By Phil Whipple,
RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer. Photo By: Rachel Plant
AUSTIN— While there may have been a handful of promising newcomers making their mark on the Texas short track scene in 2019, one veteran of the ovals literally redefined consistency in the ultra-competitive IMCA Stock Car division.
For 44-year-old AJ Dancer, a 29-year veteran of the sport with only his wife for a crew, piling up the wins and top five finishes against those aspiring young racers is a way of life. In 47 starts this year, Dancer claimed five feature wins, 38 top-five’s and finished outside the top 10 on only four occasions.
“We’ve always managed to stay pretty consistent,” Dancer said. “For most of my career, we’ve finished up in the top five in final points. Last year, we focused entirely on running just the big shows. This year, we kept it more local and raced pretty much just at 281 Speedway, Heart ‘O Texas and Cotton Bowl.”
Dancer says it takes experience to rack up the kind of numbers he put in the books during the past year.
“I think our steady performance this year is a product of how long we’ve been doing this,” he explained. “We built a whole new car for this year, a leaf-spring Chevy Nova. It’s one of maybe two or three running in the country in this IMCA Stock Car class. We built it just because nobody else is doing it.”
That tendency to stand out from the crowd brought substantial success, yet there was a learning curve.
“We’re the only ones in Texas that was running a Nova, I’m sure of that,” Dancer added. “This whole year was spent trying to get it to work. It’s definitely good, but could still use some more tweaking. This is the most competitive class I’ve ever been in, so to get more wins we’ll have to get it just right.”
To put up the numbers he did in an all-new, unfamiliar (not to mention rare) race car was impressive.
“We’ve had a great year, by any standard,” Dancer added. “We finished third in the state overall, and the two guys in front of me were the ones I raced against every week. They are the reason I put up so many second and third-place finishes, because those two guys are just a little bit better than I am.”
Dancer got his start as a teenager, and like so many of us, was first introduced to the sport by his father.
“My Dad started racing when I was a young boy,” Dancer explained. “He wasn’t very good at it, but he had a lot of fun. I built my first race car when I was 15 years old. It only lasted for 10 races, but I was a little aggressive back then. From the second year on, we were in Tech (top-five finish) most nights.
“Over the years, we’ve run in the Pure Stocks, or Bombers, if you want to call them that, with a great deal of success. We’ve run Street Stocks, Modifieds, and then on to Late Models. So we moved up through the ranks, but ended up settling down into these IMCA Stock Cars because they are big fun.”
Last year, Dancer and his wife went out on the road more than in previous years. Those travels taught him a lot and gave him a new perspective on his hobby.
“The biggest thing we took away from last year was just how often those guys race during the season,” Dancer explained. “Racing two or three times a week is a big help, it keeps a driver sharp and speeds up your learning curve. For most of my career, we would run every other week. That isn’t enough when you go up against guys who race two or three times a week. They were way ahead of us thanks to that.”
While most drivers around the Lone Star State are blessed with a handful of volunteer crew members to complete weekly in-shop maintence chores and service their cars on the weekends, Dancer is different. As mentioned earlier, it's his wife who is the one who keeps his racing program moving forward.
“I’m very fortunate to have my wife Brenda do all she does for my race team,” Dancer said. “She handles all the logistics for us, like making sure we get to the tracks on time. She also helps out at the track, checking all the bolts and anything I need her to do. I definitely couldn’t do this without her help.”
Along with that incredibly dedicated and supportive wife, Dancer is fortunate to have a trio of valued marketing partners who helped make his busy and often hectic 2019 season so successful.
“I really have to thank Richard Pickens at Wicked Fast Transmissions,” Dancer said. “He sponsors our transmissions and we sure appreciate him. His level of service is what puts him above the rest. He went out of his way all year to make sure we were all set. I also have to thank Capri Campers and Gunslinger Ammo. The use of a camper made it so much easier to do this, and we even took it to Charlotte for fun.”
With the 2019 season now in the books and a new year on the horizon, Dancer is close to locking his plans for next season into place.
“We’ll take a good look at all of the schedules once they come out,” Dancer said. “Right now, the plans for 2020 are to race at Heart ‘O Texas and Cotton Bowl. We enjoyed it this year, had a ton of fun and are hoping to get this Nova a little faster in the off-season. We can’t wait to go at it once again.”