The sport of auto racing continues to get younger and younger, with an increasing number of drivers moving to ARCA or the NASCAR Truck Series full-time the moment they turn 18. The last three Short Track Drafts have seen drivers under the age of 18 get picked number one overall, further strengthening the youth movement that is hitting NASCAR and short track racing.
The recent trend has made an effect on voters for the Draft, notably with “PRN’s At The Track” host Lenny Batycki. While on “The Bullring” Monday night, he posed the question, are drivers under 20 better short track draft prospects?
He took viewers through his mindset while he fills out his ballot year after year.
“I took all what you had, 300-plus folks, and boiled it down to under 20 years old, 19 and under is where I wanted to put my picks,” Batycki explained. “You’ve got Hudson O’Neal, you’ve got Bobby Pierce, great guys in their 20’s really starting to make their name in their particular pocket of racing, if you will. I looked at who under 19 could move around, could make their way up to anything from IndyCar, NASCAR, heck, they might even move over to drag racing.”
Batycki explained his decision by omitting drivers over 20 off his Short Track Draft ballot, while giving mention to two Dirt Late Model stars he believes have been exceptions over the years.
“When you get to 20, you start to have seasoning within what you’re doing. You’ve got sponsorship commitments that could go two or three years, whether you can break them or not. Whether the style of driving and the way that is has started to suit you and that’s where you want to be. Maybe that’s where those guys feel best. I look at under 20 as somebody with a whole lot more flexibility, not that you don’t have great ones above there that have the possibility to get that call.
“Just remember Josh Richards, bouncing around through the series for a cup of coffee or so. You’ve had Tim McCreadie do the same thing, but they really fit where they’re at. They were called upon in their 20s. With these guys, it’s just fun. If somebody wants me, I’m going in there. I get to drive. That’s where some of these ones [under 20] have more flexibility, that’s why I look under.”
He gave out who he chose as his number one overall pick in this year’s draft, choosing one of the rising young talents from the open wheel dirt world.
“Buddy Kofoid is my number one pick. Keith Kunz, Toyota, Mobil 1, the kid did so well at tracks in Ohio and winning races, doing well at the Chili Bowl, Buddy Kofoid, 19 and under, was my pick.”
Batycki went back to his experience helping a NASCAR champion begin his rise through the sport in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He was one of the early advocates for 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick during his early days at Richard Childress Racing.
“The look for our replacement driver for our first Busch Grand National Series driver at Richard Childress Racing, we had a whole lot of young guys to choose from. Kevin Harvick was the one I brought to Richard Childress, fought for, and for the first six months or so they used to point at me and say that’s your driver. Then he started winning and all of a sudden, he became our driver.
“Kevin Harvick and the things he showed with the ability to win a track championship, the ability to win a regional championship, the ability to win a big regional championship and use the front bumper was what his calling card was to Richard Childress Racing.”
He used what he saw from a young Harvick to make his number two overall pick, a fellow California racer.
“I look at a lot of those things as to who could push and pull, and that’s why my number two is surprisingly Hailie Deegan, who brings what you talked about earlier. The ability to speak, the funding, and she’s starting to be able to use that bumper in just the right way and know when not to, like she did at Daytona and followed to the finish.”
Who will become the number one overall pick in this year’s Short Track Draft? Whether it be Sam Mayer, Hailie Deegan, or somebody else entirely, we could see a top-heavy field of drivers under 20.
Find out who will be drafted where on Thursday, April 30 during the first-ever Short Track Draft Selection Show at 7 p.m. Eastern.
Fans who missed Batycki’s interview can click here to watch a replay of “The Bullring”.
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51 National Correspondent – Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo Credit: Speed51