51’s Short Track Draft - The Original
Our Panel Of 20-Plus Picks The Top-51 Short Track Racing Prospects
11) Tim Russell (Sunbelt / Super Late Models) - Since the start of 2007, the entire state of Florida has been his “Big House” (reference to homefield advantage that University of Michigan has on their home-turf). The 25-year-old is the 2007 Champion of both the Sunbelt Series and the Bright House Challenge Series, the top-tier Super Late Model tours in the Sunshine State. This year, he’s already won the opening races in both tours and shows no signs of slowing down.
Strengths: : The kid’s got the look, the marketability and the talent to succeed. He’s won at just about every asphalt track in the state of Florida and does so convincingly.
Weaknesses: As much success as Russell has in Florida, that’s also his major downfall. His unwillingness to travel outside the state leaves him a big name in the state’s racing circles, but he hasn’t proven himself against the big guns outside Florida yet.
12) James Buescher (Pro Cup / Camping World East / ARCA) – The 12th round draft pick in the NFL was Ryan Clady, who has shifted from right tackle to left tackle over the last few years. His versatility has put him solidly within the top 15 players in the draft.
Buescher like Clady, has spent his time jumping locations. This season he is splitting his time between the Pro Cup, ARCA and the Camping World East Series as well as a few tryouts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series at age 18. He proved he can win on a big stage last year with his ARCA RE/MAX Series triumph in Lakeland, FL.
Strengths: Buescher has shown to be versatile and adaptive in the different seats, running towards the front in most races, especially in a heavy stock car which the NASCAR scouts love.
Weaknesses: Closing the deal at the end of a race seems to be his trouble. He is also a tough interview at times. As with others, these are not meant to be rude, but he could use a make-over.
13) Jimmy Lang (ASA LM South / ASA Challenge) - He might not look anything like a football player but he can drive better than most lineman. Most of 2007 was spent learning the ranks of ASA Late Model racing. In 14 starts he scored six top ten finishes. It’s what he has done in 2008 that has him just outside the top 10 in the draft. A pair of wins and a total of five top five finishes and seven top ten finishes in only 11 starts is a marked improvement. His wins have also come back-to-back in the ASA Late Model South series and that gives him the early points lead too at just 19 years old.
Tim Russell's Florida success has him ranked just outside our panel's top-10 prospects. (51 Photo)
16) Michael Annett (ARCA) - Annett started off as a bright prospect on the hockey rink and now is one of the hottest young drivers in the racing scene today. The 21-year-old jumped into the ASA Late Model ranks for his first racing experience and immediately competed well. With strong support from TMC Transportation, his family’s company, Annett teamed up with Bill Davis Racing in the ARCA RE/MAX Series and never finished outside the top-10 in 2007 in seven starts, which included his first and Toyota’s first-ever ARCA win at Talladega. He then followed it up with a season-opening ARCA win at Daytona in February.
Strengths: Has shown raw talent since switching from over from hockey. Winning on two restrictor plate tracks in ARCA is an impressive feat.
Weaknesses: His family owns one of the most successful trucking companies in the industry and has teamed up with Bill Davis Racing, so he has the stigma that he’s winning because he’s well-funded. Also, he’s won on plate tracks, now he’s got to win on a short or intermediate track to prove he’s not just out-resourcing other teams.
17) Cassius Clark (PASS North & South) - Clark had another strong year in 2007 with the PASS North Super Late Model Tour by winning two races, although that was down from five the year before. He also ventured into the PASS South circuit and won “The Howler” at the legendary Greenville-Pickens Speedway.
Strengths: At just 26, he is a wheel-man; he can win anywhere, anytime. He certainly can put the pedal to the metal and get you poles as well and he’s learning to pace himself as he displayed in beating Ben Rowe at GP in “The Howler” last year.
Weaknesses: Any negative is due to his off-track presence. Perception is that he is cocky, which is not always a bad thing for a racer. His personal appearance needs to improve as well if he wants to succeed to the big levels of the sport. Dressing nicely and having a uniform that fits is step #1.
18) Ricky Steinhouse Jr. (USAC) – Stenhouse is a natural in a USAC open-wheeled machine. He is ninth in ARCA RE/MAX Series points and finished runner-up last week at Kansas. This kid, at 15, won his first winged sprint car race, in only his 23rd attempt. Before moving to stock cars he won a bunch of races in the USAC ranks.
Strengths: Natural driving talent and comes from a very prosperous open-wheel background. Seems to have adapted nicely to the heavy stock cars as well. Good looking kid in his early 20’s.
Weaknesses: Draft ranking probably slipped a little due to our stock car bias at Speed51.com and the fact that he has already been signed by Roush Racing.
19) Travis Dassow (ASA LM) – Dassow did all of the right things in his career last season. He started winning races in the ASA Late Model Challenge Series and he topped off the season by winning the championship. The 21-year-old Wisconsinite also made two starts in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series last year, so he’s got a little bit of big time seat time already.
Strengths: The kid is smooth, consistent and racing in the ASA Late Model Challenge Series has taught him how to race well on radial tires. He’s got a nice personality and working with legendary Howie Lettow has taught him a lot about good communication with his crew.
Weaknesses: Dassow accomplished all that he did in 2007 for the team that used to be WalTom Racing, so for some people it is easy to dismiss his success as… well… expected. It is true that the TD Racing team of today isn’t exactly the same as WalTom and isn’t as highly funded, but going out and turning some heads in another series (maybe Camping World East or Hooters Pro Cup) for another team on a few occasions wouldn’t hurt Dassow’s reputation.
Paul Kelley (top) and Jacob Goede (bottom) have made huge jumps on the draft boards with big wins in 2007.
Here is a list of the remainder of picks 11-25 in this year's Short Track Draft
Strengths: He has major backing with good sponsors and equipment. He is very patient behind the wheel. He also is racing more tracks this season most other drivers.
Weaknesses: The only real hiccup about Lang is that he only runs one type of racecar in two different series. The competition is good in the ASA Late Model Challenge, but slightly weaker in its South division. He also needs to know more about the inner-working of the car itself.
14. Andy Seuss (NASCAR Mods / True Value Mods) – If you follow any type of Modified Tour, you have probably seen Andy Seuss in action over the past few years. Florida Speedweeks, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, NASCAR Whelen Southern Modifieds, True Value Modifieds and open shows… he’s done them all (he hasn’t run with the RoC Modifieds yet). A 21-year-old throw-back to the old school racers who will run lots of races all over the map, Seuss has become a fan favorite. He used a breakthrough win as a pre-rookie on the Southern Mod Tour to earn himself a ride in the Riggs Racing #47 down South this year as “The King,” Junior Miller’s replacement. In three races, so far he’s finished second, tenth and been wrecked while leading.
Jimmy Lang's hot start in the ASALM ranks has him on our panelists' lists.
Strengths: The kid is a racer – he’ll drive anything, anytime, anywhere. Combination of natural ability and drive makes his a strong performer. Understands how the car works and how to adjust it. He’s well liked by fans and sponsors and quickly makes friends out of the driver’s seat. He’s made the most out of running for his family’s low-buck team against some big competition in the Modified world.
Weaknesses: He’s only three races into driving for a top flight team, so it’s hard to tell where the potential that he has shown in his family’s budget-minded team needs to turn into cold, hard results. Cutting back his schedule to show some quality results rather than a high quantity of races might help his chances of getting noticed. Does not have much fendered racecar experience and needs to work on ridding himself of his New England brogue.
15. Josh Hamner (Super Late Model) - There aren’t many things you can compare between NFL’s 15th-round pick Branden Albert and our 15th-round pick, 21-year-old Josh Hamner. Albert is 315 lbs while Hamner is probably half that. Albert grew up in Maryland while Hamner grew up in Alabama. One thing that is comparable is the records between the two. Both have had multiple accomplishments early in their careers. Hamner has been a force in the Super Late Model ranks as of late, including winning the 2008 Blizzard Series opener at Five Flags Speedway (FL).
Strengths: Hamner has a well known last name in the short track world; his father is noted engine builder Jeff Hamner. He has good looks and a great personality. He is very down to Earth and he can be a consistent racer. He knows how to turn wrenches as well.
Weaknesses: Opportunities are slim pickings right now, mostly because of a lack of money. Hamner stands out, but maybe just not enough for the racing world. He needs to make more noise and win more. Perception is, at times, he complains about opportunities others are receiving instead of him.
Michael Annett has hit ARCA like the hockey players he used to hit on the ice. (ARCA / Bob Costanzo Photo)
20) Paul Kelley (ASA Southeast / GAS) – A three-time winner of the World Crown at Peach State Speedway at 27, one of the South’s most prestigious Pro Late Model races, has made Kelley a star in the Southeast. He’s won just about everything there is to win in Georgia and hasn’t shown trepidation about running outside the state, either, as evident by his trips to Florida, Alabama and beyond.
Strengths: Kelley is a hard-charger and has become a guy everyone points to as someone to beat wherever he goes. He’s not afraid to put the hammer down and go like hell towards the front of any field and is not intimidated by any racer anywhere.
Weaknesses: Sometimes, his hard-charging nature gets him in trouble. He has irked a few people in the PLM ranks with his aggressive style.
21) Jacob Goede (ASA Challenge / Late Models) - Jacob Goede has probably made the most out of the least in our draft. With an underfunded team, having to take races off just so his little brother can go racing some times, Goede still gets the job done on the biggest stage. The 23-year-old won the ASALM Challenge event at Bristol and Iowa and nearly won in Nashville. He’s won a bunch of races at Elko Speedway in his native state of Minnesota and has run up front in ASA Midwest and more.
Strengths: He reminds us of Tom Brady, the New England Patriots Super Bowl winning quarterback who was drafted in the sixth round. He could have gone earlier in the draft. Doing what he has on a smaller budget than some other teams he races against make his success even more impressive.
Weaknesses: Picking and choosing races is a good idea, but running more frequently and maybe a couple more wins would really rocket this kid up the charts. He might not have the Brady-esque looks for a marketing program.
22) Michael Pope (ASA Southeast Asphalt Tour /SLM) - Here is a crafty young pick who is like an offensive lineman. He doesn’t always hurt you on the stat sheet, but he quietly kills you on the field.
The 18-year-old Pope spent 2007 in the Georgia Asphalt Series, where he picked up his first Late Model victory at Peach State Speedway in Jefferson, GA. Pope ended up third in the final standings after scoring six top five finishes and 14 top ten finishes (tied for the most in the GAS series). Pope capped off his 2007 season with a runner-up finish at the Snowflake 100 at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL.
2008 has found Pope at the top of the points in the new ASA Southeast Asphalt Tour. He got there with a pair of top five finishes including a runner-up finish at Mobile International Speedway. He also posted a seventh at the first Blizzard race earlier this season and a top-5 in his PASS South debut in Cordele, GA.
Strengths: He is super smooth and hardly makes mistakes. He doesn’t over drive the car and he can get up on the wheel when need be.
Weaknesses: The only thing that really kept Pope out of the top 20 is his lack of trips to victory lane. Also, lack of Super Late Model experience is a minus and a workout program would help him if he has aspirations of going to the big leagues.
23) Beau Slocumb (ASA Southeast Asphalt Tour, LM, Hooters Pro Cup) - Maybe he’s a sleeper pick compared to his teammate John Wes Townley, who is getting more seat time, but Slocumb appears to be the more talented driver. He might be someone who can put up Tom Brady like numbers if he gets the chance.
Having won five times in the ASA Late Model South ranks in 2006 and 2007, he backed it all up with a big win earlier this season at Watermelon Capital Speedway on the ASA Southeast Tour. The 23-year-old also recently ran his first Hooters Pro Cup event in which he ended up 13th.
Strengths: He is battle tested in several different series and has the wins to back it up. He also seems to be a nice, level-headed kid.
Weaknesses: The only real flaw is that Slocumb doesn’t race enough to get the exposure like he should. If he ran consistently, not only would he be more of a threat, but he also would be a contender for another championship.
24) Bubba Pollard (Pro Late Model / Super Late Models) - Pro Late Models or Super Late Models, when Bubba Pollard’s red #26 shows up, he’s instantly a driver to beat. He runs well in everything from GAS to the Blizzard Series to the Miller Lite Series at Mobile to PASS South. He’s already won the Mobile series opener and darn near won the PASS South event at Cordele in his first-ever start in the series. He had a shot in the Roush Gong Show a few years back before going back to the short tracks where he’s found a nice home recently at 21.
Beau Slocumb was an ASA SAT winner at Cordele.
Strengths: Can win in any type of Late Model, anywhere. Knows how to conserve and knows when to push the envelope.
Weaknesses: Has a bit of a rough side to him at times and always seems to find himself in bad luck situations. He’s lost several GAS races over the years due to mechanical issues or last-lap wrecks that sometimes could’ve been avoided. Probably needs to workout some more and the ballcap that’s always affixed to his head has gotta go in an effort to attract the big time guys.
25) Brady Bacon (USAC) - It’s obvious when you look at the background of today’s top NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers that USAC racing teaches some really good lessons for a young driver. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne are just a few examples of that. Right now, Bacon is the hottest young driver in USAC Midgets. The 18-year-old drives a car owned by Kahne and is currently ranked 12th in the USAC Sprint Car national standings.
Strengths: He’s exceptional in a midget and follows in the footsteps of his heroes Jan Opperman, Jack Hewitt and Steve Kinser. He’s been racing since age five and knows how the game is played. Support from Kasey Kahne, Chip Ganassi Racing and Mopar could open some big doors for him in the future.
Weaknesses: Is he the real deal in USAC or just gathering attention because of his big time racing ties? Time will tell. Needs to win some big races to translate potential into proven results. No fendered car experience.