Rain, Travel Plans, A Little Bit of Practice, a New Face to Busch North and Much More

When it started to rain just minutes into practice on Sunday afternoon at Lee USA Speedway (NH) officials of the NASCAR Busch North Series were quick to assess the situation.
Track officials estimated that it would take a minimum of two hours to dry the track and there was at least an hour of rain still ahead according to the radar.  More bans of weather were also in the area and the track faced a curfew of 8:00pm.  All in all, it was a recipe for nothing more than standing around and getting wet.

So within minutes of the rain starting up, officials pulled the plug and let competitors know what the game plan would be.  A make-up date was scheduled for Saturday, May 21st with a possible rain date on the next afternoon.  Teams that wanted to leave their equipment in the area could do so with the arrangement of a fenced in lot available for competitors.
NASCAR officials even thought out the hotel situation for the make-up date.  The nearby campus of University of New Hampshire would be having their graduation on the same day as the make-up race and hotel rooms in the area have been booked for months, so it was announced that gates at Lee would open at Noon, allowing teams that needed lodging to stay in the Boston or Manchester, New Hampshire area on the way to the track.

All in all, it might have been the best executed rain out plan by a sanctioning body in recent history.


Saturday was an optional test day for competitors at Lee and for once this season, the weather cooperated for that.  Four practice sessions were held and four different drivers top the speed charts after each session.  Mike Olsen, Dale Quarterley, Ryan Moore and Andy Santerre all were quickest in one of the sessions, with Olsen turning the fastest lap overall of the day.


For some of the teams, towing home after the rainout was not big deal.  The #77 team shops of owner Jerry Morello and driver Eddie MacDonald were only about ten minutes from the track in one direction, while the #15 team of Mark Willoughby and driver Dale Shaw are based a half hour to the north in Rochester, New Hampshire.
But the three car team of Grizco racing and Andy Santerre, Mike Stefanik and Brad Leighton are a different story.  Their shops are located right behind Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Harrisburg, North Carolina – a trip of approximately fifteen hours on the highway.  So the rainout set off a logistical frenzy for the team of who and what was going or staying in the area for the week.

“We had some issues in the tech line with Brad’s car so we are going to load that up on my rig and bring it home with my car [to North Carolina],” said Santerre.  “I wasn’t fully happy with mine.  The only one that was really happy was Mike Stefanik.  His car is really good and I think it’s going to be one to beat.  We’ll leave Mike’s whole rig up here and the two truck drivers can take turns driving this truck [Santerre’s #44] home.”
got some buddies up here who can help with some fab stuff that we don’t have up here, so it’s not too bad.”

The new post-rainout schedule might even be beneficial for Lewandoski and his team.

“Now with the raceout, we’ll get some more seat time.  I got really comfortable with it yesterday and I’m looking forward to going in the right direction.  The car is definitely capable of being in the top five.  Between my learning the track and the team learning a new style of car that we picked up over the winter, we struggle bad in practice.  With the test at Stafford, we should be able to come back here and be strong.  We have to because we can’t settle for where we were at yesterday.”


Busch North racing definitely has a North Carolina flavor to it these days.  Ryan Moore used this off season to pack up and relocate from coastal Maine down to the Mooresville area to be closer to his new home within the driver development program at Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
very well – Thompson Speedway.  That is the second stop on the schedule but Civalli wanted to learn the ropes a little bit before then.

“We really wanted to come to the first race because we really wanted to go to Thompson with one race of going through tech through this.  We want to do well at Thompson and now we know the deal and we are a lot more experienced at getting the car through tech and ready to go on the track.”

“The whole team is taking a big step.  We’ve never gone through tech, we’ve never been at a race where they impound the cars.  We never had anything to do with impounding the tires.  It was like, ‘We’ve got to do what?’’  Wow.  That’s why we came here, we are learning that we need to do all of these different things.  We have to figure out what we are doing.”

But already, Civalli sees progress being made.

“It’s getting better already, the car was good in practice and it’s getting better,” said Civalli.  “We don’t foresee any problems with this car.”


The 2005 NASCAR Busch North season is starting out much like the ’04 season ended – with rain.  The season closing race last year was washed out twice at Wall Township Raceway (NJ), so teams have not turned a competitive lap since Dover last September.  The rainout at Lee just added another week to an already long off-season
Busch North Series Driector Lee Roy (R) makes the announcement that the race would be postponed. (51 Photo)
A small army of Grizco crew members has also made planning for the season a tall order.

“It’s been pretty hectic this week trying to get these teams organized,” said Santerre. “We’ve had a lot of new people come on board.  There are over 30 people on these teams so there is a lot of organization to getting people going in the right direction.  Everybody is very cooperative.  They all knew that the first race would be tough and everyone is working out great.  Once we get a race or two races in, we’ll be in good shape.”


Another team with a long tow to Lee is the #01 operation of rookie Charles Lewandoski.  Their shops are almost in the same Cabarrus County neighborhood as Grizco’s, but the rainout didn’t lead to a long out of the way trip for the team, thanks to a plan to do some testing and visiting in Lewandoski’s hometown of Stafford Springs, Connecticut this week.
“I’ve been living down there since November,” said Moore.  “I’m just trying to hang out at the shop as much as I can and get to know everyone.  I’m trying to learn the area and the racetracks and everything like that.  It’s been a lot of fun.”

Going away is like a trip to college for the young driver.

“It’s been different trying to get used to a different schedule and always being away from home, flying and things like that.  I’m trying to get used to living out of a
Ryan Moore's #74. (51 Photo)
“We had already planned to test Friday at Stafford,” said Lewandoski.  “If we had gotten through today OK and obviously we did with the rainout, we were going to stay up here all week and see family and friends and work on the car at my Dad’s shop.”

This arrangement will give Lewandoski a chance to return to his roots.

“We’ve always had a racecar there since the 1980’s and this was the first year when there wasn’t a racecar there, so it will be a nice welcome home for a few days.  I’ve still
“Right now, we are doing a four race deal until a sponsor comes through.  We are doing a lot of promotional and marketing stuff.  Hopefully, we’ll have something and keep going.  If we don’t have anything, hopefully we can get a sponsor to pick up the two Loudon races and the Dover race.  But right now, we are focused on the first few races.”

Waiting another week for the race to get underway has its advantages for Caisse.

“The more practice we have, the better off we will be,” said Caisse. “Pretty much any rookie would say the same thing.  The car is pretty good, the guys are working really hard.  Anytime that you get a new team together it’s tough.  I just met some of these guys yesterday.  Getting everything to gel comes with time.  We’ll going to have another week to work things through so I think that we’ll be good.”

Caisse has driven NASCAR Modifieds, SK Modifieds and NEMA Midgets, but he first gained a name for himself at Lee in the track’s Late Model division.  Unfortunately, that was also where he had his darkest moment in racing.  On opening day in 2002, Caisse crashed on the backstretch and had some pretty major injuries to overcome.

“I like this place except for right over there,” Caisse said, pointing to the spot on the wall where he hit that day.  “I had two broken legs, a broken arm, a broken wrist and a broken kneecap.”


Andy Santerre had a new number (#44), a new team in Grizco Racing and a new paint scheme at Lee.  One thing was similar though.  His associate sponsor from the last three seasons, Castle Chemical, has come back as the primary sponsor for the time being.  The surprise at Lee though was the fact that his sponsor for Joe Bessey’s #6 cars in the past two seasons, Aubuchon Hardware, was back on his quarter panels after getting out of racing.

Joey McCarthy was the center of a lot of off-season speculation.  Many didn’t expect him to return to the series as he tries to position himself to move up to higher levels of racing.  However, when opening day rolled around, McCarthy was right back with the #8 team that he drove for last season and finished second at Lee with.  He still doesn’t know what he future holds though.

“We’re going to see what happens and play it by year.  We’ll be going race by race again,” said McCarthy.
Although he was disappointed by the postponement, Olsen really didn’t expect much different after seeing the weather reports.

“The forecast was terrible for today we were just getting ready to practice when it started raining,” said Olsen.  “That’s not good, but you have those days so hopefully we won’t have too many of them.”


Last season, Sean Caisse made one start in Busch North with his family-owned #20 team.  His hopes for 2005 included finding a sponsor and running full-time with the family operation.  But that did not materialize.  However, as the clock was ticking down to start the year, Caisse found himself a new deal as driver for Barney McRae’s #5 team.

Olsen shined at Lee by posting the fastest lap in practice.

“It was good to get practice in yesterday [Saturday].  It was a really nice day and we got a lot accomplished.  We think that we have a pretty good car.  We tried a lot of different things and we were all over the spectrum.  But I think that we have something to work with, that’s for sure.  Ryan Moore, Mike Stefanik, Andy [Santerre] and all those guys were good too, so it should be a really good race.  The guy who can keep the tires on it will probably be the winner.”
The deal to get Aubuchon on there was a little complex.

“That’s a deal through Castle,” said Santerre.  “Castle will be our primary sponsor for five races and they worked a deal with Aubuchon.  You can now buy Castle products at your local Aubuchon store and they will get a little bit better shelf space with this arrangement to put them on the rear quarters.  It’s kind of funny, Aubuchon was the primary sponsor last year and Castle was the associate and this year Castle is the primary and Aubuchon is the associate.”
suitcase before it’s time to go out and really do that.  It’s been good, I’ve had a lot of fun getting to know people and see things.  Being involved with the people at DEI has been a pretty big deal for me.”


Young Connecticut driver James Civalli and his family-owned team planned on dipping their toes into the world of NASCAR Touring racing this season.  But one thing led to another and now they are getting ready to dive into the pool with both a NASCAR Busch North car and a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour machine in their shop.  They were at Lee for their entry into Busch North this weekend.
“We put this deal together three weeks ago,” said Caisse.  “Trying to get that full-time primary sponsor has been tough.  We heard from somebody that Barney was stepping out of the car and looking for a young driver to put in the seat and mold.  I was standing where I didn’t really have anything, so we took my car from our shop and put it with his three cars.  With that combination, hopefully we can have a competitive first half of the season.”

What the 2005 season will consist of for Caisse is still up in the air.
Olson's #61.  (51 Photo)
“We’re going to do about five or six races with the Busch car and five or six races with the Tour car.  We’re going to split our traveling around,” said Civalli.  “Whatever we want to do is what we’ll do.  We’ll go where we feel like racing.  It all depends on how we do with this car and the Tour car.  It depends if we wreck or not.  If we get into a few wrecks with this car, we won’t be able to race it much.  Money is a big issue.  We’ll play it by year.”

With only a limited schedule planned, one might think that Civalli would start his season at a track he knows
The arrangement gives Santerre’s car a familiar look to start the season.

“We happy to have Aubuchon back on the car for a few races at least,” said Santerre. “It’s pretty much the same so everyone knows who we are even though the number has changed.


Jerry Marquis is best known as the driver of the #4 Mystic Missile on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, but he is also a noted Busch North racer with seven career victories.  These days, he has fun driving for the #52 Darling Motorsports team.  But the Lee weekend wasn’t much fun for him once the rains came.

“It’s a lot of traveling for nothing really,” said Marquis.  “But basically, we’re having fun.  We only have seven races together and these guys like doing it.  It’s like we’re all part of the family.  Now we have another weekend together, so we’ll see how it works out.”

“We had a pretty good car in practice.  I was happy with things, I wanted to see how things would work out today.  This is a tough track to race on.  There’s not much grip.  We’ll have to find out next weekend I guess.”
Santerre's #44 gets loaded up.  (51 Photo)
James Civalli made his first Busch North laps in practice on Saturday.  (51 Photo)
Jerry Babb (R) talks with Grizco driver Andy Santerre.  (51 Photo)
Santerre's ride for 2005 looks different  than his last one - and still a little bit the same.   (51Photo)
Sean Caisse was in a new environment at Lee.
(Ken Spring Photo)
Lewandoski's #01.  (51 Photo)
“We’re looking down the road towards bigger and better things and until that happens, we’ll be doing this.  I’m shooting for bigger things at the Busch South level or in a Truck.  That would be ideal and hopefully, we’ll get a couple of those in this year one way or another.”


Even though he has finished second and fifth in the point standings over the past two seasons as the driver for the Grizco Racing #55 car, Mike Stefanik has struggled by his own standards.  He has not won a race and hasn’t been the type of dominating force which he has been in the past.  Something appeared to be lacking in the chemistry department of his team.
With that off-season addition of former Pro Stock standout Jerry Babb as Stefanik’s new crew chief, that appears to be a thing of the past.  In their on track debut together, the new combination looked more like a veteran pairing of driver and crew chief.

Babb knew that he was going to get quite an education working with Stefanik.

“It’s one of those deals where when I had the opportunity to work with him, I knew that I could learn a lot and he said that he didn’t have anything left to teach,” said Babb.  “That was a big fib.”

Communication between the two has been instant.

“He knows exactly what he wants in the car and all that I need to do is listen to what he says and give him what he asks for.
We’ve done that and gotten faster everytime we were on the racetrack.  We started off good and we’re still getting better.”

“In the past, I built my own cars and knew why I put things in certain places.  Mike has built more cars than I have and he knows where he wants things and how he wants them to work.  When he says there is a problem, there is a problem.  There’s no hesitation, we just fix it and get better and better.”

Going to work with Stefanik was enough to make Babb nervous at first, but he’s anything but nervous now.

“I’ve definitely not worked with anyone as good as Mike.  I was a little intimidated at first based on his past reputation.  There’s only one person who has won more NASCAR championships and that was Richie Evans.  Ritchie was the best and Mike is not far from being the best.  He’s such a humble person that the intimidation went right away.  He’s a great driver and after this season, that will show again.”

The #8 team loads up Joey McCarthy's car..  (51 Photo)