AMSOIL Sprints
Wednesday, 30 December 2020


C.J. Leary in the Bill Michael owned #77m. C.J. Leary in the Bill Michael owned #77m. Ben Thrasher Photo


By: Richie Murray – USAC Media

Speedway, Indiana (December 30, 2020)………C.J. Leary will chase a USAC AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship for car owner Bill Michael during the 2021 season, beginning February 11-12-13 at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla.

Leary, the 2019 USAC National Sprint Car Champion and 2012 series Rookie of the Year, will contest the full tour piloting the No. 77m, which has won a record 39 USAC Southwest Sprint Car features, most notably with R.J. Johnson who won 36 of them for the Arizona-based team.  Together with Johnson, Michael earned an unprecedented four consecutive USAC Southwest Sprint Car championships between 2013-16.

For 2021, Michael set his sights on putting a deal together to compete on the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car trail with Leary, the 11-time series winner who has won a feature in each of the past five seasons.

“At the end of the 2020 season, I didn’t really know what I was going to do,” Leary said, after running the family car for the majority of the year.  “I had a couple options, but Bill (Michael) really wasn’t one of them at the time.  We were just friends at that point, but he called me out of the blue and he was hinting around about maybe doing something and I didn’t know how serious he was.  After I got off the phone, I was thinking about it and I called him back that night and asked him if he was really serious about doing this.  He said this was one of his dreams to field a USAC National Sprint Car and run the full tour and he wanted to do that with me.”

With the previous successes for Leary and Michael individually, this will not be Leary and Michael’s first racing foray together.  In March of 2020, Leary swept both nights of USAC CRA/Southwest competition at Canyon Speedway Park in Peoria, Ariz.  Although they didn’t qualify particularly well – for their standards – things picked up soon thereafter to score wins on back-to-back nights and led to their pairing for the upcoming season.

“I didn’t really know Bill all that well at the time and he called me last year in the spring to come out and run for them at Canyon,” Leary recalled.  “I’d never been in his racecars, but I knew he had Fords and that was kind of an unknown to me.  We went out there and everything went our way that weekend.  It seemed like we couldn’t do anything wrong.  Everything clicked really well.”

Michael put the call out for Leary based on his extensive experience, championship capability and his ability to compete for victories night-in, night-out.

“He’s a gasser,” Michael exclaimed.  “We’ve raced against him with the 360s and he was always one of the fast guys, and he’s easy on equipment as well.  Having him run our 410 stuff earlier in the year and having the success we had, he’s definitely a good hand and he knows all the racetracks.  He’s in that category of drivers who’s capable of winning any national race.  If the cards fall a certain way on a given night, he’s in the mix.”

For Michael, this deal is more than just putting a car together and going racing.  It’s the culmination of a lifelong dream to field a car in USAC National Sprint Car racing for the car owner who now resides in Arizona after growing up in Illinois.

“I don’t even know if it’s all sank in yet even though I’ve been working on engines and building headers and things like that for three weeks now,” Michael admitted.  “It’s an absolute dream for me to be competing in the pinnacle of national non-wing sprint car racing.  I would’ve never guessed I’d have this opportunity, especially with somebody like C.J. at the wheel.  It’s totally one of the things on my bucket list that I never thought I’d get to achieve.”

With all that said, Michael isn’t planning to rest on his laurels.  He’ll be hands on at all the events on the schedule, overseeing the engines and maintenance on the cars which will utilize DRC chassis and Cressman Ford engines.  His son, Leland, has taken the reins on running the family business when Bill is on the road with the team.

“It’s an honor for me,” a proud Michael stated.  “I’m flattered, I’m humbled and I’m definitely not going into this thing thinking, ‘oh, we’ve got this handled,’ because I know some of the other teams have been competing for a decade or more and how tough it is to win a race, let alone be there and competing.”

For 2021, the team will be run out of Leary’s shop in his hometown of Greenfield, Ind., similar to the setup Leary had during his 2019 championship season with Reinbold-Underwood Motorsports.  Bill will provide a truck and trailer, plus new top-notch equipment.

One change, however, will have Leary operating as his own crew chief.  Yet, with the minimal, but highly successful tenure with Michael he has under his belt, Leary feels they have a bit of a head start entering 2021.

“It’ll be a tad easier having a bit of a head start and not having to learn so much that first weekend out,” Leary explained.  “That’s crucial because, once you get behind, it’s difficult to gain ground.  We’re building two new cars and he’s giving us all the tools we need to win another championship.”