Plenty of kids grow up dreaming of becoming professional athletes. Not too many end up fulfilling those dreams — especially before they finish high school.
Emerson Axsom, though, will essentially be doing so in 2022 — the Franklin junior will be driving full-time for Clauson Marshall Newman Racing on the USAC National Sprint Car series.
“It’s more of, I’m a hired drive now,” Axsom said. “They pay me to show up and drive. … I’m there to race and do my job, basically.
Axsom had filled in as a sprint driver for CMNR at the end of last season, taking the seat that had been vacated by Cole Bodine in August. He performed well enough in 15 late-season sprint races, racking up 10 top-10 finishes, that the team eagerly gave him a full-time role for the coming season.
“He got in the car, and with just a little bit of luck would have picked off two or three wins right out of the gate,” CMNR co-owner Tim Clauson said. “And even more so, just the kid he is out of the race car. We got a chance to work with him on a personal level, and he’s just a phenomenal kid and kind of fit what we were looking for.”
The jump to sprint cars comes a little sooner than expected for Axsom, who just finished up his first full season on the USAC national midget circuit, where he won a pair of races and wound up fourth in the final point standings. Axsom also picked up two midget wins in the POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget League, placing in the top five eight times in just 16 races.
His success there, coming on the heels of years dominating at the quarter midget and three-quarter midget levels, was enough to sell Clauson on his potential.
“Everything he’s been in, he has won at an extremely high level,” Clauson said, “and after watching him in the midget, I felt he’d be able to translate to sprint cars pretty easily.”
Though he will still run the occasional midget race, Axsom feels that staying at that level full-time wasn’t going to benefit him in the long run. He wants to be able to run winged sprint cars on his off weekends as he eyes a possible future on the World of Outlaws circuit, and stepping away from midgets offers me more flexibility to do that.
“I feel like if we do a midget next year we’ll have a legit shot at the title,” Axsom said. “But I feel like if I do go out and win the midget championship, that wouldn’t do anything for me. The ultimate goal is World of Outlaws, so we kind of sat down and looked at logistics, and if I run a full-time midget schedule again, I won’t have time to run any wing races. If I’m trying to go wing racing, I’ll have to cut back on the midgets.”
“It gives him an opportunity to concentrate on what he needs to do to win,” Clauson added, “and then do all of the things that you’ve got to do out of the car to support your sponsors and partners and all that. That’ll all be new to him, but so far he’s been phenomenal at that as well.”
Axsom will be driving the Driven2SaveLives #47BC sprint car full-time and also compete for CMNR in select midget and wing sprint races. Driven2SaveLives is a program, established by the Indiana Donor Network in honor of late drivers Justin Wilson and Bryan Clauson, that inspires racing fans to register as organ donors. The program has partnerships with both CMNR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Joining up with CMNR also means that Axsom won’t have his father, Joe, working regularly on his car anymore. Next year will effectively be the racing equivalent of the 17-year-old Emerson moving out into the world on his own — but he’s ready for it.
“If I want to make a career out of it, this is what I’m going to have to do,” he said.
Axsom, who plans to graduate from high school a semester early, finishing next December, definitely wants to make a career of being behind the wheel. Taking this opportunity with CMNR, he says, is the move that will set him up best for the future he wants.
“I’m excited about it, because I feel like this team can take me where I want to be,” Axsom said. “They know where I want to be, and want to take me where I want to be. I feel like I’m in the right position, finally, to get where I want to be in my career, so that’s what I’m most excited about.”