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Rusty Duncan Leading Chase for Modified Sportsman Title

6/16/2021
Rusty Duncan Leading Chase for Modified Sportsman Title

EASTABOGA, Ala. — Rusty Duncan started the 2021 Crate Racin’ USA Weekly Racing Series season in the Modified Sportsman division with a single goal in mind.

"We just wanted to run a bunch of races and try to win as many as we could,” the Tuscaloosa, Ala., driver said.

He and team partner Richard Childers never gave much thought to chasing the divisional championship, but as temperatures climbed and the calendar reached its mid-June stretch, Duncan finds himself in a position he never much considered, which is leading the current standings in the chase for the prestigious crown.

The bulky-shouldered competitor has done it on the strength of eight victories in 19 starts tallied during the first two and a half months of the season aboard his Diamond Race Cars-built machine, a remarkable display of success that has him atop the heap of title chasers with a full three and a half months remaining in the points-collecting campaign, which ends Oct. 3.

His win total leads the highly-competitive division, with Shay Knight of Columbus, Miss., the next-closest driver in the win column with six victories in six starts at Magnolia Motor Speedway in Columbus, Miss.

2021 Crate Racin’ USA Weekly Racing Series
Modified Sportsman Points Standings (thru June 13)

  1. Rusty Duncan, 534 points; 2. Jammie Gowers, 517; 3. Jordan Phillips, 509; 4. Scottie Gowers, 504; 5. Luke Riddle, 496; 6. Cody Howard, 462; 7. Darren Jewell, 459; 8. Rex Michael, 441; 9. Sonny Reese, 422; 10. Tracy Terrell, 416; 11. Chuckie Gipson, 415; 12. Logan Hickerson, 412; 13. Blake Swann, 410; 14. Blake Cross, 403; 15. Josh Salisbury, 384; 16. Cacey Crowell, 378; 17. Seth Johnston, 366; 18. Ron Bailey, 361; 19. Jarrad Gray, 355; 20. Chris Hill, 353.

“We really never anticipated running for the national championship, but I guess we are now,” Duncan said. “Me and my buddy Richard [Childers], we both work full-time jobs and it’s a constant strain on your time to keep racing every weekend. We spend at least two or three hours every night working on the car, unless there’s family time or something else planned.”

The reopening of Moulton Speedway in Danville, Ala., this year under the direction of new owners Keith and Amanda Steele has provided a regular Friday night stop for the division’s drivers, and Duncan has taken advantage of the opportunity.

“It’s a two-hour tow for us to reach the place on a Friday night after our work day, but then we started the season winning a few races there,” Duncan said. “We decided to kick back one night and give some thought to the idea of running for the title since that gives us a chance to race twice in a weekend. You have a bad night on Friday, you can make it up on Saturday elsewhere. Should you win on Friday night, you don’t necessarily have to race on Saturday. We decided to give the championship a try, and I guess we’ll see what happens. Our worse finish all year has been a third.”

Duncan is no stranger to the open-wheeled machines, having driven them earlier in his career with both IMCA and UMP, during the days when it seemed open motor-powered cars were located everywhere in large numbers around his home region. As equipment costs rose, the division disappeared for the most part on a weekly basis, and Crate Racin’ USA’s less-expensive version of the machines has since revitalized the division. It has firmly taken root in the region as the Eastaboga, Ala-based organization’s fastest-growing class.

Duncan, who started his racing career during the ’96 season aboard a Hobby-type car competing on 10” wheels, raced for five seasons, winning races in those cars at Columbus (Miss.) Speedway, Thunder Valley Speedway in Winfield, Ala. and ECM Speedway in Bremen, Ala., which was known at the time as River Valley Speedway. He built his first Modified in ’04, won several races over the next few years, and abruptly quit the sport about five years ago. Now he’s back with a vengeance.

“We just walked away from it back in ‘16,” Duncan said. “We did not even go near a track, or even think about racing until we got back into the sport at the start of the ’20 season. That was our first time on the track since we’d sold out everything we had. And here we are again, probably involved in it deeper than ever.”

He’s winning on a regular basis again, and even more impressive he’s accomplishing that feat at several different facilities. Duncan has taken checkered flags at four different ovals this season, including four victories at Moulton, two at ECM Speedway, one at Columbus (Miss.) Speedway and his most recent victory June 12 at Talladega Short Track in Eastaboga, Ala., which is not considered a routine stop for him as a driver.

“That was our deal when we decided to run for this championship,” Duncan said. “We sat down, and knew we didn’t want to be a one-track wonder. We wanted to run races at different places to see how we’d do, and we’ve been fortunate to win at several of the Crate USA-sanctioned tracks. It’s a true commitment to chase this title, and it takes lots of time and effort, and you still ain’t guaranteed to win it.”

So far, the effort put forth by Duncan’s team has him headed in the right direction. There’s still a lot of racing to go before a champion is crowned, and pressure will build as the season progresses toward its end.

“You’re always checking everything so you don’t break a bolt or something stupid like that, and it costs you a good finish,” Duncan said. “Every race becomes a little more important. When you have a weekend and there’s two or even three races in a row, it’s a real grind through the summer. You spend all your time trying to get faster, and something you’ve found might be good at one track, and not so good at another. It’s a constant experiment, and that’s the only way to get better.”

As Duncan heads toward the midway point of the season, he summarizes his outlook for the final half of the championship chase. His strategy is the same one that has already brought the team success, and there’s no plans to change the approach.

“If we can win eight more races in the next three months, that definitely wouldn’t be easy but would be totally awesome,” he said. “You hear drivers say they don’t go to the racetrack without expecting to win, and I honestly try not to think like that and put too much pressure on myself. I like to know we can win, and we work hard to feel we have a chance to win, but our goal every weekend has been to load the car in good condition and not have a torn-up race car, and to get the best finish we can that night. Hopefully we’ll be able to continue our consistency, and perhaps win a few more.”

Article Credit: Brian McLeod
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