HomeSprint Car & Midget NewsTurning Point: Garrett Named USAC’s Most Improved Driver for 2023

Turning Point: Garrett Named USAC’s Most Improved Driver for 2023

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By: Richie Murray – USAC Media

Speedway, Indiana (December 14, 2023)………Carson Garrett’s journey from his Rocky Mountain Midget roots to becoming USAC’s AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship Most Improved Driver came quite quickly in some respects. But in other ways, it’s clear to say that he’s come a long way both geographically and behind the wheel of a racecar.

In his first two seasons competing on a part-time basis with the USAC National Sprint Cars in 2021-22, Carson Garrett had appeared in 23 events and qualified for the feature in only 11 of them, with nary a top-10 finish among his results.

The switch was seemingly flipped for the Littleton, Colo. racer in 2023 as he became the first driver from his home state to ever be named as USAC National Most Improved Driver. The 22-year-old recorded career bests in every single statistical category, notching three top-fives and came within a whisker – just 93 hundredths of a second – of winning his first series feature at Macon Speedway in Illinois, and he even added a couple Midwest Sprint Car Series scores at Haubstadt, Indiana’s Tri-State Speedway to boot.

The improvements on track were readily apparent for Garrett, but so too were the intricate details of setting the car up and providing valuable info that guided his performance. That was a skill that Garrett possessed none of just a couple seasons ago.

“Honestly, it’s been a little bit of a journey going from starting out as a hobby to finally understanding it and wanting to work on my own stuff,” Garrett explained. “This year, I feel like I was a lot more involved in my feedback toward the crew guys than I was in the previous year. The first year, I had nothing. I was just there.”

Garrett’s first career top-10 with the USAC Sprint Cars turned some heads, not only for where he achieved it (Ohio’s Eldora Speedway) but also for where he came from. His advancement from 20th to 6th during May’s #LetsRaceTwo proved to be among the biggest charges of the season. To illustrate the point, Garrett noted that the setup they utilized was virtually the same as the one he’d used in previous years, further indicating his vast improvement in the seat. But for Garrett, the progression truly took on a new level just a bit before that.

“I feel like it started last year,” Garrett acknowledged. “We got good enough at Haubstadt and we felt good. I told the guys I want to be this good everywhere else. At the start of this year, it just got rolling and when we ran at Eldora, that was a crazy race. I was passing car after car and then I thought, hey wait, these are the top few guys up here. I was like, ‘holy cow!’ I was surprised myself.”

The roll continued throughout the summer months and led to him being in contention regularly during one of the biggest weeks on the USAC National Sprint Car calendar.

“Indiana Sprint Week was killer for us,” Garrett recalled. “We were having pretty good luck, and I think it was three nights in a row, I started on the pole of the feature. It just seemed like we had the momentum going and we were all having fun doing it. KTJ, C.J. and Jake Swanson have all been a big help, and when Jake goes to Haubstadt, he’s like, ‘what are you doing here because I want to get better here.”

Another prideful point for Garrett was the fact that he didn’t use up his equipment, which kept him on track and intact not only from race-to-race but throughout the entire year.

“Between my primary and secondary car, I didn’t tear them up this year,” Garrett pointed out. “I never got upside down, but one of our cars had to get fixed when I was running second during the Indiana Sprint Week race at Lawrenceburg when my tire blew, and I hit the wall. It bent the frame a little bit, but other than that, I felt like we had pretty good luck throughout the year.”

Two major components have aided the team in their rise up the rankings. In 2022, crew chief Doug Dougherty was tabbed to turn the wrenches after assisting Garrett when he raced for KO Motorsports in 2021. Also in 2022, a second car was added to the BGE Dougherty Motorsports stable for Kevin Thomas Jr., which began as only a couple race deal. Ultimately, KTJ gave the team its first three USAC victories. In 2023, C.J. Leary, the 2019 series titlist, was hired for the second seat.

All those pieces, facets and additions have allowed Garrett to build relationships, and as a result, he now feels more comfortable asking the right questions to help improve his performance and blossom into a more well-rounded and versatile racer.

“A couple times this year, I told C.J. what we’re doing, and said, ‘man, if I did that to my car, I’d go out there and be upside down. I won’t do that,’” Garrett said with a laugh. “It’s just preference. I like my car a lot tighter than C.J. does, but with the aspect of him doing our LST Shocks, it’s been huge for me to learn and understand the adjustments and what to try. C.J. is an awesome person to go to and he’ll help anyone out. He won’t fib anything. He’s going to be straightforward and honest with everybody.”

In 2022, Garrett branched out to a new deal alongside his father, Broc Garrett, who owned the equipment. Prior to that, Carson was flying back and forth from Colorado to Indiana with his bag and helmet in hand before making the permanent move to Indiana prior to the 2022 season. Now, as a full-time transplant, Garrett has gotten more time behind the wheel, more time with his crew and more time invested in the sport as he’s taken his efforts up another level.

“I think it’s just seat time and becoming closer with my crew guys and trusting what they’re doing on the car as far as just giving them the right feedback on what I need and what our car needs,” Garrett said. “Doug has been a great help for us since he came along and guided us and helped us by saying you guys should try this or that, and from that point on, he’s been setting the car up. Now I feel like I’m at the point where I can tell them what I need. I’ll tell them my suggestions of what I think they should do. Then we can kind of meet in the middle. Sometimes he says something that I may not think that the car needs. We’re both honest with each other and that just makes me more comfortable with how my car is going to react to the different adjustments we make.”

Garrett returns in 2024 with the same exact deal, chasing the USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship with the BGE Dougherty No. 15. Although he admitted that the Most Improved Driver completely took him by surprise, there’s no question that he’s not going to sneak up on the competition in the coming year. It’s expected. Carson Garrett has now arrived on the USAC National Sprint Car scene.

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USAC NATIONAL MOST IMPROVED DRIVER AWARD WINNERS:

1966: Bill Mehner (Midget)

1967: Gary Bettenhausen (Midget)

1968: None

1969: None

1970: Larry Rice (Midget)

1971: Bill Renshaw (Midget)

1972: Pancho Carter (Midget)

1973: Bobby Olivero (Midget)

1974: Steve Lotshaw (Midget)

1975: Mark Alderson (Midget)

1976: Tom Bigelow (Indy Car) & Steve Lotshaw (Midget)

1977: Tom Sneva (Indy Car) & Chris Cumberworth (Midget)

1978: Danny Ongais (Indy Car) & Jeff Heywood (Midget)

1979: Tom Bigelow (Indy Car) & Stan Fox (Midget)

1980: Jerry Karl (Indy Car) & Warren Mockler (Midget)

1981: George Snider (Indy Car) & Warren Mockler (Midget)

1982: Mark Alderson (Silver Crown) & Steve Knepper (Midget)

1983: Steve Chassey (Silver Crown) & Kenneth Nichols (Midget)

1984: Manny Rockhold (Silver Crown) & Joe Corrigan (Midget)

1985: Duke Cook (Silver Crown) & John Andretti (Midget)

1986: Warren Mockler (Silver Crown) & Paul Clark (Midget)

1987: Kenny Jacobs (Silver Crown) & Dan Boorse (Midget)

1988: Andy Hillenburg (Silver Crown) & Michael Lang (Midget)

1989: Ron Dunstan (Silver Crown) & Russ Gamester (Midget)

1990: Gary Hieber (Silver Crown) & Roy Caruthers (Midget)

1991: Russ Gamester (Silver Crown) & Tyce Carlson (Midget)

1992: Tony Elliott (Silver Crown) & Dan Drinan (Midget)

1993: Mike Bliss (Silver Crown), Bill Rose (Sprint) & Andy Michner (Midget)

1994: Randy Tolsma (Silver Crown), Kevin Thomas (Sprint) & Steve Barth (Midget)

1995: Dave Darland (Silver Crown), Jason McCord (Sprint) & Brian Gerster (Midget)

1996: Kevin Thomas (Silver Crown), Brian Hayden (Sprint) & Tracy Hines (Midget)

1997: Brian Tyler (Silver Crown), Derek Davidson (Sprint) & Jay Drake (Midget)

1998: J.J. Yeley (Silver Crown), Kevin Doty (Sprint) & Travis Welpott (Midget)

1999: Brad Noffsinger (Silver Crown), Robbie Rice (Sprint) & Clay Klepper (Midget)

2000: John Heydenreich (Silver Crown), Brandon Petty (Sprint) & Michael Lewis (Midget)

2001: Jerry Coons Jr. (Silver Crown), Levi Jones (Sprint) & Steve Paden (Midget)

2002: Rich Tobias Jr. (Silver Crown), Kevin Briscoe (Sprint) & Danny Ebberts (Midget)

2003: Tyler Walker (Silver Crown), Marc Jessup (Sprint) & Tom Hessert (Midget)

2004: Bud Kaeding (Silver Crown), Dickie Gaines (Sprint) & Davey Ray (Midget)

2005: Wayne Reutimann Jr. (Silver Crown), Mat Neely (Sprint) & Brad Kuhn (Midget)

2006: Aaron Pierce (Silver Crown), Daron Clayton (Sprint) & Brad Loyet (Midget)

2007: Mat Neely (Silver Crown), Jesse Hockett (Sprint) & Kevin Swindell (Midget)

2008: Cole Whitt

2009: Shane Hmiel

2010: Kody Swanson & Tanner Swanson

2011: Zach Daum & Casey Riggs

2012: Chase Stockon

2013: Kevin Thomas Jr.

2014: Shane Cockrum

2015: Tanner Thorson

2016: Chad Boespflug

2017: Tyler Courtney

2018: Isaac Chapple

2019: Tanner Carrick

2020: Brandon Mattox

2021: Jake Swanson

2022: Kaylee Bryson

2023: Carson Garrett

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