PRO CUP LEFTOVERS: LAKELAND by Jeremy Troiano
Huffman, Gill, Sarvis, Rogers, Lang, Nesbitt & More
UNCERTAIN FUTURE FOR DEFENDING CHAMP HUFFMAN?
Could the future be a little cloudy for defending Pro Cup Series champion Shane Huffman?
Huffman, who lost his sponsor but stayed with the same team in the off season, ran solid at the opener in Lakeland (FL), but fell out of the race with engine problems two-thirds into the event.
“This is part of racing. Not the part we like, but part of racing,” said Huffman, whose car was solid black at Lakeland. “This is something we can climb out of. I know exactly what I need to do to get these cars back the way they were last year. To be honest with you, I knew what we needed to do before we came down here, but the finances weren't there. That is part of not having any money come in right now. If they are not there before we come back down to New Smyrna (for the second race of the season), I might not be there. I'm not out here to run fourth or fifth. I'm out here to win.”
Huffman was solid, but not his dominant self of 2003, where
he was the man at Lakeland. He worked his way up to second at one point, but was a fifth- or sixth-place car much of the night.
“Something happened to the motor. The water canister broke, I think. We were just a tad off tonight. I don't think we would have beat Clay (Rogers, race winner) either way. I backed off and let Bobby (Gill) go to hopefully save something for the end, and that is when it locked up. The water temperature shot up and I knew something was wrong.”
GILL SAYS HE'LL BE IN NEW SMYRNA
Before the start of the season, it wasn't even clear if Bobby Gill would be racing at the Pro Cup Series opener at USA International Speedway. But he showed up, with a new look to the car, but the same old “go get 'em at all costs” attitude.
It wasn't an easy weekend for Gill, who qualified second but had to start in the back of the field after working on his car following qualifying when a brake roter busted. He quickly worked his way up through the field and found himself in the top-three in no time.
“We had some bad luck here over the few days with some parts going haywire,” said Gill, “but it wasn't too bad. This isn't bad for just a volunteer group of guys working on this car. We'll be at New Smyrna next month.”
It's pretty weird to see the quarter panels blank on a defending champion's car. (51 Photos)
Huffman was an All American on the track this year. (51 Photos)
When Gill unloaded his car, ironically off of a borrowed trailer from race winner Clay Rogers, it came out with a look well different of Bobby Gill's normal black Pro Cup scheme. The car had an orange look to it, much like that of the Super Late Model owned by Richie Wauters that he drove in the Snowball Derby.
“Everyone copied my black car.”
FORMER CHAMP SARVIS STILL LOOKING FOR SOMETHING
Jason Sarivs has seen his racing career hit a brick wall since winning the Pro Cup Series championship just two seasons ago. Last year, he struggled to finish in the top-10 in the standings. This year, he finds himself without a ride yet again.
“I don't really have anything right now,” said Sarvis, who has started his own body hanging business. “I am working on a couple of deals to possibly race a Pro Cup car here and there, but I'm waiting on some other deals to come around for it. It is just a car right now. We need some money to help get it on the track.
Sarvis was in Lakeland serving as crew chief for driver Chad Mullis. Unfortunately, Mullis blew his engine in practice, which left Jason just wandering around the pits during the afternoon. He was then quickly recruited by Bobby Gill to be his spotter for the evening.
“I feel like I've done everything I could in this series. I don't know what else there is to do here. I would still love to race one of these cars because this is a good series, but I also want to look toward the Busch and Truck Series. I've already won the championship here but things just haven't panned out.
“I haven't had the chance to get out there and meet people. I was always wrapped up in this Pro Cup deal when I was winning and I never really took the time to meet a lot of people in the motorsports world. I'm working on that right now.”
If anyone is looking to help Sarvis, be it in the Pro Cup, Truck or Busch Series, he can be reached at 704-231-9295.
LANG MAKES DEBUT ONLY DAYS AFTER GETTING LEARNER'S PERMIT
If you were walking through the pits and didn't know Jimmy Lang and saw him working on the number 86, you might think how cool it was that such a young kid was helping his dad or uncle or brother work on his race car. But when you found out that that young kid WAS the driver, you would be in shock!
The 15-year-old Lang looks nothing more than maybe 11- or 12-years-old. And just days before heading to Lakeland, he received his Learner's Permit for street cars. But on the track, Lang knows how to do it.
“I've been racing Legends and karts for several years,” said Lang. “Last year, we got a Late Model and ran it at Cordele (GA).”
Lang has a pretty good crew chief behind him as well.
“I think the kid's a natural talent,” said Charlie Langenstein, who is a mechanic for NASCAR's Hendrick Motorsports.
“The key thing we have seen with Jimmy is his smoothness. I've worked with other guys who were trying to set the land speed records on every lap, but Jimmy will let the car come to him.”
Lang was pretty impressive in his Pro Cup debut. After running in the top-15, he got a bump from veteran Don Satterfield and was put into the outside wall and out of the event. He finished 31st.
BACK HOME FOR FOGLEMAN
After a year of running with the Northern division in his familiar Lucas Oil number 4, Jay Fogleman returned “home” to the Southern Division at Lakeland, where he will compete full-time in 2004.
“I saw the old number 5 (Bobby Gill) up there and I thought, 'yep, here we go,'” said Fogleman after the race. “I just love racing with some of these guys that I’ve raced with for years. Guys like Bobby , Michael (Ritch), Shane (Huffman) and others... they are just a great bunch of racers.”
Fogleman looked as if he hadn't missed a step either. Despite a bad qualifying run, he came back to finish fifth in his return to the South Division.
“I screwed myself in the ground,” said Fogleman. “I made too many changes to the car anticipating what this new BFGoodrich tire would do. The tire didn't really do anything. It was really consistent. It had a lot of grip all night long. I did some things to the car that I shouldn't have done. I feel like we have a good car, and now we have something to build off of.
We had a top-five car; we just qualified badly. We can overcome that, though, and I'm excited to get this year going.”
14 “ROOKIES” SHOW UP AT LAKELAND
Despite the old guard of veterans, Jay Fogleman was impressed with the new guard of rookies that showed up to the track as well.
Yes... he really is 15-years-old. And yes... he can wheel a race car!
Seems like long ago when Sarvis was happy celebrating his title.
“I got frustrated with some lapped cars, but I think overall the rookies did a good job,” said Fogleman. “We have a lot of new people in the series. It could have been a lot worse than it was, I guess. For the most part, a lot of them ran good, clean races. I was pretty impressed.”
The rookie race in Pro Cup looks like it is going to be a good one this year, especially in the Southern Division. Several rookies had solid runs at Lakeland. Six of them qualified in the top-20.
The rookies were led by Brad Rogers (finished third) and Matt Carter (son of Nextel Cup Series car owner Travis Carter, finished seventh). But other impressive runs were put in by Jimmy Mann Jr. (finished 11th after taking a provisional to start), Tom Buzze (finished 12th after also taking a provisional) and Michael Ruttkamp (who was running in the top-eight before being involved in a late-race accident and finished 20th).
FAMOUS NAME IS PRO CUP ROOKIE
Know your racing? You know the name Brunnhoelzl. They make many of the jacks and air guns used in the world of motorsports. They've been involved behind the wheel too, and now, “Georgie” Brunnhoelzl is carrying on that torch as a rookie with the Pro Cup Series.
“Georgie” was impressive all day long at Lakeland, practicing in the top-five each practice. He has the help of a pretty famous crew chief, Steve Byrd, who has won several NASCAR championships with various drivers. “Georgie” looked strong to start the race, but mechanical problems slowed him later.
“We had a good car, but had a problem with the rear axle,” said Brunnhoelzl. “That took us down a bunch of laps. After that, we could run with the leaders well. I don't know if it was bad maintenance or what you would call it. Just something we learned and will have a better handle on next time.”
With Steve Byrd's help, George Brunnhoelzl (above) could be a big factor later this year.
BACK TO REALITY FOR NESBITT
Mart Nesbitt was one of the hottest drivers at the end of the season last year, but his 2004 debut was a harsh reality of the downs that can come with racing.
Inclement weather delayed his teams’ arrival to the track until minutes before Friday’s tech day. Nesbitt qualified 13th, but Nesbitt door-slapped the wall avoiding a spin by another driver, and his night went down hill from there.
"We had a pretty good car," said Nesbitt. "We hit the wall when a lapped car spun in front of us. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We went to the back and got swept up in another wreck. When you get out of sync, it’s hard to catch up.
"The guys worked hard and got us back out," said Nesbitt, who finished 17th. "It’s not the way you want to start the season, but it could be worse."
LAUGHLIN JR. GAMBLES AND IT ALMOST PAYS OFF
Fogleman was back to his old tricks in Florida.
Rookie Matt Carter was pretty impressive in his Pro Cup debut.
Mike Laughlin Jr. didn't pit with the rest of the leaders just before the halfway mark of Saturday night's race. It shocked a lot of people. But the guy behind the wheel wasn't worried.
“Anytime you have a chance to get that halfway award, you just gotta go for it and hope the cautions fall your way,” said Laughlin, who did win the $1,000 award and got a caution just a few laps later to get fresh rubber. “It worked out because we had fresher tires at the end of the race and put ourselves in a position to finish better than we might have otherwise. It might bite us one day, but hey, it worked for us tonight.”