SOUTHEAST SERIES: BEHIND & AHEAD by Jeremy Troiano
Bradberry The Champ While Fultz Is The Big Winner
The 2003 Southeast Series season was full of questions at the start of the season. The series had a brand new title sponsor, Kodak, who everyone had hoped would gain the series more exposure and them more money. And after a slim schedule in 2002, the series came back and actually added a couple of races to spike the number to 10. Yet, it was still the least amount of races in the new Elite Division series.
However, the defending series champion, Jeff Fultz, was returning, along with the defending Rookie of the Year Jason Hogan. And so where a number of the other top competitors, including Charlie Bradberry, Dusty Williams and Johny Brazier. Two of the top drivers in the Southeast, brothers-in-law John Wilkinson and Terry Mason, made their case for Rookie of the Year honors. The biggest lose… 2002 runner-up and perennial 2003 favorite David Reutimann, whose part-time Busch schedule would prevent him from running for the 2003 title.
All were fighting for not only the series title, but a top-10 points finish and an invite to the new NASCAR Toyota All Star Showdown in Irwindale (CA).
Fultz dominated the season-opener, much like he would all year long, but a late accident with Eddie Mercer gave home track racer Williams the victory at Greenville-Pickens. Fultz would not let his misfortune hinder him, as the very next race, he took the checkers at South Boston Speedway.
The series then showed its versatility as it moved to its two “superspeedway” races, back-to-back events at, with Bradberry taking Nashville Superspeedway and intruder Scott Carlson taking Kentucky Speedway.
But despite all of his victories, Fultz still didn’t repeat as champion. Instead, that honor whet to the ever consistent Bradberry, who finished in the top-five six times and in the top-10 an amazing eight times and finished 17 points ahead of Fultz.
Jeff Fultz was one of the favorites in 2003.
“It is a dream come true,” said Bradberry. “What an amazing night. This is something I’ve been looking forward to ever since I was a kid. When I was a kid, this was what I dreamed about. My heroes growing up were All-Pro drivers like Billy Bigley Jr. Bobby Gill and my brother (Gary Bradberry). All of those guys were the heroes I looked up too. I wasn’t into the Winston Cup drivers; I always like the short track racers, so for me to be the champion of this series is so special.”
And Bradberry rode the championship out to become one of the hottest Short Track drivers anywhere in the country to end 2003. He was the highest finished member of the Southeast Series at the All Star Showdown, finishing 10th. He then capped off the year with a win in the prestigious Snowball Derby in Pensacola (FL).
Bradberry's only win in SES competition this year came on a superspeedway.
Meanwhile, Fultz had to sit back and bask in the glory of six wins.
"How can I not be happy with the year,” said Fultz of his 2003 campaign. “It's actually better than last year. To win six out of 10 races is big. We just needed 13 or 14 races like a regular schedule. It really would have made a difference. You can't brake and finish in the 30s at two tracks (both super speedway races) like we did at places that we normally win at. At the other ones, we won."
So now, it is onto 2004, with a new title sponsor (AutoZone) and the second annual All Star Snowdown. But plenty of questions still remain. A week into the 2004 year and a schedule for the series has yet to be announced. Several drivers are still questionable for their return, including both Bradberry and Fultz.
Hogan, who finished third in the 2003 championship series race, plans to return to the series and vie for the crown in addition to running races in several other divisions, including the Craftsman Truck and Southern All Star Series.
So looking behind and ahead, the Southeast Series future is still up in the air. With the car counts hold? Will the stars return? Will there be a sufficient number of races? It will all be told in due time.
Fultz (left) and Bradberry (right) were the best of the best of the SES field in 2003.