2021 POWRi Southwest Lightning Sprint Car Series champion Grant Sexton has his eyes set on another title in 2023. The teenage racer will open his first full season of 410 sprint car racing and his campaign for “Rookie of the Year” when the USAC/CRA Sprint Car Series visits Arizona’s Cocopah Speedway this Friday and Saturday, January 27th and 28th. It will be his first ever time racing at the track known as the “Diamond in the Desert.”
Sexton, who lives in Lakeside, California, did have a few runs in full-size sprint cars in 2022. They included four events with USAC/CRA, three shows at Ventura including the Turkey Night Grand Prix, and an open comp show at the Imperial Valley Raceway. The talkative teen won his first-ever start in a full-size sprinter at Ventura on April 16th. His second-best finish was when he made the podium with a third at Imperial Valley in October.
The well-spoken teen’s initial efforts in a full-size sprinter came in an older car. He then switched to another car that was a little more modern than what he started in. However, things are going to change from the dark ages as soon as he arrives at Cocopah.
“I ran an older Ellis (first) and then a newer Ellis,” the 18-year-old said with a laugh earlier this week. “Well, it was new for us but it was pretty much the same car.”
Last year his father, Brent Sexton, decided it was time for a big-time upgrade. A three-time lightning sprint car titlist (including last year’s POWRi Southwest Lightning Sprint championship), the family patriarch realized his youngest offspring was ready to move up and he purchased a brand new Triple X chassis. He hid the new chassis in the rafters until he figured Grant was ready. That time is now and the youngster will make his debut in the car on Friday at Cocopah. The team was headed to Perris to shake down the car for the first time on Thursday and would head straight to the Arizona speed plant after.
It will be a new car on a new track for Sexton’s first run of 2023. While he has seen races at Cocopah, he has never raced there, but he knows what to expect.
“I have not had any practice in our new Triple X car, but we are going to test at Perris Auto Speedway tomorrow,” the teen said on Wednesday. “I know it (Cocopah) has really long straightaways and a lot wider turns. So, it should be a little bit more forgiving if I do make a mistake. Hopefully, I do not find that wall because I know it will hurt.
“I watch a boatload of films,” the young racer continued. “I mean, I sit there on YouTube for hours and go back to the old Flo events. I try to gather anything I can by watching the leaders and others on all the tracks. How they enter the corners and how they exit the corners. Sadly, Iracing does not have any California tracks, but I do hop on the simulator as much as I can. Mainly I just want to make every main event we go to and hopefully bring a car home in one piece. Try to use patience to learn the car itself before I try and get a little more ballsy.”
In addition to some new venues, Sexton will be competing on several tracks where he has raced lightning sprints over the past few years. Those tracks include Perris, the Bakersfield Speedway, Mohave Valley Raceway, the Ventura Raceway, and the Santa Maria Raceway. When asked which track he was looking forward to going to, he quickly named Bakersfield because it is a quarter mile and very racy. Another part of that answer may have had to do with his thrilling victory at the “Okie Bowl” when the CLS competed on the same card as the World of Outlaws on March 24th, 2022. The teen stole the show by rim-riding through the cushion in a daring display of bravery that saw him take the lead and win with less than a foot to go in the race.
Like many young drivers, Sexton had some challenges early in his lightning sprint car career. Some nights he was fast, and some nights he was not quite as fast. He did tear up some equipment along the way. Through it all, there were flashes of brilliance that were shining through. But things changed halfway through the 2019 season. The then 15-year-old only finished better than 14th one time in the first seven races of the year. Near the end of June, he began to turn things around. In six starts between June 29th and August 24th, he placed in the top 10 four times. Included was a second-place finish in the CLS race at Santa Maria on July 27th. However, the best was yet to come.
On August 24, 2019, he won an open comp race at the Barona Speedway. While not surprising, it was still not expected. What happened next was shocking and totally unexpected to everyone. That is, everyone but himself. Two weeks after the Barona triumph, the family team journeyed to Missouri and the Lake Ozark Speedway for the POWRi Lightning Sprint Car Nationals. There, they met up with top drivers and cars from several states. On the first night of the two-day show, Sexton sent shockwaves through the lightning sprint car world by handily winning the main event. For a teen upstart to come to a track he had never raced on before and compete against veteran drivers, many of whom were on their home turf, and beat them, ended up being popular with fans. Surely the triumph had to be a fluke. No way could a teen repeat that performance. He then stunned everyone again by leading 23-laps before finishing second. In less than 24 hours, he went from being an unknown to being the hottest lightning sprint car driver in North America.
Like everyone else, Covid pretty much ruined the 2020 season for Sexton. He came back in 2021 with a vengeance. He proved his adaptability by winning four of the last seven main events, including three in a row, in the POWRi Southwest Series. Two of his victories came while running with a wing and the other two were wingless. When the checkered flag fell at the end of the final series race, he won the championship by a comfortable 122-points. In addition to his prowess in the SWLS, he went back to Missouri and finished third in the finale. The team also journeyed to the upper Midwest for the “Minkota Nationals.” Once again competing on four new tracks against veteran drivers from several states and Canada, Sexton won the opening night and placed in the top eight in all four races.
2022 was not the normal season for Sexton. Perhaps more importantly than racing, he was graduating from high school. So, that took a little away from racing with all the festivities you only get to participate in once in your life. Also, of instead running a lightning sprint car-only schedule, he was moving up to full-size sprint cars. All told, he visited victory circle four times during the year.
Sexton sends out big thanks to his crew chief, 2011 USAC/CRA Rookie of the Year David Bezio, Tava Lopez, Cody Griggs, Nita “Nanna” Gatlin, and his father Brent. They have all been busting their tails to get the Triple X Chassis, Johnny Motorhead 410 ready for this week’s openers at Cocopah.
Sexton/Gatlin Racing would like to thank the following companies for making the 2022 season possible. Keys Brothers, East County Electric Works, Maxima Oil, Automated Interiors, Sexton Fire Protection, BK Wings, Johnny Motorhead, Troy Dirt, Victory Graphix, and Swift Powdercoat.