CHAMPION PROFILE: Peralta On Top

CHAMPION PROFILE: Peralta On Top

Peralta Championship Highlights Season Of Firsts In Mexico

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A season of firsts. 

Those four words perfectly sum up the 2013 NASCAR Toyota Series. In a year that saw the series hold its first points race outside of Mexico, the championship decided by a five-race playoff and a third-year driver winning his first championship in his first full season, the only other word to describe the 2013 season is “exciting.”

Rodrigo Peralta’s 2013 season was the textbook definition of a breakout campaign. After finishing inside the top 10 once in three part-time seasons with the series, Peralta led all drivers in top fives and top 10s in 2013, picking up his first series victory en route to the NASCAR Toyota Series championship in Mexico. 

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“Three years ago, when I won the Stock Series V6 championship, I saw a great driver like Germán Quiroga receive the championship trophy,” Peralta said. “From that moment I dreamed of accomplishing that feat and today it’s become a reality. I’d like to thank the Tame Racing team and my family, without them none of this would be possible.” 

Peralta and the other series drivers shared the spotlight in Mexico City, Mexico, on Thursday evening. Next stop for Peralta and his Axalta-Sanirent-Cinemex Tame Racing team will be the Crown Ballroom of the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center inside the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Saturday, Dec. 14 as part of the NASCAR Night of Champions Touring Awards ceremony.  

“It’s a real pleasure for me to see Rodrigo (Peralta) become a NASCAR champion,” said Enrique Contreras, Director of the NASCAR Toyota Series. “I’ve seen his growth as a driver since he was very young. Congratulations on this achievement.” 

With a 15-race schedule the margin of error is slim. Mechanical problems, bad luck or just a bad day can unravel a team’s season in a heartbeat. After missing the season opening event in Phoenix, Ariz., the 25-year-old driver from Queretaro, Mexico, began his season looking up at the rest of the field, facing a 60-point deficit  following a 16th place finish in  San Luis Potosí.

Peralta knew there would be no room for error if he had any hope of making the Desafío, a five-race playoff for the championship between the series’ top 10 drivers at the conclusion of the tenth event of the season. In Mexico City, the third event of the season, Peralta earned his second career top 10 finish and, more importantly, some positive momentum. On the strength of two top fives and seven top 10 finishes over the course eight races, including a career best – up to that point – second place finish in the 10th event on the calendar, the second of three races in Mexico City, Peralta found himself back in contention and with a spot in the Toyota Series Desafío.

With the 10 Desafío drivers having their points reset to 1000, Peralta found himself with new life and five races to stake his claim to the championship trophy. The first race of the Desafío brought the series back to San Luis Potosí. Peralta fared better in his second trip to the half-mile paved oval, scoring a top 10 finish and keeping pace with the rest of the field. After recording his third top five finish of the campaign at Puebla, Peralta found himself six points out of the lead.

The third race of the Desafío brought the series to Aguascalientes, a .875-mile banked oval that would quickly become one of Peralta’s favorite tracks. Monterrey-native Daniel Suárez dominated for the majority of the afternoon, taking the lead on the 84th lap and holding it until the final restart on lap 160. The 21-year-old driver looked poised to earn his third win of the season and a lead in the championship standings, but Peralta had different plans. While Suárez and series veteran Rafael Martínez battled for the lead, Peralta was able capitalize and sneak past the two on the white flag and secure his first career checkered flag. The victory catapulted him to the top of the championship standings, three points ahead of Suárez heading into Chiapas. 

In the penultimate event of the season, Suárez once again looked strong early on, leading 47 of the first 51 laps before mechanical problems derailed the his plans of overtaking Peralta in the standings. As a result, Peralta was able to pad to his lead and return to Mexico City with a 15-point advantage. 

The stage was set for a final battle at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. Even though 15 points is a sizeable lead, Peralta still needed to finish in the top half of the field to end any comeback bid from Suárez. 

The race proved to be as exciting as promised. Suárez and Peralta began the event up front, starting first and third respectively, but both drivers quickly found themselves running in the top two spots with a championship on the line. Late-lap cautions would lead to three green-white-checkered finish attempts, with Suárez and Peralta still fighting for the checkered flag. Suárez knew that he needed more than a victory to take home the championship trophy, and kept trying to push Peralta to the outside on the restarts, but Peralta held on, eventually letting Suárez pull away for the race win in order to assure his place in the Toyota Series record books. 

When it was all said and done, Peralta finished eight points ahead of Suárez in the final standings, but, more importantly, with his first series championship. The young driver who had never run more than nine races in three part-time seasons now found himself the new monarch in the NASCAR Toyota Series. 

Peralta finished 2013 with a win, six top-five and 11 top-10 finishes. For his career, he has made 27 series starts with one win, six top-five and 12 top-10 finishes. 

nts_awards_kiss_700x400.jpgIn his first full-time season, Peralta scored his first top five, his first victory and his first NASCAR Toyota Series Championship. Courtesy OCESA

CHAMPION PROFILE: Ander Vilariño

CHAMPION PROFILE: Ander Vilariño

Spaniard 2-For-2 In Whelen Euro Series

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In just two seasons, Ander Vilariño has gone from NASCAR neophyte to standard bearer.

After winning six of 12 races en route to his first NASCAR Whelen Euro Series title in 2012, was it possible for the resident of San Sebastián, Spain, to have an even more prolific season in 2013?

Just as it did a season ago, the year got off to a flying start for the 34-year-old driver of the No. 2 TFT/Banco Santander Chevrolet by winning the season-opening races at Circuit Paul Armagnac in Nogaro, France.

nwes-champ13-4c_prt_cropped.jpg“It was one of my season’s key moments,” explains Vilariño. “In race two, I was penalized with a drive-through for a contact with Frédéric Gabillon. I exited  pit lane in sixth position and I pushed hard to recover. I was third at the beginning of the last lap, but when my team saw me crossing the finish line I was first! Nobody could believe it and it was an incredible feeling.”

The successful outcome, despite the penalty, was due to his ability to never give up, one of the Spaniard’s trademarks. 

“Your will to win must be stronger than others’. This is what I repeat to myself every day,” he said. 

The early season wins kicked off a record-breaking stretch for Vilariño. The two victories quickly multiplied to six with two-race sweeps at Dijon, France and Great Britain’s Brands Hatch circuit.

The six-race win streak established a modern era NASCAR touring series record among currently sanctioned series. The previous mark of five in a row was shared by five drivers that included the likes of NASCAR Hall of Famer Richie Evans and nine-time NASCAR champion Mike Stefanik.

CHAMPION CREW CHIEF: TONY PEREIRA

The advantage in the standings proved to be particularly useful before going to Tours Speedway for the season’s oval race that did not meet Vilariño’s expectations with eighth and 10th-place finishes.

“Tours was definitely my biggest disappointment this year,” said Vilariño. “I arrived there with six wins in a row and I was convinced that it would be another excellent weekend for us. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.”

The sub-par performances didn’t put the points lead in danger, but the summer break allowed the Vilariño camp to take stock and get refocused. 

“Our team’s secret is that we are a family,” said Vilariño. “We work together and we support each other. In difficult times, we don’t give up. We reflect on the problem and find solutions to come out even better. This is what happened after Tours Speedway. We sat at a table, we discussed, conducted tests, then at the next race in Monza, we made the pole position and won a race.”

The Monza win in September was very important since points are doubled in the semifinals and finals.

“Since playoff races award double points, it was fundamental to start with a win,” he said. “It was a great psychological bonus that allowed me to settle for third place in the second race.”

After the weekend in Italy, the Whelen Euro Series moved on to the Bugatti circuit in Le Mans, France for the season’s finals. Just like at Nogaro six months before, the 2012 Le Mans scenario replicated itself. Vilariño preferred a tactical approach in order to avoid making mistakes and ruining his chances to be crowned champion.

A pair of fourth-place finishes secured the title for Vilariño, but the final margin was just four points over Gabillon, who closed the season with four wins in six outings.

Racing wherever it is done – Europe, U.S. or Australia – comes at the expense of family time and no one can attest to that more than the spouse.

“Ander works a lot. He tries to be the best in everything he does, both physically and mentally,” said Vilariño’s wife, Irune, who accompanies him to all series events. “I think it is in this area that he found the key to success.”

For the season Vilariño scored seven victories with 10 top-five and 12 top-10 finishes. In two championship seasons, he has won a dominating 13 of 24 races.

“Being a NASCAR champion for a European driver is something strange,” said Vilariño. “Two years ago this title didn’t exist. For me this is a dream came true twice and I think many others will want to compete now to add this title to their résumé.”

Vilariño and his TFT/Banco Santander team will be presented with the 2013 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series championship trophy on Saturday, Dec. 14 as part of the NASCAR Night of Champions Touring Awards ceremony in the Crown Ballroom of the Charlotte (N.C) Convention Center inside the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The awards ceremony is slated to be streamed live online in three languages – English French and Spanish – at www.nascarhometracks.com.

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REMEMBERING: Nuckles’ Legacy

REMEMBERING: Nuckles’ Legacy

Long-time Columbus track owner left his mark

 

Jim Nuckles was a happy guy.

He was plain-spoken in business and friendship. To those not indoctrinated, he could playfully intimidate before letting a friend off the hook. He had a wry sense of humor, quick wit, a soft rasp in his voice and a comforting smile. He was proud of his family who provided him with an enjoyable view of a landscape his own life created.

Nuckles, 85, of Columbus, Ohio, passed away on Nov. 19 after a brief illness. Services were scheduled for Nov. 23 in Columbus. Nuckles’ life revolved around his family and its signature holding, Columbus Motor Speedway. Nuckles’ father John led planning and construction of the circular third-mile dirt track that opened in 1946. It was paved in 1957 and joined the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series in 1989.

Social and local media were flooded with tributes in recent days. Columbus television sports anchors paused to remember their city’s longest-running sports icon.

Nuckles, his late wife Barbara “Bobbie” Nuckles, their sons Jerry, John and Jeff, and their wives, late son Jamie Nuckles, and many grandchildren had involvement with the speedway. Although he worked in the office on a daily basis until recent weeks, Nuckles retired and turned the speedway over to his sons in 2008. That transfer of ownership assured seamless continued operation of the track.

“Jim Nuckles was a leader and weekly racing pioneer. He was a nationally respected member of the racing community,” said George Silbermann, NASCAR vice president, regional and touring series. “He was steadfast in leading Columbus Motor Speedway as a successful family business through decades of change and growth. He was proud that generations of his family had roles in the speedway’s success. Jim Nuckles was a good man. He will be missed. Our thoughts are with the Nuckles family.”

1-france_nucklesNuckles preferred to do business through personal relationships. Such was the case when he was exploring a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series sanction for Columbus leading up to the 1989 season. At the time, NASCAR had no weekly tracks in the state and was looking for the right track operators to form partnerships.

“It was important to dad that we work with people who had our trust,” Jeff Nuckles said. “The person we knew at NASCAR who was a big help behind the scenes was Bob Weeks.”

The personable Weeks was a NASCAR sponsor services representative. The Nuckles knew Weeks from the Quarter-Midgets of America sanctioning body. The Nuckles boys had raced with the group when Weeks was its public relations representative.

“Our friendship with Bob was a conduit to (NASCAR vice president) Jim Hunter who closed the deal with us. Brian France (then NASCAR administrative operations manager) came to the track to sign and announce the sanction agreement. It was all personal with dad. He liked to do business face-to-face.

“Mom was a tough as a business person, too; maybe tougher than dad. Their business practices were beyond reproach. When a bill showed up, they paid it.

“They were honest and straightforward and you never had to guess where they stood. They would have been terrible poker players. Their cards were on the table from the get-go. They were fair and honest to a fault,” Nuckles said.

Jim and Bobbie Nuckles were married for 59 years at the time of her passing in 2008.

The Nuckles family has been recognized with many honors and awards for their leadership. The most prestigious was the national Racing Promotion Monthly (RPM) Auto Racing Promoter of the Year award in 2010. They were selected for the award by vote of fellow promoters from coast to coast. They also received seven regional RPM awards and a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Team Player award, among many others.

Jim Nuckles’ father John led a consortium that bought 50 acres of land on the southeast edge of Columbus in 1945. The track opened as a third-mile dirt oval for motorcycle racing in 1946. In 1947 it hosted its first automobile race for Roadsters. Stock car racing began in 1950. The track was paved in 1957. John Nuckles was track president until his sudden passing in 1965. Jim Nuckles became the facility’s sole owner in 1971.

Nuckles was long-known to use a golf cart to circulate throughout the speedway grounds on race nights. If a driver or crewman was invited to take the seat next to him and go for a ride, an admonishment for an infraction or stern word of advice was likely on the agenda.

Former touring series Late Model driver Buddy Schrock received such an invitation years ago, and it left an impression. Schrock calls the pit area visit “my favorite memory” of Nuckles.

“He stopped at the car once in his golf cart and in a stern voice said ‘get in,’” Schrock recalled. “I thought, oh (no). We took off and he said he just wanted to say thanks for coming to a race at our race track. Made me feel like a million bucks. What a great man.”

Second-generation driver and six-time NASCAR Late Model track champion Donnie “Zero” Hill said he felt conspicuous when he had a golf cart discussion with Nuckles, and that was part of the reprimand.

“He’d drive you all around the pits while he was talking so everybody knew what was going on. But with Jim, you were a race car driver one day a week and a friend on all the other days,” Hill said.

Hill grew up at the track watching his dad, the late Don “Heavy” Hill, race. The speedway has a constant presence during his entire life.

In present-day years when Hill raced series competition and didn’t have a weekly presence at the speedway, he’d show up at the track banquet venue in the afternoon during set-up just to visit with Nuckles.

“When I was a kid and Columbus was running on Sunday nights, Jim gave me one of my first jobs cleaning up the track on Mondays,” Hill said.

Pavement Late Model race cars evolved several times during Nuckles’ lifetime and he maintained his speedway as a leader in helping the division survive and flourish.

“Dad certainly oversaw changes at Columbus that were for the betterment of stock car racing in general,” Jeff Nuckles said. “We were among the first to have a track tire in the early 1970s with Hoosier as our sole provider. We were among the first to have a left side weight rule. We adapted to innovations that became industry standards. Dad always wanted a level playing field.”

Jim Nuckles could make studious business and competition decisions and get the desired results. The desired results were typically to maintain the speedway’s success or give participants an equal chance on the track. Those qualities brought him universal respect.

“There have been three men in my adult life that I struggled to feel comfortable with in calling them by their first names,” said motorsports defense attorney Don Anspaugh of Columbus. “The first two were my law firm mentors Sol Morton Isaac and Charles Brant. The third is Jim Nuckles. I knew if they said it they meant it. They had my respect.

“People can be impressive by their attributes; their mental strength, their authority or their attitudes, for example. Jim was impressive by his spirit. He always moved forward with a smile on his face. Look at the esteem his sons hold him in. He was their dad, but their esteem for him goes far beyond that,” Anspaugh said.

“James Nuckles’ greatest legacy is the family that grew up around him. They absorbed so much strength and wisdom over time. If you’re dealing with them, you just know you’re dealing with good people.”

FLAT OUT: Champions Week

FLAT OUT: Champions Week

AOL On Series Behind-The-Scenes With Dylan Kwasniewski

‘Flat Out’ Ep. 11 — ‘Champions Week’: Three races remain in the NASCAR K&N East Season. Only 40 points separate Dylan from his closest competitor, Brett Moffit. After a devastating wreck and races plagued with mechanical problems, Dylan finds himself desperate for in a much needed victory. Now only ahead by a tiny margin, Dylan must prove that he can overcome tremendous odds to clinch the championship win.

Subscribe For More ‘Flat Out’: http://goo.gl/LjPDVb

About ‘Flat Out’: Go behind-the-scenes with racing’s hottest, young talent, 17-year-old Dylan Kwasniewski, as he aspires to make it in the #1 motorsport in America — NASCAR

Jase Kaser A Super Sophomore

Jase Kaser A Super Sophomore

Adds I-80 Title To State, Junction Repeats

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Second-year NASCAR Whelen All-American Series dirt Late Model driver Jase Kaser reached new heights in 2013. He swept two track championships and the Nebraska state championship. The sweep of the season pivoted on the final, crucial race night.

For the second year in a row, Kaser, 21, of Lincoln, Neb., won the state championship and dirt Late Model track title at Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction, Neb. He added his first NASCAR dirt Super Late Model track championship at I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Neb.

Kaser’s state record for the season was seven wins, 23 top-fives and 25 top-10s in 25 starts. He said that between the two tracks, about five early season race nights were rained out.

Kaser put an exclamation mark on his season in the final Super Late Model feature of the season at I-80. In that 30-lap event, Kaser raced with a cool aggression and won the feature over his mentor and 2012 track champion Kyle Berck. Bill Leighton Jr., led some laps as well and finished third in the race. Leighton Jr., the 2011 track and state champion, entered the event only six points behind Kaser, made it a three-way battle for the race win.

“Bill and I had to beat each other on the track to win the championship,” Kaser said. “I had a six point lead going into the race. It wouldn’t have taken much for him to finish in front of me and win. If I won the race and we tied in points he’d have won the championship because he had one more win than me.”

“It was also the first time Kyle and I raced side-by-side in Super Late Models. Until that night when Kyle caught me he passed me and drove away. It was the first time I was actually able to race with him.”

Berck is a professional race car driver and car builder who holds a long list of NASCAR championships dating back to 1998.

“It was definitely a pressure-filled night. It was the most pressure I ever felt, especially with five laps to go. It all came down to the last couple of laps. It was extra special to win a championship that way. It was a really good race.”

Kaser won the event over Berck and Leighton, and won the track championship by 12 over Leighton. Berck raced part-time at I-80 this year and was not contending for the championship.

“I thought last year was the best year ever until this year,” Kaser said.

Kaser’s ability to contend at I-80 this year was hard earned. He placed fourth in the 2012 track point race behind Berck, Leighton and Jason O’Brien. He said the team’s focus last year was on the crate Late Model championship at Junction. This year, the Kaser Motorsports team focused on the Super Late Model’s performance at I-80.

“We focused on the Super Late Model side this year,” Kaser said. “We wanted to repeat the state and Junction titles and get I-80. It was a big challenge. We spent the winter doing what we needed to do to prepare. We prepared the car every race week and kept evaluating what we were doing to be sure we were doing our best.”

“The competition at I-80 is so tough that you can win one week and finish 10th the next. There are so many good guys that it’s hard to run up front every week. Someone is going to come back the next week with a whole different set-up and beat you.”

Kaser started racing in Mini Sprints at age 9. He soon won a Junior Sprint track championship, and then a Limited Late Model championship at age 15 in 2008. He moved onto touring dirt Late Model competition before settling in at Junction and I-80 last year.

Kaser’s parents Jay and Shari are the car owners. Team members include Chauncey and Chadd Ziemann, Tony Steffensmeier, Shane and Chris Meininger and Jared Kaser, the driver’s brother.

Their Super Late Model is a Swartz chassis powered by a spec WAM racing engine. The Late Model is a Lazer chassis powered by a 602 GM crate engine. Primary sponsors include Mobil1, Union Bank, Advance Racing Suspensions and The Brake Man.

Kaser said the car has about 40 product and part sponsors, 20 of them as a result of his success in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series last year. Mobil1 displayed his car at the PRI trade show in Indianapolis last December which also attracted interest.

Kaser will be honored for his track and state championships during the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards event on Friday, Dec. 13 in the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“I didn’t realize how extravagant that event was until I attended it last year,” Kaser said. “It was awesome. It was a once in a lifetime experience that we get to do again.”

Rowe, RJF Team Reunite For Championships

Rowe, RJF Team Reunite For Championships

Whelen All-American Series Titles: Tribute To Fallen Crewman

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A 63-year-old semi-retired NASCAR champion converted an encore part-time appearance into what could be the last full time season of his distinguished career this year. The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series championship-winning reprise was in tribute to a fallen friend and crewman.

Mike Rowe of Turner, Maine rejoined the RJF Motorsports team and won the NASCAR Pro Series division track championship and state title racing at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough, Maine. The combination previously won the track and state championships there in 2009. He repeated the state title in 2010.

Their part-time schedule for 2013 morphed into fulltime. The championships became a perfect homage to Jason Fowler – a former driver, crewman and son of Rowe’s car owner, Dickie Fowler, who was lost in an automobile accident in November 2012.

“This is the biggest championship out of all of them. This season is a lasting tribute,” Rowe said.

The originally planned schedule was earnest.

“Dickie asked me if I’d race three or four times in 2013 as a tribute to Jason. Jason was part of our championship crew. We decided to run a few times and see how it went,” Rowe said.

“We won the first point race of the season, so we thought we’d try a few more. Then we decided we’d see it through. We accomplished more than we set out to do,” Rowe said. “And I found out racing with these young kids that I’ve still got it,” he said of his undiminished abilities.

Rowe registered two wins, eight top-fives and 11 top-10s in 14 starts. He won the state championship by seven points and the track title by 18. He won the titles over 2010 track champ Dan McKeage, and third-place Kelly Moore, the 1995 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion.

“We should have won at least one more,” Rowe said of the one that got away. “I was leading a 100-lapper with two laps to go. Someone spun out right in front of us and I couldn’t avoid him. It was a big disappointment, but that’s part of the game. We took our lumps, moved on and it all came out for the good.”

Weekly fields at Beech Ridge, a third-mile paved oval, were typically between 20-25 cars, according to Rowe. Race distances for most events varied from 40 to 50 laps and drivers highest in points started at the back of the field.

Rowe has enjoyed decades of racing success. He made 111 starts in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East between 1987 and 2002, scoring eight wins and finishing a career-best second in the championship standings to Jamie Aube in 1990. He’s a three-time winner of the prestigious Oxford 250 in Maine, and now has 10 track championships, encompassing several speedways.

In addition to owner Dickie Fowler, RJF Motorsports, team members include crew chief Mike Fowler, Jason Welch, Paul Webber, Chuck Weber, Joey Pastore, Alex Lacognata, Randy Waycotte, Ron Hunt and team manager Karol Hill. Sponsors include Main Street Auto, Rowe & Sons Trucking and Roy’s All Steak Hamburger. Their Chevrolet race car is based on a Distance Racing Chassis and powered by a Bob Bailey-built engine.

Rowe has three adult children, Thomas, Ben and Traci, and nine grandchildren. Grandson Gunnar Rowe competed in the Beech Ridge Whiz Kid division in 2013 and plans to move the Super Late Models at Oxford next year.

Rowe’s own racing plans for 2014 are incomplete, but he said it’s likely he’ll go back to racing on a part-time basis.

Rowe will be taking a special guest to the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards event in Charlotte next month. Joining the RJF team will be Jordan Emerson, 19, who was injured in competition several years ago.

“The banquet is just awesome and we want to show her what NASCAR does for its champions,” Rowe said.

Rowe will be honored for his track and state championships during the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards event on Friday, Dec. 13 in the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

More information on the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series is available at http://hometracks.nascar.com.

http://motorsportsunplugged.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/mike-rowe_in-car_maine_nwaas_112613_10001.jpgMike Rowe drove the RJF Motorsports Chevrolet to his second track championship and third state title at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough, Maine in 2013. Courtesy BRMS

Rowe, RJF Team Reunite For Championships

Rowe, RJF Team Reunite For Championships

Whelen All-American Series Titles: Tribute To Fallen Crewman

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A 63-year-old semi-retired NASCAR champion converted an encore part-time appearance into what could be the last full time season of his distinguished career this year. The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series championship-winning reprise was in tribute to a fallen friend and crewman.

Mike Rowe of Turner, Maine rejoined the RJF Motorsports team and won the NASCAR Pro Series division track championship and state title racing at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough, Maine. The combination previously won the track and state championships there in 2009. He repeated the state title in 2010.

Their part-time schedule for 2013 morphed into fulltime. The championships became a perfect homage to Jason Fowler – a former driver, crewman and son of Rowe’s car owner, Dickie Fowler, who was lost in an automobile accident in November 2012.

“This is the biggest championship out of all of them. This season is a lasting tribute,” Rowe said.

The originally planned schedule was earnest.

“Dickie asked me if I’d race three or four times in 2013 as a tribute to Jason. Jason was part of our championship crew. We decided to run a few times and see how it went,” Rowe said.

“We won the first point race of the season, so we thought we’d try a few more. Then we decided we’d see it through. We accomplished more than we set out to do,” Rowe said. “And I found out racing with these young kids that I’ve still got it,” he said of his undiminished abilities.

Rowe registered two wins, eight top-fives and 11 top-10s in 14 starts. He won the state championship by seven points and the track title by 18. He won the titles over 2010 track champ Dan McKeage, and third-place Kelly Moore, the 1995 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion.

“We should have won at least one more,” Rowe said of the one that got away. “I was leading a 100-lapper with two laps to go. Someone spun out right in front of us and I couldn’t avoid him. It was a big disappointment, but that’s part of the game. We took our lumps, moved on and it all came out for the good.”

Weekly fields at Beech Ridge, a third-mile paved oval, were typically between 20-25 cars, according to Rowe. Race distances for most events varied from 40 to 50 laps and drivers highest in points started at the back of the field.

Rowe has enjoyed decades of racing success. He made 111 starts in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East between 1987 and 2002, scoring eight wins and finishing a career-best second in the championship standings to Jamie Aube in 1990. He’s a three-time winner of the prestigious Oxford 250 in Maine, and now has 10 track championships, encompassing several speedways.

In addition to owner Dickie Fowler, RJF Motorsports, team members include crew chief Mike Fowler, Jason Welch, Paul Webber, Chuck Weber, Joey Pastore, Alex Lacognata, Randy Waycotte, Ron Hunt and team manager Karol Hill. Sponsors include Main Street Auto, Rowe & Sons Trucking and Roy’s All Steak Hamburger. Their Chevrolet race car is based on a Distance Racing Chassis and powered by a Bob Bailey-built engine.

Rowe has three adult children, Thomas, Ben and Traci, and nine grandchildren. Grandson Gunnar Rowe competed in the Beech Ridge Whiz Kid division in 2013 and plans to move the Super Late Models at Oxford next year.

Rowe’s own racing plans for 2014 are incomplete, but he said it’s likely he’ll go back to racing on a part-time basis.

Rowe will be taking a special guest to the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards event in Charlotte next month. Joining the RJF team will be Jordan Emerson, 19, who was injured in competition several years ago.

“The banquet is just awesome and we want to show her what NASCAR does for its champions,” Rowe said.

Rowe will be honored for his track and state championships during the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards event on Friday, Dec. 13 in the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

More information on the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series is available at http://hometracks.nascar.com.

http://motorsportsunplugged.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/mike-rowe_in-car_maine_nwaas_112613_1000.jpgMike Rowe drove the RJF Motorsports Chevrolet to his second track championship and third state title at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough, Maine in 2013. Courtesy BRMS

Driver-Team Changes In NASCAR Not New; The Beat Goes On

Nationwide Series champion Austin Dillon is scheduled to move into NASCAR Sprint Cup racing next year. The word is he will race the No. 3.

The number of driver-team changes that took place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this year was significantly higher than in the recent past.

Matter of fact, it looked like a fire sale. And it’s not over yet.

There are several reasons for this. There were a few drivers in the twilight of their careers that either decided to move on or are waiting to see if any team cares to use their services.

And there were drivers who had to seek employment because their teams folded. Still others had to move on because, well, their team owners felt they couldn’t get the job done.

This isn’t anything new – it happens every year. However, in some years the number of changes is greater than in other years.

For a long time the number of driver-team swaps in NASCAR wasn’t very high.

That’s because there weren’t a lot of high quality teams. If a driver enjoyed a fair amount of success with any one of them he didn’t want to move on.

Basically, there was no place to go – unless a driver for another high quality team left. The odds of that happening were long. Essentially, throughout the decade of the 1970s, there were only five, maybe six, teams that could win.

So the drivers stayed right where they were: Richard Petty with his family-owned team, Cale Yarborough with Junior Johnson, Benny Parsons with L.G. DeWitt, David Pearson with the Wood Brothers, Bobby Isaac, and later Dave Marcis, with Nord Krauskopf and Buddy Baker with Bud Moore.

It seemed Bobby Allison was the only driver who flitted from team to team and remained a winner.

Perhaps Bobby Allison switched more teams than any other driver during the 1970s. He was successful with nearly all of them.

Among others, Allison raced for Holman-Moody, Johnson, himself, Roger Penske, Moore, DiGard Racing Co. and the Stavola Brothers from the early ‘70s through the ‘80s.

For nearly all that time driver changes were what the media termed “recycling.” The same drivers simply shifted teams because the owners wanted to hire proven talent. There was no room for newcomers – and NASCAR began to suffer for it.

That changed dramatically during the ‘80s. New team owners with money to spend came into the sport: Rod Osterlund, DiGard, Rick Hendrick, Joe Gibbs, Richard Childress (long-time owner rejuvenated with sponsorship), Jack Roush, Felix Sabates and later, Chip Ganassi, Dale Earnhardt and Michael Waltrip.

Additionally, these owners established multicar teams with two, three, four and even five rides available.

There was plenty of room for new blood.

But it wasn’t until 1993 that owners began to believe there was fresh talent out there and they didn’t have to rely on “recycling.”

Jeff Gordon joined Hendrick and became an almost instant success. He was a kid who jolted the NASCAR world.

And almost every team owner wanted to find the next Jeff Gordon.

The rush was on. Drivers with successful records in other circuits were hauled into NASCAR. And some of them, notably Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and the Busch brothers, were as successful, or nearly so, as Gordon.

All of this has evolved into the creation of “developmental drivers,” those young competitors signed by the top teams for future Sprint Cup service.

Joey Logano entered NASCAR under such circumstances and Kyle Larson will do the same in 2014, when he replaces Juan Pablo Montoya at Earnhardt Ganassi.

Chase Elliott, signed by Hendrick, will have his day.

Expect Nationwide Series champ Austin Dillon to be part of the Childress Sprint Cup operation next year.

So for several years now it has been a whole new dynamic for NASCAR, one far removed from what it was three decades ago.

But when it comes to driver-team changes not much is different, other than there are more of them.Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and A.J. Allmendinger will all be with different teams next season – and plenty of others will, also.

It will be a while before it’s all sorted out.

And so, the beat goes on.

Zacharias Branches Out To Earn N.Y. Title

Zacharias Branches Out To Earn N.Y. Title

Chemung Champion Adds Dates To Claim Honor

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A member of one of the iconic family names in New York short-track racing put his name on the NASCAR state championship trophy this year.

Jimmy Zacharias, 22, of Candor, N.Y., hustled to win New York’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series state championship with stops at all four NASCAR Home Tracks in New York. Zacharias won the Sunoco Modified division track championship at Chemung (N.Y.) Speedrome for a third time and entered five events during August at Holland (N.Y.) Motorsports Complex to enhance his chances in the state point race. Additionally, he also made three early-season starts at Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway and two August starts at Spencer Speedway in Williamson, N.Y.

“We were running second in state points and needed to run more races, so we added Holland on Saturday nights and gave it a shot,” said Zacharias.

He took the state point lead from Rusty Smith with one week to go in the season. Smith won his second consecutive Sunoco Modified track championship at Spencer and was just 12 tallies behind Zacharias in the state race. Howie Brode won his second Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway Modified division championship and placed third in the New York standings – one point behind Smith.

Zacharias dominated at Chemung this year with eight wins, 13 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes spanning 17 starts. His previous Chemung titles came in 2010-11. Brother, T.J. Zacharias, won the track crown in 2012 and was fourth in track points this year.

Jimmy Zacharias was destined to be a race car driver. His grandfather, Jim Zacharias, began the family racing tradition more than 40 years ago and won the 1974 NASCAR Limited Sportsman division New York state championship. His grandmother, Shirley, who passed away in January, even raced street stocks for a time. Two uncles, Billy Zacharias and Ricky Zacharias, won NASCAR Modified titles at the old Tioga Speedway in Owego, N.Y., in 1990 and 1994 respectively.

“He still goes racing with us every week,” said the grandson of his grandfather.

“I was fortunate to be born into a racing family,” Zacharias said. “Racing on weekends is all I ever knew. Racing Modifieds was always my main goal. John Blewett III and Eric Beers were my favorite drivers when I was coming up.”

Inactive as a driver, Terry Zacharias, father of Jimmy and T.J., is part car owner, crew chief and car chief for his sons. Jimmy contributes to crew chiefing for T.J. as well. Owner Moose Rutherford offered his Pro Modified for Zacharias to race at Holland to help the state championship effort. Team members include Nick White, Matt Clemens, Mike O’Dwanzy, Josh Sinsabaugh and Chris Clemens. The Zacharias-owned car is based on a Troyer chassis and powered by a Gail Clark racing engine. Sponsors include Vista Pro Automotive, Floyd’s Used Clothing, and Insinger Performance Race Fuels.

Jimmy and T.J. are two of the eight family members on track this year. Their uncles Chris and R.J. race Street Stocks. Young cousins Garrett, Seth, Dylan and Rachel compete in small one-cylinder Microds. 

Zacharias will expand into a new direction in 2014. He plans to run for rookie-of-the-year honors in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and continue to race at Chemung on Friday nights. He posted finishes of 21st and 18th in tour events at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway this year. Zacharias was the second-place finisher in the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour portion of the combined tour event at Bristol in August. He also had an 11th-place finish in the spring southern tour event at Southern National Motorsports Park in Kenly, N.C.

The driver works for the family business, Zach’s Used Cars in Candor, N.Y.

Zacharias will be honored for his track and state championships during the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards event on Friday, Dec. 13 in the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Zacharias Branches Out To Earn N.Y. Title

Zacharias Branches Out To Earn N.Y. Title

Chemung Champion Adds Dates To Claim Honor

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A member of one of the iconic family names in New York short-track racing put his name on the NASCAR state championship trophy this year.

Jimmy Zacharias, 22, of Candor, N.Y., hustled to win New York’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series state championship with stops at all four NASCAR Home Tracks in New York. Zacharias won the Sunoco Modified division track championship at Chemung (N.Y.) Speedrome for a third time and entered five events during August at Holland (N.Y.) Motorsports Complex to enhance his chances in the state point race. Additionally, he also made three early-season starts at Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway and two August starts at Spencer Speedway in Williamson, N.Y.

“We were running second in state points and needed to run more races, so we added Holland on Saturday nights and gave it a shot,” said Zacharias.

He took the state point lead from Rusty Smith with one week to go in the season. Smith won his second consecutive Sunoco Modified track championship at Spencer and was just 12 tallies behind Zacharias in the state race. Howie Brode won his second Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway Modified division championship and placed third in the New York standings – one point behind Smith.

Zacharias dominated at Chemung this year with eight wins, 13 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes spanning 17 starts. His previous Chemung titles came in 2010-11. Brother, T.J. Zacharias, won the track crown in 2012 and was fourth in track points this year.

Jimmy Zacharias was destined to be a race car driver. His grandfather, Jim Zacharias, began the family racing tradition more than 40 years ago and won the 1974 NASCAR Limited Sportsman division New York state championship. His grandmother, Shirley, who passed away in January, even raced street stocks for a time. Two uncles, Billy Zacharias and Ricky Zacharias, won NASCAR Modified titles at the old Tioga Speedway in Owego, N.Y., in 1990 and 1994 respectively.

“He still goes racing with us every week,” said the grandson of his grandfather.

“I was fortunate to be born into a racing family,” Zacharias said. “Racing on weekends is all I ever knew. Racing Modifieds was always my main goal. John Blewett III and Eric Beers were my favorite drivers when I was coming up.”

Inactive as a driver, Terry Zacharias, father of Jimmy and T.J., is part car owner, crew chief and car chief for his sons. Jimmy contributes to crew chiefing for T.J. as well. Owner Moose Rutherford offered his Pro Modified for Zacharias to race at Holland to help the state championship effort. Team members include Nick White, Matt Clemens, Mike O’Dwanzy, Josh Sinsabaugh and Chris Clemens. The Zacharias-owned car is based on a Troyer chassis and powered by a Gail Clark racing engine. Sponsors include Vista Pro Automotive, Floyd’s Used Clothing, and Insinger Performance Race Fuels.

Jimmy and T.J. are two of the eight family members on track this year. Their uncles Chris and R.J. race Street Stocks. Young cousins Garrett, Seth, Dylan and Rachel compete in small one-cylinder Microds. 

Zacharias will expand into a new direction in 2014. He plans to run for rookie-of-the-year honors in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and continue to race at Chemung on Friday nights. He posted finishes of 21st and 18th in tour events at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway this year. Zacharias was the second-place finisher in the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour portion of the combined tour event at Bristol in August. He also had an 11th-place finish in the spring southern tour event at Southern National Motorsports Park in Kenly, N.C.

The driver works for the family business, Zach’s Used Cars in Candor, N.Y.

Zacharias will be honored for his track and state championships during the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards event on Friday, Dec. 13 in the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

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