CAISSE TAKES FIRST WIN IN MOVIE-LIKE FASHION By Matthew Dillner
Fenders Fly and Tempers Flair at Busch East Opener
The Parallels between the Busch East Series Opener at Greenville-Pickens Speedway and the 1990 movie “Days of Thunder” are uncanny. In the movie, a wild young driver is coached to Stock Car success by a wise crew chief. In our version of this flick, however, crew chief Harry Hogge is played by Andy Santerre while Sean Caisse replaces Cole Trickle as the man behind the wheel. And instead of the big tracks across America, this scene is set Saturday night at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in South Carolina.
Santerre wasn’t taken off a tractor in a Carolina farm to coach this young hot shoe. He stepped out from behind the wheel after winning his fourth series title to develop the young Caisse. And no, the ASM (Andy Santerre Motorsports) team did not eat ice cream while Caisse made laps in the Casella number-44, but there were a lot of scenes in this version of the script that appear as though they were stolen from the silver screen.
Yet nobody could “pull this rookie’s chain” (as was mentioned in the flick) as the 20-year-old fought off several hard-nosed racers to capture his first NASCAR Busch East Series win in dramatic fashion.
“You can’t describe it,” said an emotional Caisse. “I have won races before, but haven’t won in a long time.
“This win means a lot. I had good cars last year, but not the best equipment. I wish I could have shown exactly what I was capable of doing last year, but you have to go through the steps and that is part of it. Working with Barney (Barney McCrae), he coached
Andy Santerre (left) hoists the winner's hardware with his new driver Sean Caisse at Greenville-Pickens. (51 Photo)
me as a rookie and I made a lot of mistakes last year. Having Andy in my corner this year, he has taught me a real good lesson and is a good teacher. He taught me how to run that race. He told me to save my stuff and let those guys go and make their picks and because of that we won.”
But the winner’s storyline was full of plenty of twists and turns.
Fellow young gun Ryan Moore pitted early and charged to the lead. Meanwhile, Sean Caisse, who chose to pit later in the race, worked his way through the pack to mount a charge. When the two drivers met, sparks flew. They waged in a cat-and-mouse restart war. On the final one of those restart duels, Moore ended up spinning while Caisse carried on in the top spot.
“On that second restart when I was on the bottom, I spun my tires and when we went into turn-one, I drove it in there like I did every lap,” said Caisse. “I had the preferred groove on the bottom. He let off early and tried to cut down on the bottom.
“At this place you drive it in so hard with the brakes that it’s easy to lock up the tires. I was walking it, walking it, walking it. I just barely got into him. He spun up the racetrack and then I got hit from behind and got by him. Obviously, he got hit by someone else, too, because he wasn’t going to spin from how I hit him.”
Moore, who is graduating to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, was not happy with the contact with Caisse.
“We just got wrecked, that’s all there is to it” said Moore. “The kid’s head is six times bigger than his body. I don’t like racing with him. He and his owner walk around like they own the world and I don’t like them at all.
“I got him back on one restart like he got me. I guess he found it necessary to just drill me in the left rear. Like I said, he and his owner are a bunch of babies and that’s why I’m not going to run this series because I don’t like racing with people like that. We will move on (to the Craftsman Truck Series) and run Loudon (in the Busch North Car) in September and teach him a veteran lesson there.
“I just really wanted to win this race. It’s just unfortunate to get taken out like that, especially by someone trying to make it. He’s got a lot to lose. I already have my foot in a few doors, and he needs to be careful driving like that.”
Caisse answered back by saying, “When he was running second on the other restart, he tried to get into me. I don’t think he did that to me on purpose, and I certainly didn’t get into him on purpose. We are rivals.”
And that rivalry extends much further than Greenville-Pickens or the two young aspiring racers. Ryan Moore’s father, former Busch North Series icon Kelly Moore and Caisse’s car owner Andy Santerre are long-time rivals.
Just like in Days of Thunder, some contact on the track led to a ruckus in the pits. When on his way to victory lane, Santerre was stopped by Kelly Moore and the situation became heated. No punches were thrown, but it was made clear that both parties were not happy with each other.
Santerre is held back by his crew after being confronted by Kelly Moore on pit road after the race. (51 Photo)
“I was headed to victory lane and Kelly Moore jumped out in front of me,” said Santerre after the race. “He had something in his hand and I didn’t really notice what it was. It caught me off guard. He went to grab my shirt and I thought he was going to hit me, so I hauled back and was going to let one fly and was grabbed from behind. I wish they wouldn’t have grabbed me because I’ve been wanting to kick his ass for a long time. Unfortunately, I have to wait for another night. We’ll probably have to do it somewhere besides the racetrack. I’m glad they grabbed me, though, because I would have probably gotten in a lot of trouble.
Moore was very sour about the contact between Caisse and his son and wanted Santerre to know his displeasure.
“The 44-car (Caisse) jumped us on the restart by two car lengths and NASCAR never called it. Then that last restart they took off even down there at the line. The 44 spun his tires and when he did, the 74 (Ryan Moore) got ahead of him. The 44 went in the corner and hit him… so hard in the left rear that it bent the panhard bar. That is why the car spun.
“I told Andy that it was a ‘good f---in’ move.’ I said ‘that’s good’ and he came unglued.”
Second Generation driver Ryan Moore was quick in his #74 all day in South Carolina.
The tension between both camps has been something that has been brewing for a while and nearly spilled over at Greenville.
“I was friends with Ryan,” added Santerre. “I took gears and trannies up for him; any time they called me I helped them out. Then they bad mouthed me at Lime Rock when they lost their hopes for a championship (in 2005).
“Sean did a hell of a job protecting the position real good,” said Hoar. “I was just trying to close the gap on him and close in on turn-three and got into one and got into the back of him and got a little squirrely myself.”
“He raced me like another veteran,” said a smiling Caisse. “I would have probably done the same thing. It’s hard not to overdrive the thing like that when you are going for it. He apologized and told me he didn’t mean to do it and I trust him. He was one of the first drivers to come to me when I was a rookie and give me advice. He taught me how to run a road course. Brian and I go back, and he wouldn’t do me wrong.
“He’s a clean driver. I appreciate him running me as hard as he did because I did not want an easy win. I wanted a win I had to fight for. It makes my first win more meaningful.”
A first win is always meaningful to a racecar driver. When that triumph comes in the form of a cliff-hanger, as it did at Greenville, even the hero of the story has to hold his breath until the credits come.
Caisse was impressive in his debut with ASM.
“I had tears in my eyes and was seeing spots because I had held my breath the last five laps,” admitted the first-time winner. “I could barely see. It’s just an amazing feeling. I got chills all over my body.
“I am just so happy for everyone on this team because we have worked so hard to get these cars prepared. I don’t know if we had the best car today, but we drove the wheels off of it and had a great pit stop.”
Caisse, a driver who has been criticized in the past for being a brash young racer, was quick to point out the veteran voice that led him to the checkers.
“The only reason I overcame all of the things I did tonight was I had Andy Santerre on the radio. He was on top of that box and talking to me.”
And that steady voice of reason kept potentially ugly situations on the track from knocking the #44 out of contention. It was one of many lessons Caisse learned in his first win.
“My car may have some damage on it, but it didn’t happen until about 10 to go. When you are side by side with people here, you almost have to touch each other to get by. It’s one of those racetracks where you can’t be clean when other drivers aren’t being clean. If you let the other people push you around, they are going to keep doing it.
And just like Cole Trickle learned from his tutor in Days of Thunder, Caisse uttered this phrase after the smoke settled: “Rubbin’s Racin’.”
It was a big celebration in victory lane in front of packed grandstands.
The Tire marks on the side of Caisse's #44 showed just how intense the closing laps of the race were.