A Wide Range of Competitors Gears Up for The Season Opener
Continuing the tradition that began in 1964, the ARCA RE/MAX Series, in its 55th consecutive season, is again steering for Daytona Int’l Speedway for the 44th annual ARCA 200 at Daytona on Saturday afternoon, February 10, the tour’s marquis event on its 23-race schedule. More than 60 entries are expected. The race, LIVE on SPEED, serves as the preamble to NASCAR’s same-night Bud Shootout all-star race.
Beyond being the most prestigious event of the year, Daytona was also where ARCA sanctioned its first-ever superspeedway race in 1964. The inaugural 250-mile event, which included twin 50-mile preliminary races won by Earl Balmer and Jack Bowsher, was won by Nelson Stacy. Since then, the ARCA RE/MAX Series has sanctioned a total of 263 race events on superspeedways across America to accompany its balance of short-tracks on both dirt and pavement, as well as an occasional road course event.
MOST COMPETITIVE ERA
The series heads to Daytona on the heels of its most competitive season in history. In 2006, a record 17 different winners earned victories. In addition, 12 were first-time winners, which was also a record.
A record 77 drivers tested at Daytona in mid-December in preparation for this year’s race with Josh Wise (left), in a Toyota Camry, posting the fastest speed at 181.925 mph. Wise, the 2006 USAC National Sprint Car champion, drives for Eddie Sharp Racing, which has formed an alliance with Michael Waltrip Racing as a part of a driver development program. This year’s race will mark the first time in ARCA RE/MAX Series history a foreign nameplate will attempt to compete.
VETERANS RULE, GERHART GOES FOR FIVE
While Wise may be one of several up and coming rookies looking to make their mark, when it comes to Daytona, the veterans so often rule, most notably Lebanon, Pennsylvania restrictor plate wizard Bobby Gerhart, who is aiming for what would be a record fifth Daytona triumph. Gerhart, in his own #5 BGR Chevrolet, comes to Daytona on the strength of back-to-back wins at Daytona (’05 and ’06), the only ARCA driver with consecutive wins there. Gerhart, who finished second to Frank Kimmel in championship points in ’06, will also be shooting for an unprecedented fifth consecutive Daytona pole award.
ARCA clocks are clicking closer and closer to "Daytona time".
Gerhart, who has already announced he is running for the ’07 title, will be much more prepared than he was last year. “Last year, we announced a 10 to 12 race schedule, mostly superspeedways,” Gerhart said. “But there we were, five races deep into the season, and we were leading the points, so we decided to stick it out, even though we weren’t actually prepared to run the full season. Different story this year. Lucas Oil is coming back as title sponsor for 12 races, and then we just signed Eagle Warranty Corporation for six. We also have John Hay Cigars on for one. So our overall program is far more solid than it was last year.”
Josh Wise (DIS Photo)
Other potential rookie contenders include Josh Clemons in the Clemons Racing Ford and Bryan Silas, who is gearing for a full season in Andy Hillenburg’s Fast Track Driving School Chevrolets. Hillenburg, a two-time ARCA 200 winner at Daytona, was the ARCA RE/MAX Series driving champion in 1995. Tim Russell, who drives for Hagans Racing, has also registered as a ROY contender in 2007. The Rookie of the Year title utilizes the best 15 finishes of the season from each driver. Last year’s RE/MAX Rookie of the Year Blake Bjorklund is off to run the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in ’07.
Keven Wood, a third-generation racer from the Wood Brothers family, is entered in a Len Wood Racing Ford.
Other notable entrants expected include Steve Wallace, son of NASCAR Nextel Cup Series champion Rusty Wallace.
“He hasn’t been to Daytona,” the 1989 NASCAR champion said of his son Steve. “He’s been flying everywhere else we’ve taken him but I just want to make sure when he comes down here he has a good handling car.” Rusty tested his son Steve’s Dodge in December. "I got in the car. It ran real good, the motor ran good but it drove a little too free for me. I told Steve, ‘In order to race this thing, you’re going to have to tighten this thing up.’ To him, it feels pretty good but to me it needs to be a little bit tighter to be stable in a long run. That’s just the fatherly advice I gave him.”
David Ragan, who takes over in Mark Martin’s #6 Roush Racing Ford in Cup for ’07, is also expected to enter to gain seat-time for the coming year. Ragan has one career ARCA RE/MAX Series victory at Lanier Nat’l Speedway in 2005.
There is also a Hendrick Motorsports Chevy Monte Carlo entered with driver yet to be named. Hendrick Motorsports won the 2004 ARCA 200 at Daytona with Kyle Busch at the helm.
KIMMEL WINLESS AT DAYTONA
Frank Kimmel finally got the restrictor plate monkey off his back with his victory at Talladega Superspeedway in 2006. However, the eight-time RE/MAX Series champion and 68-time series winner has never won at Daytona, although he’s been close a number of times. Outside of Kimmel’s 10th place finish at Daytona in ’06, he has finished in the top-five in five consecutive seasons (’01 through ’05) with career-best runner-up finishes in ’04 and ’05. Kimmel’s biggest challenge at the moment may be a lack of a title sponsor. Kimmel’s title sponsor in ’06, the National Pork Board, has lessened its support with his Larry Clement-owned Tri-State Motorsports team to the associate level.
BAIRD RETURNS WITH SCHRADER TEAM
Bill Baird, the 1999 ARCA RE/MAX Series champion, is coming out of retirement to race at Daytona. The 57-year-old Sturgis, Kentucky racer will be in a #52 Ken Schrader Racing Dodge.
“I went to the Daytona test a couple weeks back to help someone out,” Baird said. “I had no intention of it turning into anything, but once I got in the car, I had a real tough time climbing out. Then me and (Ken) Schrader got to talking at Daytona. We were waiting for the weather to clear out when he said, ‘Let’s go racing’. I’ll be driving for Ken Schrader Racing. We acquired a Bill Davis Racing Dodge, Bill Davis motor; it’s an excellent car. Same car that Dave Blaney drove at the 400 (Daytona) last year. Schrader’s guys will crew the car. Donnie Richeson will be crew chief.”
Baird made his ARCA RE/MAX Series debut at Daytona in 1997 driving the 52 car for Schrader. Baird qualified third and finished fourth, which is still his best Daytona finish. In 1998, Baird also earned the pole position at Daytona in a car he bought from Schrader. If Baird is able to win the race, he will officially become the oldest ARCA RE/MAX Series superspeedway winner in history, surpassing Iggy Katona for the honor. Katona was also 57 when he won at Daytona in 1974; however, Baird, if he wins, will be four and a half months older than Katona was at that time in ‘74.
STRONG ROOKIE CLASS
The Rookie class is expected to be very solid for 2007 with Phoenix, Arizona driver Michael McDowell (left) leading the charge in an Eddie Sharp Racing Dodge. In only five RE/MAX Series starts in ’06, McDowell managed two top-five finishes and three top-10s.
Also in the Rookie of the Year hunt will be Hueytown, Alabama driver Justin South. South will be driving the Cunningham Motorsports Dodge all year headed-up by partners Briggs Cunningham, Kerry Scherer and series veteran driver Mark Gibson. South, at 16, finished second in Salem Speedway in his series debut in 2004.
At present, three drivers from the female ranks are expected to compete including newcomers Michelle Theriault of Bristol, Connecticut and Gabi DiCarlo of Vail, Colorado. Theriault is entered in a Spraker Racing Glock-sponsored Chevy Monte Carlo, and DiCarlo is entered in a Monte Carlo out of veteran Mario Gosselin’s race shop.
Also expected to enter is Erin Crocker in an Evernham Motorsports Dodge. Crocker already has 13 career ARCA RE/MAX Series starts since 2005 with six top-five and eight top-10 finishes including career-best finishes of second at Kansas Speedway in 2006 and second at
Kentucky Speedway in 2005. Crocker is currently tied with Shawna Robinson (second at Daytona ’99) as the highest finishing females in series history.
SONS OF SERIES CHAMPIONS
Sons of former ARCA RE/MAX Series champions entered include Todd Bowsher (Jack Bowsher champ in ’63, ’64 & ’65), Billy Venturini (Bill Venturini champ in ’87 & ’91) and Brian Keselowski (Bob Keselowski champ in ’89). Both Venturini and Keselowski earned their career-first wins last year with Venturini’s victory at Salem and Keselowski’s win at Berlin. Bowsher is still searching out his career-first triumph.
DAYTONA WINNER LIST IMPRESSIVE
The list of ARCA 200 winners through the years at Daytona is quite impressive. After 43 events, Bobby Gerhart leads with four victories over Iggy Katona’s three. Two-time winners include Andy Hampton, Ben Hess, Andy Hillenburg, Jimmy Horton, Jeff Purvis. Drivers with one win each are Grant Adcox, Charlie Blanton, Jack Bowsher, Kyle Busch, Woody Fisher, Mickey Gibbs, Ferrel Harris, Ron Hutcherson, Kenny Irwin, Ralph Jones, David Keith, Ralph Latham, Chase Montgomery, Ryan Newman, Benny Parsons, Kyle Petty, Lennie Pond, John Rezek, Tim Richmond, Joe Ruttman, Jim Sauter, Glenn Sears, Nelson Stacy, Ramo Stott, Mike Wallace, Rick Wilson.
POLES PLUS RACE WINS
Only seven drivers have won from the pole at Daytona. They include: Benny Parsons '69, Andy Hampton '72, Iggy Katona '74, Woody Fisher '77, Jeff Purvis '93, Andy Hillenburg '97 & Bobby Gerhart ’05 & ’06.
Frank Kimmel has won just about everywhere that an ARCA car can race - except Daytona.
Tim Russell is eyeing the Rookie of the Year title.