Change is The Name of the Game in Busch East This Year by Penny Aircardi
A Complete Guide Previewing the 2007 Season
With so many changes, fans of the NASCAR Busch East Series might feel "spun out" when trying to keep track of who is driving what at the season opener.
It was April, 1995 and I was attending my first “Busch North” race as a reporter and not just a fan. I headed into the press box of New Hampshire International Speedway not knowing a single soul. Everyone just looked at me – either a quick glance that shouted out ‘I’m not giving you the time of day’ or long, uncomfortable stares that said ‘who the hell are you?’
I figured once I got through the first hour or so I’d be fine. I was almost right. When it came down to chasing after the quotes, I discovered it wasn’t so easy. I knew the names of the drivers, I knew the car numbers, but I had no clue what the drivers looked like! The Busch North, or East as we call it now, was new territory for me, and I was determined to maneuver my way through it all.
12 seasons later, I’m still here (it got a lot easier after that first race). But 2007 is going to remind me a lot of 1995.
We will have our regulars in Mike Olsen, Matt Kobyluck, and Sean Caisse among others, but there are going to be even more new faces joining the mix. The Busch East Series will be one of the most diverse touring divisions under NASCAR’s banner, and it certainly has become training ground for the NEXTEL Cup team’s developmental drivers. The 2007 season is going to be unlike any we’ve seen so far.
So how’s one to keep up?
I’ve assembled, what I believe, to be one of the most complete lists to date as to who is running this season and how much they plan to race. The Busch East Series is expanding like never before – and I’m not talking geographically. At least 24 drivers have announced their intentions to run a full season, and twice that have said they will run at least a couple of races. And there’s always those who haven’t made announcements and haven’t applied for numbers, but manage to show up at the first race.
I guarantee you one thing - and this is the only pre-season prediction I will make – starting positions are going to be at a premium this year. So without further ado, here’s our list of what the faces of the Busch East Series will look like a little over a month from now.
Defending champion Mike Olsen will return for his final season of full-time competition and his farewell tour to longtime sponsor “Little Trees”. Harry Norcross remains in charge in the pits as the crew chief with a crew that has remained unchanged.
2006 was an educational experience for Salemi. It was a productive year in some respects, but not others. However, he has left the #15 team on a positive note.
“I learned a lot last year,” said Salemi. “You know some people may think we left on bad terms, which it wasn’t. It was more of a chemistry thing. Sometimes you just don’t mix with an operation.”
“I know I can drive a car pretty good. I just need to be one with the racecar. I just never felt I could get that last year. It was maybe too may chiefs, something like that. Not so much people not getting along, but when people have been doing something so long they don’t want to change. Where I’m so new at it, I don’t know what they used to do. But I know what works now - and I can do that now.”
Going back to his own team was the path that Salemi intended to take next, until this current opportunity came along.
“I knew which direction with racing I needed to make a change. So we had planned to run the #63 car this year on our own. And we got a phone call from Larry Jamerson. He asked me if we’d like to be part of his team and he didn’t have to ask me twice. To me he’s the future of this sport. We need more owners like him in here.”
Aligning with Jamerson should allow Salemi to step up his game. He knows that he’ll have better tools at his hands to do just that.
“We’re on a new team and we have to do what’s being successful now. You know, the #44 car [of Sean Caisse] is not running up front cause they’re using old stuff. So we just have to step up. And if you can afford it and you can kind of swallow your pride a little bit and make that change you’ll be successful.”
Mike Olsen hopes to stand up as the Busch East Series champion one final time at the end of the year. He'll have to hold off some stiff competition first. (Howie Hodge Photo)
“The plan is to do as well as we did last year,” said Olsen. “Our goal is always to try and do better at each track when we go back to it.”
Matt Kobyluck returns to campaign for the 2007 Busch East Series Championship behind the wheel of the #40 Mohegan Sun Casino Chevrolet’s with long-time crew Perry Waite calling the shots from the pit box.
“Everything is intact from last season,” Kobyluck reports.
Kobyluck also has plans to run two West Series races, but, for the time being, has put aside any starts in the NASCAR Busch Series this year.
Andy Santerre Motorsports will chase the 2007 championship with drivers Sean Caisse and Jeffrey Earnhardt. Caisse will be backed by Casella Waste Services. Jeffrey Earnhardt’s car will be a DEI-backed machine prepared by ASM with sponsorship unknown as of this writing.
Owner Andy Santerre has informed us that he has a few new crewmembers for this year including, Corey Williams, a noted PASS Super Late Model racer, and Ronnie Meserve, the nephew of noted car builder and Maine racer Stan Meserve. Joshua Coyle from Bill McNally Racing has also joined Santerre’s operation.
Bryon Chew will return on a full-time basis behind the wheel of his #99 Chevrolet’s. Ron “Spot” SteMarie remains on board as crew chief and is put the finishing touches on a new car the team built for the ’07 season.
“We’re in good shape,” said owner Buzz Chew. “I don’t think we’ve ever been this strong at the start. We’ve got four cars and three of them are completely ready to go now, and Spot is just finishing up the fourth.”
Chew is seeking primary sponsorship.
Canadian racer Pierre Bourque has left Andy Hillenburg’s Fast Track Racing and signed a deal with Fitz Motorsports. He also has plans to make his NASCAR Busch Series debut at Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Fitz Motorsports will continue to field cars for Ruben Pardo, who earned his first career win at the 2006 season finale at Lime Rock Park. His campaign will once again be guided by crew chief Paul Wolfe.
"I am anxious because in the last race last year I realized how much I had learned about everything. So I have more experience than last year,” Pardo said. “I know the tracks now and I know more about the car. I’m waiting for the moment to start the series because I need to drive. I hear this year will be more difficult because of tougher competition, but my team and I will be prepared. I am going to try to do my best to win the championship, but I know I will need to learn more race by race. I am so thankful that Fitz Motorsports and our sponsors, Family Dollar and Supercuts, have given me another opportunity to drive in the United States."
The team has also announced that 18-year-old Maxime Dumarey of Belgium will drive a Fitz Motorsports entry for the full season. Dumarey was the youngest driver to compete in all of the 24 hour races in Europe, as well as the youngest to run in the championship FIA-GT.
““I have been a NASCAR fan since the beginning of my racing career,” Dumarey said. “I like the way that it has embedded itself into American culture, and it has such a strong and loyal fan base. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to come here and be a part of Fitz Motorsports and the NASCAR Busch East Series. I look forward getting in the car and all of the tracks that lie ahead.”
John Freeman, who left Barney McRae’s team to drive for Fitz last year, is currently working on something to run the full season. Details are not available at this time, but will be released in the near future.
Dave Dion at the time being has plans to run a couple of races, but says “Our plans for the 2007 Busch East series are contingent upon the latest rules on engines and bodies for our existing race cars. We have no plans or sponsors willing to invest in the spec engines, although if they forced every team to convert to the composite bodies, thus eliminating the high cost wind tunnel technology available only to the rich, we would consider that investment.”
Brad Leighton is currently working on running a limited schedule with sponsor Irving Oil. Leighton anticipates running both events at New Hampshire International Speedway and at least one event either at Thompson or Stafford Motor Speedways.
Rogelio Lopez, who recently competed in the Busch Series race in Mexico, will be back with Dave Davis Racing behind the wheel of the #03 TelMex Chevrolet’s. The team has hired Fred Skaff, a mainstay in the BES for years, as crew chief. The team will run the spec engine this year and will expand their base with a multi-series schedule. In the works are a full Busch East Series schedule, three or four West Series races, and a couple of Busch Series events. Skaff, who was more recently known as an owner in the series, told us that he may still run a couple of races with the #33 and driver Tracy Gordon, but no commitments have been made at this time.
Mike Johnson, driver of the No. 96 Johnson Lumber Ford, will return to the series in an attempt to run the whole deal.
“I’m trying to put things together right now. I’m hoping to do the first six anyways. We’ll see how things are going after that,” he said.
Johnson is in the process of finding a new crew chief.
Ruben Pardo ended the '06 year in victory lane.
The Willoughby Motorsports #15 will be piloted by Glenn Sullivan, who was an active participant in the series in the early-mid 90’s. Meanwhile, former driver John Salemi has moved on to Jamerson Motorsports where he will serve as a teammate to Dion Ciccarelli.
“We’d like to run the whole thing,” said Mark Willoughby, owner of the Waste Management Chevrolet’s. “But it’ll be hard. Our sponsor is based in northern New England so the only races that really benefit him are the Loudon races. We have a couple of things we’re trying to work on, but right now we’ll play it by ear.”
Ryan Seaman has plans to run a limited schedule with appearances at Stafford, both NHIS events, and Dover. He admits that he’d rather be running the whole deal.
“We were undecided as late as December, but without sponsorship, it’s impossible to run a schedule like this one,” he said. Seaman, who along with his wife are expecting
their first child this July, was approached by the New Jersey State Troopers to promote a highway safety program that will use three different slogans to try and slow down drivers. Posters will be created with Seaman and his familiar #06 Chevy’s alongside a N.J. state police cruiser with phrases such as “The Highway is not a Raceway”.
Jeff Anton has hired Scott Coyle, who used to work for Bill McNally Racing, the RCR development team out west, to serve as crew chief for his #30 effort. Engineered Floors Inc. will serve as primary sponsor for the team throughout the full 2007 schedule.
“We are currently building two new cars, one is a short track car and the other is going to be a full road race car which I am very excited for,” said Anton.
Scott Bouley will attempt to run the full 2007 season. The team, who is actively seeking sponsorship, will begin with the season opener at Greenville-Pickens Speedway and decide on a race-by-race basis where they go from there.
NDS Motorsports and Bob Torriere will return this year with driver Eric Holmes, the NASCAR West Series 2006 Champion, at the helm. Waste Management will return as the primary sponsor on the #35. In addition, Holmes will be driving the BRE #62 Chevy in four West Series races.
Patrick Dupree is planning on running the full Busch East schedule and both Outback Steakhouse and Lindemans Wine have signed on for the 2007 season. Dupree will also receive associate sponsorship from Rene Fournier Trailer Sales.
Tim Andrews, the winner of the Dover race last year, will be back on a limited basis as of this writing. His current plans are to compete at New Hampshire International Speedway and to defend his victory at Dover. The young driver also has a five race deal in the ARCA RE/MAX series.
James Pritchard, Jr. will be taking over the wheel of the No. 41 Mannings USA Chevrolets owned by his father James Pritchard, Sr.
Peyton Sellers of Danville, Va. will return to run a limited schedule with Ted Marsh. Sellers was the 2006 West Series Rookie-of-the-Year.
Kelly Moore, Brian Hoar, Ray Ciccarelli, Richard Gould, Dale Quarterley, Mike Gallo and Joe Masessa are all planning on making an appearance somewhere on the schedule. Fred Skaff, despite his new crew chief duties for Dave Davis, has also told us that he still may run the 33 car with Tracy Gordon at select races – more than likely at NHIS.
Charles Lewandoski was unable to tell us exactly what his plans are as of this date, but he is diligently working on landing something that will allow him to run a full schedule. Don’t count him out just yet.
Troy Williams, who fielded a car for Carlos Pardo last season, will campaign with driver German Quiroga Jr. of Mexico City. The 26-year-old driver comes from an open wheel
background having raced sports cars and most of the mainstream Mexican series. Williams will also field a second car that will be split among different drivers throughout the season.
One of those drivers is Antonio Perez, from Guadalajara, Mexico. He is seeking to gain experience with NASCAR Type cars and tracks by driving a limited schedule in 2007 and a then making the jump to a full time effort in 2008. Williams is also in discussions with NASCAR to become part of the Drive for Diversity Program.
Richard Jarvis, Jr. will compete full-time in a car owned by Butch Warrington. The Maryland-based driver is not new to the Busch East Series although he hasn’t competed in the series since 2001. Jarvis has been racing Dirt Late Models for the last three seasons.
“Butch Warrington was looking for a series with a future, and I wanted to get back to asphalt,” said Jarvis about his foray back into NASCAR. The 27-year-old driver is also hoping to run some Craftsman Truck Series events this year. The team is searching out primary sponsors, but has secured associate sponsorship from Herring Creek Builders and Peninsula Storage.
20 year old Michelle Theriault, of Bristol, CT has signed a deal with Jeff Spraker to run a full schedule. With sponsorship from GLOCK, the world renowned handgun manufacturer, Theriault will pilot the car #37, which is significant to the company, as it represents the model number of the fastest growing Law Enforcement handgun in the United States, the .45 G.A.P. pistol.
Out of the J.D. Gibbs camp are young hotshoes Joey Logano and Marc Davis. Logano, a 16-year-old from Middletown, Conn. most recently competed in the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series. He won two races and a pole en route to a solid fifth-place finish in the Southern Division point standings. He was the youngest driver ever to win a Hooters Cup race. Logano will compete in the No. 20 Chevrolet with associate sponsorship from Joe Gibbs Driven, a licensing program for the automotive aftermarket that features a line of racing lubricants.
Davis, who will pilot the No. 18 Chevrolets with associate sponsorship also from Joe Gibbs Driven, is from Maryland and most recently competed in the Limited Late Model division at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway where he earned an impressive six wins.
“We’ve got young guys so it is a good spot for them to be in,” said J.D. Gibbs about the Busch East Series. “We’re going to feel it out and let them learn. What they both need is some seat time. It’s probably the best feeder system that’s out there now.”
Gibbs is still actively pursuing a primary sponsor for both cars.
NASCAR Midwest Series Champion Tim Schendel will graduate to the Busch East Series for a full race schedule. Schendel, a native of Sparta, WI, will run the No. 43 Dodge Charger sponsored by Matthews Archery and Texpar Energy. Schendel will campaign for Rookie-of-the-Year and says he is “making the Busch East Series our main focus this season.” Schendel was the 2006 Elite Division winner in the Toyota All-Star Showdown.
Ken Schrader Racing will field a car in a partnership with Hendrick Motorsports for Late Model
driver Jamie Hayes. Hayes is the nephew of John Hendrick, who was the President of Hendrick Motorsports before a plane crash took his life. At this time, the team was not sure what number they would be running.
The Wood Brothers announced early this year that they will field a car for Jonathan Cash as part of the developmental driving program overseen by Michael “Fatback” McSwain. Cash will have sponsorship from Strutmasters.com and will run a full season.
Rusty Wallace, Inc. signed 17-year-old Chase Austin to a developmental driver deal that will include a full schedule in the Busch East Series with sponsorship from HomeLife Communities.
"This is an incredible opportunity for me," Austin said in a prepared release. "Rusty Wallace is one of the true legends in racing, and it's really an honor for me to get to drive for him. RWI has great equipment and I know that they'll give me some of the best cars out there."
Jesus Hernandez will drive a Ginn Racing entry under NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program in 10 of the 13 Busch East Series races. Hernandez, of Fresno, Calif., won two races and three poles last season at Hickory Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. Hernandez will also run the NASCAR West Series, ARCA, and Craftsman Truck Series events throughout the year.
“My goals apply to everything I’m doing this year.(The Team) is trying to get me experience,” Hernandez said.
Chris Bristol, who made history in 2005 by becoming the first African-American driver to win at
Hickory, is also planning to run the full schedule through the Diversity program. Bristol was first
tapped by Fitz Motorsports, but the team has since pulled out of the program. Greensboro’s News-
Record recently reported that Bristol is finalizing details with a new team, and I have been told that
he is working with a team closely associated with the series. As more news of this comes out, we’ll
get it to you.
Todd Peck of the Hooters ProCup Series has expressed his intentions to run a full season while
Benny Gordon, the 2005 Hooters ProCup Series Champion, has informed Speed51.com that he will
run a limited schedule in the BES.
Although it is unconfirmed, Kris Szekeres will run a full season this year according to the Press &
Argus of Livingston, MI. Szekeres more recently drove in the 24 Hours of Daytona, but has also
raced in the Rolex Sports Car Series. According to the article, Zekeres’ car will be fielded by Kenney
Jeff Barkshire, who competed in the Autozone West Series last season, will compete in two Busch
East Series races this year in addition to six West Series races. The Auburn, Wash., native will have
Sam Roebuck as a crew chief and sponsorship from Centennial Batteries.
I have also learned that Buckshot Jones, a former Busch Series and NEXTEL Cup driver, has applied for a Busch East Series number. I was unable to find out any further information on this, but I do know that he is running in the Hooters Cup Series this year as well. It wouldn’t be all that much more of a stretch to run a Busch East Series race here and there.
That’s it for this writing. As new drivers come out of the woodwork, you’ll get the news of it right here at Speed51.com. If you’re a driver and want to let me know of your plans, you can reach me at PennyBNS@aol.com.
Glenn Sullivan will return to the series this year in the #15 car. (NASCAR/Hodge Photo)
Eric Holmes (R) hopes to bookend his West Series championship trophy with one from the NASCAR Busch East Series. (NASCAR Photo)
Will Buckshot come to Busch East? Maybe. (51 Photo)