MIDWEST SERIES DOMINATES SOUTHEAST SERIES OPENER  by J. Troiano
Hoppe Survives Series Of Wrecks For Second-Straight Nashville Win
In last year’s Patriot 200, we saw the North cars dominate, led by eventual race winner Brian Hoppe.  In last year’s NASCAR Toyota All Star Showdown in Irwindale (CA), we saw the Midwest Series cars dominate, led by eventual race winner Ron Breese Jr.  Catching on to the trend?

Yes, it happened yet again
Several Midwest Series drivers made the trek to Nashville (TN) for the Southeast Series opener and after 150 laps, they made sure the SES regulars knew who was top dog.  And, yet again, the Midwest Series was led by former series champion Brian Hoppe.

Hoppe won Saturday night’s “Spring Classic 150” at Music City Motorplex (formerly Nashville Fairgrounds) in convincing style, dominating much of the final two-thirds of the race and avoiding several caution flags and wrecks that took out many of the top cars.

“I decided early that I was going to need to save my tires, so that is what we did at first,” said Hoppe, whose win was the first SES victory of his career.  “Once we did that, we were pretty good.  Once we got by for the lead we could set our own pace.  This race was a lot about track position.  Since we are not running for points, the only we wanted to do was come down here and win and that is what we did.  We put this car in Victory Lane.”

Hoppe took the lead from a surprisingly strong Greg Pope on lap 57 and never looked back, leading until the checkers.

Hoppe was just one of three Midwest Series drivers to finish in the top-five.  Eddie Hoffman and Erik Darnell placed fourth and fifth
respectively, and along with sixth place finisher George Vincent, showed the Midwest Series just may be the toughest in the NASCAR Touring family.


“It’s tough up there,” added Hoppe when asked why the Midwest Series is so good.  “Our series is really tough.  From that standpoint, we just really work hard at what we do.  There is a lot of good competition up there, not taking anything away from these guys down here in the Southeast Series.  There are a bunch of good drivers down here too.  Some of those really good guys just got caught up in the wrecks here tonight so they weren’t able to show what they had.”
It was the second straight win for Hoppe at Nashville dating back to last year’s Patriot 200 Super Late Model race that was co-sanctioned by the Sunoco Super Series and Southern All Stars.  He barely won that race, by a matter of inches over the Southern All Star’s Ricky Turner, but won convincingly this time around.

“We don’t do so well in ASA cars here at Nashville, but we do pretty good in our own stuff.   I was excited about coming back here with this car.  I just love this track.  I don’t think it is experience or anything like that; I just take to these kinds of tracks pretty well.  This is right up my alley.  My crew guys gave me a good car and we got good track position and that is what it was all about.”
Brian Hoppe celebrates his NASCAR Southeast Series win at Nashville on Saturday night.
The night’s first and biggest accident came just 17 laps into the event when Jason Hogan and Ray Skillman got together coming out of turn two.  Skillman’s car spun and a number of other cars piled in.  Fourteen to be exact.  Skillman, Terry Mason Jr., Jarod Robie and Kevin Prince’s cars were all taken out of the race and many others were left with mild to moderate to severe damage.

“I don’t know what happened,” said Hogan, who came back to finish second.  “We didn’t get together with Skillman because there was no mark on our right front fender except some rubber left on the car from when Skillman was spinning.  I got lucky to get through it all.
Hoppe's #51 won for the second-straight time at Nashville's Fairgrounds track.
“We didn’t really have anything for Brian.  He is a great racer and he showed it again tonight.  He showed how tough this Midwest Series is.  We had a great run, but we just couldn’t do anything with Hoppe.  I think we all had pretty equal cars.  If we could have had track position, maybe we could have had something for him, but I’ll take second.  This is a new car, so there isn’t much more you could ask for.”

Rookie JR Norris had the fastest car on the track all night long but a couple of rookie mistakes kept him from taking the top spot.  After putting his car on the pole in qualifying, Norris started eighth after the series’ mandatory inversion but was never able to work his way to the top spot. 
Jason Hogan was the top-finishing Southeast Series regular.
Norris got two laps down after he had to pit under green with a flat tire.  Norris made both of the laps up under green flag conditions, but was penalized twice by NASCAR officials for two different infractions, including rough driving and passing on the left before the start/finish line.
“I don’t think there was any doubt that we had the fastest car out there tonight.  No doubt at all,” said Norris.  “I made a couple of mistakes, plain and simple, and that cost us the race.  We really worked hard to come back from those laps down, but my mistakes put us right back in the same spot. 

“The car was a rocket ship though and that holds a lot of promise for the future.  This team is going to be tough all year long.  But I just made a couple stupid mistakes.  I guess that is why I have the rookie stripes on the back of my car.”

Southeast Series veteran Jeff Fultz finished a strong third
Norris said the fast qualifier award doesn't mean anything if you can't win the race.
after battling an ill-handling race car all day long. Hoffman and Darnell, who is going to try and run the full Midwest and Southeast Series schedules in 2004, rounded out the top-five.

Pope, who had one of the best runs of his Southeast Series career after starting on the pole thanks to the inversion, eventually fell out of the race with a blown motor.  He finished 17th.

SPRING CLASSIC 150
Music City Motorplex, TN

1. Brian Hoppe
2. Jason Hogan
3. Jeff Fultz
4. Eddie Hoffman
5. Erik Darnell