INDIANAPOLIS – Over the last few seasons, Michael Dutcher has become known as one of the top mechanics and car owners in the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series.
The California native continued his streak of strong seasons last year, as he partnered with Cullman, Ala., driver Kevin Thomas Jr. to reel off seven wins and finish fifth in the season-long championship. This year, they step it up a notch more, as Jon Stanbrough has joined them in a second entry, with both vying for the National Championship.
Thomas was a relative newcomer in 2012, securing a sponsor and becoming Most Improved Driver after a season that included his initial win, which came at Bloomington Speedway during Indiana Sprintweek. Fairly late in the offseason before the 2013 season, Thomas and Dutcher collaborated and formed an explosive team that saw stretches as hot as any USAC Sprint Car team in memory.
“It was a breakout year for me. I had been around a few years and hadn’t had much success, but I got with a great couple of guys who really believed in me and had confidence that I could win,” Thomas said. “I’d never had that much before. The cars were spectacular all season, and it was a big year for me to learn how to win and learn about losing and try to build off that for this year.”
The Michael Dutcher/RW/Tri-Star Motorsports No. 17RW with Thomas at the wheel won three straight races in April as the Midwest season opened, and they ran off another three-race streak in the middle of the ultra-competitive Indiana Sprintweek at Kokomo, Lawrenceburg, and Terre Haute. They capped it off with the $10,000-to-win Haubstadt Hustler at Tri-State Speedway.
For this year, everything is back in place for that duo, and the ante has been upped even higher with the announcement that veteran Stanbrough will drive the No. 37RW as they take on the schedule with a two-car team.
“Jon Stanbrough and I have been friends for a long time, and we got enough of a sponsorship package proposed that we couldn’t turn down the opportunity. We’ve wanted to race together for a long time, and this year it finally came together. We had a great year last year, and I think adding Jon can only make us better,” Dutcher said.
Stanbrough has been one of the strongest dirt sprint car drivers of the past two decades, as he has racked up 31 USAC National Sprint Car wins, which sits just one out of a tie for tenth all-time. The 46-year-old has been a constant threat for the championship, particularly since the series went to dirt races only. Despite a small schedule, Stanbrough notched two victories last year: Sprintweek at Gas City and the Ultimate Challenge at Oskaloosa’s Southern Iowa Speedway.
“I’m not usually one to get excited, but I’ve got high hopes. I want to get back to winning more than I have the last couple years,” said Stanbrough. “I’m a history buff with sprint car racing and all that, but truthfully I haven’t thought about the numbers much lately. When I was younger, before I even won a USAC race, I just wanted to win one. Then once you win, you want to win ten, and then twenty…that never really ends, and I just want to keep winning.”
Stanbrough and Dutcher worked together for just a few races in 2009, where they ran for Terry Riggs’ Indiana Underground Construction team, which returns as a sponsor on this year’s car. After nearly winning the Oval Nationals at Perris (Calif.) Auto Speedway before a U-joint failure, their final race together ended in victory at California’s Thunderbowl Raceway in the Pacific Coast Nationals.
“I’m confident in him (Dutcher), that he’ll give me a fast car and nothing falls off the car. We’ve worked really well together in the past. I’ve been around a long time, and I know things don’t always go the way you want them to go. I know they have been together a little bit now, and Kevin has been around long enough that we all know what we’re here to do,” Stanbrough said.
Thomas expects to draw a little from his elder teammate as the 22-year old hopes to build on his 2013 season and improve on the areas that held him back in the chase for the championship.
“I’m a fiery driver, and Jon is obviously a guy who has been around and is calm and level-headed,” Thomas said. “I know he’ll have a good effect on me. We know we can win, and my confidence is really high with this team. But I’ve got to find the consistency that guys like Bryan (Clauson), Dave (Darland), and Brady (Bacon) have. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to win right away like that last year, and after we had a hot streak, I kinda expected to win every race, or thought we should. The mindset of racking up podium and top-fives is key for me to be able to compete with those guys.”
With a two-car team on the road, Dutcher shifts his focus from compiling the funds to field both entries over to preparing both cars for ultra-competitive drivers. Black Jack Oil Company, Rotondo Weirich, and Tri-Star Motorpsorts return as major supporters of both cars, and other substantial additions have been made with MP Environmental Services, Griffin’s Propane and Indiana Underground. The team will continue to utilize Maxim Chassis and Fisher Racing Engines.
“I’ve been fortunate to be involved with two sprint car titles and a Silver Crown championship, and this team is going for that along with as many wins as we can get. I think we have the crew to do it, with A.J. Bray and the McGhees, Mike and Sammy. It’s a lot of work, even for one car, but we’re used to that. I think we can handle any challenge, and we’re ready. I really can’t wait to get to Ocala and fire this thing up,” Dutcher said.