BARBERVILLE, Fla. – A full season on the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series trail isn’t for the faint of heart, especially if one is a 16-year-old rookie-of-the-year contender.
Crawley, the teenaged son of three-time ASCS National Tour champion Tim Crawley, wowed the spectators in attendance at the half-mile dirt oval by setting the overall quick time in qualifying in his debut appearance with the World of Outlaws.
A lap of 13.346 seconds (134.872 mph) in the familiar Sides Motorsports No. 7s was enough to put the young Crawley atop a 45-car field and immediately in the conversation among some of the best in the business.
Though he stumbled on the final lap of his heat race, finishing second to Gio Scelzi after jumping the cushion in turn four and nearly spinning out, Crawley made the pole dash and eventually lined up fifth for his maiden Outlaws feature.
Fueling issues eventually relegated the Benton, Ark., teenager to 20th at the finish of the 25-lapper, but the entire progression of his night was something that left a huge grin on Crawley’s face afterward.
“For some reason, there wasn’t much pressure [on me] that I felt, really all night long,” said Crawley. “It felt pretty easy out there, even if the finish on paper wasn’t what we wanted it to be. I just can’t thank Jason [Sides, team owner], my dad, and everyone enough for giving me an almost perfect race car at the start of the night. We didn’t get everything we wanted to out of it, but we showed we’re here, and that’s pretty exciting for my first time with the series.
“I’m still amazed to even be at this point in my career, honestly,” added Crawley. “It was pretty much a perfect storm that got me here … when Robbie [Price] got out of the car last season and Jason ended up looking for someone else to fill the seat. A few sponsors stepped up, and at the end of the day, it kind of fell into my lap to go out and do the Outlaw deal this year.
“It’s a big step, but I wouldn’t trade this chance for anything.”
Though this week’s activities at Volusia mark Crawley’s debut with the Outlaws, it isn’t the first time he’s worked with Sides – the 2003 World of Outlaws rookie-of-the-year – or Sides’ brother Paul, the longtime crew chief of the No. 7s.
Crawley got a chance to race Sides’ car with the POWRi 410 Winged Outlaw Sprint League back in November, during a two-day weekend at Oklahoma’s Tri-State Speedway. He finished 21st and sixth, respectively, in the two features and “gained a ton of confidence” in his race craft along the way.
“Jason gave me a great opportunity to make my 410 debut,” Crawley said in December, shortly after announcing his plans to chase World of Outlaws rookie-of-the-year honors. “I learned a lot driving his car those two nights, racing against [top-flight] guys like Aaron Reutzel and Cory Eliason. It’s been a dream to get behind the wheel in a 410, and I can’t thank Jason enough for the opportunity.
“I never dreamed an opportunity like this would come so early in my career,” Crawley added. “I can’t thank my family, friends, and marketing partners for helping my dreams become a reality. It’s surreal.”
Crawley picked up two marquee 360ci sprint car wins last year – one in the non-sanctioned Greg Hodnett Memorial at Riverside Int’l Speedway in West Memphis, Ark., and one with the United Sprint Car Series at Mississippi’s Magnolia Motor Speedway – which boosted his stock ahead of the new season.
However, Crawley knows that his main goals are going to be to “survive, and then thrive” as he works to find his place among the best sprint car drivers in the United States.
“I just have to take it one track, one weekend, one race at a time,” Crawley explained during his Production Day media session. “Most of the [tracks on the] schedule I’ve never even seen before, so trying to learn all these new places and just get more used to driving the 410 [sprint car] have to be my main focuses at first.
“After that, once I feel like I’m getting more comfortable, then we can set our sights that much higher.”
The biggest piece of advice that the younger Crawley said he’s received from his father so far was “not to overthink things” as he navigates a full season with the Outlaws.
“I’ve got to stay out of my own head,” he later clarified. “But I try to stay positive and optimistic, so hopefully, this will all work out for us and we can have some good moments this season.”
Funnily enough, Crawley tipped during World of Outlaws Production Day last Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that he “could probably count on one hand” the number of Outlaw races he’d even attended as a fan in advance of his series debut.
“I’ve hardly ever been in the [Outlaws] pits,” he said, earning a nod from his father in response.
“We were always too busy racing elsewhere,” admitted Tim Crawley, who now promotes 67 Speedway of Texarkana since his retirement from full-time driving at the end of the 2022 season.
But Crawley did bring to mind one vivid memory from his limited Outlaws fandom, which was fitting considering the team he’s ended up with for his pursuit of the Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year Award.
“It was at I-30 [Speedway in Little Rock, Ark.], I think, and it was a night that Brady Bacon was running really well. I remember that because I was kind of pulling for him,” Crawley recalled. “But I’m pretty sure Jason Sides actually ended up winning that night. I remember it was a really fun race in the feature.”
In fact, that 40-lapper was held April 16, 2016, as the 20th race of the World of Outlaws season that year.
Crawley’s memory was correct, also, as Sides led all 40 laps for the last of his 15 career Outlaws wins.
Perhaps that night laid the foundation for Crawley’s ride with Sides for this season?
“Not when I was that young,” he chuckled. “But it’s kind of cool that things worked out that way, isn’t it?”
Crawley will continue his first weekend as a World of Outlaws sprint car driver when Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals competition resumes Thursday night at Volusia Speedway Park.
For those unable to watch the action in person, every lap can be streamed through DIRTvision.
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