Anderson’s Strategy Lands Choquette Governor’s Cup Victory by Steve Neely
Russell Claims Sunbelt Series Title
Dick Anderson (center) was able to help Jeff Choquette (right) grab the Governor's Cup win. (51 photos)
Certain driver and crew chief combinations really help bring out the full potential in a team. Take a quick glance through the history books and one will be able to find a correlation between good tandems and winning. In NASCAR, there’s been Earnhardt and Shelmerdine, Gordon and Evernham, and recently Johnson and Knaus. In the world of Super Late Model racing in the Southeast, a new driver and crew chief dynasty may be forming. Their names: Jeff Choquette and Dick Anderson.
After Saturday night’s running of the 42nd Annual Governor’s Cup at New Smyrna Speedway, the duo of Choquette and Anderson basked in the glow of flashbulbs surrounding their #92 car in victory lane. The victory was Choquette’s second in Governor’s Cup competition, the prior coming in 2004, which puts him in an elite group of multiple winners of the race.
“It means a lot since there’s not that many people who have won it,” said Choquette. “Guys have tried for years, like Wayne Anderson, you know, he’s only won it twice. Dick (Anderson) only won it twice, too. To be only 20 years old, and to win it twice in four years means a lot. It means a lot to win for Dick since he’s won just about every race down here in the South. Him and Wayne, they’ve had their shot at NASCAR. So being put in a category like those guys, and even be on the trophy twice, that means so much to me.”
Choquette took some time from his celebration to discuss why the pairing with Dick Anderson, long regarded as the king of Florida short track racing, is working out so well.
“I’ve had quite a few crew chiefs, but Dick was a driver before he was a crew chief, so he knows the car just inside and out,” said Choquette. “He understands when I say ‘hey this is what the car is doing’. He’s been there so he understands what I mean. He really understands what’s going on. He knows the car just as well as he could drive it.”
In fact, it was a call by Dick Anderson and the team that enabled Choquette to get the track position he needed to pull off the victory in the final event of the FASCAR Sunbelt Super Late Model Series season. After a caution on lap 74, while running in third, Choquette brought his car to the attention of his crew, getting fresh tires and enough gas to go the distance.
“We knew we were going to come in early,” said Choquette. “We were going to change tires real early because the track just doesn’t wear the tires that much. We just stayed right there in contention, and we came in there to pit, and we came out and rode in the back. We knew that eventually everybody has to pit, so we were the first car in line. We made our pit stop, and then everybody else made theirs. We knew that we’d rather stop early and have them have to pass us rather than us having to pass them.”
Choquette drove Anderson's #92 at New Smyrna.
After a series of cautions after Choquette’s pit stop, other drivers were forced to come in and pit before the laps wound down in the race. During the mid-race jostling of the field, several drivers grabbed the lead, including Travis Cope, who had another pit strategy in mind. He planned to pit later and hope for a long, green-flag run to the finish to be able to track down those who pitted before him, including Choquette.
“We led for a little bit there, and our pit strategy worked out to what we felt would be good,” said Cope. “We were second after everybody else came in. Our car was just, well, short runs weren’t good for us. In the middle of the race, we were actually catching Jeff (Choquette) but that last caution really messed us up. The car was very drivable on the long runs, and I felt like we were the fastest ones there. I just thought that there would be a lot more long runs in the race.”
Cope charged through the field, but a caution due to a spin by Dusty Cornelius in turn
two with a dozen laps to go hurt Cope’s chances of catching Choquette, the recently-crowned 2007 ASA Late Model South Series Champion. On the final restart, Choquette immediately opened up an advantage of a couple car lengths over Cope.
“I knew on the restarts I was a little bit better than Travis (Cope) was,” said Choquette. “Travis was having a tough time on the short runs. There with about 15 to go, right before that last caution, I was driving as hard as I could, and I know Travis was driving as hard as he could. He was catching me little by little, and I was just praying for a caution because I knew we were good on the earlier restarts. We got what I was praying for.”
Choquette believes the pit strategy call that earned him the victory will change the complexion of racing at New Smyrna Speedway in future Governor’s Cups.
“I was surprised that there wasn’t more guys pitting there,” said Choquette. “Wayne (Anderson) pitted with us and was on the same strategy as us, so we knew we were doing something right since he’s one of the best at that here. I’m actually surprised more guys didn’t follow us. I’m pretty sure that having us win like that with an early stop, that for the next Governor’s Cup, that’ll be in the back of everybody’s mind.”
Notes – Governor’s Cup
Russell Concludes Unprecedented Season with Championship
Tim Russell, the mild-mannered racer from Longwood, FL, ended an amazing 2007 season with a championship in the FASCAR Sunbelt Super Late Model Series. Russell’s three wins in Sunbelt Series competition were the most of any driver, and he
outdistanced second place Brian Finney by over 200 points in the championship standings.
With his third-place finish in the Governor’s Cup, he was able to collect his 20th top-five finish in 28 starts this year in multiple divisions. Although the finish was not quite what he had hoped for, he was more than pleased with hoisting the championship trophy instead.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Russell. “It’s our fourth championship on the year. We had a heck of a season and all the guys worked hard all year. It’s just real cool to bring home four championships in one year.
Travis Cope comes over and gives his congrats to Jeff Choquette after the event.
I wish we could’ve won the race. I had a real good car in the beginning but the stagger closed up with that first set of tires and it just started getting tight. After we put the second set on, we came all the way up through there to second and we just tightened up again there toward the end. That’s it, that’s all we have.”
Russell managed to lead 35 laps in the race before he elected to pit for tires and fuel on lap 113. He moved through the field, fighting to catch the two top cars of Choquette and Cope, finally finishing the night a few car-lengths behind them.
Solid Run for Carmichael
What a difference a week makes. Motocross champion Ricky Carmichael finished the Governor’s Cup in seventh position and had a solid performance in a notoriously tough event. However, the real story is the turnaround he made from the week before that grabbed everyone’s attention.
Tim Russell and his family celebrate the SUnbelt Series Championship.
In the Goodyear Challenge Series race at Orlando SpeedWorld the weekend prior, he caused three spins and was disqualified for causing the final caution coming to the checkered flag. The following night, in the late model feature at New Smyrna Speedway, he was fighting to work his way through a pack of cars when he got caught in a violent wreck on the frontstretch, his #4 car slamming hard into the inside wall and causing damage to the victory lane sign.
However, while many other people might take a week off to take up fishing instead, Carmichael was back in the saddle competing in the crown jewel of the Sunbelt Series. He started the race in 11th, right in the thick of the action.
“There was a lot of stuff happening, and for me it was great, because I just tried to learn,” said Carmichael. “I just tried to stay out of trouble and didn’t try to press the issue. I did that one time and I just about bought the farm down the front. I learned a lot. I just need to be able to be a little better as a driver, because these guys on my team are great, and I’m just happy with what these guys have given me.”
Carmichael talked about what it means for him to drive against the top competitors in Florida in a race as prestigious as the Governor’s Cup, and charted out his next step in racing.
“It’s pretty amazing to be here,” said Carmichael. “These drivers are really good and I got a lot of respect for them. All I can say is these guys are badass. Hopefully we can do the Busch East Series with DEI next year. That’s the plan. Once we get it on paper, then we’ll be good to go.”
Carmichael, a Tallahassee native, also said he has plans to return to the Panhandle. He plans to attend the 40th annual Snowball Derby on December 2, this time as a spectator rather than a driver. He’ll be there watching his crew chief and mentor, Mike Fritts, try to qualify for the race.
Sparks Fly for Middleton
One of the more intriguing things that fans saw on Saturday night in the Governor’s Cup was a light show. No, it wasn’t the fireworks outside of turn two after the conclusion of the event. It was actually the sparks from Jay Middleton’s car all race long.
“It was a spark show,” said Middleton. “There were a couple people we had here that had never been to a racetrack and they’re going ‘That car is sparking. What was on fire?’ I was like ‘Yeah, the sway bar arm was dragging’.”
Ricky Carmichael has made a name for himself in the Super Late Model ranks.
Middleton, even with the sparks trailing his car like the auto racing equivalent of hockey’s glowing puck in the 1990’s, was still competitive in the race.
“We were moving up early in the race, and the pit strategy worked out and we got all the way up to fourth,” said Middleton. “I think when they let the jack down on the right side of the car it blew the right front shock out during our pit stop.
There’s oil all over it and there’s oil on the frame underneath it, and there’s just no compression. It would just hit the track worse and worse and worse. It wore half the sway bar arm off too. It did it all weekend long a little bit, but during the race, it was laying the frame on the track. It was bad.”
Middleton finished the race in 13th.
Tough Break Lands Skinner Out of Governor’s Cup
Dustin Skinner’s Governor’s Cup was over before it even began. As Skinner went to improve on his qualifying lap, the car veered hard into the outside wall in turn four. The Daytona-area driver said he had no signs of anything happening to the car prior to the accident.
“The car actually felt really good,” said Skinner. “I got in the gas early and I just lost front grip coming out of the corner in four. I want to say something broke on it but it’s hard to tell whenever you hit the wall and everything else is broken once you look at it.”
The hit was so hard that the car’s right front spring ended up sitting in victory lane, about 200 feet from where the car stopped. The second-generation driver expressed his disappointment of having to miss the Governor’s Cup after doing so well in practice.
Dustin Skinner had one wrecked car at the end of the night.
“It’s very disappointing,” said Skinner. “We had a really good car and were probably fifth or sixth fastest ever since last night. I was really looking forward to it, but we’ll have to pack up and come back next year.”
He also explained his plans for the 2008 season, which include a step up to the NASCAR ranks with his father, former champion and 2007 Craftsman Truck Series runner-up, Mike Skinner.
“I’m planning on running Super Late Models and probably four or five truck races with my dad in the Craftsman Truck Series. I don’t know. We’ll just have to see. I do know that we’re going to be running Supers next year, for sure.”
Freed at Last, Freed at Last...
With his tenth-place finish, Corey Freed claimed the 2007 FASCAR Sunbelt Series Rookie of the Year title. He and Blake Lehr had a competitive battle for the rookie race all year, but in the end, Freed was able to lock up the title.
“It means a lot to me,” said Freed. “We got a lot of people to thank for it. I couldn’t do it by myself. It’s my first year doing Super Late Models and you only get one chance to be a rookie. I got my chance and took it.”
Freed was almost guaranteed of the honor when Lehr got caught up in a lap 17 pileup in turn one. That’s not to say it was easy for Freed, however, as he had a close call of his own when he spun a little later in the race.
“I tried to get under the 64 car (Joe Winchell),” said Freed. “He was pushing real badly in the center and I tried to get under him and he came down on my nose and around she went.
Dad told me to take it easy. There wasn’t any sense in hurting the car since Blake Lehr was out of the race and he was our competition for the rookie title. We just took it easy and brought it home.”
Corey Freed took the SUnbelt ROokie of the Year.
Conrad Tries to Steal the Show
Patrick Conrad raised quite a few eyebrows in the Governor’s Cup by charging from his ninth-place starting spot to pressure Tim Russell for the lead. When Russell pitted, Conrad assumed the lead on lap 113. In a race filled with big teams and sponsors, the small, family-owned team of Conrad’s black #2 car looked like it was poised to steal the spotlight.
“To run well, that’s everything for us,” said Conrad. “We worked all season and we didn’t have anybody that works on our car full-time except for us, and to be able to come out to run well, lead a lot of laps, and be fast like this is awesome.”
Conrad, who earned his first FASCAR Sunbelt Series win two weeks prior at Orlando SpeedWorld, relinquished the lead after 32 laps when he had to pit for tires and fuel. On that stop, there was a problem while changing the left front tire and he nearly lost a lap. Shortly thereafter, more trouble came in the form of mechanical problems.
“We broke something on the rear end which didn’t help, but I think that if we could’ve stayed out on old tires I think we still would’ve been able to get them,” said Conrad. “We were really fast on old tires. The car really liked them, and we definitely had a dominant car there for a little while, but stuff happens like this on a racecar.”
Conrad nursed home the car to an eighth-place finish.