DILLON, S.C. – After a podium finish during last weekend’s USAC Eastern Midget Ass’n season opener at Dillon Motor Speedway, the focus for Alex Murray has quickly shifted from finishing races to chasing points.
After all, with Dillon winner Sam Hatfield not planning to contest a full EMA season this year, Murray finds himself second among full-time drivers in the standings, tied with Nolan Allison at 68 points.
With last Saturday’s finishing position as the current tiebreaker, Allison is the effective leader in the early championship chase, but Murray sees a path forward and realizes the time to pounce is now.
“Dillon was really solid for us,” Murray told SPEED SPORT following his third-place finish at the four-tenths-mile South Carolina oval. “We’re not sure whether it was a handling issue or we lost power steering halfway through the race, but to get that finish was definitely a workout, for sure. I’m really proud of this performance for our first race as a regular team, and we’ll see how much we can build.
“This is the kind of confidence-builder we needed early on in this season, and it definitely shows us that we can do this,” he added. “I feel like we’re ready to go win next time out at Wake County (Speedway).”
Murray ran a handful of races at the end of last year’s Eastern Midget campaign, but this season marks the first time he’s running with the series on a regular basis with his Shamrock Auto Care No. 22.
It also comes with some extra effort as well. Murray is a part-owner of his Eastern Midget entry this season, and is adding to that by taking on much of the preparation work back at his family’s race shop.
The 19-year-old recognizes that in order to make a serious effort at chasing the series championship and dethroning two-time defending titlist Jessica Bean, his own input is key to his results on the track.
“When we got this car last year and I made an investment into helping get it myself, I knew it was going to come with added responsibilities and additional time working on it to get it where we wanted it,” Murray noted. “I’ve learned a lot already just with the time I put in to get the car ready to go to Dillon, and I feel like becoming more in tune with the car mechanically will help me not just this year, but in the long run as I go forward.
“It’s been a learning experience, but I feel like this process has been extremely valuable for me.”
Murray was also quick to point out that the races he ran in the latter stages of last season will be a big benefit to him in the early stages of this year’s title fight.
He’s already bettered his Dillon finish from last August, and while Murray hasn’t yet competed at Wake County – the next track on the series schedule – he did finish fourth after qualifying second at Orange County Speedway in Rougemont, N.C., the site of the second half of the April 26-27 doubleheader.
“The track time we got last year helped me get an understanding of setups, driver comfort and what we need to succeed all year long,” said Murray. “The car is in the best shape it has been since we got it and Dad, Chris (Tessier) and myself have been doing all we can to keep it clean and as fast as possible.
“We’re ready to perform; we know we can win, and now we just have to go out and prove it.”
Also in Murray’s gunsights is the crown jewel of the series’ 2019 schedule, a date at Lucas Oil Raceway on Sept. 7, alongside the premier USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series.
Regardless of how the championship tables may turn, that’s a race that Murray would love nothing more than to take the trophy home from.
“Indy is a huge deal for this series and it’s going to be a true honor to race there later this year,” he said. “We would love nothing more as a team than to be able to leave there with the win and the trophy.”
In the short term, however, Murray is planning on taking this season one race at a time and letting the points fall where they may.
“We know we’re in position right now, and that’s all you can ask for as a driver,” said Murray. “Our plan is to go out, do our best and try and win each race. If we do that and put together solid finishes, the championship will take care of itself as the season rolls on.”
The USAC Eastern Midget Ass’n season continues April 26 at Wake County Speedway.