We’ve been spending some time going over the top contenders in each of the five weekly racing series, but what about those guys who are on the cusp, ready to make a statement in a “breakthrough” season? Not necessarily a championship, but the kind of year that lets the rest of us know we need to keep an eye on them.
Here are my picks:
Other possibles: Michael Long, Jake Griffin.
* Jake Griffin: “Fireball” gave us a glimpse of what the future may hold last season en route to a relatively quiet fifth-place finish in points. Look for continued growth. He could easily become one of the “big five” with Steven DeLonjay, Dave Wietholder, Michael Long and Shawn Deering. Don’t forget, we’ve lost Jared Schlipman from this class — he’s going to be a late model rookie — so that’s one less major rival Griffin will need to pass in the points standings.
Other possibles: Craig Spegal, Russ Coultas.
* Tanner Klingele: Three things are working in Tanner’s favor this season to make a lasting impression. He’ll be concentrating solely on the sport mods (R.I.P., hobby stocks), Tony Dunker likely won’t be dominating the division because he won’t be racing as much and young Mr. Klingele is a year older and more wiser. Much of the early attention in this class will surround Joe Bliven and Bobby Anders, but don’t be surprised if Klingele makes one of those so-called major statements.
Other possibles: Brad Holtmeyer, Jake Powers (call that second one a hunch … )
* Michael Larsen: I know Taco’s name has been mentioned quite frequently regarding this class in the offseason, but going into April it will still be Terry Houston and Abe Huls garnering much of the hype. But remember, one of my sabermetric theories involving racing is to watch the success in heat races one year to predict a breakout driver the nest. Michael dominated the heats the 2012, and if just a fraction of that success carries over to the 2013 main events there could be a new sheriff in town. Or at least a new deputy — and I’m not talking about Barney Fife.
Other possibles: Jerry Jansen, Gabe Harrison.
* Pat Dunker: Can he track down Austen “Powers” Becerra, Seth Woodruff or Slim Kim Abbott? Probably not, but this could be the year The Guy With The Cool Hair signs more autographs than his three-time track champion brother Tony Dunker. And if that happens, I would love be at the next family reunion. Dunker (Pat, that is) wowed the 8000 Broadway crowd with some of his late-season runs a year ago, and I see no reason why The People’s Champion will not pick up right where he left off.
Other possibles: Bryce Baker, Brandon Lambert, Lane Van Sandt, Casey Lambert.