Nolen Racing’s Axsom Comes from Dead Last To Finish Fifth in His First USAC Silver Crown Start
TERRE HAUTE, Ind., May 2 — Although he’d never driven a USAC Silver Crown car before the late-afternoon practice session that opened the Sumar Classic at the Terre Haute Action Track on Sunday, rookie Emerson Axsom came from dead last to finish fifth in the Nolen Racing No. 20 in the 100-lap headliner that night.
It was a phenomenal top-five result for the 17-year-old rookie from Franklin, Ind., who in his first series start surpassed what some drivers spend years trying to accomplish but never do.
Axsom was 13th after Fatheadz qualifying in the field of 36 with a time of 21.130 seconds, but his car’s rear end wouldn’t engage when he tried to start it on the formation laps for the beginning of the Sumar Classic. He pulled into the infield and the Nolen Racing team was able to get the car to run, but the rules stipulate that if a car needs assistance starting, it has to go to the rear of the field.
Axsom joined the field at speed as it was coming down to take the green flag. He was on the backstretch, some 15 car lengths behind the next-to-last car, when polesitter Kody Swanson took the green flag on the frontstretch.
Some drivers would have panicked, but Axsom put it behind him and got busy in the cockpit of the Whiteland, Ind.-based team’s Maxim, which has a Tranter-prepared Chevy engine and carries the decals of KECO Coatings, Goodridge, K&N Filters and Driven2SaveLives, among others.
Eric Gordon didn’t start, so Axsom was 26th and last at first. His drive from the back was nothing short of amazing, as he used both the high and the low line to pass car after car.
He passed Brian Tyler on the second lap for 25th, and Tommy Nichols on the third lap for 24th. He got by Kyle Steffens on lap five for 23rd, and Austin Nemire on lap six for 22nd. He used the outside groove to pass Casey Buckman, Travis Welpott and Brian Ruhlman on lap eight for 19th. He was 18th on lap 10 after he passed Terry Babb.
The next two drivers in his sights were Davey Ray and Jason McDougal. He took care of them on lap 12 to move into 16th, setting his fastest lap to that point with a time of 23.121. He was 15th on lap 15 after he passed Dallas Hewitt on the inside, and then the race’s first of four cautions or reds waved on lap 18 for Nichols, who spun in Turn 4. That put Axsom in 14th place for the restart on lap 23.
On lap 25 he passed Matt Westfall for 13th, which is where he would have started without the rear end issue. On the next lap he passed both Carmen Perigo and Shane Cockrum to take over 11th. There was some dicing for position ahead of him in the next few laps, and it was Shane Cottle whom he passed to take over tenth place on lap 32. He set his fastest lap of the race on that trip around the half-mile dirt oval with a time of 22.806.
That put Axsom directly behind Bill Rose, who was having one of his best Silver Crown performances in years and was the driver with whom Axsom had the most spirited battle. Axsom chased Rose and held off Cottle for the next 13 laps. Rose passed Kyle Robbins on lap 46, and when the second yellow flew on lap 47 when C.J. Leary, who was second, had a flat right-rear, Axsom moved into ninth place, running between Robbins and Cottle.
He made the restart on lap 53 extremely productive, as he moved from ninth to seventh by passing both Robbins and Rose. He got sixth from the series’ winningest driver, Swanson, on lap 57 while Swanson was dealing with handling and brake issues. Two laps later there was a change up front, as Buddy Kofoid took the lead from the eventual winner, Justin Grant.
Rose got Axsom back on lap 61 to relegate him back to seventh, but Axsom retook sixth by repassing Rose in Turn 4 on lap 64 in the battle of the bright yellow cars.
Logan Seavey was fifth at that point, and Axsom chased him for the next 17 laps with Rose close behind him. Rose got by Axsom again on lap 82 to push him back to seventh, which is where he was running on lap 86 when a suspension piece reportedly broke on the leader’s car, sending Kofoid flipping in Turn 2 and bringing out a red flag. Kofoid wasn’t hurt but he was done for the night, and Axsom was back in sixth for the restart on lap 87.
That’s when he passed Rose one more time to regain fifth place, which is where he finished after a final yellow with 96 laps down when Robbins stopped in Turn 3.
Axsom was 1.877 seconds behind Seavey and just 0.372 of a second ahead of Rose at the checkered flag.
Grant won over Jerry Coons Jr., Brady Bacon, Seavey and Axsom. Rose, Swanson, Perigo, Babb and Leary rounded out the top 10. Seven of the 26 starters finished all 100 laps.
“Our car was really good; I just need a little more seat time,” Axsom said afterwards.
“When the car wouldn’t start at the beginning of the race, I was just hoping we could get it to start because I really wanted to do all 100 laps.
“I was better on the bottom in Turns 1 and 2 and I was better on the top in turns 3 and 4 for most of the race.
“I guess my best battle was with the yellow 66 [Rose]. I had no real close calls. It was just so much heavier than any other car I’ve ever raced. You have to baby it a little more.
“I’m happy with the result, and I can’t thank everyone on this team enough.”
Axsom improved his actual starting position 21 places, but he didn’t get the hard-charger contingency award because it is based on the starting position the driver earns in qualifying, and doesn’t take into account having to go to the rear for the start.
The race was streamed live by Flo Racing.
Nolen Racing’s next event will be the Little 500 at Anderson Speedway in Anderson, Ind. on May 28, when Axsom and Shane Hollingsworth will be the team’s drivers.
For more information see NolenRacing.com and usacracing.com, and follow Nolen Racing on Facebook and Twitter.