MEEKER, OK – Daison Pursley had made 46 previous starts in his USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget career coming into Tuesday Night Thunder’s Mid-America Midget Week opener at Red Dirt Raceway in Meeker, Oklahoma.
Close calls, laps led, heartbreak, he’s certainly had his share in his young career. But, on this night, his 47th series start wound up quite differently as the native Oklahoman from Locust Grove, located two hours west of Red Dirt, won one for the home crowd.
Pursley’s first USAC National Midget triumph came moments after a late-race restart in which he hustled around the high side of the quarter-mile to race past both Zach Daum for 2nd and Kevin Thomas Jr. for 1st in quick succession, then raced away for commanding 3.471 second victory in his Keith Kunz-Curb-Agajanian Motorsports/IWX – TRD – Curb Records/Bullet By Spike/Speedway Toyota.
In doing so, Pursley became the fourth first-time winner of the USAC NOS Energy Drink National Midget season in just the first 15 races, joining Emerson Axsom (Kokomo), Kyle Cummins (Tri-State) and Corey Day (Circle City) in that group. That’s already the second most total in a single season since 2009, trailing only the 2019 campaign which saw five first-time series winners.
The monumental night also saw Pursley win the accompanying NOW600 Micro Sprint feature just prior to the start of the midget A-Main, which also came in a KKM owned machine.
“It feels amazing,” Pursley said following his first USAC win. “I feel like I’ve been waiting for this one for a long time. It’s finally happened and it’s pretty cool to get it done in my home state in front of all these fans; it was a packed house tonight. The track was phenomenal; you could run the bottom early and then the track widened out really, really well. The top was hard to run and a little bit treacherous, which makes you get up on your toes.”
Speaking of the top, the 30-lap feature race was halted just as soon as it started when Pursley’s teammate, fellow third-row starter, leading series Rookie and first-time USAC fast qualifier Bryant Wiedeman biked on the cushion in the first corner of the first lap, sending him barrel rolling over the banking and ending his race prematurely. A dejected Wiedeman walked away uninjured.
When action resumed, a furious battle at the front of the field was waged between pole sitter Jonathan Beason and outside front row starter Kaylee Bryson. Beason remained true to the low line while Bryson stuck to the high side with the two seemingly connected by a string as they raced in lock step time after time after time.
Bryson led lap one by a car length before Beason took his turn at the front on lap two by a length. Bryson reemerged at the front on lap three by a car length and by inches at the line on laps four and five before extended the gap to a single car length on the sixth lap. On the seventh circuit, Beason followed Bryson to the top, which allowed third-starting Kevin Thomas Jr. to scoot by on the bottom for the runner-up position.
Entering the 11th lap, Bryson was cruising up top in her pursuit to become the first woman to win a USAC National Midget feature. However, a snag of the cushion in turn two knocked her sideways. As she wrestled back control, Thomas raced by on the bottom and into the lead.
However, as Thomas diced his way through traffic, Bryson fought her way back into contention, crossing the stripe in a literal dead heat (0.0 second margin between the two) on the 14th lap. Moments later, Bryson found trouble with the turn two curb again as Thomas blitzed away to a full second advantage over Bryson while seventh starting Zach Daum crawled the bottom past Bryson for the second position on lap 16.
The feature’s only yellow flag came on lap 21 when Bryson, now running third, got entangled as she tried to fight her way through lapped traffic with her and 20th running Trey Gropp making contact and stopping both atop turn three. Kyle Jones (21st) found no room to escape and became involved in the incident as well, causing major damage to the right front of his ride and putting him out of the race. Bryson and Gropp restarted with Bryson finishing 18th and Gropp 21st.
During the yellow flag period, Pursley was now slotted third and was plotting his next move with just 10 laps remaining. Pursley possesses substantial prior experience competing in micro sprints at Red Dirt and recalled putt-putting around the bottom more often than not. But, right here, right now, Pursley had nothing of the kind on his mind.
“Early on, I was ripping the top in one and two and just trying stuff,” Pursley explained. “KTJ was really strong on the bottom at both ends, and I knew I wasn’t going to beat him just following him. I ventured up there a little bit before they did and, when we got to lapped traffic, I could move around better than they could. I feel like that’s just the pros of being in third. When you’re the leader like that, you don’t know where to run.
I hadn’t run the top at all in three and four,” Pursley continued. “I was telling myself I knew KTJ wasn’t going to get off the bottom. Zach (Daum) was really good down there also, and I knew if I wanted to win the race, I had to get up there. (Crew chief) Beau (Binder) was giving me signals to get up there and reassured me that it was fast and that I could do it.”
Pursley did just that, speeding around Daum on the initial lap following the restart then, two laps later, tearing around the outside of Thomas in turn two and immediately distancing himself from Thomas, increasing the gap each and every lap for his last eight revolutions around Red Dirt Raceway.
Pursley finished things off with a flourish, taking home $4,000 for his efforts while Grant, Daum, Thomas and Chris Windom, who started 12th, rounded out the top-five at the checkered.
For car owner Keith Kunz, the victory marked the 119th of his career with the USAC National Midgets, just 14 behind the all-time leader, Steve Lewis.
After nearly two full years of trying, Pursley’s breakthrough moment with USAC came Tuesday night, which arrives as a sort of a momentary solace, but also signifies what, he hopes, is the first of many more to come.
“It’s a relief right now but I definitely don’t want to stop now, and I don’t see a reason to stop,” Pursley stated. “We’ve been really good throughout the year. We’ve, unfortunately, gotten upside down a couple times and that set us back. We’ve really been working on the car, really fine-tuning it and getting comfortable again. To come back and pick up this win at the start of this long week here is pretty cool.”
Justin Grant (Ione, Calif.) went on a passing rampage down the stretch to finish in the runner-up spot, moving from 7th to 2nd during the final five laps after starting 13th on the grid in his RMS Racing/NOS Energy Drink – EnviroFab – Response Management Services/Spike/Speedway Toyota, which earned him KSE Racing Products Hard Charger honors for the evening.
“The curb was tall and gnarly and if you got above it, it was a ton of fun,” Grant expounded. “We were plenty good on the bottom, but I moved off there early and thought I should try and get the top sorted because I thought that’s where this was going to end up. I like running the top better than I like rolling around the infield tires anyway. (Crew chief) Donnie (Gentry) and I talked and decided to get this thing stable against the curb so I could go out and smash it, and that’s what we did. He gave me a really stable racecar; I could pick my parks and take as big of a bite out of the cushion as I wanted, and it was a lot of fun.”
Zach Daum (Pocahontas, Ill.) had made all 163 of his USAC National Midget career starts since 2007 in the Daum Motorsports #5D. Tuesday, Daum took his first ride aboard the Bundy Built Motorsports/5D Speed Shop/Spike/Bundy Built Honda and promptly earned his best USAC finish since the 2016 season, taking third, and equaling the team’s best ever USAC finish, which Ethan Mitchell also achieved back in April of this year at Port City Raceway in Tulsa, Okla.
“It’s cool for me because I haven’t really run a midget all year,” Daum acknowledged. “It’s cool to get back into a midget and get comfortable. Obviously, the car runs really well, and they’ve got the motor running really well. It’s definitely a good package.”
USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE RESULTS: July 13, 2021 – Red Dirt Raceway – Meeker, Oklahoma – 1/4-Mile Dirt Oval – Mid-America Midget Week
FATHEADZ EYEWEAR QUALIFYING: 1. Bryant Wiedeman, 01, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-13.160; 2. Daison Pursley, 71K, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-13.176; 3. Emerson Axsom, 15, Petry-13.254; 4. Chase Randall, 19A, Reinbold/Underwood-13.314; 5. Kevin Thomas Jr., 5, Petry-13.321; 6. Logan Seavey, 25, Malloy-13.323; 7. Kaylee Bryson, 71, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-13.325; 8. Jonathan Beason, 8J, Hard Eight-13.335; 9. Chris Windom, 89, CBI-13.371; 10. Justin Grant, 2J, RMS-13.375; 11. Trey Gropp, 00, Mounce/Stout-13.450; 12. Buddy Kofoid, 67, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-13.458; 13. Thomas Meseraull, 7x, RMS-13.472; 14. Tanner Thorson, 19T, Reinbold/Underwood-13.493; 15. Zach Daum, 9m, Bundy Built-13.496; 16. Jerry Coons Jr., 85, Central-13.503; 17. Brenham Crouch, 97, Kunz/Curb-Agajanian-13.510; 18. Ethan Mitchell, 19m, Bundy Built-13.510; 19. Hayden Reinbold, 19AZ, Reinbold/Underwood-13.517; 20. Hayden Williams, 1NZ, BSL-13.545; 21. Jason McDougal, 4, Klatt-13.583; 22. Tanner Berryhill, 17, Berryhill-13.631; 23. Kyle Jones, 7u, Tri-Fecta-13.653; 24. Cannon McIntosh, 08, Dave Mac-13.655; 25. Shannon McQueen, 7, McQueen-13.669; 26. Ryan Timms, 85T, CBI-13.683; 27. Trey Marcham, 32T, Marcham-13.689; 28. Tyler Thomas, 91T, Thomas-13.719; 29. Andrew Deal, 15D, Deal-13.749; 30. Sam Johnson, 72J, Johnson-13.824; 31. Travis Buckley, 7NZ, BLS-13.986; 32. Noah Harris, 20H, Harris-13.987; 33. Ryan Padgett, 98, Crow-14.238; 34. Cade Cowles, 70, Gariss-14.322; 35. Brett Becker, 2B, Becker-14.483; 36. Chase Elliott, 9, May-NT; 37. Brendon Wiseley, 7w, Horn-NT; 38. Mason Daugherty, 97m, Berryhill-NT (Time of 14.511 disallowed-underweight).
SIMPSON RACE PRODUCTS FIRST HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Ethan Mitchell, 2. Thomas Meseraull, 3. Kevin Thomas Jr., 4. Bryant Wiedeman, 5. Chris Windom, 6. Jason McDougal, 7. Andrew Deal, 8. Shannon McQueen, 9. Mason Daugherty, 10. Ryan Padgett. 1:52.32
COMPETITION SUSPENSION (CSI) SECOND HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Brenham Crouch, 2. Tanner Thorson, 3. Tanner Berryhill, 4. Daison Pursley, 5. Logan Seavey, 6. Justin Grant, 7. Ryan Timms, 8. Sam Johnson, 9. Cade Cowles. 1:50.32
INDY METAL FINISHING THIRD HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Zach Daum, 2. Kyle Jones, 3. Emerson Axsom, 4. Kaylee Bryson, 5. Trey Marcham, 6. Trey Gropp, 7. Brett Becker, 8. Hayden Reinbold, 9. Travis Buckley. NT
INDY RACE PARTS FOURTH HEAT: (8 laps, top-4 transfer to the feature) 1. Cannon McIntosh, 2. Jerry Coons Jr., 3. Buddy Kofoid, 4. Jonathan Beason, 5. Hayden Williams, 6. Chase Randall, 7. Tyler Thomas, 8. Noah Harris, 9. Chase Elliott. 1:49.120 (New Track Record)
ELLIOTT’S CUSTOM TRAILERS & CARTS SEMI: (12 laps, top-6 transfer to the feature) 1. Chase Randall, 2. Logan Seavey, 3. Justin Grant, 4. Chris Windom, 5. Hayden Williams, 6. Tyler Thomas, 7. Jason McDougal, 8. Ryan Timms, 9. Trey Gropp, 10. Sam Johnson, 11. Trey Marcham, 12. Andrew Deal, 13. Noah Harris, 14. Hayden Reinbold, 15. Travis Buckley, 16. Shannon McQueen, 17. Chase Elliott, 18. Cade Cowles, 19. Brett Becker, 20. Mason Daugherty. NT
FEATURE: (30 laps, starting positions in parentheses) 1. Daison Pursley (5), 2. Justin Grant (13), 3. Zach Daum (7), 4. Kevin Thomas Jr. (3), 5. Chris Windom (12), 6. Buddy Kofoid (15), 7. Jerry Coons Jr. (18), 8. Jonathan Beason (1), 9. Logan Seavey (11), 10. Chase Randall (10), 11. Tanner Thorson (17), 12. Thomas Meseraull (16), 13. Emerson Axsom (4), 14. Cannon McIntosh (14), 15. Brenham Crouch (9), 16. Ethan Mitchell (8), 17. Hayden Williams (19), 18. Kaylee Bryson (2), 19. Tyler Thomas (22), 20. Tanner Berryhill (20), 21. Trey Gropp (23-P), 22. Kyle Jones (21), 23. Bryant Wiedeman (6). NT
P represents a provisional starter.
**Bryant Wiedeman flipped on lap 1 of the feature.
FEATURE LAP LEADERS: Lap 1 Kaylee Bryson, Lap 2 Jonathan Beason, Laps 3-10 Kaylee Bryson, Laps 11-22 Kevin Thomas Jr., Laps 23-30 Daison Pursley.
USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS: 1-Buddy Kofoid-1002, 2-Chris Windom-953, 3-Emerson Axsom-899, 4-Justin Grant-889, 5-Daison Pursley-878, 6-Tanner Thorson-862, 7-Thomas Meseraull-848, 8-Logan Seavey-831, 9-Kevin Thomas Jr.-801, 10-Cannon McIntosh-735.
OVERALL PROSOURCE PASSING MASTER POINTS: 1-Tanner Thorson-92, 2-Robert Ballou-87, 3-Thomas Meseraull-85, 4-Kevin Thomas Jr.-83, 5-Chris Windom-74, 6-Brady Bacon-72, 7-Justin Grant-61, 8-C.J. Leary-51, 9-Buddy Kofoid-50, 10-Logan Seavey-47.
NEXT USAC NOS ENERGY DRINK MIDGET NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RACE: July 14, 2021 – Solomon Valley Raceway – Beloit, Kansas – 1/4-Mile Dirt Oval – Mid-America Midget Week
CONTINGENCY AWARD WINNERS:
GSP Driving Performance of the Night: Kaylee Bryson
Fatheadz Eyewear Fast Qualifier: Bryant Wiedeman
Simpson Race Products First Heat Winner: Ethan Mitchell
Competition Suspension, Inc. Second Heat Winner: Brenham Crouch
Indy Metal Finishing Third Heat Winner: Zach Daum
Indy Race Parts Fourth Heat Winner: Cannon McIntosh
Elliott’s Custom Trailers & Carts Semi Winner: Chase Randall
KSE Racing Products Hard Charger: Justin Grant (13th to 2nd)
Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher: Emerson Axsom
Saldana Racing Products First Non-Transfer: Jason McDougal