SOUTHERNER ROGERS GETS IMPORTANT AND EMOTIONAL WIN by Jeremy Troiano
Gordon And Howard Show They Are The North’s Best Early
It was no April Fools Day joke.
On April 1, 1993, tragic news came out of Eastern Tennessee. The defending NASCAR Winston Cup Champion Alan Kulwicki, along with Hooters of America representatives Mark Brooks, Dan Duncan and Charlie Campbell, all perished in a plane crash just outside of Bristol.
He might have just been happy to finally get his first win of the 2006 season, but there might have been a little bit of underlying reasoning behind it all.
“A lot of people don’t know a lot about this series and why it was started,” said Rogers, looking back on the anniversary after the race. “Alan (Kulwicki) must have made a huge impression on Mr. Brooks (Hooters of America President). He made a huge impression on motorsports period. He is sadly missed everyday in this business. You need people like he was. He brought a good mix.
“I remember when that plane went down. I was in shock. I was 12 years old. I remember it. I remember it like it was yesterday. You never forget about those people and what they did.
“Those four guys that died on that airplane are why we are racing today here and now in their honor and in their memory. What Hooters has done in light of that tragic accident allows me and Benny Gordon, Jeff Agnew, Woody Howard and everyone else out here to do what we want to do and that is very special. So I’m just happy to get the win on the anniversary of that bad day.”
Alan Kulwicki (top) made the Polish Victory Lap a staple in racing. On Saturday night, Clay Rogers did the same. (Kathy Bond Photo)
To get the win, Rogers had to beat some of the best in the Northern Division. Rogers, a Southern Division regular, came to South Boston to use the race as a test session.
“Hooters has a new testing procedure this year. You only get five tests now and I’ve already used one. Everyone knows that once you find out what makes the front of your racecar work, you can run a lot of the same stuff on a lot of these tracks. I think we’ve found what we need. I’m just happy to put a full race together.”
The turning point of the race was when Rogers took the in an exciting fashion on the backstretch on lap 157.
Rogers, who led a good portion of the event early on, was behind defending Pro Cup Champion Benny Gordon following the first and only round of pit stops. The two were working their way back through the field, trying to catch leader Lonnie Rush, who had stayed out to lead during stops.
As Gordon and Rogers were getting ready to make their move, they split the lapped car of Derek Kale, who was pressuring Rush to get a lap back. Kale hooked Rush’s right rear, sending him
Rogers was more than excited for the win. (51 Photos)
The accident sent shockwaves through the racing community… and through the Hooters family, who sponsored Kulwicki on the Cup level. Hooters President Robert Brooks’ son was on the plane, along with several other important officials and close friends of Brooks.
In the wake of the tragedy, the Hooters Pro Cup Series was started. Eventually, the series grew from very humble beginnings to one of the very best Short Track racing series in the entire country that is a hotbed for some of the best in the business and many of tomorrow’s stars.
Thirteen years later, Clay Rogers knows this… and he understands it. And maybe it wasn’t intentional, but Rogers’ post-race celebration on Saturday night after winning the Northern Division opener for the Pro Cup Series at South Boston Speedway was perfect.
Rogers celebrated with a “Polish Victory Lap,” which was made famous by Kulwicki himself. Then, he burned down the front straight with the checkered flag flying before climbing out, standing on top of his car and acknowledging the large SoBo crowd.
toward the outside wall coming out of two. At the same time, Gordon was on the outside, with Rogers diving to the inside. Rogers got by the action clean, while Gordon was forced into the outside wall, knocking him back and eventually, out of a shot for the win.
“That was cool,” said Rogers. “I’d better get the ‘Cool Move of the Race’ Award for that. I was just hanging out on the bottom and Benny went to the top. So I just drove down on the apron. I mean, we weren’t going anywhere and I had plenty of room behind me. I figured that if I was down there and something happened, I was down there where no one could get under me. That is what happened too. Those guys all got together and I was able to squeak by and no one was able to do anything about it.
“I know Benny isn’t happy for whatever reason. I think he is pretty unhappy with that lapped car. Who knows. I might have had to burn my stuff off trying to get by him had I not be able to squeak by there.”
Needless to say, Gordon wasn’t happy about the whole situation.
“We basically had the lead of the cars that had pitted,” said Gordon, who was the night’s quick qualifier was well. “That made a huge difference. The 22 (Kale) was trying to get his lap back. He was trying to run the leader (Rush) over and ended up hooking him toward the outside wall. I was on the outside and when he hooked the leader, they took us up into the wall. That was it right there. I needed that lead. If we could have gotten the lead, I don’t think they would have gotten around us at all.”
After that, Rogers used his line to help him get the win. Ironically, it was a different line than Rogers had run all night.
Early, he’d used the high line to hold off Gordon. The second-half of the race, he used the low line.
“I watched Woody use the high line here last year and I’d never seen that before. The groove has expanded here so much over the years. In the first race here last year, there was no one running up there. Then, when we came back for the second race, the Late Models were up there nearly scraping the wall and Woody started doing the same. I figured hell, I’ll go up there too. I like riding the
Benny Gordon (#66) and Rogers (#44) were around each other all night long. (Bond Photo)
top of the racetrack. It is easier on tires and it is really more forgiving up there.
“The second half of the race, the car didn’t work as well on the top, but it worked great on the bottom. The forward bite we had was awesome though.”
Gordon, despite the accident, still had a shot at the win though. That was, until Rogers changed his line.
“It was a good close race,” added Gordon. “We didn’t come out of here like we wanted to. We’re definitely not happy about a southern guy coming up here and whipping us, that’s for sure. I’m not happy about that. He was really good though. We just banged the front end up too much. When he moved down and took the air off the front of the car; that was the best move he made all night. When he was running up high, I could have got around him if he’d stayed up there. Once he moved down, that was it for us.”
Woody Howard finished third, with Jeff Agnew fourth and rookie Eric Sartin fifth.