SPEEDWAY, Ind. – As Kyle Hamilton counts down the days to the launch of the USAC Silver Crown season, he recalls last year’s opener when he and his Klatt Enterprises team were the class of the field, leading a race-high 54 laps.
What seemed like such a bright beginning for the Hamilton and Klatt combo came to halt two-thirds of the way through the race when engine trouble put the clamps on a could’ve-would’ve-should’ve-been victory.
From that point forward, the team would continue on the same general flight-path throughout 2018, showing flashes of speed early on in the night before being plagued by mechanical trouble, save for a top-five run at Salem in which their abilities and luck finally came to fruition.
This year provides a new outlook and an eagerness to take a different path, the path in which the team travelled in the first two-thirds of last year’s season-starter, starting with the same first step in the opener, March 22-23 at Memphis Int’l Raceway.
“Last year, leading all those laps at Phoenix was not a surprise to us,” Hamilton, the 2017 Little 500 winner, admitted. “It may have been a surprise to other people, but it wasn’t to us because I’ve been on the big tracks in Midgets and Silver Crown. (Crew Chief) Bob East has been to a lot of racetracks with that car and engine combination, so he knew what the car needed to be that fast.”
Though this will mark the Danville, Ind., racer’s first drive at Memphis, it’s certainly not for USAC Hall of Famer, East. Hamilton will pilot a Beast chassis, the same build of car that’s won all four previous Silver Crown outings at Memphis, including the last visit in 2004 when East was the winning car owner with driver Dave Steele.
“I felt like it was good way for us to start off the year,” Hamilton continued regarding last year’s first event. “We’re both in a position where we felt confident and I think we’ll be the same way at Memphis. We have a whole year under our belt together now. (Memphis) is a big track, but Bob’s been to a lot of big tracks and he’s good at going to a track for the first time and getting it in the ballpark. He’s proven that over the years.”
Hamilton’s outlook on this season is rosy despite the difficulties that the he and the team had to battle through time and time again. He knows he’s got a fast car, a great crew behind him and, finally, some luck will have to fall the way of the two-time USAC National Midget feature winner.
“There’s no doubt that you can’t write up last year any different other than to say it was a disappointment from the mechanical side of things,” Hamilton said. “We were plagued by issues that don’t happen very often, but all of them kind of happened within the same year to us. That was tough to deal with. Just when you get into a rhythm with your setup or with driving, it seems like we’d have a mechanical issue that would pull us out of the race, so we didn’t get as many good finishes as we’d have liked. I won’t call it a complete loss because we learned a lot at some of the new tracks we went to. We had a good run at Salem that helped me build some skills on a momentum-based track that’s going to help me at tracks like Lucas Oil Raceway and Memphis this year.”
Among the new tracks on the docket for the 2012 Silver Crown Rookie of the Year is Memphis, a unique three-quarter-mile, D-shaped track that has produced great racing in year’s past. Hamilton likened the track to Iowa Speedway, in which he competed at on three occasions, including a front row Silver Crown start in 2015 and an 8th place Midget run in 2011.
“You notice the D-shape vs. the backstretch being straight,” Hamilton pointed out. “You kind of compare that to a track like Iowa how you’re wanting to get into the corner because you’re already coming into the corner at an angle. You can take bits and pieces of each track we run at and compare them to past setups, but you are on zero as far as a complete setup. You’re definitely taking a gamble there. I got to put it into Bob’s hands. He’s been to so many tracks over the years, I feel he’s going to get me really close without too much of an issue.”