five races before Kimmel would actually see Victory Lane, coming at Toledo Speedway, ARCA’s hometrack. However, it was far from his last.
After 22 races, covering the spectrum of short tracks to superspeedways, dirt to asphalt to concrete, Kimmel emerged with his fourth-straight ARCA series title and fifth of his glorious career. Kimmel earned a series-leading seven wins and 19 top-five finishes. He won the title by an astonishing 675 points over Jason Jarrett.
Not to be outdone was the force of the NASCAR invaders. Kyle Busch, Casey Mears, Tony Stewart, Paul Menard and Ken Schrader won a combined eight ARCA races.
As has been the case for many years, the 2003 ARCA season proved to be a trained ground for some of tomorrow’s stars. Running big cars on both superspeedways and short tracks, the series generates a lot of interest with younger drivers. That was never more evident to start the year out.
With the exception of Mark Gibson’s win at Atlanta, the first races were won by young hotshoes like Chase Montgomery (Daytona), Shelby Howard (Salem) and Busch (Nashville). It was
It takes only five words to describe the 2003 ARCA racing season… “Frank Kimmel and NASCAR invaders.”
Another win by Busch, coming at Kentucky, was then followed up with two dominating performances by Kimmel only two days apart from each other, coming at two distinctively different tracks; Lowe’s Motor Speedway and Berlin (MI) Raceway.
Former Sunoco Super Series driver Shelby Howard, who became the youngest ARCA winner at the age of 17 when he won at Salem, proved he was ready for the big tracks, winning at Kansas.
Then, Winston Cup (now Nextel Cup) rookie Casey Mears welcomed himself to the ARCA series, winning his first career start in the series, coming at Michigan, and followed that up with back-to-back wins at Pocono Raceway on back-to-back days thanks to a early-season rainout.
Mario Gosselin, who seems to run anything with four wheels these days, stole the show in the return trip to the Nashville Superspeedway before Kimmel went on one of his most impressive streaks of the year.
The champion scored back-to-back wins at the Illinois State Fairgrounds and Winchester and followed that up just a couple of weeks later with a win at Kansas Speedway. Why so impressive? Illinois is a one-mile dirt oval; Winchester a half-mile high-banked short track; Kansas a 1.5-mile speedway.
Kurt Busch (left) hugs brother Kyle (right) after his win at Kentucky Speedway. (51)
Tony Stewart was able to stop Kimmel from sweeping both of the season’s dirt track races, winning at DuQuoin in his only 2003 season start.
The season ended with four different winners in the last four races, led by Howard winning for a second time at Salem. Paul Menard tore up Talladega, while Kirk Shelmerdine won a rain-shortened event at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Fan-favorite Ken Schrader showed he still had what it took to get to Victory Lane, winning at South Boston Speedway to wrap up the year.
Tony Stewart picked up an ARCA win on dirt. (ARCA Photo)
Only 15 of the over 100 drivers that competed in the ARCA Series in 2003 started each race. Kimmel blew everyone away in the points, with Jarrett and Howard rounding out the top-three finishers. Bill Eversole quietly snuck past female racer Christi Passmore for the series’ Rookie of the Year honors.
There were also a couple of sad moments throughout the course of the 2003 season, mainly hinging around the loss of two of ARCA’s chief pioneers… Iggy Katona and Bob Dotter. Both former ARCA champions died in 2003. Katona is still the winningest ARCA driver in history, with 79 career wins (Kimmel has 50). Dotter was a three-time ARCA champion.
Frank Kimmel found Victory Lane plenty of times in 2003, including here at Lowe's Motor Speedway. (51 Photo)
So where does the ARCA Series head in 2004? Several changes are in store for the Ohio-based sanctioning body, mainly in the schedule department.
Gone from the schedule are stops at Atlanta and Winchester and added are two races at Kentucky and the series first stop at Gateway International Raceway just outside St. Louis (MO).
The American Speed Association (ASA) had a direct impact on the ARCA Series in 2004 when the ASA Series announced it was going to be running some superspeedway races. ASA got ARCA’s second Lowe’s Motor Speedway date and took Atlanta off the ARCA schedule (ASA races at Atlanta in the fall in '04). But the two series will share the spotlight in May, running a combined show at Kentucky Speedway, where ARCA will once again serve as the weekend’s highlight event.
One thing that will appear to be the same is the names near the top of the point standings. Kimmel will return in hopes of capturing an unprecedented fifth-straight title while also running in a handful of Craftsman Truck Series races, including the season-opener at Daytona.
Jarrett, Brent Sherman, Billy Venturini, Gibson, Eversole, Passmore and Ron Cox all should return to the series to give chase to knocking Kimmel off of the proverbial top rung.
It could be a big year for ARCA. (Hinson Photo)
The only major loss for the series would be that of Howard, who was tabbed to drive one of the new Toyota Craftsman Truck Series entries for Bill Davis Racing.
And of course, in the ever prevailing world of “more seat time,” the NASCAR invaders are surely likely to make a statement again in 2004. 2003 race winners Busch and Menard are already entered for the series' first race of the year at Daytona, as is Eric McClure (Morgan-McClure Cup team), Shane Hmiel (CLR Cup/Busch team) and Ryan Hemphill (Braun Racing Busch team).
One thing is for sure for the ARCA series in 2004... it is Frank Kimmel’s title to lose. With four-straight titles, there is only one way for the champion to go. You can bet that the entire field will have their eyes set on one thing… putting the champ in their rearview mirror.