Like a lot of young Hoosiers, Scott Petry dreamed of racing cars.
Growing up on a farm not far from Indianapolis, Petry was drawn to the speed and competition, but the money simply wasn’t there to advance his own racing career.
Today, as a midget team owner, Petry derives his greatest pleasure from providing the opportunities he never had to aspiring young drivers.
“That’s my favorite part of it,” Petry said. “At one point, I was that kid who wanted to be a racer and didn’t have the money to do it. And there are a lot of those kids out there. There’s more talent walking through the pits than there is in cars a lot of days.
“I’m not knocking it, but it takes money. We all know that. I would love to see more guys step up sponsor-wise and owner-wise and try to figure out how to get those kids in cars instead of the kids trying to pay their way to get to the top.”
Petry’s latest find is 16-year-old Emerson Axsom, last year’s Tulsa Shootout winner. The Franklin, Ind., racer competed in his first full season for Petry in a POWRi midget and ran a partial USAC schedule. Axsom scored his first midget win at Lincoln Park Speedway in July.
“We’ll have Emerson with us all year,” Petry said. “We’ll probably run him in 50-60 races. We’re going to run the full USAC schedule and whatever we can throw in in-between to get him as much seat time as possible. He had a phenomenal year last year.
“For a guy coming in, a rookie right off the bat, he was fast every week. I think he earned a lot of respect out there. He ran 46 races and bent one front axle and two shocks all year. That’s pretty good for a kid just jumping in a midget. So we’re looking for good things out of him.”
Axsom makes his Chili Bowl Nationals debut for Petry next week. He joins Jacob Denny, 16, the USAC D2 champion, 2019 Tulsa Shootout Winged Outlaw winner Ben Worth, 25, (who won rookie honors and finished third in the USAC Western States Midgets standings, and Petry’s buddy Harley Hollan.
Petry is a relative newcomer to the Tulsa Expo Raceway. The 35th Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals marks his fourth attempt at the Golden Driller. While Petry enjoyed relative success out of the box with CJ Leary advancing to the A Main in the team’s first appearance, his subsequent visits have been a learning experience.
“We’ve struggled a little bit the last couple of years, and that was our fault,” Petry said. “We’ve looked over things trying to find answers, but the competition is tough. You’ve got Keith (Kunz), Tim (Clauson) and Chad (Boat), Matt (Wood). That’s a tough scenario. You’re going in there with 15-20 cars that have a legitimate shot of winning this thing.
“So, where do we stack up? I’d like to think that we stack up right there with them, but we have to prove that. Until we prove that, it’s hard to measure yourself with them. The competition is so much tighter. We have to learn to get that last three to five percent out of a car, not the last 10 to 15 percent. That’s probably been the hardest thing. Getting the last little bit out of these cars, and we’re working on our program every day.”
Petry’s passion for motorsports goes well beyond team ownership. Through his company, Petry Excavating in Greenfield, Ind., he has lent a hand in the development or enhancement of a variety of dirt tracks. In 2018, Petry was instrumental in creating the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Dirt Track—home of the BC 39.
“In my TQ (three-quarter midget) days, years ago, I was able to help with a couple of fair tracks,” Petry said. “I got to maintain, reshape and do some things and I’ve always had a passion for it. I love to do it.
“If I could do that all the time, I would, but as we know there are not a lot of dirt tracks being built but to say I’ve built the last two? There hasn’t been a lot of dirt tracks built in the last 10 years.”
Petry’s latest project—Circle City Raceway, also in metro-Indianapolis—will debut in March. Kevin Garrigus, who has revived the Indianapolis Speedrome over the past four years, is subsidizing the undertaking. Speedrome president Jonathan Byrd has overseen the development of the quarter-mile track located southeast of the city at the Marion County Fairgrounds.
“It’s going to be a phenomenal facility,” Petry said. “Kevin has spent a lot of money in doing things right. They have big plans. They’re going to make a first-class place out of it.”
Circle City, which can accommodate more than 5,000 spectators. will host the All-Star Circuit of Champions and USAC Midgets along with a variety of racing classes. Petry is also interested in cutting a smaller track inside the frontstretch to attract the burgeoning micro sprint community.
“When we’re done, we will have moved in the neighborhood of about 50,000 yards of dirt to build this place, because we’ve actually cut it down, undercut it a couple of feet,” Petry said. “We cut the middle of the track down by about eight feet. The cool thing about this is it’s going to be like a bowl. On both ends of the track—kind of like you have at Gas City where there are viewing stands in the corners—we’ve built elevated mounds about seven or eight-feet above the track so you can sit up in the corners and look down on the track.
“There’s not going to be a bad seat in the place. You’re going to be able to see the whole track, all the time from a view up above.”
While the weather and the pandemic have slowed Petry’s progress over the winter, his experience with creating the dirt track inside of Indianapolis Motor Speedway provided the perfect proving ground for this new venture. He has relied on the input of veteran racers including USAC Triple Crown winner Jerry Coons Jr.
“I learned a lot from the feedback I received from some of the racers,” Petry said. “They like that track because it’s wide enough and banked enough that it’s a two-groove track. There’s a slider line so it’s not just a track that becomes one groove—so that’s one of the things we are really focusing on.
“Everyone keeps asking, ‘What’s the design?’ Well, the design is a little bigger than a quarter-mile. It’s a wide track with about five feet of banking right now, but that’s all subject to change because the minute we get it done we’re going to put cars on it. We’re going to play with it a little bit and if it needs to change, Kevin’s the type of guy that’s going to say, ‘I want it to be right.’ He’s really given us a lot of flexibility. I want it to be a racy track. I don’t want it to be a follow-the-leader track. That’s the biggest thing we’re trying to accomplish.”
With the cost to maintain asphalt, Petry is surprised that more dirt tracks aren’t popping up across America.
“Dirt racing right now, if it’s not at an all-time high, it’s pretty close, and it’s growing every day,” Petry said.