from the series driving title.
The Ione, Calif. native is now on the other side of that equation. He and TOPP Motorsports enter the year as the combination everybody’s chasing in 2023, jumping into the fray as the defending champions.
“There’s certainly less pressure from myself than there was last season,” Grant admitted. “I don’t want to be like James Hunt at the end of Rush where he’s just like, ‘I got my one and I’m good.’ I want to go get more. The scratching and clawing that comes with figuring out how to make it happen, that’s been relieved a bit and I certainly feel grateful that we’ve been able to do it. Now we’re like, ‘okay, let’s just do it again.’”
In 2022, Grant’s title season made him just the 14th driver to earn both a USAC National Sprint Car and Silver Crown championship in his career. Now, Grant has his mind set on becoming the 10th driver to repeat as a USAC National Sprint Car titlist alongside Parnelli Jones (1960-61-62), Sheldon Kinser (1981-82), Rick Hood (1984-85), Steve Butler (1986-87-88), Robbie Stanley (1991-92-93), Brian Tyler (1996-97), Levi Jones (2009-10-11), Bryan Clauson (2012-13) and Brady Bacon (2020-21).
The celebration mode for a season well done wasn’t a particularly everlasting one for Grant. After capturing the USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship 2022 season finale feature at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway, it was a whirlwind with really only a week to stand pat and stay satisfied. Following USAC’s Night of Champions, Grant ventured to New Zealand for two-and-a-half weeks to race midgets at Western Springs and Baypark. Once back home, his focus immediately turned to the oncoming Chili Bowl Nationals which transitioned straight into the USAC National Sprint Car season, which begins two weeks from today.
“There’s not much celebrating anymore as short as the offseason,” Grant explained. “We got right back into it and tried to get our cars and equipment and everything ready for the 2023 season. You don’t get very long. We came back from racing midgets in California right after Thanksgiving, then had the banquet and then it was pretty much back to work. There was about a week there between getting home and doing the banquet that we relished it a little bit, then it was right back to it.”
During their time in the shop, Grant, ace sidekick Dylan Cook and the TOPP Motorsports team freshened up their equipment with three new Maxim Chassis, going back into the files to construct some ‘Bubby-Spec” cars. These particular machines were built to the specs that Grant’s National Sprint Car Hall of Fame father-in-law, the late Bubby Jones, had drawn up in his notebook, which were different in terms of radius rod height and length, Jacob’s Ladder location, wheelbase and all the frame specs, all of which were aligned to Bubby’s liking.
“I’ve been wanting to build some of those cars for a long time now,” Grant admitted. “(Bubby) was always on me to build one of these and I felt like this year was a good year to do it.”
Grant has accomplished a laundry list of achievements in his USAC National Sprint Car career, checking off many of the most marquee boxes in the sport with victories at Knoxville, Eldora and Terre Haute as well as titles for Indiana Sprint Week and with the USAC National Championship, just to name a few. That said, there is still much to accomplish in Grant’s book, and if the opportunity arises, he’s all for experiencing those feats all over again in 2023, if you ask him.
“I’d really like to go after some of the bonuses on the table, especially the Hoosier Trifecta at Kokomo, Tri-State and Lawrenceburg,” Grant specifically named. “My bank account would certainly like that too, and those are three tracks we’ve won at. This year, with the bonus for winning all three, we definitely have those circled. We’re going through and studying a bit to make sure we’re on top of our game when the big money is on the line.”
The Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Sprint Car Smackdown will now pay $30,000-to-win for the 12th annual edition of the race at Kokomo Speedway on Saturday night, August 26. At southwestern Indiana’s Tri-State Speedway, the winning stakes have climbed to $20,000-to-win for the 16th annual Haubstadt Hustler on Saturday night, September 16. Weeks later, a $20,000 winning prize has been posted for the Fall Nationals at Lawrenceburg Speedway, set to go on Saturday night, October 7.
Additionally, a driver could either “Win, Place or Show,” which is awarded to the top performing driver after the three events. To WIN a $30,000 bonus, a driver would have to win all three events. To PLACE for an extra $20,000, a driver would need to finish second or better in all three events. To SHOW and pocket a $10,000 extra, a driver would need to finish on the podium (top-three) in all three events.
Grant’s 34 career USAC National Sprint Car feature wins rank 15th all-time among all drivers entering the 2023 campaign. Since 2018, Grant and TOPP Motorsports have teamed up for 26 series wins, which ranks fifth all-time among all drivers in the division.
The 2023 USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship season begins with a full week in Florida during the month of February, starting with a pair of non-points, special events at Volusia Speedway Park on February 13-14, followed by the first three points races of the year at Bubba Raceway Park on February 16-17-18.