Sixteen-year-old Corey Day was in a trance, head down, eyes pointed straight but staring at nothing, replaying the lap in his mind that cost him a chance at locking into the Knoxville Nationals Friday night.
But a few feet away, his team owner and mentor, two-time World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car champion Jason Meyers stood with a smile. With pride.
All week during the 61st NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals presented by Casey’s he watched his young protégé outrun veterans of the sport, putting himself in a decent position – starting 13th in the B-Main – to try and make Saturday’s main event for the first time.
“At this point, he’s exceeded my expectations,” Meyers said. “I know he has the talent to put it in the show. I didn’t expect that because that would’ve been expecting too much. But I know he has the talent to do it if everything comes together for him and he’s shown that the last few nights. He’s had speed.
“My expectations were to just get here and get laps and get experience and get a good balance on the race car, which we’ve been able to do. Now, we’re here just to get him laps and get him experience. He’s exceeded my expectations already. I told him the other night, anything you do above and beyond this is a bonus. Just do what you do.”
What he’s done this week is, on Wednesday, win his Heat Race and finish ninth in the first preliminary Feature of the week. Then, Friday night, he started on the pole of the Hard Knox race – which transferred the top-four into Saturday’s Feature – and was in contention to secure a transfer spot but made a mistake, backing into the wall and flipping on his side. However, with little damage, he managed to drive his way from last to seventh in the 24-car field.
“We were fast so, just makes it suck even more that I had to go do that,” Day said after the race. “So, I mean, glad to have speed but that’s probably the only good thing that came out of tonight.”
Dejection consumed him, painfully forcing out every word. But as his mentor has experienced, “it’s supposed to hurt.”
“There’s just all these things he just hasn’t been through yet,” Meyers said. “He just has to go through them. Bottom line, like I said, he has speed. He’s making some mistakes, but he is a rookie. He should make some mistakes. To be lining up 13th in the B (Main), first time here, is nothing to hang our heads on. And we have speed, so I’m not worried about getting out of the thing. I think we’re in a good spot. Just keep coaching him. There are things you can tell him but things you just have to go through. And he’s going through them.”
Meyers has known Day since he was born. He’s the son of Ronnie Day, who also drove for Meyers, and a fellow Californian. Aside from his raw talent – having watched Day clear doubles on a KTM motorcycle at 4 years old – Meyers said he’s a respectable kid that wants to learn. It’s the same trait he saw in another young California racer he helped mentor into becoming a World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series championship contender – Carson Macedo.
Day, of Clovis, CA, has been turning heads since making his 410 Sprint Car debut last year at 15-years-old, going head-to-head with drivers like Macedo and 10-time World of Outlaws champion Donny Schatz in the Wild Wing Shootout. This year, he became a household name in only his second World of Outlaws start, batting for the win at Bakersfield Speedway before settling for second. Then, the next night at Perris Auto Speedway, he finished second again.
Now, he’s in a position to potentially make the Knoxville Nationals in his first attempt.
“It’s definitely cool to have speed but the driver has to get a little bit better and not make stupid moves,” Day said.
In a conversation the other day, Meyers said he reminded Day that even he wasn’t driving 410 Sprint Cars at 16 years old. Bad nights will happen. He’ll learn and get through them. No matter what happens Saturday night, Meyers said this week has been a success.
“He’s grown a lot in this week and this month,” Meyers said. “I’m happy. He’s done a great job. We’ll be back [Saturday] and do it again.”
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