BNS Drivers Gearing Up For Shootout
By DAVE MOODY
The 2003 NASCAR Busch North Series season is over, but the biggest race of the year may still be ahead.
Fifteen Busch North Series teams are set to travel cross-country to California’s Irwindale Speedway November 6-8 for the inaugural “Toyota All-Star Showdown,” with more than $500,000 in posted awards on the line. The event will pit the Busch North Series drivers against their counterparts on the NASCAR Winston West Series in a unique, two-segment event on the half-mile Irwindale oval. After a pair of qualifying races determine the starting lineup, the first 100-lap segment will be run as a “team race,” with points awarded to each driver based on their finishing position. The team with the best overall performance will receive a cash bonus, to be divided equally among the drivers. Following a 10-minute break, a final 25-lap segment will be run in typical “every man for himself” fashion, with a separate purse paid.
Each driver is guaranteed a minimum payday of $7,000, with a maximum of $35,000 available to the overall winner. The event will be televised live on SPEED Channel, beginning at 8:00 p.m. (ET) on Saturday night, November 8.
Thirteen of the top 15 Busch North Series drivers are slated to make the trip to Irwindale, led by Series champion Andy Santerre of Mooresville, North Carolina. Santerre said this week that the event will provide great exposure for the series, its drivers, and their sponsors. However, he said the logistics involved make it a difficult endeavor for most teams, both physically and financially.
“I think if you got all the Busch North people together in one room, without any NASCAR officials, they would tell you they’re not that excited about it,” said Santerre this week. “It’s a long, long haul for these teams - 50 or 60 hours for the teams from Maine - and as good as the purse is, I doubt that many of them will make money. It’s a great opportunity for exposure, and over the long haul, I think it’ll be good for the series. But it’s definitely going to be tough on the teams.”
Others are more enthusiastic about the event.
Steve Griswold, whose Grisco Racing Team backed Coventry, R.I., driver Mike Stefanik to second place in the final 2003 Busch North standings, called the race, “the type of show that displays the talent of the team and the driver, since no points are involved. You won't have teams holding back, because they're looking at the big picture. Every driver is going to go for the checkers.”
Former Busch North Series champion Kelly Moore, who fielded a two-car team for himself and son Ryan Moore this season, called the Toyota All-Star Shootout, “a really great opportunity. It’s going to be an exciting event, and a great learning experience.” The Moore team will head to California on October 29, with Ryan Moore - the 2003 Busch North Raybestos Rookie of the Year -- taking part in a Winston West event at California Speedway in Fontana on November 1, before joining his father in the Toyota All-Star Shootout a week later.
While eligible to take part in the Toyota All-Star Shootout, Vermont drivers Dave Dion and Kip Stockwell will not be making the trip.
“I couldn’t get the sponsors to kick in, and it’s probably just as well,” said Dion. “I’m sure it’s a great deal for kids like Ryan Moore and Matt Kobyluck - kids hoping to get discovered - but there’s no value in it for a guy my age. I’m a simple New England short track racer, and the balance of my career is going to be spent doing just that; racing on short tracks in New England.
“I’ll be watching on TV, rooting for the Busch North guys, but there’s nothing there for me.”
Stockwell, meanwhile, withdrew from the Shootout field when a deal to rent a car from Winston West veteran Jack Sellers fell through.
“We had a deal with Jack, but he got greedy,” said Stockwell this week. “Originally, we were going to give him all our purse, bonus, and travel money in exchange for the use of one of his cars. We sat down with Jack, (Busch North Series Director) Lee Roy and (NASCAR’s) Joe Skotnicki at New Hampshire in September, and the deal was all set. Unfortunately, Jack kept changing the deal, until eventually, he wanted us to give him all the money, but still pay for our own travel, tires, and fuel.
“In the end, it was going to cost me as much to rent his car as it would to haul my own stuff across country. I can’t afford to spend $20,000 trucking our people and equipment to California, and I’m not going to pay someone else that kind of money, either.
“I hate it,” said Stockwell. “I really wanted to go. It would be a big ego boost to run that race, and I’ve got as much ego as the next guy. But I also have to be realistic. That $20,000 will get me to a lot of races next summer, so I guess I’ll just stay home and watch it on TV.”
With the demise of Dion and Stockwell, the door is open for Vermonter Barney McRae and Maine driver Carey Heath to race at Irwindale. Heath has already confirmed her intention to take part, while NASCAR’s Roy said McRae is working on a deal.
“He’s trying to put something together, and we should know by later this week,” said the Busch North Director. “The last time I talked to him, he said he was `optimistic’ that he could find a way to do it.”
Short (Track) Subjects…
…Quebec’s Autodrome St. Eustache will join the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series in 2004, one of two Canadian tracks (along with Ontario’s Delaware Speedway) that will bring the NASCAR sanction north of the border for the first time since 1989. NASCAR has sanctioned individual events in Canada, Mexico, Australia and Japan in past season, but this new deal marks the first time NASCAR has sanctioned an entire season of racing outside the United States.
Autodrome St. Eustache is a 4/10-mile oval just outside Montreal, owned and promoted by former Northern NASCAR star Claude Aubin. "This is a realization of a lifelong dream," said Aubin, known for his distinctive, handlebar mustache during his long racing career in and New England and Quebec. "To have a track in my native Quebec sanctioned by NASCAR, this is a great day for St. Eustache, and for Quebec motorsports."
Delaware Speedway is a half-mile oval located near London, Ontario.
…Expect an announcement this weekend that Busch Series star Scott Riggs will drive the #10 Valvoline-sponsored Winston Cup Pontiac in 2004, replacing Johnny Benson. Benson, who until recently seemed secure in the Valvoline car, is now shopping his services to Richard Childress Racing, Petty Enterprises, and Cal Wells’ PPI Motorsports, as a potential driver for Wells’ rumored second team.
…There probably will not be a “Big Dawg II.”
As reported here last week, Pro All Stars Series promoter Tom Mayberry drew just 48 Pro Stock cars for his much-anticipated, $200,000 “Big Dawg Challenge” at Maine’s Wiscasset Speedway. And while the event was a success on the racetrack, it suffered from low turnouts at both the front and back gates. Asked if he will attempt a “Big Dawg II” in 2004, Mayberry said. "I doubt it.
"We expected 75 to 80 cars,” said Mayberry to the Bangor (ME) Daily News. “We based everything on 75 cars. The support of the Pro Stock community wasn't there. Obviously, all the regular guys who run with me (on the PASS Tour) supported us. But I'm a little disappointed with all the other Pro Stock guys.”
Mayberry’s show drew a total of 48 cars last weekend, exactly the same number that turned out for the season-ending “New England Dodge Dealers Milk Bowl” at Thunder Road. Both events suffered rain-related postponements, and both experienced smaller-than-expected crowds on their make-good dates.
I’m guessing that Thunder Road promoters Tom Curley and Ken Squier came away with their backsides still attached. Mayberry’s odds were a whole lot worse.
… Whitefield, NH, driver Roger Brown will be honored as the 2003 ACT Dodge Tour Rookie of the Year at ACT’s Banquet of Champions at the Sheraton-Burlington Conference Center on Saturday night, January 17. Brown finished the 2003 season with a career-best fifth-place finish in the New England Dodge Dealers Milk Bowl at Thunder Road. 2003 ACT Dodge Tour champion Jean-Paul Cyr and Thunder Road Late Model champion Jamie "Hurricane" Fisher will be among the other honorees at the affair. Ticket information is available by calling (802) 244-6963 or visiting www.acttour.com.
…Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser, Jr., was injured in an ATV accident last week in New Mexico. Unser suffered a fractured pelvis in the incident, and is hospitalized in his hometown of Albuquerque. Unser was reportedly riding alone in the woods Sunday when he went over an embankment and crashed. The 41-year old driver lay injured for more than an hour before help arrived, and was hospitalized in serious condition.
"I'm sorry this had to happen," said Unser’s father, four-time Indy 500 champion Al Unser. "It's one of those things that happens when you least expect it. He must have hit a rock or something, because the ATV just rolled on top of him."
…Ricky Rudd makes his 800th career Winston Cup start Sunday at Atlanta. Rudd is currently fourth in career Winston Cup starts. Richard Petty tops the list with 1177 career green flags.
…Look for the National Guard to end its sponsorship of Travis Carter’s #54 Fords at the conclusion of the season, with an eye toward moving to the Jack Roush camp in 2004.