Former USAC National Sprint Car champion CJ Leary enters Saturday’s DiaEdge Carolina Midget Showdown with something not a lot of other drivers will have – Midget experience at the track.
While the event is the first Midget race ever held at the North Carolina facility, the 1/6th mile is often used by teams to test for the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals every year, including Leary and team owner Alex Bowman. This weekend, there will be less focus on next month’s event while they chase after a win.
“I’m pretty excited. Me and Alex have went and tested at Millbridge three or four times just gearing up for Chili Bowl every year, shaking the cars down,” Leary told Speed51. “I feel like I might have a little bit of an advantage over the guys who haven’t ran there in a Midget. We’re not actually going to run our Chili Bowl car, we’re going to run an outdoor car. We don’t want to take a chance to tear up our Chili Bowl car. It’s going to be fun.”
While the Greenfield, Indiana driver has driven for various teams on the Midget side during the year, Leary has driven for NASCAR Cup Series driver Alex Bowman during the winter season in each of the last few years. The partnership first began with a conversation just before the Chili Bowl Nationals in 2016.
“We’re really good friends at the racetrack and off the track. We have a lot in common. It was kind of weird how we met. I was trying to drive for him at the Chili Bowl in 2016 I think, he ended up putting Ryan Smith in the car instead of me and I ran Petry’s car that year and locked in. Right before the A-Main he pretty much came down and told me I was going to drive his car the following year, and that’s how’s the relationship got started.”
While Leary has yet to win in a Midget, his strongest outings have come in the Bowman No.55. The duo has competed in the Chili Bowl A-Main each of the last two years, finishing eighth in 2019.
It has been the perfect match for two drivers with busy racing schedules during the summer. They will also expand their schedule in 2021, fielding a Winged Sprint Car for 10-12 races.
“It’s been a pleasure working with Alex. He’s hands-on and does the majority of the work himself. I’m the same way in my boat, I work on my own race cars and wrench on my own stuff. It’s a really good match, we get to go racing in the winter and I don’t run a whole lot of Midget stuff anyway. The little bit he wants to race fits my schedule.”
What was originally scheduled to be a two-day event is now a single-day show with double features Saturday night. With two features now on the docket, Leary’s focus remains on winning.
“It doesn’t change much for me besides racing twice in one day. I’m still going to try to go out there and win. It’s the same thing we do every night, we’ll just go out there and do the best we can. I don’t know the complete format, Alex was telling me a little bit about it on the phone earlier. I think our main competition will obviously be Kyle (Larson) but we’ll give him a good run for his money.”
With the postponement of the Gateway Dirt Nationals, the Carolina Midget Showdown now marks the final Midget show before the Chili Bowl Nationals next month. A win at Millbridge would not only give Leary and Bowman their first Midget win together, it would give them a shot in the arm going into Tulsa.
“I think it would boost our confidence and momentum rolling into Tulsa. I’ve really ran well at Tulsa my whole career, especially driving Alex’s car. We’ve had an A-Main car every Saturday. Getting a win at Millbridge would be good for me and him both, and we want to go to Chili Bowl with the car on kill and ready to win.”
While fans will not be permitted on the premises, those interested in watching the Carolina Midget Showdown can still do so by purchasing the Speed51.TV pay-per-view broadcast. The broadcast assists Millbridge Speedway in making this event possible without ticket revenue.
Click Here to order your video ticket for the Carolina Midget Showdown today. The broadcast will begin at 2 p.m. ET Saturday with practice for the Midget competitors.
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51 National Correspondent – Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo Credit: Speed51 Photo