PROCUP DRIVERS PRAISE BRISTOL EXPERIENCE by Jeremy Troiano
Plenty Of Crashes, But Good Race All Around
To no ones surprise, there was a little trepidation as the USAR ProCup Series headed to Bristol Motor Speedway for, what arguably was, their biggest event of the season. The event, held the same night at the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race leading up to the Cup and Busch weekend, was by far bigger than any of the championship series races, save maybe for those few in the hunt for the title near the end.
However, when the checkered flag came out at the end, the race was easily one of the most enjoyable of the entire weekend, with plenty of excitement throughout the field, along with its fair share of accidents.

In the end, the fans saw and exciting green-white-checkered finish among two of the best drivers in the series right now, Shane Huffman and Clay Rogers, along with plenty of hard-hitting action.

After the race, drivers praised the race and its outcome and decidedly wanted to be back at the track in the future.
“At first, I thought I was going to be a lot worse. This is the first race at Bristol and everyone wanted to finish in the top three,” admitted Michael Ritch, who has raced at Bristol in a Busch car perviously and who finished third in the ProCup race. “You are so comfortable at this race track. I was worried about a lot of guys.

“We have a great series but this is a short track series. Yes this is a short track, but it isn't. You get down here and around here fast.”

Those sentiments were echoed by several drivers post race, with plenty of praise going to the experience and inexperienced drivers alike.
And with plenty of young guns and inexperienced drivers in the field and on the entry list, there was some concern about the possibility of a “wreckfest” and caution-filled race at the fast half-mile track. There was also a concern after the BFGoodrich tires utilized by the series had some problems during the open tire test at the track months earlier, but those were quickly handled by the knowledgeable BFG engineers.

There was some trepidation as well to bring in a non-NASCAR Series to run as support to the top-three at one of the most famous tracks in all of the country. The support spot in the past has been held by both the DASH Series (when still under NASCAR control) and the Southeast Series.
There was a good crowd when the ProCup cars rolled off the line and people continued to file in all night long.. (51 Photo)
“Really and truly, for the most part, all of the lapped cars is a phenomenal job,” said Billy Bigley Jr. “They just really did good.”

“For a lot of guys, it was there first time here,” said runner up Clay Rogers. “ You could tell the ones that it was there first time here. Some of them looked like it was their first time anywhere. But all in all, I think it was a good showing. There could have been a few less caution laps but heck, you are going to have that here. The Cup guys have 20-something cautions here sometimes. Event the best can wreck a car here pretty easy.

“It was a good debut night. Now, at least everyone knows what to expect when we come here again.”
Whether the series goes back to Bristol, specifically on the same night, will be determined at a later date by both NASCAR, ProCup and Bristol officials.

“I think we need to bring it back every year,” said fourth-place Matt Carter, son of Cup owner Travis Carter. “I think we put on a pretty good show for the fans. We ran more green flag laps than I thought we would, so that was a neat thing. I think we should come back every year.”

For Carter, and many drivers, it was the fulfillment of a life long dream to race at the track, even if they make it to the big leagues down the road or not.
Brunnhoelzl felt the real thrill of Bristol when pulling out onto the track for the first time.

“I thought 'holy shit, how are we going to stay on this banking?'”

“This was a dream come true,” Mike Herman Jr. said. “Bristol’s the most famous short track in the world. It’s almost like hallowed ground to someone like me.”

“I’ve seen a lot of guys pull up the ramp to Victory Lane and I won’t lie, I wanted to be one of them,” said race winner Shane Huffman. “To get to do that was one of the biggest trips of my racing career. You just can’t explain the atmosphere here. I didn’t know what to expect. I never raced here. I’ve been up here hundreds of times and watched races. All I knew to expect was from watching those races.
George Brunnhoelzl III (#20) was strong in qualifying, but faded late.  (51 Photo)
There was a fair share of accidents (like this one between the  #4 of Jay Fogleman and #44 of Clay Rogers), but no more than what you see in the Trucks, Busch or Cup Series.  (David Allio)
Steven Wallace wrecked very hard at Bristol (notice the windshield), but he was ok.
“If he would have given me a shot... you know, I did it to him earlier this year,” said Huffman.  “I was prepared for it if he gave us a shot.   I think that we would have held him off even if he would have given us a shot.”

“I've come here since I was a little kid and I've always wanted to get to come race here. If I never get to do it again, I can say I've done it once. I though about it all week long. I just kept thinking 'man, it is going to be cool.'”

“I had a permanent smile all weekend,” said rookie George Brunnhoelzl III, who fell out early after his engine let go following a top-10 qualifying run. “It is almost like an honor to be here. This is a place I've wanted to come to all my life, even just to watch a race. My first time here I got to watch one and participate in one.”
“It was a shock for us to even get to come here. I know a lot of people had a lot of influence in that. The Food City people and the people here at Bristol. I have to thank Mr. Brooks to have a such a good series to race in.”

Bigley thinks there is little doubt that the ProCup cars should be back in Bristol for years to come.

“To come here with 50,000 people in the stands is huge,” added Bigley. Even though the officials figures weren't annunced, the crowd for the ProCup and Truck double-header (a $25 ticket) was estimated around 45,000 to 60,000. “It is huge for Hooters and huge for us. I hope NASCAR, Bristol and Bruton (Smith) and SMI (Speedway Motorsports, Inc) sees how good of show we put on and that fact that it can only get better.”
“It was a shock for us to even get to come here. I know a lot of people had a lot of influence in that. The Food City people and the people here at Bristol. I have to thank Mr. Brooks to have a such a good series to race in.”

Bigley thinks there is little doubt that the ProCup cars should be back in Bristol for years to come.

“To come here with 50,000 people in the stands is huge,” added Bigley. Even though the officials figures weren't annunced, the crowd for the ProCup and Truck double-header (a $25 ticket) was estimated around 45,000 to 60,000. “It is huge for Hooters and huge for us. I hope NASCAR, Bristol and Bruton (Smith) and SMI (Speedway Motorsports, Inc) sees how good of show we put on and that fact that it can only get better.”

The few drawbacks to the event, also expressed by the drivers as well, was the lack of Northern drivers in the race, which was a Southern Division points event. Jeff Agnew and Mardy Lindley both
Mike Horne Photo
showed up from the North, but points leader Benny Gordon, Johnny Rumley, Gary St. Amant, Joel Kauffman and Danny Sammons were all absent.

Gordon was spotted walking around the pit area at Bristol and more than one person said “you can tell he's wishing his car was here right now.” But with two-straight weekends of races leading up to the Bristol event for the Northern Division and only one more on the schedule, most Northern drivers decided to save their equipment.

A “fantasy” weekend would include the Bristol event with the very best from the North and South all running to showcase their talents, meaning a perfect opportunity for Bristol to be a “championship series” event.

However, timing does not make that appear evident. The late-August annual timeframe of the Bristol NASCAR weekend is too early for Bristol to be held as a Championship Series event should the cars continue to be a support race.

The other option is to keep the weekend before and after free from any Northern and Southern division races, giving everyone a shot to come to the track and try their hand at Bristol, with plenty of time to fix and equipment in the post-race time frame.

But no matter what could be done to make it better, it was nearly a unanimous success for a debut. And despite the problems, accidents, trials and tribulations anyone might have experience during the weekend, they can almost all completely agree with how veteran Stacy Puryear summed it up.

"What an awesome atmosphere and racetrack. This was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a race car.”