There was plenty of variety in this edition of the 51 Short Track Power rankings...and plenty of change too. Last edition's winner Ted Christopher was the only racer from the top 10 of the March rankings to stay within the top 10. Hot streaks by a number of drivers made this one of the closest races that we've ever seen for the top spot. In the end, it was decided by a pair of fendered stars who have really gotten the season started off right - one from Maine and one from deep in the Heart of Dixieland.
So here it is, our April edition of the Speed51.com Short Track Power rankings:
1. Ben Rowe (PASS SLM) - 5.46 Rating - Ben Rowe only got a pair of first place votes for his adventures early in the season, but he was ranked in the top five of nearly every ballot and that consistency won him the honors of the being the most powerful man in short track racing for this month. Rowe swept the first two PASS South races of the season, including the Easter Bunny 150 at Hickory, which boasted of quite a strong entry list.
Rowe struggled a bit in the PASS North opener at Speedway 95 this past weekend with a finish of ninth, but then nobody can be perfect all of the time.
Here were a few of our panel's comments:
"Ben Rowe has had a great start to the 2009 season with two wins in the south. He kind of lost his way at Speedway 95, but he'll be going for three in a row this weekend at Orange County."
"He'd be higher if he didn't struggle at Speedway 95."
2. Bubba Pollard (SLM and PLM) - 5.69 Rating - When it came to first place votes, Bubba Pollard led the way with a total of five. But he wasn't ranked as high on the ballots of several other judges, which cost him a shot at the top spot in the Tower of Power this time around. Pollard has been winning all throughout the Southeast with his Pro Late Models and Super Late Models early this season.
Here were a few of our panelists' thoughts:
"Bubba has finished 1st or 2nd in his last four races."
"Pollard has the best start going for any Late Model driver in 2009. Four wins, two in Pro Late Models and two in Super Late Model have him rolling out of the gates on fire. Working with former ASA National Champion Mike Garvey and driving part time for Late Model legend Ronnie Sanders have really turned the table for the Georgia driver."
3. Ted Christopher (Mods) - 7.00 Rating, - We're not sure if our panel is getting tired of watching Ted Christopher dominate or if they have just set the bar higher for him. He's still been winning just as much - with a NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour and a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory since our last edition of Short Track Power. Yet, Christopher has slipped from first to third in our rankings. He did gather up four first-place votes from our panel this time around though.
Here were a few comments about TC this time around:
"He didn't win at Lanier (in a NASCAR WSMT race) but he's still had the best start to the season of pretty much any short track racer in North America."
"Prior to the Lanier race Christopher had won his last six starts in a tour type Modified. Christopher is like a fine wine, he only get's better with age. If he wins the Spring Sizzler the rest of the mod tour might try and make sure he gets lost on his way to the next event."
4. Johanna Long (SLM and PLM) - 8.85 Rating - Around her hometown of Pensacola, Florida they call it "Johanna-Mania". This teenaged girl just has fans and well wishers coming out of the woodwork and she's the hottest thing at the track right now. It seems that with such a high ranking in Short Track Power, our panel has been bit by the mania as well. But that all comes for good reason. Johanna has already won in the Blizzard Series at Five Flags Speedway (FL) this year and also visited victory lane at Mobile as well. There is just as much substance as there is sizzle here and we expect Johanna to become a regular visitor to the Power rankings for years to come.
Here is what some of our panel had to say about Long:
"Fresh off the Blizzard Series win at Five Flags Speedway Long is looking to have a breakout year in the Super Late Model world. Just a reminder for everyone she's only 16!"
"Big breakout victory at 5 Flags Blizzard race 2nd in points of new Gulf Coast Racing series."
"Just listen to the crowds!"
5. Andy Seuss (Mods) - 9.77 Rating - Seuss has long been a fan favorite in the short track world. He's very personable and has tons of talent and desire. But his luck and his racing budget hasn't always been quite so healthy. This year, Seuss is starting off the season delivering some very good results. He battled hard with Ted Christopher for a Speedweeks victory at New Smyrna before a tire went flat and he's won two of the four NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour events contested so far in 2009. Seuss is spllitting his time between a full run at the SMT title (where he sits just two points out of the championship lead) and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. We'd love to see what he could do in a fendered car as well, if given the opportunity.
Seuss received one first place vote from our panelists. Here were a few of their comments on his season so far -
"With two wins, he's been going good."
"The fact that he is doing so much with so little is very powerful. That gives him bonus points in my book."
6. Brian Ickler (CW East and ARCA) - 10.08 Rating - When the NASCAR Camping World East Series got their season started at Greenville-Pickens Speedway (SC) earlier this month, Brian Ickler was unstoppable. He dominated the race and started out the season with a victory. Issues in tech and added weight to his car kept him out of the top 10 in the ARCA RE/MAX Series race at Rockingham, but we think he'd be pretty powerful in that series as well without any tech drama. Then again, with Joe Shear, Jr. heading up his ship, we can be sure that the Ickler camp will push their envelope as far as possible in whatever series they compete in.
7. Russell Fleeman (PLM) - 11.46 Rating - When it comes to stand alone Southern Pro Late Model Series races, Russell Fleeman is undefeated so far in 2009. He's won at New Senoia and Montgomery already and once again is a force in the Deep South world of Pro Late Model competition.
8. Brad Leighton (ACT and CW East) - 12.00 Rating - We thought that Brad Leighton had retired..or semi-retired...or something along those lines, but even in a partial schedule of NASCAR Camping World East Series and ACT Late Model events, he still gets the job done. To start out his 2009 season, Leighton outgunned ACT rising star Joey Pole in heavy lapped traffic to win the tour opener at Lee USA Speedway.
Our panelists had plenty to say about Leighton:
"In a race that much more resembled the Busch North Opener than the ACT opener at Lee... It's funny how much things change, but really, they just stay the same."
"Brad could be paving his way to a big season in the northeast. His ACT victory at Lee USA Speedway will get him into the field at the New Hampshire for the ACT special event. Leighton has won eight times at New Hampshire in the past. If he wins there it could propel him to other big wins that he has not yet put on his resume like the Oxford 250."
9. George Brunnhoelzl, III (Mods) - 12.08 Rating - George Brunnhoelzl, III enjoys a slim lead in the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour standings. He hasn't won a race yet this year, but he's knocked hard at the door and showing plenty of power in the process.
One of our panelists wrote about Brunnhoelzl:
"GB III just capped of a great start to his 2009 Whelen Southern Modified Tour season. Three poles and a string of solid finishes have him as the point leader early on."
10. Shane Sawyer (PLM) - 12.54 Rating - Shane Sawyer has had a great season with an ASA SAT, and Shrine Bowl win at Lanier. One big selling point is that he went to Watermelon Capital Speedway for the first time and finished second after contending for the win. He might be the best kept secret in the Georgia Pro Late Model world.
11. Drew Brannon (ASA LM) - 12.62 Rating - Drew Brannon has won two of the first three ASA Late Model Series South races on the schedule, giving him a powerful stature and leading one of our panelists to write:
"It already looks like a dream team, Brannon with Butch Miller. I can't wait to see him race in the ASA Challenge series to test his talent against the higher level on ASA Late Model racing."
12. Johnny Van Doorn (CRA) - 12.77 Rating - Johnny Van Doorn is looking to be the main man in CRA series this season. Even with a new team he went to victory lane in the season opening event at Anderson Speedway (IN).
13. Keith Rocco (Mods) - 12.85 Rating - Keith Rocco, or "Kid Roc" as he is known in his homestate of Connecticut, is playing to some big crowds in 2009. He's also flexing his racing muscles and getting the job done with victories at Thompson and Waterford already this season.
14. Sean Caisse (ARCA) - 13.08 Rating - Sean Caisse has made the most of a one-race deal with Venturini Motorsports in the ARCA RE/MAX Series. He started the Rockingham race and he won the Rockingham race. Now, he is looking for more opportunities to strut his powerful ways this season.
15. Eric Holmes (CW West) - 13.00 Rating - Eric Holmes might be on his way to defending Camping World West title, and being with the series' monster team doesn't hurt. Then again, two victories in the first three races of the season don't hurt the cause either.
16. Pat Ward (DIRT Mods) - 13.17 Rating - Pat Ward has been getting the job done in a powerful way in the Super DIRTCar Series this season. He's won a pair of DIRT Modified races already this year and earned one number one vote this time around from our panel.
17. Phillip Morris (LMSC) - 13.25 Rating - So far this season, Phillip Morris has been a Late Model Stock Car terror. He's gone two for two at both South Boston Speedway (VA) and Motor Mile Speedway (VA). That's powerful stuff.
18. Johnny Clark (PASS North) - 13.25 Rating - Johnny Clark's opening day victory in PASS North Super Late Models was very powerful. Also impressive was the fact that it came at a track, Speedway 95 (ME), where he hasn't excelled at so much in the past. Even though the season is only one race old, we're thinking that Clark might be in the driver's seat to repeat as the tour's champion.
19. Augie Grill (SLM) - 13.50 Rating - Augie Grill ranked second in last month's Power rankings, but slipped down the charts this time around. Maybe he's not winning quite as much as he was earlier in the season, but it's only been a month! Even in April, he posted some strong numbers though, including a second-place finish in the Miller Lite Super Late Model race at Mobile.
One of our panelists wrote:
"He could have won the CRA south opener at Cordele, but a late race run in cost him a shot at victory. He's not been on the track much since his Rattler win, but even with a pair of top 10 finishes in the opening round of the Gulf Coast Championship series keeps him on the list of guys you have to beat each week"
20. Jeff Zudiema (ACT, SLM and More) - 13.58 Rating - Who is this guy? Well, if you are a race fan in Southern New England, you don't even need to ask. Zudiema has been a staple of the Thompson, Stafford and Monadnock tracks for years and now he is taking his game on the road. A very strong run in the ACT opener at Lee and a pair of Late Model victories during Icebreaker weekend at Thompson attracted our panel to him this month.