USARacing Pro Cup Leftovers: Myrtle Beach
Heat, First Time Drivers and Some Veterans
By Elgin Traylor
Clay Rogers Hits the Trifecta at Myrtle Beach

All of the stars and the planets are lining just right for Clay Rogers in Pro Cup competition.  After scoring two straight wins, Rogers went to Myrtle Beach seeking a third notch in the win column.  Rogers had won three in a row in Pro Cup in the past.  Now, he has done it in the present as well - he pulled off that feat at Myrtle Beach.

When the checkered flag flew on the number 54, it wasn’t really a surprise to anyone.  Rogers led the most laps and had a fierce battle with buddy AJ Frank.  The two friends ran at least 100 laps side-by-side in a race that saw 17 lead changes, but Rogers was able to get the track position after the final pit stop and go on for the win.

“This is exciting,” said Rogers.  “Everybody on the team is doing a great job, JCR…man they put great cars out on the race track.  I mean cars that are reliable. I tested it pretty good tonight, I got in the wall a few times coming down the back straightaway, but that’s what you have to have to win these races especially at a place like Myrtle Beach its equipment that stays underneath you and I’m just proud to be driving their stuff really.” 

Rogers came to Myrtle Beach a year ago having only been with JCR Motorsports for a week.  Since then they have turned the corner and made a big statement with four wins in the last six races.

“We felt like we had the potential to do this last year but we were just feeling each other out,” said Rogers.  “We had fast race cars, but we could not get any luck.  We won Rockingham and we thought we had the monkey off our back but then bam, the first two races of this season had dominant cars and we had problems, now we are back on track.”

Rogers, now 28 years old, is just happy to be in a driver’s seat.  For years the goals of moving up to Cup have overshadowed driver’s view of the opportunity to race.  Rogers has been up and down the NASCAR ladder and its content with racing Pro Cup for now. 

“You always think about that, but the Pro Cup series is a good home and when you can be in a car like this.   If I didn’t have a ride with JCR I’d probably be working on people’s cars, but I would love to get to back to the Truck Series.  Would I like to go Cup racing, that’d be great.  I’d love to, but I just want to make a living and be happy.  I’ve been driving racecars my whole life, I don’t know how to do anything else.” 

Howdy Ho Neighbor

The victory was all the more special for Clay Rogers because he got to race his buddy and neighbor AJ Frank for the win.  The two joked about it saying they were going to have a lot to talk about the next time they went out on the lake.

“Well AJ and I are neighbors and we’ve been friends for a long time and we used to be teammates,” said Rogers. “Were pretty much together every week and weekend especially on Sunday, we all go out and hang out on the lake together .it’s just great to see him have a great run like that.”

Frank had Rogers old crew chief Blake Bainbridge working on his car was it really intensified the new rivalry. 

“Me and Clay are very tight,” said Frank. “We’re personal friends and we had Blake over here who has been Clay’s crew chief and were all a pretty tight-knit group.  To be out there racing side-by-side, well I can’t wait to get out on the lake tomorrow and talk about it.  It was a lot of fun and I wish I could’ve ended up on the good of it.”

The Heat Was on At Myrtle Beach

It was one hot night in Myrtle Beach as the talented field of drivers dealt with a slick racetrack and heat index numbers that went into the triple digits.  Things cooled off by race time, but the numbers where still very high.  Mix in some good old southern humidity and you have a real hot mess on your hands.  Drivers used everything from ice packs, to water, sports drinks, and cold boxes in the car.  In the end, the checkered flag was a glorious sight for all who went the distance.

“Definitely one of the hottest nights I ever had,” said AJ Frank.  “We did it without having the air condition which most of these guys have.  I told myself last year when I had one I would never race again without a cool box, but it was either not race or race without a cool box and I chose not to have a cool box.   It was extremely hot day. I’m glad I drank plenty of fluids and had ice packs at the pit stops.  I’ve learned that I need to start going to the gym.”
 
Race winner Clay Rogers also talked about the heat. 

“Man, when it’s that hot, you got to gather your thoughts for a minute just to remember someone’s name,” said Rogers.  “I said in victory lane I got to thank the guys on this team for spending the money and getting one of these air conditioning units that blows in the helmet, without that it would have been a heck of a lot tougher and the majority of the cars out there have them but I never realized how much of a difference it made until tonight.”

One driver even guessed the amount of weight he lost inside the car.

“My guess is I probably lost about 8 pounds out there, I’m not too sure,” said Justin Boston.  “I don’t feel too bad quite yet so we’ll see when it hits.”

Let’s Be Frank About It

AJ Frank had a great night at Myrtle Beach by scoring a top five finish.  Perhaps the coolest thing about his race is that he wasn’t even suppose to be racing as a last minute effort came together and got him to the track with a very fast racecar. 

“I got the deal on Monday, and Cliff had called me on Tuesday and asked me if I knew a car he could sponsor and it worked out perfect.  I mean we were on the verge of having to put a few things together to make it happen, and he came through for us, just a fun night, but disappointing.”

Frank could have contended for the win, but an incident in turn three sent him for a spin.  He got hit in the side by Drew Herring, but he still managed to come back and finish off the night strong.

Justin Boston Runs Well in Pro Cup Debut

Myrtle Beach is not the most ideal track to make your first Pro Cup start at.  But don’t tell that to Justin Boston who not only braved the 250 laps, but the heat as well.  In his first effort with Turner Motorsports he finished a solid seventh-place finish, just one lap off the pace.

“That was a long race for me,” said Boston.  “I’m typically used to the 150 lap races here so going out there and running 250 laps with these guys is good experience and got a top 10 which is never bad.  We had a good run and I’m happy to be running with these Turner Motorsports guys and they did a great job.  I did about all I could to keep it up front there in the final laps so that’s all we can do.” 

Boston will run the remainder of the 2009 season with Turner Motorsports in the Pro Cup Series.  The team will be at Lanier this weekend making their second start together.

Brandon Ward Comes From a Lap Down to Finish Second

About mid-race some people might have wondered where did Brandon Ward come from?  He was strong in the early part of the race, but lost a lap as the tires wore off.  Once he did get new rubber and a timely caution he was back on the lead lap, slicing his way back to the front.  His day would stall out once he got to second as he had nothing for Clay Rogers.

“Mac Hill Motorsports has put me in great equipment and I’m just really thankful to have this ride with them,” said Ward.  “To put this together last minute and have this type of success is awesome. It’s the same deal just like earlier in the season. We finished very well, with little preparation.  You know two second-place finishes, the only place we really struggled was at Winchester.”

Ward is in the top five in points, but you might not think that because he tends to jump from series to series.  Some think it hurts his ability to drive, but how often do you see a guy who can run Modifieds, Pro Cup, Late Model Stocks and anything else he climbs into.

“We got a lot of criticism at time for bouncing around to so many different divisions and not sticking to one thing long enough, but were not taking anything much to these deals so we have to go to the places where we can put ourselves in the best equipment around.”

Lanier Ready to Host First USARacing Pro Cup Event 

For Clay Rogers to win four races in a row, he’ll have to do it at a track he’s only seen on TV – Lanier National Speedway.  Rogers, along with several other drivers, will be making their first ever trip to the tricky 3/8’s of a mile track in Braselton, Georgia.  Some guys like Bobby Gill and rookie Kyle Fowler have run there before in other series, but it should make for an interesting race.  

Michael Ritch Back in Pro Cup

A year ago, Michael Ritch came into Myrtle Beach as the hottest driver in the series.  He had already posted two wins and was leading the points.  2009 was a different story, as Ritch came into Myrtle Beach not having been on the radar all season.  He quickly made his presence known as he drove to the front and led 50 laps on his way to a top 10 finish.  Ritch might have been the man to beat, but the first pit stop was the deciding factor.  All the other guys elected to do gas only stops, while Ritch took on tires.

“We just made a mistake in the pits,” said Ritch.  “We thought that the people would have put tires on, which is inexperience on our part. I mean these guys have been running this tire for four or five races and testing and we just threw the car together and came here and ran.  Bill Smith and his son gave us a great racecar. Everybody could see that tonight.”

If the race had gone green, Ritch might have been in the driver’s seat for a victory.

“When we first put the tires on and they put fuel in, I just really tried to take care of the tires I let Clay and them go,” said Ritch.  “They got a straightaway ahead of me, but I probably should’ve just drove it as hard as I could and put Clay down a lap and the rest of the field down a lap and Bobby (Gill) and I could’ve been on our own lead lap and then somebody would have gotten lucky dog lap, more then likely Clay, sometimes you just play the game and thing don’t work out.”

Bobby Gill Recovers For Top Five Finish

Midway through the Grand Stand 250, Bobby Gill lost a lap on the racetrack.  It looked as if he was on his way to poor finish.  A call to put on tires when the leaders took gas around halfway ended up working out for him in the long run.  Gill got his lap back and drove all the way back to second place.  The tires worked out well enough that the leaders had lapped most of the field and Grill hung on with old rubber to post a fourth-place finish.  One might have wondered if he could have won if the race went green.

“I don’t think we could’ve pulled it off because those other guys had new tires on with 60 to go and we put ours on with like 90 something,” said Gill.  “We were a lap down and it had helped us get back on the lead lap. Actually the car wasn’t too bad at lap 200, if I could’ve gotten around Michael (Ritch) and led a lap that would’ve helped us out, but we did what we could do.”

For Grill it was his fourth top five finish of the season and series leading 106th.  He has been quiet this year, but he could still be a contender for yet another series championship later this year.

Clay Rogers has won the last three Pro Cup events in 2009.  (51 Sports photo)
AJ Frank had fun racing with his neighbor at Myrtle Beach.  (51 Sports photo)
Clay Rogers need a few minutes to cool off after the race. (51 Sports photo)
AJ Frank did it all on a last minute deal. He led a bunch of laps and got a top five finish.  (51 Sports photo)
Brandon Ward finished second. (51 Sports photo)
Bobby Gill keeps on trucking with another top five finish.  (51 Sports photo)