Pursley Earns Top Rookie Honor with USAC Sprints
Series News Release - USAC Media
Speedway, Indiana (November 1, 2023) - Just six years earlier, Daison Pursley stood on the stage at USAC’s Night of Champions as the club’s Restricted 600 Micro Sprint champion for 2017.
So much has happened in the Locust Grove, Oklahoma native’s life and racing career since that point, and the journey just to get back into the seat of a racecar has been a long and arduous one.
Now, in December, he’ll stand on that same stage once more at the Indiana Roof Ballroom when he receives the honor of being named the 2023 USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship Rookie of the Year, becoming only the second Okie to earn the award after Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Gary Cameron II in 1992.
Nearly 10 months after a 2021 midget crash left him with a spinal cord injury and lengthy stays in a hospital and a rehabilitation center, Pursley returned to the racetrack. Now, just a bit over a year later, he’s the top dog among all first-year drivers on the sprint car trail.
“It’s pretty amazing to say the least,” Pursley reflected. “No matter what route I took or however I got there, it’s amazing to accomplish that feat and it means a lot. KO Motorsports, (team manager) Kent Schmidt and Brian Davis and everybody who’s a part of this deal, they really brought me in with open arms as a Rookie.”
During the points season of 2023, Pursley finished 11th in the overall standings, making 35 USAC National Sprint Car starts in 36 attempts, garnering three top-fives, 14 top-tens and a pair of fast qualifying efforts, including a new track record in his first ever trip to Pennsylvania’s Big Diamond Speedway, and also achieved fast time honors in his first visit to the Keystone State’s Port Royal Speedway.
Entering a non-points special event contest on Valentine’s Day with just five career sprint car starts under his belt, the 18-year-old earned an attention-getting $10,000 payday during a caution-free DIRTcar Nationals 30-lap victory at Florida’s Volusia Speedway Park half-mile dirt oval.
At the time, Pursley remarked that it’s a night he’ll always remember forever. Although just nine months have past since that moment, time has since proven that to be a fact. It was truly a treasured moment for Pursley as he reflects on the highlights of the year.
“We went to Volusia, not really having any expectations at all,” Pursley acknowledged. “That showed us that, dang, maybe we can do this and that maybe we are pretty fast in this deal and that being a Rookie doesn’t kind of matter. My other starts prior to that were at (quarter-mile tracks) Tri-State Speedway and Circle City Raceway, so it was nowhere close to something like Volusia by any means. It was pretty remarkable, especially after the year I just had, getting back inside of a racecar and not really knowing what my future held.”
Defying the odds so soon right out of the box, one might feel that the expectations might need to be recalibrated a bit after his triumphant night. However, the team knew that the USAC National Sprint Car season is a long and winding road. Obviously, the goal is to win each and every time on the track, but in facing many of the tracks for the first time in his career, Pursley kept things realistic, knowing that there were going to be a fair share of learning curves along the path.
“I felt like, overall, it was a really good Rookie season although we had a lot of trial and error; non-wing sprint cars are no joke, so it took a lot,” Pursley stated. “We did many good things as well and I’m forever thankful for everything that I’ve been went through the past couple of years and the things that I’ve gotten to accomplish.”
After an uneasy stretch to open the points portion of the season, Pursley excelled during a personal hot streak in May and June. He reeled off eight consecutive top-10 finishes, which concluded with back-to-back podium results, topped by a runner-up at Pennsylvania’s Williams Grove Speedway and a third the very next night at Port Royal. His excellence earned him a runner-up finish in the Eastern Storm standings, the best performance by any first-year driver in the series since Cole Whitt captured the 2008 miniseries title.
“Everything wasn’t clicking the way we’d hoped it would, then it kind of got me down, then it got the whole crew down, then we went to Pennsylvania and had a really good showing,” Pursley remembered. “It showed that everything was back in motion and showed that we are more than capable of running up front in these races.”
But soon, the ups and downs came in droves during the dog days of summer with Pursley making just one reappearance inside the top-five following Eastern Storm – a fifth at Lawrenceburg Speedway during Indiana Sprint Week. Pursley now takes it all in stride, chalking it up to him just trying to get his footing in his first foray into a new discipline.
“It just goes to show you how tough USAC Sprint Car racing is,” Pursley added. “You’ve got 10 guys who can win on any given night. To win one of these races, you’ve got to be up on your toes, and you have to be really sharp like Justin Grant, Brady Bacon, C.J. Leary and all those guys are. They show you how good they are and how much being a veteran plays a role in this sport.”
In the end, Pursley became the ninth teenager to earn Rookie of the Year honors with the USAC National Sprint Cars: Boston Reid (19 in 2002), Darren Hagen (19 in 2005), Chad Boat (16 in 2008), Coleman Gulick (18 in 2011), C.J. Leary (16 in 2012), Tyler Courtney (19 in 2013), Jadon Rogers (18 in 2020), Emerson Axsom (18 in 2022) and Daison Pursley (18 in 2023).
Furthermore, Pursley is already the second Oklahoma native to be named Rookie of the Year in a USAC national series during the 2023 season. Kaylee Bryson (Muskogee, Okla.) was previously announced as the USAC Silver Crown National Championship Rookie of the Year recipient.
2023 USAC AMSOIL SPRINT CAR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP ROOKIE DRIVER TOP TEN:
1. (1660) Daison Pursley, Locust Grove, Okla.
2. (436) Joey Amantea, Mount Pocono, Pa.
3. (211) Rylan Gray, Greenfield, Ind.
4. (205) Dalton Stevens, Scurry, Texas
5. (164) Xavier Doney, Odessa, Mo.
6. (148) Zack Pretorius, Yorktown, Ind.
7. (143) Tom Harris, Banbury, Oxfordshire, UK
8. (110) Kayla Roell, Dillsboro, Ind.
9. (110) Kevin Newton, Farmersburg, Ind.
10. (95) Travis Millar, Wandin, North Vic.