WALTOM RACING USING THEIR OWN "GONG SHOW" FOR 2006 by Matt Kentfield
ASA LM Team Looking For Stephen Leicht's Replacement
Stephen Leicht brought WalTom Racing unprecedented success in the ASA Late Model Series in 2005. Five wins and the season championship allowed Leicht to move to Robert Yates Racing’s NASCAR Busch Series effort in 2006, so WalTom Racing now has set out on an exhaustive search for the next driver of the #89 machine.
looking at who is going to be where Stephen was after one year with us. Some of these guys are going to win right from day one. After a year with Howie (Lettow, Crew Chief), they’ll be even better.”
For Lettow, having the essential combination of on-track skill and communication is what can elevate one driver above the rest, not just in situations like the team’s tryout but also in a racing situation.
“The communication thing is so important,” said Lettow, who has coached such drivers in the former ASA National Tour series as Jimmie Johnson, Kenny Wallace, Ricky Johnson and David Stremme. “But that’s just one of many factors that weigh into a decision like this. We look real hard at consistency. We look to see how close a driver is lap after lap after lap as well as how well the driver communicates. I try not to change the car too much; I’m trying to get the drivers to let me know what they want changed.”
The #89 WalTom Racing ASA Late Model ride is one of the most sought after in the series. (51 Photos)
Eight young drivers from around the country were invited to the Tri-County Speedway outside Hickory, North Carolina to show what they can do to become the heir to Leicht’s seat for WalTom Racing during the 2006 ASA LM season.
But with the success that Leicht brought to WalTom, duplicating it will not be easy for any of the young drivers involved.
“We’re looking for another Stephen Leicht,” said John Mulvenna, Director of Motorsports for WalTom Racing. “To compare these guys to where Stephen was a couple years back, they’re pretty much the same. We’re
The drivers took to the tight Tri-County track over three days of tryouts. Each had a chance to get laps on both old and new tires while pulling into pit road to debrief with the crew after each on-track session. Each driver suggested changes for Lettow and the crew to make before going back on the track for more laps. The on-track parity and the talent level of the drivers involved in the team’s test impressed co-owners Tom and Wally Gleitsman
“I think that of the young men we chose, we’ve got some real talented kids here,” said Tom Gleitsman. “It’s going to be a very difficult decision. Some of them were very good when they called for an adjustment and that was the right thing to do. Their attitudes were real good and they were all real young professionals. There were some issues with guys who were used to a high-horsepower car; they had to make the transition, but they are race car drivers and they adjusted quickly.
“The times on all of them are pretty consistent. We are rating these fellows and they’re close. Even their average lap times are close.”
The next driver of the WalTom #89 will have to have the right chemistry with the team and the talent behind the wheel, but also be able to represent himself as well as the WalTom team and sponsors with professionalism,
Matt Hawkins (top) and BJ McLeod (bottom, talking with Howie Lettow) were two of the drivers selected to test at Tri-County.
which is very important to Wally Gleitsman.
“We want to win. We are racers. But we’re also looking to advance kids,” said Wally. “Their personality, looks and ‘sellability’ are very important, but they’ve got to have it behind the wheel. The sponsors want to sell their product. These guys are salesmen just as much they are racecar drivers.”
After each driver’s session on the track, the team’s owners, crew chief and a panel of special advisors, including chassis builder and team spotter Chas Howe and Rob Albright of Action Performance, evaluated the drivers. Albright is the man who has worked closely with Leicht to help in his advancement over the last season.
of their lap times,” said Albright. “There’s very little variation in lap times but they each had different styles of attacking the race track.”
Everyone in the panel that assessed each driver agreed that a young racer can not survive in today’s racing world with just driving talent or just marketability. This was best defined by Howe.
“You have to look at everything,” said Howe. “In terms of marketability and driving ability, it’s like saying what’s more important on an airplane, the left wing or right wing? You need them both. One of these drivers is bound to have it all.”
The drivers were given several shot at the track.
Both Howe and Albright were impressed with what they saw on the track, making the team’s decision on which driver to choose even more difficult.
“There’s a lot of good, young drivers out here and they all come in here with so much experience. It’s really hard to pick,” said Howe. “They each have their own traits that some guys have better than others, but it’s hard to say one guy is clearly better than the other. Because they’re all so good, you find yourself being a lot fussier than you normally would be.”
“The thing that impressed me the most was the consistency that just about all of them showed in terms
The WalTom Racing team left the tryout sessions at Tri-County Speedway with a difficult decision on their hands. To help make a better determination on which drivers they are still considering for their ride in 2006, the team ventured to Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida where drivers Kelly Bires and Josh Adams wheeled team WalTom Racing entries in the Snowflake 100. Both drivers ran in the top-10 most of the race before Bires was involved in an incident late in the race, while Adams scored a seventh place finish.
Mulvenna was pleased with the results from the Snowflake event, but the team has still yet to make a decision on which driver will be piloting the WalTom #89 next season.
Kelly Bires took the wheel of the #89 during the Snowball Derby weekend in Saturday night's Snowflake 100.
“We went to Pensacola with Josh and Kelly just to see how well they do in race situations,” said Mulvenna. “We’re still in the final stages of negotiations with the guys we want to drive for us next year but hopefully we’ll have everything finalized by the end of the month.
“We want to get everything going well for next season and we have to get a start on things now.”
Speed51.com will continue to follow the WalTom tryouts and we’ll being you more once a decision has been made by the team.