Jason Meyers returns to his roots this weekend, a celebrated champion who spent his three-month break from racing and the first month-plus of the 2011 season balancing the fruits of becoming the first driver from California to win a World of Outlaws 410 sprint car series title with the challenge of repeating the performance.
"We worked so hard to get the car ready for this season, we didn't really take any time off," said Meyers, one of eight champions in the Outlaws' 30-year history. "The commitments and things we've gone out and done with the media and sponsors have kept us pretty busy.
"But I wouldn't trade it for anything. We worked so hard to get here. Now it's a little about enjoying it, but also about activating it and making it work for our sponsors."
Many of the Clovis native's sponsors, family, friends and fans will be in the stands rooting on Meyers' Elite Racing team during Outlaws stops tonight at Giant Chevrolet Kings Speedway in Hanford and Saturday night at Groppetti Automotive Thunderbowl Raceway in Tulare -- weather permitting.
Through seven of the national touring series' 73 races, Meyers sits third in the driver standings, trailing 20-time Outlaws champion Steve Kinser by 67 points and second-place Joey Saldana by 52.
Meyers said he and his crew -- Brian Bloomfield, Glen Beaton, Shane Bowers, Sam Matthews and Charlie Garrett -- have spent the early part of the season testing different car set-ups, hoping to fine-tune the operation for a second-straight title run after finishing as the runner-up in three of his first seven seasons with the Outlaws.
"You've always got to try and get better [early in the season]," Meyers said, "because later in the year, you get afraid to try new things. It's the time of year to try, so when the summer months roll around, you can show up and hopefully do a little better than the competition."
This weekend's races are the second and third stops of a five-race swing through California that started last weekend in Chico and continues April 1 in Merced and April 2 in Calistoga.
"It's been a lot of fun being home," Meyers said. "I'm really looking forward to seeing the fans. The support we've gotten is really cool."
- Meyers has two meet-and-greets set up for Saturday.
He'll make an appearance from 9-10:30 a.m. at Mathews Harley-Davidson in Fresno, then be available to sit down with fans and sign autographs from 3-4 p.m. at the Thunderbowl.
360s on undercard
The U.S. Auto Club's West Coast 360 sprint car series will kick off its season as the support class to the Outlaws races in Hanford and Tulare.
Defending series champion Craig Stidham of Fresno, who won four main events last season, headlines a list of drivers that's also expected to feature Kerman's Davey Pombo, Fresno's T.J. Smith, Hanford's Justyne Hamblin and Tipton's Danny Faria.
Madera and Chowchilla speedways -- tracks that are both run by Kenny Shepherd -- open their seasons this weekend.
Madera Speedway kicks off 20 nights of racing with the Smokey Hanoian Classic, which will be headlined by a 100-lap late-model main event. Undercard classes feature 50-lap races for the Super Toyotas, Toyota Sedans and Hobby Stocks, and a 30-lap race for the 4-Bangers.
At Chowchilla, the main event for the debut of a 21-date season will be the first running of the United Midwestern Promoters Series Modifieds at the 1/3-mile dirt track. Support classes include the Sport Modifieds, Super Stocks, Hobby Stocks, 4-Bangers and Vintage Super Modifieds.
Kody Swanson wins
Kingsburg's Kody Swanson drove to his first career USAC Western Midgets victory March 11 at Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico, besting a field of 18 drivers that included his brother Tanner.
Kody Swanson opened the 30-lap main event in the eighth starting position, but worked his way into the lead by the sixth lap and eventually held off 2010 USAC National Midget champion Bryan Clauson in a photo finish.
Tanner Swanson was sixth.