USMTS kicks off 19th season Thursday at Cotton Bowl Speedway

PAIGE, Texas (Feb. 7) -- Ninety-five days of silence will be broken this week when the United States Modified Touring Series kicks off the 2017 campaign with the annual Summit Racing USMTS Winter Speedweeks-a five-weekend slate of shows in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Oklahoma.

The 19th season featuring the Best of the Best in dirt modified racing takes place Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Feb. 9-11, at the Cotton Bowl Speedway in Paige, Texas, for the first-ever visit by the USMTS to the two-year-old venue located about 45 minutes east of Austin.

With a top prize of $2,000 to win Thursday, $3,000 on Friday and $4,000 on Saturday, this weekend's tripleheader will also mark the first of 21 shows in the Summit Racing USMTS Southern Region presented by Production Jars which carries a $10,000 payday to the points champion and $1,500 to any driver with perfect attendance in the region.

Three-time USMTS national champion Jason Hughes of Westville, Okla., will look to defend his back-to-back titles while his new teammate-Ryan 'The Reaper' Gustin of Marshalltown, Iowa, who won consecutive titles in 2011 and 2012-is eyeing his third crown as well.

Gustin closed out the 2016 season with plenty of success. Behind the wheel of Hughes' mount, he captured the USRA Fall Nationals at the Southern New Mexico Speedway, and then capped that off with a victory in the USMTS finale at the 81 Speedway near Wichita, Kan., during the inaugural Chisholm Trail Showdown.

But plenty of firepower will challenge the Hughes Racing Chassis duo, including last year's runner-up in the final standings, Cade Dillard of Robeline, La., as well as the 2013 and 2014 USMTS national champ, Rodney Sanders of Happy, Texas. Both drivers, ages 25 and 27, respectively, will pilot MB Customs again in 2017.

Filling the seat vacated by Gustin, Ricky Thornton Jr. of Chandler, Ariz., will pilot the Gressel Racing entry that carried Gustin to his two titles and more than 70 USMTS triumphs. Last year's Grant Junghans USMTS Rookie of the Year, Thornton has already visited victory lane this season with three wins during the Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout in January, and will make his second start for Gressel Racing after filling in for one weekend last year that resulted in a runner-up finish at the Featherlite Fall Jamboree.

With 65 career USMTS wins between them, Rancho Milagro Racing's Johnny and Stormy Scott are looking to return to winning form with new GRT Race Cars when the twin tandem from the Land of Enchantment invade the Cotton Bowl Speedway this weekend.

Besides Hughes, Oklahoma will be represented well by 'Big Daddy' Joe Duvall and Dereck Ramirez, among others. Duvall will be shadowed by his crew chief and racing teammate, Scott Drake, and recently-named third team member R.C. Whitwell for the Lone Star State opener.

New Sharon, Iowa's Zack VanderBeek will be debuting his new VanderBuilt Race Cars machine, with dozens of others expected including Philip Houston, Tyler Wolff, Adam Kates, Steve Whiteaker Jr., Billy Vogel, Logan Robertson, Kevin Rutherford, Trevor Egbert and many others.

On Thursday and Friday, pits open at 4 p.m., grandstands open at 5, hot laps begin at 7:10 and racing starts at 7:30 p.m. All times are one hour earlier for Saturday's finale.

Adult tickets are $15 Thursday and $20 on Friday and Saturday. Youth ages 11-16 are $5 Thursday and $8 on Friday and Saturday. Kids ages 10 and under get in for free all three days. Pit passes on Thursday and Friday are $35 and $40 on Saturday.

Limited Mods will also be running all three nights with CBS Stock Cars joining the card on Friday and Saturday.

An open practice will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 8, from 6-9 p.m. Pit passes are $20 per person and admission to the grandstands is free. Gates will open at 4 p.m.

The Cotton Bowl Speedway is a 3/8-mile, high-banked clay oval located east of Paige at the intersection of US 290 and CR 202. For more information, call (512) 589-2738 or visit online.