Series News Release - USAC Media
Speedway, Indiana (June 20, 2023) - As a Rookie in 2022 at USAC Eastern Storm, Emerson Axsom finished no better than fifth in any of the five races throughout the series he was partook for the very first time in his young career.
In 2023, the Franklin, Ind. racer returned to the scene and finished no worse than third in any of his five outings, and by doing so, easily outdistanced the competition to earn the Eastern Storm championship.
In fact, Axsom’s performance was the best ever in many facets. No driver had finished on the “podium” during every race of an Eastern Storm in which five or more events were contested. Furthermore, Axsom’s 31-point margin in the final standings was the largest in Eastern Storm history, surpassing Bryan Clauson’s 28-point edge over Levi Jones in 2012.
The role that the connection between Axsom and Clauson played throughout the week was not lost on any observers. Axsom’s Clauson Marshall Newman Racing team is co-owned by Bryan’s father, Tim Clauson. Additionally, Axsom’s first career Eastern Storm victory came on June 15 at Big Diamond Speedway, on what would’ve been Bryan’s 34th birthday.
On opening night at Grandview Speedway, Axsom hounded Jake Swanson throughout the 40-lap Jesse Hockett Classic but came just short in a solid second place effort. After a rainout at New Jersey’s Bridgeport Motorsports Park the following night, the road took Eastern Storm to Big Diamond Speedway for the first time since 2012 where Axsom snuck by Thomas Meseraull 10 laps from the finish line to bag win number one of the week.
The next round at Williams Grove saw Axsom charge past local Pennsylvania star Timmy Buckwalter just after the halfway mark, then fended off the repeated challenges of first-time Eastern Storm participant Daison Pursley to win at the famed half-mile dirt oval.
In the penultimate round at Port Royal Speedway’s half-mile, Axsom led the first half before giving way to Justin Grant. However, two laps later, Axsom found a second wind and spurted back past Grant. It proved to be but a fleeting moment as Grant, the defending USAC National Sprint Car champion, soon surged back into the lead and onward to the win while Axsom grabbed second, which for all intents and purposes, wrapped up the Eastern Storm title.
With just 50 appearance points on the line for all participating competitors, regardless of finishing position, in the miniseries finale at Kutztown, Pennsylvania’s Action Track USA, with a 31-point edge, all Axsom had to do was fire off for hot laps and the Eastern Storm championship was officially his.
Axsom didn’t settle there, however. Axsom led the initial 24 laps after astonishingly securing his fourth front row starting position in as many nights. However, Kyle Cummins tracked Axsom down and passed him in traffic 16 laps from the finish line to close out the week with his first Eastern Storm “W” while Axsom drifted back to third, his worst finish of the week.
If third is considered a driver’s “worst” performance of the week, you know you’re doing something right, and Axsom’s Clauson Marshall Racing/Driven2SaveLives – ZMax Race Lubricants/Spike/Kistler Chevy was certainly right all weeklong.
“To come out here and not finish worse than third over five nights, it shows that we’re working together really good, and our package is working really good too,” Axsom stated. “To go to all these different kinds of racetracks and still land on the podium every night is incredible.”
Axsom can still recall his very first Eastern Storm experiences in 2022, although he’d probably like to forget those moments in time. In his initial two nights on the grid, he flipped in his heat race at Grandview, then saw a potential victorious night go by the wayside instantaneously early in the feature at Bridgeport.
This year, however, Axsom sees his Eastern Storm activity as, perhaps, a harbinger for a potential USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship run at season’s end, the standings of which he currently leads. The feat of winning both Eastern Storm and the USAC National Sprint Car driving championship within one season has been achieved on nine occasions by six different drivers: Levi Jones (2007-10-11), Bryan Clauson (2012-13), Brady Bacon (2014), Robert Ballou (2015), Chris Windom (2017) and C.J. Leary (2019).
With all that in mind, after all he’s learned and experienced and how far he’s come, Axsom aims to be the next in line to accomplish both of these goals within the same calendar year.
“Just looking at last year, it’s pretty cool to see the progression that we’ve made as a team,” Axsom praised. “Last year, coming out here, I junked a car the first night, then the second night, I put it in the fence while leading. It was just a rough week.”
At just 18 years old, and a recent high school graduate, Axsom became the second youngest driver to capture the Eastern Storm title behind only Cole Whitt who notched his first as a 16-year-old in 2008 and again the following year in 2009 at the age of 17. Axsom is fully cognizant of the rarified air he now finds himself in.
“It’s pretty cool to put my name up there as one of the guys to win an Eastern Storm championship,” Axsom beamed. “To do it at a pretty young age, not a lot of people win a speedweek championship at 18 years old.”
During the week, three drivers became first-time Eastern Storm winners: Jake Swanson (Grandview), Emerson Axsom (Big Diamond & Williams Grove) and Kyle Cummins (Action Track USA).
Meanwhile, Justin Grant won an Eastern Storm feature for the third consecutive season, all of which, ironically, have occurred on the same exact date: Selinsgrove Speedway (June 17, 2021), Williams Grove Speedway (June 17, 2022) and Port Royal Speedway (June 17, 2023). Furthermore, Grant equaled his best career Eastern Storm points finish, slotting in third for the second consecutive season.
Perhaps the biggest breakout of the week came from Daison Pursley (Locust Grove, Okla.), who was making his first Eastern Storm appearance. The leading USAC National Sprint Car Rookie of the Year contender made two stirring drives that captured the attention of the racing world – a 14th to 2nd charge at Williams Grove and a 10th to 3rd run at Port Royal. Adding it all up to four top-tens along with a pair of fast qualifying times at Big Diamond and Port Royal, Pursley came home second in the Eastern Storm standings in his first try.
Thirty-eight drivers participated in 2023 Eastern Storm with 13 drivers starting all five feature events: Emerson Axsom, Brady Bacon, Robert Ballou, Alex Bright, Kyle Cummins, Briggs Danner, Justin Grant, C.J. Leary, Mitchel Moles, Daison Pursley, Chase Stockon, Jake Swanson and Matt Westfall.
Axsom led the most laps throughout Eastern Storm with 65 total while leading laps in each of the final four events. He was also the lone driver to finish inside the top-ten in all five appearances, let alone the top-three. Only Axsom and Jake Swanson finished inside the top-ten in all five features.
Additionally, both Cummins (Grandview & Action Track USA) and Pursley (Big Diamond & Port Royal) topped Honest Abe Roofing qualifying twice as fast-time award recipients. Thomas Meseraull was the fastest time trialer at Williams Grove while Robert Ballou won a series-best three heat races.
The biggest chargers of the week were Daison Pursley with a 14th to 2nd at Williams Grove while Alex Bright advanced from 22nd to 10th in the Grandview opener. Bright also collected the best finish by a 360 c.i. engine during Eastern Storm, which was dominated by the use of 410 c.i. engines. Bright, in his home state of Pennsylvania, brought home a 6th at Action Track USA.
2023 USAC EASTERN STORM TOP TEN POINT STANDINGS
POS. PTS. DRIVER, HOMETOWN
1. 349 Emerson Axsom, Franklin, Ind.
2. 318 Daison Pursley, Locust Grove, Okla.
3. 314 Justin Grant, Ione, Calif.
4. 292 Jake Swanson, Anaheim, Calif.
5. 262 Kyle Cummins, Princeton, Ind.
6. 261 Briggs Danner, Allentown, Pa.
7. 259 Chase Stockon, Fort Branch, Ind.
8. 252 Robert Ballou, Rocklin, Calif.
9. 248 Mitchel Moles, Raisin City, Calif.
10. 232 Timmy Buckwalter, Douglassville, Pa.