A new season of short track racing is upon us, which brings about a new season of storylines. Young guns are moving up the racing ladder, proven racers are taking on new challenges and champions are looking at the next step in their career.
Here are 10 drivers we believe race fans should keep a close eye on in the 2020 season as they tackle the new year. They may not be the 10 best or most successful drivers in the new year, but they will be 10 interesting names to follow this year.
Stephen Nasse – Nasse always has a knack for garnering attention as a result of his exciting driving style and candid personality. The Florida driver will be looking to prove himself even more in the upcoming season.
Nasse overcame power steering failure and a 36th-place starting spot to take the checkered flag in the 52nd Annual Snowball Derby, only to be disqualified in post-race technical inspection for a titanium violation in the brake system of his No. 51. He will be motivated to put the 2019 Snowball Derby behind him and continue his winning ways of last year.
Furthermore, the Super Late Model standout announced earlier this week that he will be trying his hand in a pair of marquee Late Model Stock races this year, the CARS Tour Old North State Nationals at Orange County Speedway (NC) and the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway (VA). Late Model Stock fans familiar with the Super Late Model world have enjoyed watching Bubba Pollard chase the grandfather clock the past two years, and Nasse will undoubtedly be just as entertaining.
Tyler Millwood – After a disappointing 2019 season, Tyler Millwood has his sights set on the ULTIMATE Super Late Model Series championship, hoping to join Casey Roberts, Dennis Franklin and Zack Mitchell as multi-time champions in the series.
Millwood entered the 2017 season gunning for Rookie of the Year honors in the ULTIMATE Series, and came away with that and much more as the tour’s champion. Millwood had a substandard 2019, with no trips to victory lane and four top-five finishes in 21 events.
Millwood is returning full-time to the ULTIMATE Southeast in 2020, where he’ll be gunning for his second title in as many full seasons with the tour.
Casey Johnson – Casey Johnson won the 2019 ARCA Midwest Tour championship, and he hopes to defend that title in the 2020 season. However, he hopes to challenge some of the country’s top Super Late Model racers away from home more in the new year.
Johnson picked up the ARCA Midwest Tour title with a pair of wins, beating Austin Nason by five points in the championship chase. He has also enjoyed plenty of success in some of the Midwest’s biggest events, including triumphs in the Dells Icebreaker and the National Short Track Championships at Rockford Speedway (IL) in 2019.
However, after joining forces with Travis Darrow, Johnson plans to tackle more marquee events in 2020, including the Battle at Berlin 251, the Redbud 400, the Slinger Nationals and the All American 400.
Josh Berry – Josh Berry has been one of the top Late Model Stock Car drivers in recent years, and he put an exclamation point on that status with a dominant win in the Martinsville 300 in 2019. However, it was his adventures outside of the Late Model Stock realm that might be worth watching in 2020.
Along with his Late Model Stock success, which saw a win at Martinsville as well as a runner-up finish in the CARS Late Model Stock Tour points standings to Bobby McCarty, Berry scored his first career Super Late Model win in the North-South Shootout at Hickory Motor Speedway (NC). Berry had competed sparingly in straight-rail cars, and the North-South Shootout proved a breakthrough win.
That win allowed Berry to pursue an appearance in the Snowball Derby, where he qualified sixth before a mechanical issue ended his day after 192 laps. Still, Berry proved he could compete with the best Super Late Model racers. Will we see him try more races in those cars this year?
Jeremy Doss – Jeremy Doss claimed the 2019 Kulwicki Driver Development Program Championship, racking up wins on the west coast to take the Kulwicki Cup. After experimenting with some different forms of short track racing last year, what will Doss compete in during the 2020 season?
Doss spent most of the year racing a wedge-bodied Pro Late Model in California, but also scored wins in other cars such as an SRL Modified. However, he closed out the year by climbing back in a Super Late Model, qualifying 19th and finishing 23rd in the Snowball Derby.
Will Doss compete more frequently in a Super Late Model in 2020? If so, will he travel more or stick to the series of the Southwest? Or will he continue to pilot the Pro Late Model that gave him so much success in 2019?
Doug Coby – Doug Coby claimed his sixth NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship in 2019, and his fourth with car owner Mike Smeriglio. However, that dynamic and successful partnership ended over the offseason when Smeriglio announced his retirement as an owner.
Since that moment, everyone involved in Modified racing has speculated what would come next for Coby. It’s a question that remains unanswered to this point in the offseason.
Where will Doug Coby land between now and March 21, when the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour kicks off its season at South Boston Speedway (VA)?
That, as well as the success Coby has in 2020, will be an interesting storyline to follow throughout the year.
Chris Madden – “Smokey” was one of the hottest Dirt Late Model drivers in the country during the second half of 2019. That success largely came after a move to “Team Zero,” when Madden joined forces with Scott Bloomquist Racing. In August alone, Madden took $155,000 in winner’s pay over the course of five trips to victory lane.
Now, Madden will have the chance to pursue a championship with Scott Bloomquist Racing, as the team is taking aim at the 2020 World of Outlaws Late Models title. Madden had a strong start to that pursuit, winning the season-opening feature race during the Battle at the Border at Vado Speedway Park (NM) on January 3.
After the first three races, Madden sits third in series points, with top-10 finishes in all three races during the Battle at the Border. Can he continue that momentum throughout the 2020 season?
Brian Shirley – Brian Shirley earned the 2019 DIRTcar Summer Nationals Championship, giving him back-to-back titles on the “Hell Tour.” The Illinois driver will now try to pivot that success into a spot in the national spotlight, pursuing the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series championship in 2020.
Shirley and his Bob Cullen Motorsports team are returning to the national level for the first time in several years, but their season is already off to a strong start. Shirley won the opening night of the Wild West Shootout at FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway on Saturday, January 11.
The Lucas Oil season kicks off January 31 at Golden Isles Speedway (GA) with the Super Bowl of Racing.
Gio Scelzi – Giovanni Scelzi is one of the rising young guns from the Sprint Car world, with a pair of World of Outlaws Sprint Car wins to his credit already in his young career. Now, the California driver is dipping his toes in the pavement world with one of the top stock car teams.
Scelzi won in his pavement Late Model debut in 2019 at Irwindale Speedway, winning in his first start. Scelzi enters 2020 with plans to compete in the ARCA Menards Series West with Bill McAnally Racing. Scelzi will also drive for McAnally in the ARCA Menards Series East season opener at New Smyrna Speedway (FL), while also driving in a Pro Late Model during the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing.
It will undoubtedly be a challenging transition for the dirt standout. However, Scelzi is surrounded by some of the best as he makes that transition.
Travis Braden – Over the past two seasons, Travis Braden has twice finished in the top five in ARCA Menards Series points, with 27 top-10 finishes in 40 races. However, the 2019 Snowball Derby winner will not be on the ARCA trail in 2020, which will allow him to chase bigger Super Late Model events instead.
Braden proved in limited appearances during the 2019 season that his partnership with Team Platinum is a winning one. They closed out the year in the best possible way, taking home the Tom Dawson Trophy.
Now, Braden and his team hope to translate that into even more success in the 2020 season. Braden has shared his excitement for the season, circling races such as the All American 400 on his calendar that were previously hit-or-miss for the West Virginian due to other commitments.
-Text by Speed51 Staff
-Photo credit: Speed51Photos.com