Brandon Bendele (USRA) – At 30-years of age, the former NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Regional Champion has opened a lot of eyes in Texas and the Southeast when he travels around. A little more success and he might just be in the top-51 soon enough.
Travis Benjamin (PASS) – The 2005 Pro All Star Series Most Popular Driver. He’s a pretty good driver too. He needs more experience and he’s getting that schooling by going up against the Rowes and Clarks in New England.
Blake Bjorklund (ARCA) – Where did this dude come from? He’s the latest driver to come from Country Joe
Racing under the guidance of three-time ASA champ Kevin Cywinski. Joey Miller made it to the Craftsman Truck Series from Minnesota, but can Bjorklund? He’s got to finish a race first.
Scott Bloomquist (DLM) – Way too old, but way too cool too! If he was a dozen or so years younger, maybe. He’s the baddest Dirt Late Model driver to ever slide ‘em sideways.
Walt Brannen (ARCA) - He looked like he had a promising career going until a string of DNFs eventually lead to him getting released. He's still got the talent, but he needs to find a solid weekly ride.
Jason Boyd (SLM) – Has lots of talent, but is way too cocky. Did you see him on the Roush Racing “Driver X” program when he argued about having the wear a Hans Device? Point noted.
Brandon Bendele is a hot shot in Texas, but can he do it outside of the Lonestar State.
If you or your favorite Short Track driver missed the top-51 list on his year’s short track draft, don’t get your panties in a wad. There are a lot of good, young short track drivers in the country. And remember, this was decided on by a panel of 15-experts’ opinions, not just us here at 51.
Instead of simmering, look at what you can do better to get your name or your favorite “wheel-man’s” name out there for next season.
Here are a bunch of guys who got votes from some of our experts, but did not make the cut. And by the way, this is in alphabetical order.
Phil Bozell (ARCA) – This kid may be real good. Comes from the family noted as the Kalamazoo Krushers. Has anybody else besides the Bozells, and there are three of them, won a title at Michigan’s Kalamazoo Speedway in the last decade?
Keith Bumgarner (Hickory LM) – He ranks among the winningest drivers in the history of the UARA-Stars Late Model Stock Series (five career wins) and was last year’s NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Champion at Hickory Motor Speedway. Problem is… no one really knows his name.
George Brunnhoelzl III (Pro Cup) – Kid knows how to put the pedal to the metal, now he has to learn how to pace himself. Plus, he’s finally with a good enough team that can keep a car under him. Should make our top-51 list next year.
Brett & Ken (III) Butler (Pro Cup) - They've got some learning to do, but they've got plenty of money and the best equipment behind them. If both brothers can settle down and listen to their driver coaches, they have a future in this sport.
Phil Bozell (ARCA Photo)
Matt Carter (Pro Cup) – Matt’s father, Travis, is well known in the racing world, and Matt is trying to follow along. Problem is, he needs to stick with one team to show his real potential.
Ted Christopher (Everything) – See Bloomquist, except TC’s “The Man” in the NASCAR Modifieds.
James Civali (Mods) – He’s got a bad boy reputation after getting suspended by NASCAR and Stafford Motor Speedway, but many say he’s one of the most talented drivers out there.
Shane Clanton (DLM) – This is former ASA champ Joey Clanton’s little brother. If he got the right opportunity, this southern dirt late model phenom could rival the likes of Rick Eckert and Dale McDowell.
Ryan Crane (SLM) – We’re surprised this kid did not make the top-51. In fact, if this were a top-52 list, he would have been there. He won “The Rattler” in Opp, AL earlier this year, now he’s just got to travel out of the Deep South a little more to spread his name.
Jake Crum (Late Model) – A little too cocky for his own good sometimes, but this Legends and Limited Late Model competitor has got some savvy. He calls himself, “Jake the Snake,” and the way he slithers through competition in a Legends Car is pretty impressive.
Chris Davidson (SLM) – He’s a Texas Super Late Model superstar. Problem is, he never quite cut it on NASCAR’s Southeast Series. It’s tough when the team
Ryan Crane won the Rattler, which was pretty impressive. If he can win other races out of the South, he might be a big prospect.
is based in the Lonestar State and you’re doing a good chunk of work on the car and still driving it when it hits the track.
Ken Deese (Redneck Racers) – He wins everywhere he races with his #3 “Big Show” car, but for owners in the “Big Three” to look at him, he might… well, he should work on his look, physique and Southern dialect.
Jay Drake (USAC) – He’s one of the longest-standing active drivers in USAC competition, having made a USAC feature event every year since 1989. He’s got the talent, no doubt, but his age (37) is a major downfall.
Justin Drawdy (ARCA/SLM) - Justin has always been fast in Super Late Models, but now he's trying to further his career by running in ARCA. That could help if he runs up front and challenges for wins, but if he is mid-pack, he should stick with winning SLM races.
Rick Eckert (DLM) – He’s won just about everything there is to win in the Dirt Late Model world, but the fact that he’s 40 years old would stop most owners from looking at him in a start-up team.
Ryan Foster (ARCA) – He’s been impressive in his first two ARCA starts and is being coached by the “King,” Frank Kimmel. If he continues on his current run, he’ll be one to reckon with next year in the top-51.
John Freeman (BES) – The kid’s got the runway model look and he can steer a racecar pretty well. This season will be a big year for him as he competes in the NASCAR Busch East Series as a rookie. Keep an eye on him.
Ross Furr (UARA) – Ross is a Late Model man. He can wheel a car there, but sometimes, owners are looking for more. If wins and championships come, he might open some eyes.
Chris Gabehart (CRA) – He’s won a race in the CRA Super Series and he’s got the chiseled look companies like to have represent them, but he may have taken a step backwards by pulling himself out of the Hagans Racing mix this year. He was scheduled to compete in a few ARCA races with that super-team this season before he left the operation.
Jack Bailey Jr. (Pro Cup) – While this kid has already been around the block in the NASCAR Truck Series, he’s starting his career over in the Pro Cup Series at the ripe age of 23-years-old. He’s been very impressive in his first two races (a second and a fourth) and it can only get better.
Dexter Bean (ARCA) – Everyone thought he was the next superstar, now he’s having trouble making the ARCA shows. Verdict is still out, but he is showing some promise.
Travis Bennett (NWS) – The 27-year-old has been a mainstay on the West Coast scene for the last couple of years and is a force to be reckon with at each and every race. But again, he’s on the West Coast, which is as much of a hindrance as anything.
Justin Allgaier (ARCA) – Ken Schrader-type. He will race anything, open-wheels to dirt late models. And he’s been ok in a few ARCA appearances as well. The rap on him is that he’s much better on dirt than asphalt. Unfortunately, NASCAR does not compete on dirt anymore in the “Big-Three.”
Josh Allison (ARCA) – Good young kid cutting his teeth in ARCA. Should make the top-51 without any problem next year if he keeps up his current performances. He’s now old enough to run the ARCA big tracks too.
Mike Andrews Jr. (Mods) – Good shoe from the tight quarter-mile bullring of Riverhead Raceway on Long Island. Stepped into Mike Ewanitsko’s Modified during Florida Speedweeks at New Smyrna Speedway and won a race. Looked good at the Sizzler too.
Shannon Babb (DLM) – Even though he’s over the magic “30-year-old” mark (32), Babb continues to be one of the very best in the nation in the Dirt Late Model ranks. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of people looking at the Dirt Late Model world.
Justin Allgaier could be on the top-51 list before too long.
Cale Gale (ARCA) – You don’t even have to ask this kid and he’ll tell ya, he works for Phoenix Racing and the James Finch owned #1 NASCAR Busch Series team. He’s a shock specialist with that team, but he’s been kickin’ tail in the SuperTrucks down south and now, he looks to do it in ARCA.
Damion Gardner (USAC) – He’s 29 years old and he’s one of the very best in the Open Wheel ranks on the West Coast. If people like Open Wheel drivers, this is a guy to look towards.
Bobby Grigas, III (TVMRS/Late Models) – He’ll drive anything, anywhere at anytime to get it. Grigas has been known to send his Late Model to one track and his Modified to another on the same day and drive like hell to drive in both races. He looks like a rock star with his flashy earrings and we aren’t sure if the racing world is ready for that or not.
Alex Haase (Legends) – A Kyle Busch protégé. He has followed the same path as both Busch boys and Kyle moved him to North Carolina last year. He competed in Legends Cars and looked smooth. His name has not popped up yet this year though.
Matt Hawkins (ASA LM) – Quiet, yet talented kid. He won the Southern All Stars Rookie of the Year and Championship in the same season last year. Now he’s trying to branch out to more competitive Late Model Series’. With the right help, the teen from Georgia could be a good one.
Tom Hessert III (USAC) – He is one of the lesser knowns in the Open Wheel world, but this 20-year-old has some talent. He needs a breakout year though, which might come in 2006
Jason Jefferson (NWS) – Little brother of two-time NASCAR Northwest Series champ Jeff Jefferson. He gets overshadowed because his brother has won the big dance a couple times, but Jason is not bridesmaid.
Bud Kaeding (USAC) – He was one of Jack Roush’s “Driver X” participants. He’s got the looks and the lineage. He just needs to breakout and be the next big thing in Open Wheel racing.
DJ Kennington (CASCAR) – This guy is the king of CASCAR. Unfortunately, he didn’t fair as well when he tried to make it in the Pro Cup world, which might be a downfall. He’s got a hell of a personality to boot.
Cory Kruseman (USAC) – “The Kruiser” can win in any division, anywhere in the country in Open Wheel racing. He’s good, but just another one of the talented drivers in the over-saturated Open Wheel world.
Charles Lewandoski (BUSCH EAST) – He got it done in the ultra-tough Late Model class at Stafford Motor Speedway (CT) and moved into the Busch North Series last year. Finding the right chemistry with a crew chief and avoiding bad luck were his set-backs. Get by that and he could be golden.
Nick Lynch (WEST) – He’s a two-sport star (West and Southwest), but he needs a bunch of wins or some huge runs to get the eye amongst tomorrow’s superstars.
Ryan Mathews (SLM, ARCA) – He’s been tearin’ it up in the Wisconsin Late Model ranks during the past few seasons and is now getting his shot at the big time as part of Eddie Sharp’s ARCA Re/Max Series team. His first race is at Toledo in May. He’s a little shy, but the engineer is smart as a whip.
Charlie Menard (SLM) – Too old? Probably (He’s 33). Plus, Charlie has told us he’s just fine where he’s at. And that’s running in the upper-Midwest and occasionally branching out to the south, like when he beat the Super Late Model big boys in Speedfest 2005 at USA Int’l Speedway in Florida.
Jeremy Miller (SLM) – Made the jump from Mid-American Sportsman to Super Late Models in 2005, and won…you can put him in front of a sponsor and feel confident…A bit of a long-shot, but we’ll take our chances.
Shane Wallace (Pro Cup) – This kid has the talent on the track, no one has ever doubted it, but it is his temper and attitude both on and off of it that could keep him from making it. Tame that, and he’s a top-51 prospect for sure.
Jamie Yelton (UARA) – He is the all-time leader in wins with the UARA Late Model Stock Car series and a great shoe. But he’s never done much more than Late Models, which is a downfall. We like diversity.
Alex Yontz (UARA) – Alex is young (19) and he’s got the look and the drive. He’s just really starting to break out and doing it right by winning races (UARA at Myrtle Beach). If he continues, he’ll be on the fast track to the top.
Zach Sylvester (Mods) – He’s of the Donny Lia, Doug Coby, Jimmy Blewett era in the Modified. All these guys have big time talent. Who will make it? Now that’s the question.
Todd Szegedy (Mods) – He might have jumped the gun and moved south too fast a couple seasons ago, but now he’s back in a Mod in the Northeast making the most of it. He’s pushing the age thing as well.
Alan Tardiff (PASS) – He tested the waters in PASS last year and finished in the top five of their biggest race of the year, the Pullen 300 at Beech Ridge. Tardiff is officially a rookie in 2006 and could do some big things on a small budget, but that could be his downfall as well.
Ryan Seaman (BUSCH EAST) – It would be difficult to find a nicer guy or a harder worker in all of racing. He works a day job in construction and even saves people from burning buildings as a volunteer firefighter. But personality, ability and hard work can’t always overcome a small budget.
Donny Schatz (WoO) – Good winged sprint car driver, but at best, he has the personality of a snail. He’s beginning to climb up there in the age category as well.
Gary St. Amant (Pro Cup) – Way too old to make it to the big time, but one has to wonder how good Gary could have been. He’s a two-time ASA champ and one of the nicest guys in the biz.
LW Miller (Mods/Pro Cup) – He’s damn good in a Southern Modified, but has not been able to pave his way to the top in either the Craftsman Truck Series of the Hooters Pro Cup Series so far. Nice kid, but he also didn’t win any points with NASCAR when he shunned the new Southern Modified Tour last year to compete at an outlaw rival racetrack.
Benny Mingo (Bandoleros/Legends) - The youngster is on the fast track to becoming one of the top African American prospects in the nation. With some more seat time, and a little work on shaping up, he'll be a future top-51 star for sure.
Mat Neely (USAC) – He’s a former USAC National Sprint Car Rookie of the Year, which shows the talent. But as we’ve said before, there needs to be a way he can break away from the rest of the field.
Bobby Parsley (CRA) – He’s one heck of a wheelman, no doubt about it. But deep down, he’s just a good ole’ Indiana country boy, which could take away from his skills on the track, despite his great personality.
Kyle Partridge (ARCA Trucks) - Kyle is young, has the looks and has the drive. He's still progressing through the ranks and if he keeps on this path, he'll be a top prospect soon enough.
Brandon Riehl (NWS) – He’s 29 and already scored a win in the NASCAR Northwest Series opener in 2006, but way up there in the far Northwest, there isn’t much room for breaking away. A dominating year could help.