(7/31/21 – By Alex Nieten) … Billy Aton’s inaugural NARC-King of the West Fujitsu Sprint Car victory this past weekend arrived as the culmination of more than a decade of hard work and a quietly impressive rookie campaign, and Aton intends to get even better as the year progresses.
Aton began his racing career with the help of his dad at a young age and made his way through the west coast racing ranks before ultimately starting his sprint car operation, beginning primarily with wingless-spec racing. Aton found early success in a sprint car when he earned a pair of track championships in 2009. He also grabbed a noteworthy win in the 2012 Adobe Cup.
The Benicia native eventually began to dabble into wing racing in the mid-2010s, picking up an occasional win in northern California and having some respectable performances against NARC-KWS. This year marks a major step forward for Aton in attacking the entire KWS schedule and provides an opportunity to hone his skills against the west coast’s best drivers at tracks he isn’t as familiar with. Aton anticipates the experience will help in chasing a future goal of broadening his racing.
“The King of the West is the premier 410 series in our area,” Aton said of joining the tour. “And we definitely want to get better so we can start going outside of California to do some more racing. Here soon hopefully we can start running in the top-three more consistently and we’ll go from there.”
Committing to a full year of battling the top talent the west has to offer is certainly a prime avenue to preparing for traveling and facing some of the entire country’s best, which is exactly what Aton hopes to accomplish.
“We want to gear up for, maybe not this year, but next year or the following year, to go out of state and run some 410 races. It’s always been on the bucket list to go run Port Royal, Knoxville and Williams Grove.”
Aton’s decision to chase the Rookie of the Year was also influenced by some additional help that the team is grateful to have.
“We’ve never really had a lot of support,” Aton explained. “It’s mostly been just me and my dad, but this year we have Redline Oil and Randy Larson from Transport Products Unlimited helping us out quite a bit, so that all plays into doing twenty-one races in the 410.”
Looking to the 26 car’s performance this year, the results showcase a solid rookie campaign. Aton has scored top-10s in five of the nine races in 2021. He currently sits sixth in points just seven markers behind 2005 champ Sean Becker for a spot in the top-5. The highlight of his year so far came at Santa Maria Raceway when he scored his previously mentioned first career win by leading all thirty laps.
The most impressive aspect of Aton’s season has been his ability to move forward at the end of every night. He’s finished only one of the nine features in a worse position than he started and has passed more main event cars (45) than anyone else. That number could very well be nearly 60 if it wasn’t for a late accident at Ocean Speedway in June when Aton had charged from 20th to 7th before the crash.
“Really just trying to have a solid car in the A-main and get the setup as close as we can get it,” Aton tipped of their tendency to pass cars. “By the time we get to the A-main with the car setup and try to drive the wheels of it, we seem to move forward.”
Another notable trend of Aton’s is his consistency at Petaluma. The tacky 3/8ths mile located in the Bay Area is one of the toughest tracks on the circuit with its ever-changing conditions based on windy weather, drastic temperature changes and the local tide. Many drivers struggle on the adobe clay surface. Not Aton. His last five series races at Petaluma, including two already in 2021, have all been top-10 runs including a then-career best runner-up in 2019.
“Over the years we’ve raced there a lot,” Aton said, crediting his many trips to Petaluma. “Anytime you get a lot of laps at a place it helps tremendously.”
While the results this year have been encouraging, the 26 car’s typical starting position for the feature points to an area they’ve struggled with, qualifying. Laying down a fast lap sets the tone for a team’s night. It can position them favorably for an easy path to the Trophy Dash, or it can leave them playing catch-up throughout an evening.
Aton’s average qualifying result this year is 15.1 leading to an average starting position of 14.6 in the main event. His average feature finish, though, is 10.3. Considering his ability to consistently move forward and the fact that his lone top-10 qualifying result this year produced a win, it’s natural to assume Aton would contend for more top-5s and podiums with better time trial results. Aton cites not having quite the same level of resources as some of his competition as part of the reason for their issues in that department.
“With qualifying,” Aton said of their troubles. “I think the reason we’re so behind the eight ball is I drive the car, I make all of the adjustments, do tire changes, everything. So, between hot laps and qualifying I don’t really have the time to go look at the track and make adjustments based on it, so I feel like our car is not always best set up for qualifying.”
Fortunately for Aton, his confidence in their race program leaves the team some more space to focus on qualifying. The team has prioritized bettering their time trial results by taking some big swings as the year continues.
“We’ve been working on it, setting it up a little bit different,” Aton said. “I think moving forward we’re going to start being a lot more aggressive with the set up in qualifying.”
With still more than half of the season left, Aton and his team still have plenty of time to elevate their qualifying program to a level that will set them up for even stronger runs. They consistently show speed in the features and an ability to move forward even when the track isn’t necessarily the most conducive to passing. Considering how 2021 has gone thus far, Aton has very direct and attainable goals for the remainder of the year.
“Some goals for the King of the West,” Aton said. “We want to get some top-three finishes, win Rookie of the Year and get into the top-five in points.”
Aton can next be seen with the NARC King of the West Fujitsu Sprint Cars at Placerville Speedway on August 25th for the Fastest Five Days in Motorsports opener.