Nolen Racing Nurtures Rising Talent; Young Axsom Finishes Fourth in His Second Pavement Sprint Race
ANDERSON, Ind., Aug. 2 — Young Emerson Axsom of Franklin, Ind., continues to impress the railbirds.
On Saturday at Anderson Speedway he ran in the top five against some of the best non-wing asphalt sprint car drivers in North America, and finished a solid fourth in the 125-lap Summer Sprint Showdown presented by CB Fabricating and The Tin Plate.
He ran in third place for nearly half of Saturday’s race, and only 2.763 seconds separated him from a podium finish at the checkered.
It was the 16-year-old driver’s second pavement asphalt sprint car race ever.
In both cases he drove a Beast Chevy V6 for the Whiteland, Ind.-based Nolen Racing team owned by Greg Nolen. The car is sponsored in part by KECO Coatings and its engines are prepared by Tranter Engines.
“He did a great job and drove a smart race,” Nolen said afterwards. “He was sixth in his first asphalt sprint race [on July 10] and fourth in his second one, so that’s great progress. In both cases the fields were very competitive. To get a top-five finish against drivers who have been racing these cars for many years is a big accomplishment, especially for someone so young.”
Two of the attributes required for a driver’s success in asphalt sprint car racing’s long races are endurance and the ability to concentrate for long periods of time. Axsom showed he has both, as the 125-lap race on the quarter-mile, high-banked oval only had two short yellow-flag periods for minor incidents, and drivers completed a lap in only 11 to 13 seconds.
“It was a little exhausting because I was always racing somebody,” Axsom said afterwards. “I think we had one of the best cars, especially at the beginning of the race. I lack experience, but the more we do this the better I’ll get. Seat time is a lot of it.”
Running with the leaders is invaluable experience, and Axsom got to do a lot of that on Saturday.
After qualifying eighth with a time of 11.511 seconds, he started third in the 21-driver field due to the luck of the draw. The top runners were very tight together, and on lap 10 Axsom was 0.200 of a second behind second-place runner Brian Vaughn and 0.152 ahead of the fourth-place driver and eventual winner, Bobby Santos III. Axsom kept Santos at bay for 17 laps, which is no easy feat, before Santos passed him on lap 18.
Santos passed Vaughn for second two laps later, which put Axsom between Vaughn and Kyle O’Gara when the first yellow flew on lap 23. The intensity resumed on the restart on lap 25, when Santos passed polesitter Travis Welpott for the lead. By lap 30 Axsom was still hanging tough in fourth, 0.184 of a second behind Vaughn and 0.289 ahead of O’Gara.
Santos was able to start to pull away from the field at that point, but the remaining top-five drivers — Welpott, Vaughn, Axsom and O’Gara — were running under the proverbial blanket and now had lapped cars to contend with too.
Around lap 43 Tyler Roahrig passed O’Gara for fifth, giving fourth-place runner Axsom a new assignment of trying to keep this year’s Little 500 winner at bay while still trying to pass Vaughn, and to do both while second through sixth now ran in a pack and also had to periodically pass lapped cars.
Roahrig finally passed Axsom for fourth on lap 65, but Axsom regained fourth on the next lap when Vaughn dropped back to sixth. The intensity hadn’t changed though, as now Axsom was trying to pass Roahrig while holding off O’Gara.
On lap 76 Axsom moved into third when both he and O’Gara passed Welpott. He maintained third place, behind only Santos and Roahrig, for the next 38 laps. The only break in the pace was a yellow for three laps on lap 83.
Around lap 98 Dakoda Armstrong passed O’Gara for fourth. Armstrong was only 0.430 of a second behind Axsom on lap 100.
Axsom almost got a podium finish of third, but Armstrong finally got by him just 10 laps from the finish to push him to fourth.
The top-five finishers were Santos, Roahrig, Armstrong, Axsom and O’Gara. Axsom was 2.763 seconds behind Armstrong and 1.879 seconds ahead of O’Gara at the end.
Axsom set the ninth-fastest lap of the race with a time of 11.621 on lap eight.
When asked what it was like to race with the front-runners, Axsom said that Roahrig was probably the one who was hardest to keep at bay. No one has won more 125-lap asphalt sprint car races at Anderson Speedway than Roahrig, who has done it five times.
“When he drew a 10 I knew he’d be on a mission to get to the front,” Axsom said. “But he and everyone else ran me clean all night.
“I can’t thank Greg Nolen enough for this opportunity,” he added. “He makes it fun. He understands that I’m a rookie in this, and I’m learning. I thank him for the opportunity, and the team for all their hard work.”
The race was broadcast live on MAVTV Plus.
Nolen Racing’s next race is Friday, Aug. 13 at Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg, Ind., when Tanner Swanson will drive one of the team’s pavement sprint cars in the Hoosier Classic.
For more information see NolenRacing.com, and follow the team on Facebook and Twitter.