The NFL Draft, with all its pomp, circumstance and predictions, has been a sports fans’ haven for 75 years now. This year, as the 75th edition of the draft is set to kick off tomorrow in New York City, sports fans from each NFL city will be tuned in ready to cheer, or boo, their team’s next biggest star or dud, whichever one it may be. When you’re done reading this story on Speed51.com, go ahead and tune into one of the 23 ESPN channels there are these days…you’ll undoubtedly see shows about the Draft (except for dodgeball on “The Ocho,” of course).
Short track racing fans don’t have the umpteen ESPN shows and slick-haired experts arguing about who’s the best and who are the most overrated drivers of tomorrow. That’s what we’re for here at Speed51.com. Our football expertise may be enough to know that Sam Bradford’s will probably go first in the NFL Draft and Julius Ragarm from Montana Culinary Institute probably won’t be much of an NFL stud. Our short track racing knowledge, thankfully, is far more fine-tuned.
That’s why fans across the continent look forward to the annual Speed51.com Short Track Draft. Our panel of experts, which includes all of us at 51 plus an esteemed panel of national, regional and local racing media from around the country, as well as industry insiders from every aspect of the sport, annually take to the big board to pick which drivers, in their opinions, are the best choices for a shot at the big time levels of NASCAR.
Each year, the criteria for which drivers belong in the Short Track Draft become different. The one thing we stress to all of our panel members is to choose the drivers that they would pick for a NASCAR ride. Some people may pick the drivers that they think can sell products and represent a sponsor the best. Others just pick based on sheer talent. Some are looking for both…or more. Every panelist has different reasons for picking their drivers and in what order they rank them.
There are a few rules beyond that, however. First, the drivers must be between the ages of 12 and 29 as of
April 1, 2010. I know, that stinks for Johnny Bandolero Driver and Gramps McGee who mom, dad and fans would’ve loved to have seen their guys or gals on the list. Heck, people like Mike Rowe, Gary St. Amant and Ted Christopher would be awesome picks to put in any kind of top-level ride in NASCAR, but let’s be honest, they’re just too darn old. And in a day and age where the younger the driver, the more appealing they are for scouts, anything less than 12 is too darn young to judge talent. Anyone under the age of 12 is too young to judge whether the driver’s potty trained, let alone ready for NASCAR.
Dirt or asphalt, oval track or road course…our panelists could run the gamut of what discipline of motorsports they chose their drivers from this year. But, there was one more rule that everyone had to keep in mind. The drivers selected for this year’s Draft could not already have a development contract with one of the top NASCAR organizations, nor could they have made starts in NASCAR’s Truck, Nationwide or Cup Series this year. You can’t re-Draft someone that’s already been drafted in the NFL, after all, so why let it happen in the Speed51.com Short Track Draft, right?
So with the criteria set, our panelists have been flooding our email boxes with their votes for this year’s Short Track Draft. You’ll start seeing the Draft results next week, with the top-10 Draft Picks being announced live on Speed 51 Radio on RaceTalkRadio.com on Tuesday, April 27th.
In the meantime, we’ve asked our Facebook fans to start telling us who they would pick if they had a big-time NASCAR ride. We’ve seen all kinds of drivers listed there, from the way-too-old Junior Hanley and Mike Rowe, to a couple kids that are barely out of go-karts that are still a few years away from being eligible for the Draft. But, we appreciate the fans’ support of their drivers and we encourage everyone to become a fan of Speed51.com on there, and let us know who you’d put in a ride if you had the bankroll.
The cool part of the Speed51.com Short Track Draft is that while it’s more or less a fantasy game, it’s done for the reasons so many people would like to see it done in real life. Our panel doesn’t take the ability to write a fat check into account when selecting their drivers. Drivers are selected for whatever reason the panelists want, but our rides wouldn’t necessarily go to the ones that are, as I like to call them, part of the “Lucky Sperm Club.” The real scene is full of those as it is.
We’re all guilty of doing it at a racetrack and it’s heard every week in the grandstands and the pit area at tracks throughout the country: “Why isn’t (insert driver name here) in Cup?” “I’d love to see (insert name here) get a shot in NASCAR.” Our 51 staff goes to short tracks every weekend and people constantly ask us that and we wonder the same thing sometimes ourselves.
But many of the drivers that filled the blanks above have been included in the Short Track Draft over the last six years of the Draft. The very first #1 Draft Pick of the Short Track Draft back in 2004 was Ryan Moore. The second-generation Maine driver was a hotshot in the Super Late Model ranks up in New England and people knew he deserved a shot. He got that shot with Chance 2 Motorsports (what is now JR Motorsports) in the Nationwide Series shortly after our Draft came out, proving our experts knew what they were talking about. But, his cup of tea in the big leagues was short-lived, to say the least. There have been lots of other top Draft picks that have made it to the big leagues over the years. Some have stuck in there and still are there today. Others, however, are better candidates for a “Where are They Now” story than anything else.
But that’s what a Draft, whether it’s for the NFL or for short track racing, is all about, though. There’s always going to be heroes and busts. Remember Joey Harrington, the old quarterback from Oregon that was supposed to be the savior of the Detroit Lions a few years ago? He wound up being terrible and we’re pretty sure he’s now playing piano in a karaoke bar in Eugene, Oregon and the Lions still do, and probably always will, suck. There’s been a few Joey Harringtons in the Short Track Draft over the years (remember Joel Kauffman? Brad Rogers? Brent Sherman?) We’ll have more on some of the most memorable busts in our Draft history in a few days, but many of those drivers that have been deserving of a shot from all the way back in 2004 are still on the list here in 2010 or on "Missing Persons" signs at the Post Office.
At the same time, there are two drivers that our panel selected as their number-one picks over the years that undoubtedly all of us wish were still around to get their chance in a top ride that they deserved. 2006 number-one pick Charlie Bradberry and 2008 top-pick Matt Hawkins were taken away from us far too soon, but anyone that watched either of these two race would have likely put them at or near the top of their lists here in 2010 – but we have a good feeling that both would’ve been well on their way to NASCAR success by now. We all miss both Charlie and Matt, that’s for sure.
So that’s how the Draft works, in a nutshell. Last year’s number-one pick, Brian Ickler wound up signing a deal with Kyle Busch Motorsports and is competing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. On behalf of the entire Draft panel, you’re welcome, Brian.
Whether our expert panel gets it right or we’re way off in your opinion, it’s all in good fun and it’s fantasy. If our top picks get to the big time, then we’re way smarter than we look. If we’re wrong, at least we had some fun. Either way, we hope you enjoy this year’s Short Track Draft and stay tuned to Speed51.com all next week, beginning with Tuesday night’s Speed 51 Radio show for all the top-51 drivers, plus the near-misses from this year’s Draft.
Once the Draft’s over, feel free to cheer or boo just like those NFL fans.