There Were a Ton of Tales From the Busch North Season Opener
BUSCH NORTH FINALLY GETS DECENT WEATHER
The biggest news out of the Stafford was one this one simple fact: the NASCAR Busch North Series actually got the chance to race. It had been 265 days going back to last fall’s race at Dover since the last green flag.
Between Dover and Stafford were two rainouts at Wall Township Speedway (NJ), three rainouts at Lee USA Speedway (NH) and a wash-out at Thompson International Speedway (CT).
It rained at Stafford as well, between qualifying and the feature, but the showers were quick and light. Thanks to some lucky timing, there were no delays in the feature event.
The drivers in Busch North couldn’t have been happier about getting the chance to take to the track again.
“It feels good to race,” said Brian Hoar. “That was ridiculous. I can’t believe how long it’s been.”
“I’m just so glad it didn’t rain and we finally got to race,” said Eddie MacDonald.
The competitors know that it was touch and go for a little bit though. Weather forecasts for the race all week long were poor at best. Even afternoon outlooks weren’t especially good.
“I came down really late today [from Vermont] and it was raining at home,” said Hoar. “I was really hoping it would clear up. I came though the last rain shower about Springfield [an hour or so away from the track].”
CHAMP SPEAKS OUT ON TIRES
There wasn’t a single pass for the lead in the Stafford race and Andy Santerre thinks that he might know part of why that is.
“The tires are an issue,” Said Santerre. “We don’t have a good race tire. Goodyear is putting us in the same category as the Busch Series and the Truck Series, so when we get to a short track, there’s no passing. The tires are a lot like a radial and it’ really not suitable for the short tracks.”
Promoting the series with the tire situation is a tough sell according to Santerre.
“If NASCAR wants to get these Busch North fans back and get people into the grandstands they need to give us a tire that we can race side by side on. We’re not getting that. I did pass some cars, but there wasn’t much passing going on. People aren’t going to pay $40 to go and see a race where there is no passing.”
The tire situation actually worked out for Santerre, but he is looking at the bigger picture, which is the health of the series.
Now that Moore has moved south to work with the DEI NASCAR Nextel Cup and Busch Series teams, you might think that he got a little bit of input from DEI Busch Series driver Martin Truex, Jr. before heading to Stafford since Truex dominated the Stafford events during the 2003 season before going south. But Moore said that even though that was only two years ago, there wasn’t much input that Truex could give that would be useful in this year’s race.
“The cars are so much different now and the tires are much different, so there’s not much in common from then at all,” said Moore.
HOAR GETS SOME HELP FROM A HERO AT STAFFORD
When Brian Hoar’s #45 Dodge took to the track in practice on Friday, eagle-eyed observers noted that Hoar was not the man in the car. Instead, Vermont racing legend Bobby Dragon was behind the wheel. It turns out that there was a good reason for that.
Rain was not the story of the race at Stafford for once this season. (51 Photo)
“We are trying to figure out this new tire and I know that Matt [Kobyluck] has been hard at work with that too. Between him and me, we’ve probably spent more time than anyone trying to figure it out. I know that they’ve done a lot of testing and we have as well. That really showed tonight..
Kobyluck and Santerre finished first and second
Santerre suspected that the tires would be an issue this season. Now he’s speaking up.
“I’ve had enough,” said Santerre. “I’m tired of not saying anything. I’m going to tell them. I told Goodyear earlier today that they have the technology and there is no reason for them not to give us a tire that we can race with. NASCAR has got to look at our rules again. We’ve been going through this for a couple of years now and that’s why we’ve lost some fans. We’ve got to have a tire that we can race side by side with. The bottom line is that is what it’s going to take to get this season back to where it should be.”
MOORE’S NIGHT ENDS WITH SPARKS AND SMOKE
The only driver who was even in the same ballpark as Kobyluck and Santerre at Stafford was young Ryan Moore. But things turned sour for Moore around the halfway point when his #74 exited the race in a trail of sparks and smoke. It was just the latest setback that Moore has faced while on the road to his first victory in Busch North competition.
“Bobby drove the car in practice and qualifying,” Hoar explained. “My stepson graduated from high school at 3pm. I went there and did the whole ceremony. Right before the kids left, I left. I had to book out of there to get here. It was cool.”
Having Dragon in his car was a humbling experience for Hoar.
“Bobby was nice enough to help us out today,” said Hoar. “We had never worked together. I was always a fan of his and my uncle was his crew chief in the late 60’s through the 80’s. I grew up watching him.
Ryan Moore's #74. (51 Photo)
“We broke a panhard bar bracket,” said Moore. “I don’t know what the deal is, I just have a big old monkey on my back. One of these days everything is going to go right and we’ll win a race. Hopefully things will go a lot easier after that.”
Moore had been glued to Kobyluck’s rear bumper before his car broke.
“It was early in the race, but I just had that feeling,” said Moore. “I was just cruising around and I knew we had a shot at winning. I was trying to figure out whether to pass him or not, but I figured I might as well just stay where I was and let him wear out his stuff.”
might include a trip to the team’s North Carolina shops and the nearby Hickory Motor Speedway, where the team has been doing plenty of testing.
“I think that we’ll have to get Brad down to do some testing down there,” said Santerre. “Mike can drive what I like, but Brad needs something a little bit different. We’ve got to figure out what that is. Obviously, Brad can drive. He won three races out of six last year so we don’t doubt his ability. We just need to give him what he needs to get his cars to go. I’m confident we can do that.”
Santerre also dismisses talk that the Grizco team has an unfair advantage.
“We don’t really have any advantage other than the fact that the three of us can talk about stuff,” said Santerre. “But as you see, each driver is a little bit different.”
CIVALI IMPRESSIVE IN DEBUT
James Civali finally got to make his NASCAR Touring debut at Stafford after attempts in the Busch North races at Lee and Thompson were washed out, along with an entry last month for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at Stafford.
“The team did an awesome job all day long,” said Marquis. “They got the car to go good for me and stay under me all night long. I’m very, very happy to qualify as well as we did here. The team has come a long way. I owe it all to those guys, I cant thank them enough.”
Last fall, the team started to turn heads by finished third at New Hampshire International Speedway. Things have only gotten better from there.
“I think we turned a corner big with that third place finish at Loudon. I was real happy for the team to have that run,
SHAW GETS HELP FROM DRAGON AS WELL
It’s a good thing that Brian Hoar made it to the track in time to race. After all, Bobby Dragon had a few other plans for the feature.
“I had Bobby Dragon as a spotter today,” said Dale Shaw, who took over the #15 ride that Dragon spent last season driving. “That was exciting. He’s probably one of the best spotters that I ever had. It was fun. It was a little strange, especially since he’s the former driver of this car. It’s kind of neat. He really helped me a lot today.”
Shaw’s first ride in the #15 car was a productive one. He finished tenth.
“This feels pretty good, I was hoping to bring home the car a little bit better, but a top 10 is pretty good I guess. We had no damage except for when I went off course to prevent a wreck. It was really a good run for us the first time out.”
2005 will be the first time in a few years that Shaw will be competing full-time in the Busch North ranks. The 1994 series champion has been running PASS Pro Stocks and ACT Late Models recently and is happy to be back in his home series.
“I think that these cars suit my driving better [than anything else], but they didn’t suit it well enough today,” said Shaw after the race. “Mark Willougby has given me a good opportunity and I’m excited about this year.”
GRIZCO RESULTS A MIXED BAG
The highly anticipated debut of the Grizco superteam was at Stafford. Andy Santerre finished second in the #44 and Mike Stefanik was ninth in the #55. At the opposite end of the spectrum was the #25 of Brad Leighton in 18th, one lap down.
In addition to his role as the driver, Andy Santerre is also the team manager for Grizco, so he is very award of how his teammates are running.
“I was happy with the way that my car ran. The #55 ran pretty good but the #25 was off,” said Santerre. “We’ve got to work with him. He can’t drive the same set-ups that Mike and I do, so we’ll have to figure it out. I’m a little disappointed in the #25 tonight. I wish Brad could have done a little bit better. I think that Brad’s driving style is a little bit different than Mike’s and mine.”
Santerre has an idea of how to work with that though. It
Civali turned quite a few heads with his performance. He qualified seventh and appeared to be very comfortable running in the top 10 until his night turned bad on lap 81.
“The car was running really good and on the restart it didn’t feel quite right,” said Civali. “I went down the back straightaway and it was skipping pretty good. We were still at speed, but we talked on the radio and decided to pull it in and look at it. It burned a spark plug wire through the header and shorted it out.”
Still, the night was a good and educational one overall for the young Connecticut driver.
“My wife had one of my T-Shirts on last night and it said ‘1972 Milk Bowl Champion – Bobby Dragon’. That was the year I was born, so I was thinking ‘Wow, it’s pretty cool that guy is going to be driving my car tomorrow’.
And getting him into the #45 only took a phone call.
“He lives up our way. So I called him and he said he’d do it. We just had to get him fitted into the car and make a few adjustments.”
Unfortunately, the two-driver approach didn’t work so well for Hoar in the race. He started at the tail of the field due to a driver change and finished back in the 15th position.
“It didn’t make the night any easier [to have two drivers],” said Hoar. “Bobby did a great job, but coming down and having my first lap in the car be the green flag lap was tough. It’s a new car and it’s tested well. I really put us a little behind for the first race. But we came out in one piece and we’ll go on and not miss anymore practice or qualifying again this year.”
EDDIE MAC HAS GOOD, BUT CHALLENGING, DEBUT IN #77
Any time that a driver makes his first start for a team, it’s somewhat of a challenge. Eddie MacDonald really had his hands full on Friday night though when he drove Jerry Morello’s #77 for the first time. Being late for tech inspection cost the team one lap in qualifying and then they had a communication problem. Still, MacDonald came away with a very solid eighth place finish.
“It feels good to race here, but the day couldn’t have gone any worse for us,” said Lewandoski. “But we got the first race out of the way. We’ve had a black cloud over us at this racetrack with these cars.”
The struggles were a big surprise for the team.
“We tested here and we were good,” said Lewandoski. “If we backed up what we tested here a couple of weeks ago, we would have been about 14th or 15th midpack. That would have been OK. But we didn’t. We lost an incredible amount of time. I’m disappointed big time.”
MacDoanld's #77 (Ken Spring Photo)
“We were really hoping to have a better run,” said MacDonald. “We just had a bunch of little problems in our first race out. The whole day was full of surprises. We had some bugs to work out. The radios didn’t work. But it wasn’t too bad [not racing without a spotter]. We made it out of here OK without any dents. It made it interesting.”
MacDonald is very at home with his new team.
“I’m really looking forward to working with these guys this year,” said MacDonald. “We’ll go to Holland next week and hopefully, we’ll be fast.”
“I was happy that we could start in the top 10. Those guys up there are all great guys and really good drivers. I was really watching them as they passed each other to see what it takes to pass out there. We were good, we were just as fast as they were.”
And what does Civali think of the competition level in Busch North now that he has been out there racing?
“It’s tough, that’s for sure but I’m looking forward to running more of these.”
KOBYLUCK FOLLOWS SCRIPT AT (NEARLY) HOME TRACK
Even though Matt Kobyluck’s home track is Waterford Speedbowl, he’s also very familiar with Stafford. He ran a Pro Stock at the facility in the late 90’s and won in that division at Stafford in 1997. This race at Stafford was nearly perfect for him. He won the pole, led every lap and won the race over good friend Andy Santerre.
“It feels great and I couldn’t have scripted it any better than that,” said Kobyluck. “I just hope it carries on to next week.”
Kobyluck has some fond memories of the track and this week’s race only adds to that.
“We’ve had some great runs here,” said Kobyluck. “We’ve finished second and third. Running here in a Pro Stock and getting a win there and now backing it up with a win in the Busch North Series is a great feeling. This is a great facility. We always look forward to coming here. We’ve always had a great car here and never been able to pull it off. But tonight was our night and did it in great style.”
MARQUIS AND TEAM KEEP GETTING BETTER
Jerry Marquis finished third at Stafford and hung around the front all night long. That isn’t much of a surprise since Marquis has been a force to deal with in both the Busch North Series and on the NASCAR Modified Tour for the past 15 years. What is a pleasant surprise though is that Marquis was able to run as well as he does with an underdog team. The #52 Darling Motorsports car does not have the resources of the Busch North superteams, but Marquis says that they make up for it with plenty of heart.
Santerre doesn't think that the current tires in Busch North are good for side-by-side racing. (Norm Marx Photo)
Hoar (#45) races with the #5 of Sean Caisse. (Tom Gallo Photo)
Charles Lewandoski. (Tom Gallo Photo)
Civali (#7) chases the #25 of former Busch North champ Brad Leighton (Howie Hodge Photo)
Brad Leighton's Grizco #25. (Norm Marx Photo)
The #74 team goes to work on Moore's car. (Howie Hodge Photo)
A MOORE IN BACK IN BLACK
Ryan Moore did something for the first time in his Busch North career at Stafford. He drove a black racecar. That might not seem like a big deal, but Moore’s feather Kelly terrorized the Busch North Series for years driving sleek black racecars, and that isn’t lost on the young driver.
“It means a lot,” said Moore. “I’ve always wanted a black car and for some reason, they would never let me have one. We’ve finally got it back and one of the guys back at the shop has been telling me all week that since I finally got a black car, I would finally get my win at Stafford. I thought that we were going to.”
The beauty of Moore’s #74 was more than skin deep at Stafford.
“I’m really excited about running this car. It’s going to be our bad bone this year. We’re bringing it to all the short tracks and bullrings. We’re going to have some fun with it.”
especially at Loudon. We’re underfunded and we don’t have the equipment that these other teams have. So to have a good run here or up there, it’s all because of the team’s hard work. They are all volunteer guys and they work on the car at night.
“It has given us a lot of satisfaction. The team has come such a long way in the past few years. They bought a new car last year and we took in to Loudon where it worked well.”
TC HAS TOP FIVE FINISH, BUT STILL ISN’T SATISIFIED
Ted Christopher is another driver who has plenty of laps around Stafford. He runs an SK Modified there regularly and drives a Late Model occasionally. He also runs full-time on the NASCAR Modified Tour and part-time in the Busch North Series, which both have stops at Stafford. TC finished fourth on Friday night, but wanted a better result out of his first race with the #35 car.
“We had brake problems and that hurt us,” said Christopher. “I had to pump the brake all the time. That was killing it on the straightaways. Then it was just too tight getting into the corners.”
TC didn’t have a ride in Busch North last season. He’s happy to be back, but then again, this is a guy who is happy whenever he has a good car. The division really doesn’t matter.
“It’s a good car and it’s always great to get into a car that’s this good,” said Christopher of the #35 ride. “A car’s a car. If it goes good, that’s all that matters. If it can go to the front, I’m happy.”
LEWANDOSKI COMES HOME, BUT DAY DOESN’T GO AS PLANNED
Charles Lewandoski grew up within miles of the Stafford track and now resides in North Carolina. He had high hopes for racing at Stafford, but it just wasn’t his day in this event. Lewandoski finished 22nd.
Jerry Marquis. (Norm Marx Photo)
Moore knows that a victory can’t be too far ahead of him and switching colors is a good sign to him.
“My dad won a lot of races and beat in a lot of fenders with black cars and that’s what we want to do this year.”
TOP FINISHERS HAPPY TO RACE AGAINST EACH OTHER
No matter who came out on top Friday night, it was apparent late in the race that both Matt Kobyluck and Andy Santerre would be going to victory lane at the end of the night. One driver would almost certainly win the race and with the friendship that the two drivers have, the other would just aS surely be there to offer congratulations.
Santerre (L) meets up with Kobyluck (R) after the race. (Howie Hodge Photo)
“If we couldn’t win, I’m happy for him,” said Santerre. “I really don’t have any favorites but those guys work hard and they haven’t won much over the past few years. I’ve won my share and Matt works hard and has a great group of guys. They will work and do what it takes to get the car to go. I respect that.”
“It’s fun racing someone like Andy,” said Kobyluck. “He gets out there and runs as hard as he can. If he doesn’t have a good enough car to get you, he doesn’t beat and bang on you to try and get you that way. I’ll return the favor to him sometime I’m sure and it’s great running like guys like that.”
“Matt’s doing a great job,” said Santerre. “He kept his head on straight tonight. He sat on the pole and won the race.”
MARQUIS ALMOST WINS BIG
With less than 10 laps to go, Jerry Marquis was sitting in third place and saw the lead cars of Matt Kobyluck and Andy Santerre get caught three-wide with a lapped car. It ended up that both leaders got by cleanly, but Christmas almost came very early for Marquis.
“I didn’t think Andy would really take that chance to go under that lapped car,” said Marquis. “But he was trying to fight for the lead and iF he got a good run coming off the turn, he would have made that work. The lapped car was where he was supposed to be. That was a good thing. Andy just took a chance and I was dumbfounded that he went down there. That gave me a chance to get him with eight laps to go. But he got back by me, I tried to keep it down there, but he was just so much stronger than I was so I gave him the lane. We had a good race there and a good time.”
The Modified Tour regular really enjoyed racing with Santerre at the end of the race.
“Two or three times, he got up underneath me and he ran me super clean. I ran him hard and we had a lot of fun.”
SEVEN CARS GO HOME EARLY FROM STAFFORD
There was fear that NASCAR wouldn’t be able to produce a full field of racecars for the Busch North opener, but those fears ended up being unfounded. Actually, there was an opposite problem at Stafford. Seven drivers went home after not qualifying.
Those not making the cut were Jeff Anton, Richard Gould, John Salemi, Anthony Demonte, Rob Humphrey, Chappy Knaack and Mike Moeller.
Needing provisionals to make the race were Charles Lewandoski, Laine Chase, John Cerbone and Scott Bouley.
Mike Moeller pulls his hauler out before the start of the race. (51 Photo)