GLEN GLORY FINALLY FOR LEIGHTON by Matthew Dillner
Road Sweep Win May Be Last Busch North Win at Watkins Glen
Earlier this year, after Brad Leighton's first-career road course victory at Lime Rock Park (CT), Speed 51 asked him what his next goal was in his career. He was quick with an answer.
"Win the Glen," said Leighton back in May. The Busch North veteran and now part-timer in the series was of course referring to the other road course on the schedule, Watkins Glen International Raceway.
"It's an honor to win Lime Rock, but (Lime Rock) is like Rockingham and the Glen is Daytona. That's no disrespect to the track here. It's wonderful, but we're going to the Glen for the win."
That goal was met this past weekend as Leighton held off a hard-charging Brian Hoar and Dale Quarterly to take the checkers at the famed-New York road course.
At one time, Quarterly was considered by many to be the “king” of road courses in the Busch North Series. That title may have changed hands this past weekend in Watkins Glen when Leighton took the checkers.
Leighton will admit, he wasn't always so slick making left and right turns. In fact, he knows he wasn't even half the road racer Quarterly was at one time. But with determination and focus that has certainly changed.
“When I first got on a road course at Lime Rock Park, they called me the minute man because it took me over a minute to get around there. I went to the Bondurant (Road Course Driving School) and have worked real hard on road racing. So to get the sweep is sweet.”
In a way Watkins Glen had been a thorn in Leighton's side. For a driver who has accomplished so much in the series, this was the win that seemed to always elude him. He had been the bridesmaid before and also lost his shot at Glen glory on the final lap.
But this time, Leighton's fate was different. Although, he had to overcome a few mental and mechanical demons to score the long-awaited win.
“At the end of the race I tried not to think too much,” said Leighton. “For a while I was getting the laps counted down and then with five-to-go I told them to stop. We had a real big lead and then I messed up in turn one trying to get through the bus stop. After that (Brian Hoar) was right there on my bumper and I had to settle down to keep Bryan behind me. Too much thought and it almost got me in trouble.”
Part of that mental struggle came during an lengthy early race red flag, that had he and the rest of the Busch North field sitting dormant for over 20 minutes. That is a lot of time to think, but Leighton used this time in an unusually calm way.
Brad Leighton celebrates his long-awaited Watkins Glen win (51Photo)
“That red flag, man o' man, I was sleeping on the frontstretch. I was trying not to think too much during that time. I was watching all of the old video on the jumbo screen. I got relaxed and fell asleep. That is one of those deals where I don't like to waiting around. I take my mind somewhere else and try not to get all worked up and I guess that worked out pretty well.”
Mentally, Leighton was as cool as a cucumber, but that doesn't mean there weren't some intense moments during the Mohegan Sun 150. When awaiting the green flag, Leighton's chances almost slipped out of his hands, literally, when his shifter came off in his hand.
Leighton's #35 motors around Lime Rock Park, the site of his other road course win this year. (NASCAR Touring/Tom Gallo Photo)
“I could feel the shifter was loose. I just thought the transmission was loose. For some stupid reason I pulled up on it through turn ten before we went green. We were going green in the next turn and here I am trying to pop the thing back on.
“I actually got it on in the next corner and hit the gas and honestly it looked like I did a slingshot move. NASCAR called me on it and told me that if I did it again they would bring me in.
“Then the entire thing ended up coming off and it ended up somewhere behind my seat. It made for some intense moments for sure.”
Leighton made a pit stop to try and repair the shifter at one point, and the stop put his Irving Oil #35 out of pit sequence with the rest of the field. But the move wound up working to his advantage because when everyone else came to pit, Leighton gained valuable track position to recover from his 20th place starting spot.
Leighton is now the "Road King" of the Busch North Series. (51 Photo)
The Busch North Series veteran hinted that the win at the Glen was one of the most special of his career.
The win solidified him as a “road king” in Busch North. It completed his road sweep, and was was his third win in only five races entered this season.
But maybe more significant is the thought that this personal milestone, may have a greater meaning within the Busch North record books. With NASCAR's Busch Series replacing the Busch North Series at the Watkins Glen International in August of 2005, Leighton could very well be the last North Series winner at “the Glen”.
“That would be a shame,” said Leighton. “This series, if it has any road course racing, needs to be here at Watkins Glen.
“We definitely won't be here with the Cup guys next year. There is rumor we may be here with the IRL (Indy Racing League). But I understand Dover has already signed the date with us next year so that would be a conflict. I'm confident NASCAR will make the right decision and have another race for us. We definitely need two road course races not one.
“This may be it. This may have been my last shot. It definitely is sweet to know that my name may be the last one on that trophy.”