Chase Elliott continues to dabble in dirt in USAC Midget debut

Chase Elliott couldn’t get enough.

After making his maiden voyage in a midget at Millbridge Speedway in December, followed by his Chili Bowl Nationals debut last month, Elliott is back for more midget action this weekend.

The NASCAR Cup champion will partner with Chad Boat to pilot the No. 84 CB Industries midget at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla., for Winter Dirt Games XII.

For Elliott, it’s an opportunity to expand his skills through a variety of racing disciplines.

“It was about this time last year that I really expressed my interest in (the Rolex 24) and other races, too,” Elliott told prior to last weekend’s sports car event at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve always said I wanted to do more racing, but I never really took the initiative and put the effort in to make it happen. I just felt, coming into last summer and fall, I wanted to put in the right amount of effort to make it work. 

“Fortunately, the right opportunities came up with the right people, with the right cars—good cars, I felt like--and like I said, great people to work with. I’ve had a lot of fun with that.”

Elliott first became acquainted with Boat during their concurrent time in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series tour nearly a decade ago. The second-generation racers crossed paths again at Tulsa Expo Speedway, and Elliott expressed interest in additional dirt track opportunities.

“I’ve been talking to Chase ever since he started doing a little bit of midget stuff,” Boat told USAC. “After Chili Bowl, he was looking to do a little bit more to get ready for Chili Bowl in 2022.  

“I think it just made sense with us being down here close to what he’s doing for his other work.  It just made sense for him that it would be a good place for him to come over and do it.”

Elliott’s offseason has included late models at the Snowball Derby, the Carolina Midget Showdown at Millbridge Speedway, the Chili Bowl Nationals and last weekend’s sports car adventure in the Rolex 24. 

Under the direction of Chase Briscoe, Elliott impressed at Millbridge in his first time in a midget. He scored a podium in one feature and finished fourth in the second A-Main. But the 300-plus field at Chili Bowl was a wake-up call for Elliott. Although he barely missed the last transfer spot into the feature on his prelim night, Elliott was humbled on Saturday.

Still, his fellow NASCAR/dirt drivers such as Briscoe and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., respect Elliott’s ability to race outside of his comfort zone.

“Chase called me a couple weeks ago and told me he was going to run for Chad at Ocala, but I was kind of hesitant to be honest with you,” Briscoe said. “I didn’t ever think he’d run at a place that big, but I’m glad he’s doing it. I think it’s really cool to see the reigning Cup champion run grassroots stuff, and to run USAC Midgets at Ocala is super cool, that a guy like him is wanting to go back and run it.  

“Just getting to know Chase over the past couple years and even the past couple months even better, and just seeing how big of a fan he really is--obviously driving them but even just watching him. It’s really neat to see, so I’m excited for him. I’m going to definitely be tuned in on Flo to see how he does, and I’m just excited he’s up for the challenge. He could have easily just ran Chili Bowl and call it good, but he legitimately wants to get better at it, and he’s already really, really good. So it’s gonna be fun to watch him and I’m excited for him and Chad to be able to see what they’re able to do.”

For Elliott, it would be easy just to sit back and rest on his laurels. It's not as if NASCAR's Most Popular Driver has to go out of his way to impress his fan base. But coming off of his best Cup season of five wins, 15 top fives, 22 top 10s and a championship on his resume, Elliott has a new goal.

“Find new challenges,” Elliott said. “It’s only going to make you better. Go somewhere and get humbled. Obviously, you don’t want to get your feelings hurt, but you have to be open-minded enough to learn and realize this is new stuff. 
“I think until you’re willing to take that step in an area you’re uncomfortable in, you’re not maximizing your potential. So, I want to do more of it and I’m willing to be humbled. Whatever it takes as long as I’m making progress.”

Elliott is realistic enough to know that not every outing will make the highlight reel. When he rolls into Ocala on Thursday for practice, he’ll have the benefit of Boat and current USAC Midget champ Chris Windom to rely as he gets up to speed on the 3/8th-mile D-shaped track—a venue Windom describes as “challenging.”

Yet while some Cup competitors might use the final weekend before the 2021 season begins for a little downtime at the beach before the Daytona 500, Elliott will be logging laps on dirt for whatever opportunities lie ahead.

“This winter was a great step in expanding that horizon that we were talking about, but at the same time, I don’t think going to the Chili Bowl once and coming to the Rolex 24 one time is giving it a fair go at either one of them,” Elliott said. “I think you need to give them a shot on more than one occasion and put the right amount of effort in to try and be better next time and push yourself forward. 

“I would love to do these events again, if the opportunity is there. Maybe after those, we’ll find something else to do. I don’t know, but I’m enjoying my winter racing so far.” 

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