DUQUOIN, Ill. – Andrew Layser’s debut with Clauson-Marshall Racing may not have ended the way he hoped it would, but the Pennsylvania teenager still opened a lot of eyes during Saturday night’s Junior Knepper 55.

Driving the Priority Aviation-sponsored No. 47, Layser won his heat race in his first time on-track with the team, but ran into bad luck in both his qualifier and B-main that kept him from advancing into the 55-lap feature inside the Southern Illinois Center.

Layser was racing with Christopher Bell for the lead in the second qualifier when he got into turn three too deep on the bottom groove, spinning to the inside berm and collecting Tanner Berryhill as he came to a stop.

The 17-year-old was then swept up in more chaos during the first B-main of the night, ending his hopes of making the show after the day started with so much promise.

Despite that disappointment, however, Layser climbed out of his car with a smile, appreciative of the chance to be on a premier stage for the first time in his young career.

“I’m just extremely grateful to have had this opportunity,” noted Layser. “From Sunshine and Zeb to Tim and Rizzy (Tyler Ransbottom), these guys are fantastic and were great to me all weekend long. They gave me pointers and helped me get so much out of this experience.

“The car was great; it was by far the most comfortable that I’ve felt in a midget in a while … I just made a few mistakes that kept us from getting into the A-main,” Layser added. “We can really build off of this, though. We had speed and proved we belonged, I felt like.”

Andrew Layser. (Jacob Seelman photo)

Layser noted that if not for his miscue while racing Bell in the qualifier, he felt like he would have been able to finish in a position that would have transferred him into the main event.

“I was stuck in there a bit and I wanted to try and push him (Bell) up the track a bit, but when I got down in the corner it was just a little bit too much,” recalled Layser. “It’s just one of those things … that’s racing sometimes.”

Regardless of the final outcome, one thing was certain: Layser found a place among the big names in the discipline on Saturday night, if only for a short time before bad luck relegated him out of the mix.

“This race was huge for my confidence. With it being my first race for a big team, I was a little bit nervous, but Rizzy calmed me down and told me that I shouldn’t be and that I wouldn’t have been in the car if they didn’t think I could do what it took,” Layser noted. “In the B-main, we were rolling great – I think we were up from 12th to sixth – it was just some tough luck that took us out of it.

“The team gave me everything I needed, though. I got back to the tendency of just being smooth. I was able to be smooth on throttle control, and I feel like that helped me a ton. It’s a shame that our piece wasn’t in the A-main, because it deserved to be, but I’m so humbled and grateful to have been here.”

According to the driver, Saturday night was the realization of many sleepless childhood nights, as well.

“I’ve been dreaming of moments like Saturday night for a while,” Layser said. “I’m bummed out that we couldn’t get a better result, but I think those will come with time. It’s just a dream come true to race for Clauson-Marshall, man. They’re top of the line in everything that they do and Tim exemplifies that.

“I can’t thank everyone enough for believing in me and I’m looking forward to the future.”