Matt Crafton had never sat in a midget before Wednesday.
But a conversation over a couple of cocktails led the two-time Camping World Truck Series champion to Columbus, Indiana, the home of Keith Kunz Motorsports, where he was fitted for his latest ride.
Crafton, 41, will make his USAC Midget debut in the Junior Knepper 55 at the Southern Illinois Center in Du Quoin on December 16.
“Me and Jack Irving were having dinner a couple of months ago and thought it would be a good idea,” Crafton told motorsport.com. “The next thing you know, they had me signed up.”
Irving, the Director, Team & Support Services at Toyota Racing Development, has been instrumental in recruiting some of the top talent to enter the NASCAR ranks. The defection of Kyle Larson from Toyota, where he began racing with Kunz in 2011, put the manufacturer’s farm system in overdrive. Kunz has captured four of the last five USAC Midget championships with Christopher Bell and Rico Abreu moving into the NASCAR ranks. In Bell’s second season on the truck tour, he topped Crafton for his first truck title.
But it was Crafton’s win in the 2017 Eldora Dirt Derby that reignited his love affair with dirt. And if everything goes well in Du Quoin, Toyota would like to see the veteran try his hand at the Chili Bowl Nationals in next month.
“I don’t know about that one—yet,” Crafton said. “I love racing. But I’m going cold turkey (to Du Quoin). Bell has a simulator and I’m going to drive it. I got Bell going with me and they say he’s an animal there.
“I drove mini-sprints, winged sprints back in the day when I was like 15-16-years-old in California. But this will be different. I’m really excited. At first, I asked myself what the hell I was doing at the same time, I’m like, you only live once so you might as well do it.”
Kunz won his sixth Chili Bowl Nationals with Bell in January. If Crafton is up to speed by the time the Nationals roll around next month, Toyota will provide the veteran with additional races throughout the year to prepare for a run in 2019. But Crafton is up for the challenge.
“If everything works out and it goes really, really good, of course I would do it,” Crafton said. “We’ll have fun if nothing else.”