The past isn’t lost on Ashton Winger.
He remembers the races lost. He remembers the chances missed. And he remembers his “elephant in the room” moment from March that ended with a mug shot.
“You hate losing more than you love winning,” he said.
However, while those early year memories aren’t fully deleted, he’s working on replacing them with better ones, including his 2023 DIRTcar Summer Nationals Late Model championship.
The Senoia, GA native scored six wins and two weekly titles en route to his first Summer Nationals title. He doesn’t consider it redemption from finishing second in Hell Tour points in 2021 and said he knows there were wins he left on the table, but still recognizes the significance of it.
“It’s a cool notch to add to our belt to say we’ve done it,” Winger said.
This year presented a new format for drivers, going back to a five-week format with nearly 30 races in 33 days, and crowning a weekly champion, along with the overall champion. To Winger, it was a success. Not only for him, but for the Series as it attracted a variety of drivers, including those from national tours.
“I think it definitely allowed guys who wouldn’t normally run it to come in and run,” Winger said. “I know it made it easier for the guys on the national tour to come in and run a week or two… I think it is something different. You never know if something is good or bad until you try it. I thought it was cool. We got to race a lot of different cars and meet a lot of cool people. I was excited about that. It’s something I enjoy doing.”
His biggest takeaway from this year’s Summer Nationals was learning what he and his team – owned by Jeff Mathews – need to be successful on a national tour. He said, initially, their plan was to join the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model tour this year but wanted to make sure they had all their ducks in a row first. The Hell Tour was the best place to find weak spots as he hopes to build a successful program with Mathews.
“The people I’m surrounded by… this is the best equipment I’ve had by far,” said Winger, who joined Mathews’ team in 2022. “We’re still just trying to get our ducks in a row, just a few little things. I really feel like when we do that… you know, we wanted to run the World of Outlaws this year. Just not worth doing it because you don’t feel like you can do it right. They’re dogs. It’s not easy to do… That’s one thing the Summer Nationals allowed us to do, to see where we needed to improve.
“A bunch of that isn’t things you can buy. It’s people, you find out things that you need to work on. It’s routine. There’s so much that goes into this that a lot of people don’t realize. It was just cool to get going here and hopefully build on this. This is definitely the most comfortable I’ve ever been with a team. I’m excited for the future and hopefully it all shakes out.”
His next big venture is with the World of Outlaws this weekend for the 36th annual USA Nationals at Cedar Lake Speedway (Aug. 3-5) – where he already has two wins with the World of Outlaws. And while he enters with the momentum of being the Summer Nationals champion, Winger joked he’s not sure how confident he can be with current World of Outlaws points leader Bobby Pierce and Ricky Thornton Jr. – who, combined, have won the last three Series races – in the field.
“I feel like as long as we do what we need to do we’ll be competitive,” he said. “That’s when you rely on things to fall your way. Hopefully they do and hopefully we don’t make any bonehead moves, whether it is me on the racetrack or me off the racetrack with calls. Try to make the best educated guess on everything you do, and hope things go our way.”
The past may not be lost on Winger, but he’s making the best out of the future ahead.
You can watch the USA Nationals, every World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model event and the 2023 DIRTcar Summer Nationals live on DIRTVision.