Tony Hunt Looks to Race Though Farm System

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Dec. 17, 1999) -- With NASCAR rolling into the new millennium as one of America's most popular sports, everyone wants to predict where stock car racing's new heroes will come from. At least some will keep coming through...

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Dec. 17, 1999) -- With NASCAR rolling into the new millennium as one of America's most popular sports, everyone wants to predict where stock car racing's new heroes will come from. At least some will keep coming through strong racing families. The names Petty, Earnhardt and Jarrett will remain cornerstones in NASCAR well into the next century. But who will fill in the rest of the field and how will they be chosen? Sprint car driver Tony Hunt is one of thousands of drivers looking for the answer. With NASCAR's move into the upper echelon of the sports world, the gravitation toward an organized system of searching out new talent similar to that used in other major sports is inevitable. Scouting drivers and crew members rapidly is becoming more complicated than the slow-moving, word- of-mouth system of the past. Until the system becomes more organized, however, Hunt will keep trying to put himself in front of the right people at the right time. With the price of doing business in motor sports rising nearly everyday, Hunt realizes the importance of finding a team with common goals and realistic expectations as he looks to move to the next level. In other major sports, scouting talent is a huge part of a team's success. "No matter what your system is, you are only as good as the eyes you have searching for talent," said Philadelphia Phillies scouting director Mike Arbuckle, whose staff includes 30 full-time and 25 part-time scouts stationed all over the world. "The successful teams will be the most thorough teams. It is important for a team to know the person beyond his physical abilities. It's what we call knowing him 'head and heart'. Finding that diamond in the rough gets harder all the time, so you have to learn as much as you can about each player you are watching." In the NFL, the process is a little different, but the search for talent is key. "NFL teams usually break scouting into two groups, college and professional," said Los Angeles Rams scout and former player Lawrence McCutcheon. "Most NFL teams have between eight and 10 scouts looking for the best athletes with the best skills to perform at this level. Once we are allowed to talk with a player, we really try to get to know them as a person as well." NASCAR team owner Felix Sabates sees the motor sports world continuing to move toward a more organized system of scouting and developing talent. "That's something we're doing right now," Sabates said. "If you look at the driver of our Channellock car (Dave Steele), he came from open wheel. And Jimmy Morales (driver of the TracFone entry) got his experience in Mexico's version of the Formula series. We've been scouting around for some time looking for drivers outside of NASCAR. And we'll continue to look down those avenues." Getting to the NASCAR Winston Cup level often is a long, difficult journey, and even some of the sport's stars aren't sure what to tell those looking to break into motor sport's exclusive fraternity. "I couldn't even begin to tell a kid how to start racing today," said NASCAR Winston Cup Series veteran Kenny Wallace. "I spent a lot of time in a one-bedroom apartment running up the credit cards before I got a break, and I even had connections through my brother Rusty. I think you have to find someone willing to dig deep in their pockets to get you noticed." Getting noticed is what it is all about, and with thousands of drivers in all types of disciplines vying for a few major rides each season, disappointments far outnumber success stories. "Racers arrive by the busload everyday in Charlotte (N.C.)," said Hunt, who hopes to secure a ride in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series next season. "It's just like country music singers in Nashville. You've really got to believe in yourself. I just don't understand the guys who can give up after four or five months. You have to be willing to put in the work and show the commitment and desire teams and sponsors are looking for." Team owners each have their way of tracking talent, but much of it is simply keeping up on things themselves. "I read the papers and follow several kinds of racing," said NASCAR team owner Richard Childress. "I usually try to keep my eye closely on about five or six drivers at a time and my managers do the same thing." For Hunt, the challenge is to become one of the five or six drivers Childress and other owners are looking at. His resume -- like many successful drivers, Hunt has a racing family pedigree. Grandfather Joe Hunt had cars at Indy from 1951 to 1981. Hunt's father, Tommy, was a successful midget and sprint car driver. On the track, Hunt has raced successfully in midgets, sprint cars and even the NASCAR Winston West Series. "I wake up every day thinking of the things I need to do to get to the next level," said Hunt, who will return to the USAC Western Sprint Car Series and the more prestigious USAC Coors Light Silver Bullet Series next season if he can't find a ride in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. "I study the paths of every success story in NASCAR and pick things I think I should be emulating. The more scenarios I put myself in, the better the percentages are of being in the right place at the right time in front of the right people."

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Series AUTOMOTIVE , NASCAR-CUP