SANTERRE WINS HIS FOURTH STRAIGHT BUSCH NORTH TITLE  by MikeTwist
Three Owners in Four Years Doesn't Make Much Difference When It Comes to Winning
When you are faced with other hurdles, such as a blown engine in practice, a start in the last row of the field and racecars wrecking all around you, eighth isn’t too bad.

When you are able to clinch your fourth-consecutive championship by finishing there, eighth is nothing short of great. 

Andy Santerre knows that very well after the Busch North season finale at Thompson.  He walked away from the race winning his fourth title in a row.

“It was a good night, we got lucky in a couple of spots, but I drove conservatively,” said Santerre.  “I had a better car than eighth, but I didn’t really push it.”

Pushing it might have been disastrous.  Being conservative almost was as well.

“It came down to halfway through (the race) when the big wreck happened and I was right there.  We had a restart and I never really got up to speed.  We got down into turn one and everyone bunched up.  I saw the #99 {Bryon Chew] get sideways and I really went to the top hoping that I could get through it and I did by the skin of my teeth.  It was close.”
Santerre had plenty of carnage to dodge.  He started last after changing engines in his #44 car.  The first powerplant on his car expired just a few laps into Saturday’s practice session and since Santerre knew that his teammate Mike Stefanik was only a few points behind him going into the race, there was no margin for mechanical failure in the 100-lap race.

“We blew up yesterday and I was worried about the motor.  I don’t know why because Fischer has given us great engines for four years and then I have one failure and I get nervous.”

Another reason to get nervous was the possibility of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Immediately before the Busch North race, that is exactly what happened in the final NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race of 2005.  Ted Christopher appeared to have a safe point lead going into the race, but contact with another competitor on the 10th lap ruined his day and his championship hopes.  The same thing could have easily happed to Santerre as well.
Andy Santerre - winner of the last four NASCAR Busch North championships.  (Howie Hodge Photo)
When you’ve won 23 NASCAR Busch North races in your career, the idea of finishing eighth in a race usually isn’t something that it would be easy to get excited about.  Sure, a top 10 finish is nice and solid, but it isn’t a win either.
When you are faced with other hurdles, such as a blown engine in practice, a start in the last row of the field and racecars wrecking all around you, eighth isn’t too bad.

When you are able to clinch your fourth-consecutive championship by finishing there, eighth is nothing short of great. 

Andy Santerre knows that very well after the Busch North season finale at Thompson.  He walked away from the race winning his fourth title in a row.

“It was a good night, we got lucky in a couple of spots, but I drove conservatively,” said Santerre.  “I had a better car than eighth, but I didn’t really push it.”
Pushing it might have been disastrous.  Being conservative almost was as well.

“It came down to halfway through (the race) when the big wreck happened and I was right there.  We had a restart and I never really got up to speed.  We got down into turn one and everyone bunched up.  I saw the #99 {Bryon Chew] get sideways and I really went to the top hoping that I could get through it and I did by the skin of my teeth.  It was close.”

“Going out there and starting in the rear [was stressful],” said Santerre.  “There were a lot of new cars here this week, it was a short race with guys that we didn’t know and we couldn’t pit.  Our team really excels when we pit.  They always gain me spots.  We weren’t going to have that luxury tonight.  So we just had to drive a smart race and stay out of trouble.  I was doing everything that I could to be conservative and drive a smart race.”
Although it was the fourth straight championship for Santerre, winning it was anything but routine.

“I’ll you what, you can get used to this stuff.  It’s different every year though.  Today was absolutely the worst that it’s been to me since ’02 at Lime Rock.  It was the closest for the points and the most pressure that I’ve had.”

There were three different owners in Santerre’s title
years.  He drove for himself in 2002, for Joe Bessey and 2003 and 2004 and then for Steve and Peg Griswold’s Grizco Racing team this year. 

“Quite honestly, it’s been a deal where the ownership role has changed but not much else has,” said Santerre.  “The first year, I owned the team, Andy Santerre Motorsports.  We had two Busch cars that I brought from the Busch Series.  We probably didn’t have the best of equipment, but the knowledge that I brought from down there was worth millions.”

Santerre was the only full-time employee of his team in 2003.  He worked in the shop during the day, ate dinner and then toiled away into the evenings.  He would then load up his racecar [there was no budget or trailer space for a back-up car] into a simple enclosed trailer, hook it to a Chevrolet dually and drive from his shop in Harrisburg, North Carolina to wherever the Busch North Series was running that week.  At that point, he had the help of a New England-based team of crew members, but when the race was over, it was back to hitting the road and repeating the process.

Still, Santerre won the championship against some much better funded teams.

“That championship was the most gratifying to me because we did it on a low budget, with just a few people and we didn’t have the best equipment.  We made do with what we had.  We only had two engines that year.”
But as he celebrated the title, Santerre knew that he couldn’t repeat the season.  He was burnt out and ready to give up until he worked out a deal with former NASCAR Busch Series driver and Winston Cup team owner Joe Bessey.  The fellow Mainer let Santerre use his shop in North Carolina for the first championship.  For the second and third ones, he was the car owner.

“In ’03, Joe Bessey decided to come on board and he stepped the program up.  He put the funding there and Aubuchon Hardware stepped up with their sponsorship to give us what we needed.
“I never could have done that [being an owner/driver] two years in a row.  That first year was so tough driving my own truck and trailer.  I could never do it again, I was ready to quit then before Aubuchon and Bessey bailed me out.”

It worked out so well that there were few changes for the next year, which also ended with a championship.

“We built some new cars and new engines in ’03 had a great season.  We returned in ’04 with the same team and same people.  Over the winter we really just touched up the cars and made things a little bit better.  We came out of the gate in ’04 really strong.  We were competitive all year and had a great season.”

After 2004 was over, Bessey decided that he wanted to spent more time with his businesses in rural Maine.  Racing wasn’t in the cards for him anyone and Santerre needed to find another deal.

“At the end of that season, Joe decided that he had enough.  He won two championships with me and I understood.  I looked for another team and along came Steve Griswold.  We spoke at the banquet last before Christmas and then decided just after Christmas what we were going to do.”
Santerre had decided to step out of the car to head up the #55 team of Stefanik as its team manager, but his new owner would have nothing of it.  But first, there was some work to do.  Grizco moved from Vermont to North Carolina in the off-season, taking over the shop that Bessey had run. 

“It was February before we got all the equipment moved down South and into the shop,” said Santerre.  “We got a late start, but I told Steve that we would win him a championship.  At the time, I was planning on working with Mike Stefanik.  I’d be his crew chief and have Brad run a limited schedule.  But Steve came and saw the shop that we had down there and fell in love with it.  He got real excited and wanted me to run.  That was real late.  It was March and I knew that we had to get on the ball.  We used my old car, the one that came form the original deal.  I had sold to the Bessey and he sold it to Grizco.  We took ‘Faith’ (the name of Santerre’s car) and that’s what we started the year with.”
And as the Busch North teams assembled at Thompson, only Santerre and Stefanik had a chance at the title.  They ended up sweeping the first two spots in the standings.

“To see Grizco finish one and two in our first year down South is pretty exciting for us,” said Santerre.  “It was an exciting year.  It was a big challenge to me to see if I could get three cars to run competitively.  I think that we proved that we could.  We finished 1-2 [in the points] and Mike completed every lap.  I completed all but one lap because I had a flat tire at Lake Erie.  When you have cars that don’t break and finish every race, you don’t always have to have the fastest car.  You’ve got drivers have can stay out of trouble and that’s the key to this thing.”

Santerre is the first driver to win four championships in Busch North history.

“Nobody has ever done it, so it will go in the history book.”

The streak may very well end at four.  Santerre isn’t sure if he is going to be returning to the driver’s seat next season.  He plans to stay at Grizco, but his role in unclear.  He might mentor a young driver, lead the full-time team of Stefanik and part-time entry of Brad Leighton or he might come back in the same role as the driver.  Right now, Santerre doesn’t even know what will happen next.

“We’ve got to sit down and negotiate what we are going to do.  As far as running full time, I’m not sure that I want to do that anymore.  But we’ll see.  I just need to take the next month and think about it.  I think that I’ll announce something at the banquet.  Maybe Steve will let me run again or maybe I can take a year off like Brad did and maybe come back again in a year or two.  I’m in a great situation here at Grizco and he is willing to let me be a team manager or driver, whatever I want to do.”


Andy Santerre gets a celebration bath at Stafford.  (Howie Hodge Photo)
Santerre's #44 (Norm Marx Photo)
(L-R) NASCAR's Don Hawk, Santerre and NASCAR's Lee Roy.  (Howie Hodge Photo)
In 2003, Santerre won the title for car owner Joe Bessey and the # 6 team.  (51 Photo)