While racing may have to take a back seat to larger world issues in our lives, much like it did in September of 2001; it will again also be our outlet to get away from the reality of this world, if not just for hours at a time.
With the NASCAR Winston Cup and Busch Series seasons now in full swing, it is time for the country's best short track series to crank it up again, starting this weekend with the season opener for the American Speed Association in Lakeland, FL.
With an off-season of uncertainty, the 2003 version of the ASA Racing Series is starting to look like one of the strongest in its star-studded history. This weekend's opener has 47 entries as of now, all vying for 36 starting spots. Many of the series top stars are back, including Gary St. Amant (driving for a new team for the first time in years), Kevin Cywinski, Robbie Pyle, Butch Miller, Mike Garvey and Bryan Reffner.
The most impressive number may be that of how many rookies have signed up to run for the 2003 Rookie of the Year program, which pays $50,000 to the winner, the richest RoY award in all of short track racing. A total of 19 youngsters (and some of them are VERY young) have their eyes set on the Pat Schauer Memorial trophy.
The preseason favorite may be 17-year-old Reed Sorenson. He competed in eight events in 2002 and finished with seven top-10 finishes. Sorenson will race with Automotive Promotions in 2003, the team that led St. Amant to his two ASA titles (1998 and 2000). Other favorites include former Busch North Series veteran Tracy Gordon, Florida standouts Travis Kittleson and Justin Drawdy, former Southeast Series regular Shane Sieg, 16-year-old Stephen Leicht, Texas standout Casey Smith and Ryan Hemphill, who moves into David Stremme's Rookie of the Year Meijer team of a year ago.
The ASA Series has 17 races on 17 tracks in 2003. 16 are shown live and one on a same-day tape-delay on SPEED Channel. There is a new series owner, Steve Dale (2002 Championship team owner) and he's already bringing some fresh ideas to the table for the upcoming season. There are also new rules, such as a limit of five men over the pit wall at a particular time, which should make for more pit-stops and more action on pit road.
For the American Speed Association, it is shaping up to be a very good season; it'll extend its leadership as the top short track racing series in the country this year.
The "up-and-coming" USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series has already started its long season; the Southern Division already has two races in the books. If you're not familiar with the Pro Cup Series, it is split into two divisions, the Northern and Southern, with the tops in each division brought together at the end of the year in a playoff style five-race championship to determine the overall series' champ.
The Pro Cup Series is off to a strong start again in 2003 although Mother Nature is not helping any. Their first race in Florida was delayed almost three hours and finished in the wee hours of the morning. Four drivers have consecutive top-five finishes in the first two events. That could be an early sign for an interesting race in the championship.
The ASA Series is ready to rumble again!
Racing can help get our minds off of bigger world events, like war.
The series hasn't been without its share of issues and missing stars as well. Bobby Gill, quite possibly one of the top-five short track racers in the country and a three-time Pro Cup champ, missed the series first race after shoulder surgery as the result of an accident in the annual Snowball Derby. He returned in the second race only to fall out after 40+ laps with mechanical problems.
The series' defending champion, Jason Sarvis, also missed the series first race after contract disputes with his car owner. He also returned in the second race of the year, but with a different car owner and was never a factor in the race.
This wreck kept Bobby Gill out of th season's first USAR ProCup race.
Many of the NASCAR Touring Series are set to get their seasons under way in the next few weeks, with the Southwest Series, Winston West and the soon-to-disappear Goody's Dash Series the only ones that have run races so far. Good news for everyone, the Elite Division (Southeast, Midwest, Southwest and Northwest Series) recently received a healthy television package on Fox Sports Net to go along with the Grand National Division's SPEED Channel package.
It's still up in the air whether or not the Southeast Series will see champ Jeff Fultz return, but series hot shots David Reutimann, Jason Hogan and Billy Bigley Jr we are told will be there for all eight races on tracks ranging from short half-miles to mile-and-a-half super-speedways.
The Midwest Series stars will try and stop the Steve Carlson show in 2003. The eight-time series champion is expected to return to the series to face off with his biggest rival, Brian Hoppe, and defending series' rookie of the year, Josh Vadnais, as the series competes in 12 races around the Midwest.
The Southwest and Northwest Series both see their champions return to defend crowns on the short track bullrings in their particular areas of the country. At the end of the year, the top dogs from all four Elite Divisions will compete to determine a true "National Champion" at selected venues around the country.
The Busch North and Winston West Series will continue to be the place to gain experience in cars similar to that of the NASCAR Busch Series, with races run from short ovals to super-speedways and road courses.
The Featherlite Mods will continue to quite possibly put on some of the best shows in the country on all types of tracks. With stars like Teddy Christopher, Eddie Flemke Jr., Nevin George, Todd Szegedy, John Blewett, III and Mike Ewanitsko, they are sure to thrill crowds all year.
With Robert Huffman recording a win in Daytona, the Dash Series heads to their first-ever dirt track event next month. Defending champ Jake Hobgood returns as does brother Justin, and Dale Earnhardt Jr-prodigy, TJ Majors on the scene. It should be an interesting final year for the Dash Series.
Steve Carlson is the MAN in the NASCAR Midwest Series.
The Sunoco Super Series should be interesting, with the departure of champion Joel Kauffman to the Pro Cup Series, but with regulars like Junior Hanley, Scott Hantz and Bull Baker still in the mix, as well as some new and promising rookies, as well as a big co-sanctioned event with the Southern All Stars, it should be an interesting year.
We all can also expect exciting seasons on the short tracks from the World of Outlaws, Xtreme Dirt Car Series, Southern All Stars, USAC and ARCA as well.
It is looking to be an exciting year in short track racing and I, for one, can hardly wait to get it all underway.