51’s Short Track Draft – The Original
Our Panel Of 20-Plus Picks The Top-51 Short Track Racing Prospects
1. Matt Hawkins (Hooters Pro Cup / ARCA / Super Late Models)
About the only similarity Matt Hawkins has with the #1 pick in the NFL Draft, Jake Long, is that both Long and Hawkins' crew chief Mike Garvey have ties to Michigan (Garvey was born there and Long played ball for the mighty Wolverines). Yet, there is no denying that both Hawkins and Long will be winners in their respective sports.
Surprisingly the 20-year-old Hawkins has not been snatched up by any big league NASCAR teams just yet. He was the number two selection in last year's draft and has been on the board for a total of three years now.
Hawkins has come a long way, however, in a short period of time. A couple years ago he could not qualify for the Snowball Derby, this past year he nearly won it. Last year he won in his first-ever Hooters Pro Cup race in Lakeland, FL - this year he did it again, by winning in his first-ever ARCA start at Iowa Speedway.
He's also groomed himself nicely on the off-track side as well. He has a nice presence and he speaks well now too during interviews.
As long as he gets with the right person and/or team, like he's done with the Garvey partnership now, he'll be successful in NASCAR.
Each year NFL teams gather in New York City to select their draft picks from the collegiate ranks. It's a football player's dream to be selected by a team and have a chance to play in the NFL and make a bundle of money.
The same can be said for short track racers across the country. Short track racing is the minor leagues or “college ball” for the biggest motorsport in America, NASCAR. Yet, there is no draft for these rising stars. Instead, the selections NASCAR teams make sometimes (although not always) revolve around who can bring more money to the table rather than who has the most talent.
Today, Speed51.com, is holding the “5th Annual Short Track Draft.” This is the “original” short track draft from the #1 Short Track site in America. Of course, since our basis is pavement racing, there is an asphalt bias to our picks, but dirt guys and open-wheel USAC drivers were certainly not excluded. In fact, you will read about several of them as we release our “Top-50 Draft Picks” from the Short Tracks of America.
To do this we have assembled a group of experts, more than 25 of them from all different realms (media, former drivers, series officials, parts manufacturers, industry leaders) to select their top draft picks. They anonymously voted for their top prospects.
Again, there were some guidelines to follow. Drivers who have plans to compete in NASCAR's “Big-Three” (Cup, Busch & Trucks) this year on a regular basis (one-race deals didn't matter) were excluded. Again, this draft also encompasses drivers over the age of 18, much like the NASCAR policy. We feel that is the minimum age a driver should be given an elite opportunity to NASCAR's “Big-Three.” The other thing we have done this year is make this draft include only drivers that are under the age of 30. After all, this is a draft for the future drivers of the big leagues.
On Wednesday, we will release our “Underclassmen Draft,” comprised of some of the top talents in the country not 18-years-old just yet. We will also release another list of drivers who just missed the top-51 cut, but still received votes from our panelists and the “Best of the Older Guys” as well.
Remember, these selections were based on a mathematical equation of average rating based on 15-experts, number of number-one selections and last minute input from other racing experts not originally paneled.
Without further adieu, with the number one selection in the 2008 Short Track Draft, the panel selects…
2. Peyton Sellers (NASCAR Camping World East Series)
Peyton Sellers was a first-team All-State football player in high school. He's got good size and he's pretty fast, so that was the perfect ingredient to be the star sack artist as defensive-end of his school's team. The St. Louis Rams would have been wise to pick him with the second selection, but only if they had a racing team. Sellers did not play ball in college because racing got in the way.
He's got some added experience of playing with several teams in the minor leagues as well; that could pay off for a big league owner.
First, Sellers won the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series national title for his family's Late Model Stock Car team. Then came a call up to the minors out West with Richard Childress Racing, a short stint in the NASCAR East Series for Ted Marsh's team and more time in the East Series with his family's low-budget operation. For 2008, he's taken the lead role at the powerhouse NASCAR Camping World East Series team of Andy Santerre Motorsports, which does have ties to RCR this year and DEI a season ago.
Sellers won the first race of the CW East season on the race track, but lost it in the tech line when a shock did not meet NASCAR specifications. This has made him even hungrier heading into the bulk of the year. It would be no surprise to see the 24-year-old earn another NASCAR national title on the way to even bigger things.
3. Corey Williams (PASS South, Super Late Models)
When the Atlanta Falcons took Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan with the third pick, they were looking for someone to build a franchise around. They wanted a consistent performer that has proven he can win now and deep in to the future - just like Ryan did at BC and like Corey Williams has been in the Super Late Model ranks of the Southeast.
Williams grew up in Boothbay, Maine, not too far from Boston, where Ryan played college ball. Both have movie-star good looks and have the ability to stick around and succeed for many years.
After average performance in PASS North for a couple of years, Williams moved South, started working for Andy Santerre's Camping World East team and his Super Late Model stats started piling up.
In just a little more than a year, Williams has become the PASS South SLM tour's all-time leading winner. He scored three wins in '07 and a season-opening tally in the Easter Bunny 150 this year at Hickory. NASCAR standout David Stremme recognized Williams' talent and started building his development franchise around Williams last year; that pairing won their first ASALM event at Orange County (NC).
The 22-year-old Williams has got the personality to boot. Like Ryan, he is outgoing and extremely polite. It looks like Williams could be the first Mainer since Ricky Craven to make it to the Cup world.
4. Jeff Choquette (FASCAR Sunbelt Series / Super Late Models)
There are a bunch of similarities between Choquette and Arkansas' Darren McFadden, who was taken fourth in the NFL Draft by the daunted Oakland Raiders. Number one, both are wicked fast. Number two, both are super tough. Three, both have overly confident. The one big downfall is that nobody knows what either will do outside of their home turf.
This young lion has been playing ball deep down in Florida and sacking his opponents on a regular basis. He's already won this year's Speedfest 2008 event, the Speedweeks Super Late Model title at New Smyrna and this past weekend's Sunbelt Series race. It's only April and he's already got enough wins to pour into a couple handfuls!
The common criticism of Choquette is that the Florida scouts know what he can do, but he really needs to take his game on the road to get noticed by the big boys. That's the rap that dropped McFadden to fourth and not the #1 overall pick.
Choquette is changing his ways, however. He did that last month by dominating the early stages of the PASS South Easter Bunny 150 at Hickory Motor Speedway (NC), before lapped car took him out. He also ventured into what is know as “LA,” lower Alabama, by competing in the Super Late Model Series at Mobile and the Blizzard Series at Pensacola, (yes, we know that is technically Florida).
Choquette, 21, has also had gotten beat up in the past for having some of that Florida bravado about him, but he seems to be changing his persona a bit to a more gentle and outgoing path.
5. Johnny Van Doorn (CRA Super Series / Outlaw Super Late Models)
Talk about somebody coming from out of nowhere, Johnny Van Doorn is it. He's sort of like Delaware's Joe Flacco, who was taken 18th in the NFL Draft by Baltimore; Van Doorn is not widely known around the NASCAR garages, but he may be pretty soon.
And just like Flacco, Van Doorn has put up some pretty big numbers. The Coopersville, Michigan youngster burst onto the national short track scene in 2007 after being discovered by car owner and former ARCA standout Tim Steele. Van Doorn won the Rookie of the Year title in the CRA Super Series, but that was small potatoes compared to how he did it. Van Doorn finished second in points to Chris Gabehart and managed to win the biggest race of the year - the All-American 400 at Nashville's Music City Motorplex. A final tally of five victories and the Triple-Crown championship in CRA SS is what Van Doorn ended the year with.
The 20-year-old is looking for the overall title this year in the CRA Super Series and is the early favorite to wear that crown. Van Doorn is a wide-eyed teenager with a lanky build. He'll need to conform himself for the big leagues, but he may indeed get a shot if he keeps up with what he did last year.
6. Matt Hirschman (Whelen Modified Tour / Modifieds in General)
The bottom line is that Hirschman is a veteran of the Short Track Draft. He's been on everyone's potential list the past four years.
Like the Mannings (Peyton and Eli - the last two winning Quarterbacks of the Super Bowl), his family has rich racing history. His dad is five-time NASCAR Modified Tour champion Tony Hirschman. And because of his dad's past, he's been able to learn every side of the racing world. In fact, he was his dad's top wrench for a couple of those championships.
On the track, the 25-year-old Hirschman is a natural. He can win the smallest of races, like at the circle of Mahoning Valley Speedway in PA, or the biggest ones, such as the $10,000 top prize in the North / South Shootout at Concord Motorsport Park. In fact, he's won two-in-a-row in the big Modified race in the heart of stock car country.
But that's the problem, he's a winner in Modifieds and has no fender experience. While the Mods are lean and mean, no Mod driver since Steve Park has had any success in the big leagues. He needs to beg, borrow or steal to get a ride in a PASS North Super Late Model or a Camping World East car if he has any aspirations of climbing the ladder. Either that, or he can join his dad and make a living in the Mods. He could be a good one there too and there's nothing wrong with that.
7. Bobby Santos, III (NEMA Midgets / USAC / Whelen Modified Tour)
Bobby Santos, III has already been tossed a few balls in the pros. He entered a few NASCAR Busch (now Nationwide) Series races last season and he qualified towards the front in each of those events. He ran near the front against the Busch-whackers too, but bad luck kept him from scoring any strong finishers. He's done the same thing in the ARCA RE/MAX Series too and amazingly enough, the number of career starts that Santos has in any type of fendered racecar is still only in the teens (although he has won just about everything in the open-wheeled ranks). There is a ton of untapped potential here.
But potential doesn't pay the bills and without some big sponsorship dollars, Santos has been sitting on the sidelines for the most part in 2008. He's picked up one-off rides in midgets and modifieds, but we think this kid has Cup-potential and should be climbing that ladder. He doesn't bring much money to the table, but it looks like he'd be a blue-chip investment for a savvy team owner.
It's not like he doesn't have the look either. He's no Matt Ryan of Boston College, but this draft pick has the marketing look a big time team would be after. The 22-year-old's interview skills need to improve a little, but that could come with a little massaging.
Recording artist Eminem said once “If you have one shot, one opportunity, to seize anything you've ever wanted… would you capture it?” Well, Santos has had a shot, with and underfunded Bill Davis Racing, hopefully he'll get another with a little more ammunition.
8. Ryan Lawler (PASS South / Super Late Models)
It took a judge's call to decide whether Lawler was even eligible for this year's Short Track Draft. The 2007 PASS South champion has been testing the waters in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series for Green Light Racing, but the deal was struck to give Lawler some seat time in a big-league ride, not to showcase his skills for the team, which needs sponsored drivers to fill their seats. Our judges ruled that this made him in fact eligible for the draft since he is still showcasing his skills in the hunt for a big league ride. He's just using a different avenue to do it.
Lawler is a Legends grad who has accomplished much in his two plus seasons of Super Late Model racing. Under the watchful eye of old school coach Robert Hamke, Lawler finished top-five in his first ever Super Late Model race in '06. Since then he has won races and a title in PASS South. He also won an ASA race last year. But his biggest prize of all was the 2007 Winchester 400 victory laurels. If you can win at Winchester, you can win anywhere, just ask Ryan Newman.
His secret seems to be to race against the best and keep his eyes, and mind, open wide enough to learn from them. Not a bad strategy at all.
Lawler looks like a surfer from California rather than the 21-year-old Texan that he is. He could be the next big thing from Texas since the Labonte brothers, and those Cup champs weren't too shabby either.
9. Justin Allgaier (ARCA RE/MAX Series / Dirt)
The Cincinnati Bengals held the ninth pick of the NFL draft. With a team in turmoil with legal issues, loudmouth superstars and no signs of a real playoff threat, what they need is a guy like Justin Allgaier, if only Allgaier had the size of a football player.
Allgaier is a genuinely nice kid. With the strong short track racing background (his family has the Midwest's Hoosier Tire distributorship), Allgaier has come on strong in recent years on the ARCA RE/MAX Series. Kenny Schrader, who Allgaier recently beat head-to-head in an ARCA race at Salem, will tell ya he can also wheel a Dirt Late Model with the best of them.
The 21-year-old has won on both dirt and asphalt in the ARCA ranks and has shown signs so far in 2008 of being a serious threat for the championship. He's had a shot in Trucks before with an underfunded team, but that didn't pan out the way Allgaier had planned. With a little more seasoning and perhaps some more wins in ARCA, Allgaier may have another shot to turn a franchise around.
10. Darren Hagen (USAC)
The Charlotte Observer wrote on Sunday that the New England Patriots first-round pick Jerod Mayo of Tennessee (who coincidently was #10) is a “smart and agile athlete who shows good ability to change direction.” That's exactly the talent Hagen possesses.
The background is simple for Hagen; he was the first driver in USAC history to become Rookie of the Year for both Sprint Cars and Midgets in the same season. He's won the “Hut Hundred” at Terre Haute Speedway, the USAC/CRA Sprint Car event in Vegas and just this past weekend the “Rich Vogler Classic” at Winchester Speedway. That proves he can win on dirt and asphalt. He's also currently third in the USAC National Sprint Car standings.
At 21-years-old, he's a good looking kid who has quite a path to follow, laid by none other than the likes of former USAC standouts Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman.
Hagen is not the top-pick from the open-wheel sector on everybody's depth chart, but our experts felt he has the most potential. Being in the “Top-10” is good, unless of course, you are making David Letterman's “Top-10 List.”