Two Drivers Weigh In On State of the Busch East Series by Mike Twist and Matt Kentfield
Big-Three Influence & Added Travel Pricing Dion and Lewandoski Out of the Series
The big "Cup-style" haulers have taken over the BES infields once occupied by low-buck, single-car trailers of yesterday. (51 Photos)
On the surface, the NASCAR Busch East Series is extremely healthy. In 2007, the tour is visiting new markets including a state of the art short track in Elko Speedway (MN), historic venues such as Nashville’s Music City Motorplex and young big tracks like Iowa Speedway.
There’s also an influx of top flight teams. NASCAR’s largest divisions are represented in the Busch East Series with entries by Joe Gibbs Racing, Ginn Racing, Ken Schrader Racing, Wood Brothers Racing, Rusty Wallace, Inc., Hendrick Motorsports and Fitz Motorsports. The Dale Earnhardt, Inc. is also involved in the series at arm’s length, by supporting driver Jeffrey Earnhardt.
There’s a TV deal as well. There’s new attention by big names on the competition side – with Kevin Harvick entering the Iowa Speedway race one day after winning the NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge in North Carolina. Heck, there’s even an Earnhardt in the house with Kerry’s son Jeffrey running for rookie of the year honors.
There has never been so much media attention on, or money in, the series formerly known as the NASCAR Busch North Series.
But things aren’t all rosy either. In a way, the series is like a neighborhood that has suddenly become trendy. Real Estate prices have shot through the roof and some long-term residents, as well as a few young folks wanting to find a place to call home, are priced out.
Perennial top five runner Brian Hoar has left the series full-time to chase ACT Late Model points. So has three-time champion Jamie Aube, who could be counted on
putting together part-time efforts at least in recent seasons. Underdog Kip Stockwell has done the same. Two-time champ Mike Olsen has announced that he’ll hang up his helmet to become a team owner after the 2007 season. Kelly Moore, Dave Dion and Bill Penfold have turned to PASS North. Ryan Moore is running in the USAC Silver Crown Series. Eddie MacDonald is racing Late Models at local tracks. Some guys, like Charles Lewandoski have just had to park their racecars until some financial support can be found to run them.
For these drivers, young and old, change has not necessarily been good. Speed51.com talked to two of them with very different background to find out why.
Dave Dion needs no introduction. He’s won the Oxford 250 three times, including on one occasion when it was a NASCAR Busch Grand National North [the prdecessor of Busch North] event. He won the Busch North title in 1996. He’s won races at just about every track in New England. He was also the 1999 Busch North Most Popular Driver and has 13 series victories to his credit.
Charles Lewandoski doesn’t have nearly the same resume, but he’d sure like to have the chance to try and build one full of Busch East Series accomplishments. The 22-year-old Connecticut driver set his eye on Busch North at a young age and used the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series as a tool to develop his talents. He has run his own team to race in Busch East and has seen what it takes just to make it to the track. In 2006, he was named as the series’ most improved driver and finished in the top-10 in series points.
This year, neither competitor is active in Busch East and neither has any definite plans to race at this time. A rising tide has not raised every boat in the harbor it seems.
So here, in their owns words, are both competitor’s thoughts on the direction that the NASCAR Busch East Series has taken.
“NASCAR basically drove us out with their concept of what they want. They have their diversity program and their Cup teams. They basically said to the New Englanders, the ones who made the series and got these tracks on the schedule, that they really don’t care about us.”
“NASCAR isn’t giving anything back to New England, the people who created the series or the tracks. They don’t care. I can see them not wanting me at my age, but they basically don’t care about any of the Northern who doesn’t have a million dollars. You need a name like Earnhardt or Gibbs. They would rather promote the grandson of Dale Earnhardt that nobody in the world knows instead of someone like Dick McCabe. I just think that is wrong.
The influence of organizations like DEI (seen on the hood of Jeffrey Earnhardt's #1 car) has made it tougher for family team's like Bryon Chew (#99) in the BES.
“That name should only carry you so far. It shouldn’t be enough for everyone to go ga-ga. ‘Earnhardt! Earnhardt!..ooh. I’d rather see this no-name Earnhardt instead of Dick McCabe or Mike Rowe. I don’t like that.
“I don’t think it is respectful to the people who built this fan base or supported these tracks. These people just come in now to take a track and put on a show with people that nobody knows. That’s not right.”
Dion has seemingly found a new home in the PASS North Super Late Model Series with two top five finishers in two starts so far this season. The Dion Brothers Racing team seems to be enjoying their new surroundings.
“It’s great. I enjoy racing with new guys that I don’t know too well yet. I know [Johnny] Clark, I got to meet him. To race with Kelly and Benji is fun too. Those guys are very respectful. They are respectful of you if you are better. They don’t want to give the spot away, they want to fight you within reason and then they’ll say that you are the better man today. Sometimes, you know that you are going to get beaten, so you do it with class.”
“Then the guy who you knew who beat you anyways gives you a star. He says, ‘that Dion, he’s okay.’ Why take 30 laps holding back Benji Rowe if you know he’s going to get you? You race as hard as you can until you know your beat. I don’t move over. In turn, they let you go.”
Once a staple on the Busch North/East scene (top), Dave Dion has taken to PASS Super Late Models this year.
“The direction of the series is perfect for someone like me. The only thing that I’m jealous of is that it’s two or three years behind when I started. When I was 17 or 18 years old, it would’ve been awesome to be a part of the series the way it is now. The state of the series is the state of the whole stock car world.
“But for every one deserving driver in that series with a top-notch ride, there are four that don’t deserve to be in a Late Model at the local tracks, let alone in the Busch East Series. That’s the story all across NASCAR. It’s what they want, though. I don’t agree with any of it and I don’t like how they operate it. The series is a great series as a whole and it always has been. But there’s a lot of non-deserving drivers who don’t deserve to be at half the level they are and have been given opportunities they haven’t worked for.
“When the series changed directions, we were excited about where it was going and what NASCAR was trying to do. It was just going to help young drivers like me that had the same goals as me. Dad and I decided that it wasn’t going to be possible to run the whole tour with a schedule that I honestly don’t agree with too much. Losing Waterford to go to Iowa is a huge improvement for the series, but that’s the financial burden of running the series. We decided we weren’t going to do that.
“We worked hard at it last year and had a successful year. We realistically should’ve won at least one race, but it just didn’t work out for us. We were in contention to win several in my opinion.
“Since last year ended, we’ve been working on putting something together with a new team and it was looking like it was going to be a full-time effort. Now we’ve missed races, so it can’t be a full schedule, but hopefully something will still get finalized where we can go after some wins this year with that team.
Charles was a winner in the NASCAR Weekly Series ranks before moving up to the BES with a family-funded team.
“They don’t understand the concept. That’s what a racer’s going to be 10 years from now – guys who were handed everything and never worked on their own cars. That’s sad.
“Money runs the sport. There’s always going to be more people that have more money than you. It’s always more, more, more. Bigger budgets, more money, blah blah blah. I was family funded for the last three or four years, so I can see every side of it.
“But when you’re running in a series and the series pays for a driver to be in it, which is happening now, but won’t help get tire money for existing teams, that’s ridiculous. When a baseball player gets paid by the MLB or a football player gets paid by the NFL, then I will accept it. The way society works, this is just stupidity.”
Lewandoski understands that while he took a quick path to the then-Busch North Series after just a year and a half in Weekly Series competition at Stafford Motor Speedway (CT), competing in Quarter Midgets and dirt Mini-Sprints before that, he also
built his entire BES operation from the ground-up several years ago with a crew made up of mostly friends and family and formed it into a viable threat every week last season.
“I’ve been hands-on with the cars. I know pretty much every aspect of what makes these cars work and go fast. I’m obviously no Chad Knaus, but I’m hands-on and I know how they operate. I’ve learned from the best in the business, in my opinion. I will not go to the racetrack without going through the car and making sure they’re the way I want them. There are a lot of qualified crew chiefs that I can be 110-percent confident in the way that they can set up a car, but I like to be hands-on. I like to be involved. I’ve done every aspect of the business. I proved last year, when it’s time to get up on the wheel, I can get that done too. I’ve done the sponsorship end of stuff, the mechanical and the driving end. I even drove the truck and trailer to the track the last few years. I’ve got a lot of people that want to see me do well, I just need that one opportunity to show it.
“I want to be out there. Given the right opportunity, there’s no doubt I can be a contender for the championship in this series. Hopefully by the end of the year I can prove that, but as of right now I’m just kind of sitting idle, waiting for the one shot that I need to get into victory lane.
“I have a lot of my own equipment and we haven’t ruled out running a handful of races with that, but that’s all depending on a few other situations. My team is still very strong and we’ve got great people involved in it, but we’re just sitting idle right now trying to find out what’s best.”
Charles Lewandoski had a break-out year in Busch East in 2006 with several top-five and top-10 finishes before finishing 10th in points and getting "Most Improved Driver."