If you had a team in NASCAR’s big three divisions, which kids would you like to draft from the short track ranks for your organization?
That's the question that we asked ourselves, a number of other journalists, industry insiders and even a few unnamed figures int he Cup garage recently. We took all of their votes, put them in a blender...well, actually a spreadsheet program, and those drivers were ranked as part of the annual Speed51.com Short Track Draft. We've been doing this for years and here is our 2010 installment.
In years past, we had a seperate underclassman draft. But that got too confusing and with the onslought of teen drivers in the sport now, we've rolled everything into one big series.
We told our panel that there were a few ground rules. You can’t have a ride this year in the “Big Three.” (Start and Park teams not included). Choices also need to be at least 12 years old, but not older than the age of 30. We know that there are a lot of great drivers over 30, but nobody is looking to draft them in this day and age.
So, without further adieu, with the number one selection in the 2010 Short Track Draft presented by Speed51.com, we select…
Age - 14
Hometown - Dawsonville, GA
Series - Super Late Models and Pro Late Models
The quarterback, much like the driver of a race team, is the catalyst for how successful the team is going to be. When teams need a QB to turn their teams around, they look to the NFL Draft to find their guy that their whole organization and fanbase can rally behind for years to come.
For the NASCAR teams, there's perhaps no better quarterback around these days than Chase Elliott. That's why the esteemed panel of media, experts and major decision-makers inside the NASCAR garage have voted the 14-year-old Elliott, son of former NASCAR Champ Bill Elliott, as this year's number-one draft pick.
But while picking your franchise Quarterback, or driver, with your first pick, may be a no-brainer, like it was for our panel with Elliott or the St. Louis Rams' selection of Oklahoma Quarterback Sam Bradford as this year's #1 NFL pick, the choice of playing the star right away or letting him get a few seasons' worth of experience as a backup is one that can make or break a team manager or coach.
Many football experts say Bradford is ready to be plugged in as the starter in St. Louis, he's a Heisman Trophy winner and an accomplished stud of a QB already. He's got plenty of experience, but nothing like what will be coming at him every Sunday. Similarly, Chase Elliott, at just 14, has already gained a ton of experience, winning races in the Georgia Asphalt Series, the now-defunct ASA Southeast Tour and in PASS South all in 2009. The Dawsonville, Georgia native even went down to the Snowball Derby and had a good run in the works in his first-ever appearance in the heralded race, all in an effort that earned him the Speed51.com Short Track Rookie of the Year title in 2009.
But whereas Bradford is ready to go as the opening-day starter in St. Louis, Elliott's success in just a year-plus of big-car racing at age 14 needs some more polishing before he's ready to jump into the limelight. Heck, he's still a few years away from being able to race in the NASCAR K&N East or ARCA Series anyway, so while our panel think he is deserving of the shot at the big-times now, it'll be a few years before we see him starring on Sundays. The Elliott camp is good with letting their drivers grow before moving up, so when it's time for him to be a starter, expect Chase Elliott to be a star.
Elliott was ranked first on a mind-numbing nine ballots that were turned in. A total of 24 voters placed him in their top ten selections.
Bobby Santos, III
Age - 24
Hometown - Franklin, MA
Series - Modifieds and Open Wheels
Bobby Santos, III is more than likely the exact kind of quarterback that you want in your jersey during crunch time of a close Super Bowl match-up. He's talented beyond belief, he's a down-to-earth team player and he got unlimited potential.
But so far, potential has been the key word to Santos' career. He's bounced around between minor league teams while waiting for his big break. That break almost came in the form of a limited NASCAR Busch Series (what we now call the Nationwide Series) ride with Bill Davis Racing. Santos qualified exceptionally well in his few races and showed plenty of potential, but showcased that on a ship that was sinking.
Santos was passed off for future spots on the BDR roster in favor of those who brought money to the table. Soon after, Bill Davis Racing ceased racing in NASCAR's big leagues.
So Santos would make a habit of bouncing around between Sprint Car, Modified, Midget and Supermodified rides. He'd also make a habit of winning in those rides as well, but up until this season, he never really stayed in one place long enough to become a star. He'd just go on to his next race.
2010 could be a telling year in Santos' career though. He's found a home with the team that has won two of the last three NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championships, Mystic Missile Racing, and to start out the year he has gone two-for-two in qualifying and one-for-one in winning on the Tour. Santos will start on the pole in next weekend's rain-delayed Spring Sizzler at Stafford Motor Speedway (CT). Nobody would be surprised to see Santos finish first there either.
Three of our voters ranked Santos as their top pick for 2010.
Age - 16
Hometown - Spring Valley, WI
Series - ASA Midwest Tour, SLMs, ASA Late Models and More
Similarities between Ross Kenseth and the number three pick in the NFL Draft, Defensive Tackle, Gerald McCoy: NONE. Their size is incomparable, but their stature within their own respective realms is what makes both of them top picks. Plus both come from a pedigree of success… McCoy, from the powerhouse Oklahoma and Kenseth, from the tough Upper Midwest racing ranks.
It also doesn't hurt Kenseth that he is the only son of former NASCAR Cup Series champ Matt Kenseth. But, while Dad has helped his son out with equipment, he hasn't spoiled him either. In fact, it's Matt's guidance and support that has helped son Ross mature into a fine racer. The biggest edge that this 16-year-old has right now, Dad is not pushing him too hard to the rest of the world.
Even at such a young age, the six-foot Kenseth has racked up quite an impressive resume. Last year he became the Big 8 Series champion and won an ASA Late Model North Series event at Owosso Speedway. He really turned some heads when he sat on the front-row for the prestigious Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway (Pensacola, FL) in December.
2010 is a telling year for the youngster. He will be competing against the likes of tough veterans such as Steve Carlson, Nathan Haseleu, Tim Schendel and more on the ASA Midwest Tour. He will be the favorite to win Rookie of the Year honors on that circuit.
His only downfall, like his father, is his shy demeanor. At the same time, that's a good thing because some kids are too brash these days.
Our draft experts like this kid as one to certainly keep your eye on. One of our voters ranked him in first place and 16 of them ranked him in their fantasy top ten.
Age - 17
Hometown - Lawrenceville, GA
Series - ARCA, SLMs, and PLMs
You could call Casey Roderick the Safety of the Bill Elliott Driver Development team. While pint-sized Quarterback Chase Elliott picks up the majority of headlines and attention, Roderick keeps plugging away, often behind the scenes, and doing his job.
Roderick is known to do that job very well too. He first made a name for himself playing a good game in the Legends car ranks. While most of the draftees these days start out there, not too many were able to build up the type of resume in those cars as Roderick did. Between 2005 and 2008, Roderick won dozens and dozens of feature races. He won the Legends portion of the inaugural Mason-Dixon Meltdown at South Boston Speedway (VA), he won a Summer Shootout Pro Division title, the Georgia Asphalt Legends Pro Title, an Atlanta Motor Speedway Thursday Thunder championship and much more.
Moving into “big” cars brought even more padding for Roderick's resume. He won in Pro Late Models fairly quickly and captured the 2009 Lanier Super Six Series championship. He also finished third in his first Snowflake 100 attempt.
What Roderick has come on the verge of doing is even more impressive. He nearly won the first ARCA Racing Series event that he entered - settling for a runner-up finish at Rockingham behind Parker Kligerman instead. He nearly won the Pro Late Model portion of SpeedFest at Lanier earlier this year, but got booted out of the way by Kyle Busch.
Being part of the Elliott farm team is a blessing and a curse for Roderick. The spotlight put on him by being associated with the top name team is bright and helpful, but the fact that he will always be in the shadow of Chase Elliott could limit his potential for advancement too.
Age - 23
Hometown - Senoia, GA
Series - SLMs, and PLMs
Thanks to some impressive results on the racetrack, Bubba Pollard's stock is rapidly rising. With 15 asphalt Late Models victories in the last 13 months, Pollard has emerged as one of the men to beat in every race he enters. From the Blizzard Series to the Viper Series and even in the first CRA South event Pollard has won seemingly everywhere.
Pollard, now 23, is right around the age of a college draft pick who is about to go pro. He seems to be right in the prime of his driving career. In 2009, he had over 30 starts and only five finishes outside the top 10.
The Senoia, Georgia, native knows that NASCAR might not be an option for his future, but it's not because of a lack of talent. The true testament about Bubba is that if he had 50 grand to buy an ARCA ride, he would rather spend the money on a Super Late Model and go short track racing instead.
Pollard was a football player in high school and he played both offense and defense. That's kind of like his racing game, as he does time in Pro Late Models and Super Late Models during the season. Now he's even been doing some special teams work or dirt racing in the Georgia area.
Last year, we harped on him a bit about his image at the track. Since then we have seen more of a clean-cut Bubba who has been working out away from the track to improve stamina. We have also gotten to see the lighter side of him after a comical situation where the walls at Gresham Motorsports Park were branded as “Bubba Barriers” due to a wreck he had there last season. What the critics say about Pollard doesn't seem to matter. What matters is he'll be at the front of the pack week after week.
Johnny Van Doorn
Age - 22
Hometown - Coopersville, MI
Series - CRA Super Series
If Johnny VanDoorn were a football player, he would make an excellent wide receiver. He is tall and lanky, but tough as nails… the Coopersville, MI native would make a perfect target for Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford to his over the middle.
Problem is, VanDoorn is a racecar driver. So instead of making millions catching passes for a living, he is just scrapping by to race his heart out.
VanDoorn has gone against the best of the Midwest and won. He beat out three-time CRA Super Series champion Scott Hantz for that series title in 2009 and he's a former winner of the All American 400 at Nashville.
This guy is prime for the picking. At 22, he's got enough maturation behind the wheel for the big time. He's personable and speaks very well, but he's not outgoing enough to push his career forward. Sometimes, drivers need to be a near, “pain in the ass,” to certain people to get a shot. In fact, we see a lot of drivers get that opportunity just because they've hung around the right places.
Now, contrary to popular opinion, VanDoorn is not necessarily low-buck. He does have a car owner, but he does make his success on a more limited budget compared to some.
This year he needs to continue winning in the CRA Super Series, but also get another victory in a signature event to re-establish himself as a guy who deserves a shot. Overall he has 14 top-10 votes, but no number-1s. He did, however, receive a pair of number two selections.
Age - 27
Hometown - Northhampton, PA
Series - Mods
Many footballers hone their skills and play their college ball at schools far from home. Matt Hirschman's career hasn't been anything like that. He still turns wrenches on his race machines at the family's Hirschman Garage and Speed shop just steps from his bedroom on Mud Lane in Northampton, Pennsylvania. But when you have a legendary lineup of coaches right there - like Matt's father Tony Hirschman and neighbor Eric Beers, what is the point of leaving the nest?
The number of races in anything other than a Modified that Hirschman has run in his career can be counted on one hand. He's done fairly well too in a few starts in what is now known as the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East division. But in Modifieds, he really shines. He's won the Mason-Dixon Meltdown and the North South Shootout. He's won races during Florida Speedweeks. He finished second in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour standings to Ted Christopher. He's won RoC Modified titles.
Hirschman has gotten those accomplishments due to his intensity, but that intensity isn't always his best friend when it comes to play the game of moving up in racing. A reputation of being a little hard to work with has scared a few talent scouts away, but that is nothing that a little bit of polish and coaching couldn't fix. Besides, wouldn't you rather have a driver in your car that wants to win too much than a driver who doesn't care about running up front and is worrying about his next photo opportunity or Twitter entry instead?
Age - 26
Hometown - Fort Frances, ON
Series - ARCA
We've seen a few of our American Football heroes end up in Canada, Doug Flutie comes to mind, but we don't see too many prospects from North of the Border come into the NFL…or NASCAR….for that matter. Steve Arpin might be a rare exception.
Arpin knows ARCA, not the CFL. Lately, he's known ARCA pretty damn well too - winning two of the last three events on the schedule. Arpin played his Pop Warner ball on the dirt and picked up skills of car control that make him quite a find in our short track draft. He's also made fast friends with many NASCAR drivers as well, including Carl Edwards, Ken Schrader and Kenny Wallace. Having those types of references can't hurt a career too much.
What Arpin hasn't had so much of is money. He doesn't fit in quite so well in the rich kid world of current-day ARCA Racing. We find that refreshing, but we don't own a Nationwide Series or Truck Series team either. Unfortunately, many of those decision-makers look for a large check in addition to credentials, so that might limit Arpin's success somewhat.
Arpin's fortunes are looking up. After the votes were cast for the Short Track Draft, it was announced that he would drive a JR Motorsports entry in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Talladega. Had this news been released before voting, he would have actually be ineligible for the draft this year. Instead, he squeaked in on a technicality. Arpin finished 26th at Talladega.
Age - 21
Hometown - Germantown, TN
Series - SLMs, and PLMs
No matter how good a first-generation player in the NFL may have been, when their kids come around and steal the spotlight, it's hard for people to remember how great the dads were. Look at Archie Manning…now that Peyton and Eli have come around, the old man's accomplishments are dimmed just a bit thanks to the superstar sons. While Sammy Swindell is still around and winning races in the World of Outlaws circuit, his 21-year-old son Kevin is quickly making Sammy's success seem like ancient history.
From Germantown, Tennessee, Kevin Swindell has been winning for years in various open-wheeled circuits and became the youngest-ever winner in the WoO ranks back in 2006. He won the biggest game, or race, of them all in the Midget ranks by scoring the victory in the Chili Bowl earlier this year - beating out his dad to the finish.
Like most draft picks, there's always going to be a knock on an up-and-comer. Perhaps the only one that can be levied against Swindell is his lack of full-fendered car experience. He got a few starts in what is now the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East back in 2008 in a ride shared with fellow top-10 pick Matt Hirschman, but the program at Evernham Motorsports in the East Series fizzled up, leaving both Swindell and Hirschman out of a ride in that series.
Swindell has conquered a lot in the Sprint and Midget circles. Some more big-car experience would almost certainly make him a shoe-in for stardom in the big leagues. After all, he's now a two-time Top-10 Draft Pick, so someday Swindell will hopefully get that shot our experts feel he deserves.
Age - 21
Hometown - Harrisburg, NC
Series - UARA LMSC
Another “legacy” pick, 21-year-old Coleman Pressley is the kind of player that reminds us a lot of Payton Manning. He's tall, big and strong, plus can sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves. Pressley is about as close to a “total package” pick as it comes, as the Concord, North Carolina resident can not only get the job done on the racetrack, he has one of those inviting personalities that leave sponsors and fans alike chomping at the bit to get him on their side.
Pressley, the son of former NASCAR Nationwide Series racer Robert Pressley, got his start by running Late Model Stock cars around the local short tracks in North Carolina, mainly at Hickory Motor Speedway. He won plenty there, but after discussing things over with his family, the only way to go from there was to do some more touring racing. That move helped get him noticed big-time by our scouts. Pressley broke out last year, wining in the UARA-Stars tour at Concord Speedway (NC) and Dillon Motor Speedway (SC), as well as his home track of Hickory, last season.
That success allowed Pressley to get even more big-track experience in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, doing mostly start-and-park efforts over the past two seasons. Pressley doesn't have a full-time ride nor a development contract, but he's got exactly what a good big-time driver should have according to our scouts, so hopefully with some more short track victories, some more full-event Nationwide stuff can be on the horizon for "Stroker," “The Americano,” “Pork Chop,” or “Hot Dog,” whichever of those nicknames you want to call him.