Brothers – The Blewetts, Gerharts, Stroupes, Bassetts… all have been hot so far in 2007. Between the two Blewett brothers (John and Jimmy), they won a total of 10 feature events in either the Tour-Type Modifieds or SK Modifieds at New Smyrna Speedway. The Stroupe brothers (Zach and Nick) were hot in Florida as well. Zach won three poles and two races in Pro Challenge competition during Florida Speedweeks, in addition to another victory in Legends competition at Orlando. Nick won the Winter Heat Series championship at Lowe's Motor Speedway by scoring three wins. Then he added another two in Bandolero competition at Orlando. The Gerhart brothers (driver Bobby and his crew chief Billy) won for the record fifth-time at Daytona International Speedway in ARCA RE/MAX Series competition. And the Bassett brothers won five Bandolero features between the two at Orlando SpeedWorld, while Dillon was the Bandit division champion and Ronnie finished second in the points in the Young Guns.
Families - The Christophers, Kinsers and Rowes haven’t done what they’ve expected. Ted and Mike Christopher normally do well, but not so far. Mike's got an excuse, he hasn't raced yet this year, but twin brother Teddy is struggling. Despite a stellar performance in his sporty car debut last year, TC didn’t get an invite back to the 24 Hours of Daytona. Speedweeks was a bust too. Yes, he set fast time in Florida a couple times in the Super Late Model, but he didn't score a win in either the SLM or the Modified. And he wasn't in contention for either title. The Kinser clan is used to bringing home a trailer of trophies after any road trip. When it came to Florida Speedweeks this year, that didn't work. Steve failed to score a top 10 finish in three WoO Sprint races, while son Kraig crashed out of the Truck Series event at Daytona. And while they’ve only raced two times this year, the Rowe combination of father Mike and son Ben hurt each other when Mike brought out a late-caution at Speedfest that erased Ben’s huge lead and led to Eddie Hoffman’s eventual win.
Clay Hair – The Legends Masters Division “master” had his stuff working for sure at Orlando Speedworld’s Winternationals. At the end of the five nights of action, Hair had a perfect points total of 160. Each driver dropped their worst finish of the week, which for Hair, was a seventh. Each of the other four nights, he was in Victory Lane. That meant, it was impossible for anyone to beat him. And in the Masters Division, that is the way it has been almost always against Clay Hair.
Cotton Spry, Brian Weimer. – These two drivers are the two that are normally competing against Hair in the Legends Masters Divisions (drivers over 40 years of age). In fact, both were able to topple Hair in last year’s Summer Shootout point standings at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, where Spry was the champion and Weimer was a close second, both ahead of third-place Hair. But at the Winternationals, Spry finished just seventh in the points, with Weimer 15th. This time around, it was Clay Hair who got the last laugh of these “old-timers.”
Car Counts – The Georgia Asphalt Series and the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series are both hot right now, and the car counts will prove it. Since announcing their new point fund, which will pay the champion $20,000, GAS entries have been flying in. This weekend’s season-opener at Birmingham is expecting 60-plus Pro Late Models. And the Pro Cup Series is expanding, especially the Southern Division. Already, 30-plus teams are expected to compete full-time for the Southern Division title. The season-opener at Lakeland could easily have 40 to 50 cars.
Car Counts – The car counts at the annual Winternationals at Orlando SpeedWorld for the Legends, Bandolero and Thunder Roadster portions were low… very low. On an average, there were less than 20 cars on site per class for the Legends, with less than 10 in both the Bandolero Bandits and Young Guns divisions. In the Outlaws, only one guy showed up until the last day. Add the four Thunder Roadsters and it was a slim pit area at Orlando. Maybe it was because the racing was held during the day this year, rather than at night. Either way, it wasn’t one of the stronger Winternationals.
Winter Racing Out West – It used to be that short track eyes would always be focused out West every winter. That’s not the case any more. Winter Heat, a series of short track races televised from Tucson by ESPN, is now a memory that is over a decade old. The Copper World Classic isn’t in January anymore. The West Series doesn’t start their season for another several weeks, the Southwest Tour is dead and support races for this week’s NASCAR events at California Speedway are all Truck Series or higher on the food chain. Sure, there are some good sprint and midget races out West in the winter, but where did the stock cars go?
Tradition in Busch East – One casualty of the shift from Busch North to Busch East has been some of the familiar faces in the series over the past decade or so. As Northeastern tracks like Beech Ridge, Waterford and Lee drop off the schedule, places like Elko (MN), Iowa and Nashville are added. Some of the old guard can’t justify the resources that takes, so Brian Hoar and Kip Stockwell have left for ACT Late Model racing this year. Defending champ Mike Olsen is next. He plans to hang it up after the 2007 season.
Driver Development in Busch East – In 2007, Joe Gibbs Racing, the Wood Brothers, Fitz Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and other teams will all have teams or drivers like Joey Logano, Marc Davis, Jonathan Cash and Jeffrey Earnhardt competing in the NASCAR Busch East Series, positioning the tour as a real alternative to ARCA or Pro Cup in getting young drivers ready to race a heavy, steel-bodied racecar.
Florida Early Season Events – It used to be that short trackers were sitting around, waiting for March and April to go racing. Some would head down to Florida for New Smyrna Speedweeks, but most just waited for the season to begin. Now, there are many more races in Florida early in the year. It starts out with the Winter Spectacular, then goes to the star-studded Speedfest at USA International Speedway, then heads to Speedweeks and onto the Icebreaker. Add to that the big-time races like the Early Bird and Rattler in Alabama, and drivers don’t have to wait long to go racing these days.
Jeremy Clements – A few years ago, a devastating dirt late model incident could have ended Jeremy Clements career, and life as he knows it. The young driver suffered major hand injuries when his driveshaft came apart and up through the floor of his racecar. Thanks to a ton of hard work and rehab though, he is back better than ever with a third-place finish in the ARCA 200 at Daytona.
Andy Belmont – This low buck racer has scraped and scrapped for years in the ARCA RE/MAX Series with many promising results, but is the influx of big money into the sport these days going to knock Andy Belmont out? The veteran failed to qualify for the Daytona 200 after NASCAR farm teams from Evernham Motorsports, Rusty Wallace, Inc. and Roush Racing, along with the ultra-prepared-for-superspeedway-racing bunch of Bobby Gerhart dominated time trials.
ACT – For 2007, the ACT Late Model Series has picked up the Oxford 250 and former Busch East regulars Brian Hoar and Kip Stockwell. Local racers from tracks all across New England are looking at the tour as well…and legend Robbie Crouch is even ending his decade old retirement to rejoin the series. Add in some Canadian invaders and you really have the makings of a great season already.
USRA – After one year of trying to build up a Texas-sized Super Late Model tour, the series has gone belly-up. Chris Davidson will be the first and only champion of the tour that took over where the old ROMCO tour left off. Now, guys like Davidson, Casey Smith, Brandon Bendele, Kenny Bumbera, Kristen Bumbera and others will to drive due east to race at places like Pensacola, Mobile or Opp to put their equipment to the test and get some use out of it all.