There was a time when most race car drivers crossed over from one discipline to another but, in recent years that sort of activity has become an anomaly.
Specialization appears to be abating with stars from NASCAR's Nextel Cup Series, who are signing up in droves to participate in the seminal Rolex 24 at Daytona this coming February 3-6.
The idea of starting the season prior to the Daytona 500 is becoming an attractive one for drivers - particularly since Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. nearly won the Rolex 24 in a wet and wild affair earlier this year.
The latest to join the fray are championship representatives from the Ford Motorsport family, as current Nextel Cup champ Kurt Busch, the 2003 titleholder Matt Kenseth and former Craftsman Truck Series champion Greg Biffle are joining 2003 Rolex 24 winner Scott Maxwell in an assault on North America's premier twice around the clock classic.
The appropriately named Team of Champions will campaign the #49 Crown Royal Ford Multimac, an updated version of the 2003 Daytona Prototype winner in Daytona. The DP's power comes from a Ford Modular Cammer V8 motor that will be prepared by Roush-Yes Engines.
Dan Davis, Ford director of racing technology believes, "It's a dream team, that's for sure. We started talking last summer about getting a chance to put this type of team together for the Rolex 24 and, thanks to cooperation of Roush Racing, Multimac and Crown Royal, we have an effort - and a class of drivers that will be able to make a run for the overall win."
Multimac owner Larry Hoyt, on hand for the announcement of his prestigious partners revealed his pleasure at having such a quartet of heavy hitters handling his equipment. The car builder will prep and service the car throughout the weekend. LARRY HOLT:
One of the first constructors to build Daytona Prototypes, Hot has seen the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series grow and is pleased to be back on track. "We've struggled a little bit over the last year or so with the product because we haven't run a factory team like we did when we came out of the box. We won like that and we've done that in the past in different forms of racing."
Feeling good about his partnership with the Ford Racing family, Hoyt still feels "it puts a lot of pressure on me and my guys. There's been a lot of development work going on over the last four to six months; we've done a lot of testing and I think we've come a long way."
Biffle was the driver representative for the announcement of this team, which is expected to be one of up to 30 Daytona Prototype challengers on hand for the 2005 Rolex 24 at Daytona. A winner in NCTS at both the Portland (OR) and Watkins Glen International road racing venues, Biffle admits he doesn't have the most experience in this discipline but enjoys the challenges road racing offers.
"I've had really good success in the short term I've road raced, but I don't have a lot of experience," Biffle admitted. "So I am really, really looking forward to this. At the same time I'm kind of nervous because I've never driven a car like this."
Biffle, together with Busch and Kenseth will look to the experienced Maxwell, who has several road racing championships to his name as a mentor for this challenge. Recalling the Grand Am series' early days Maxwell reminisced, "It's actually just been incredible how the Daytona Prototype category has grown; it's literally exploded.
"When we first started the initial race at Daytona in 2003 we were one of six cars and, like any new class it sort of creeped out of the gate. I think Grand Am has done a phenomenal job," he proclaimed. "I think it's probably the fastest growing road racing series in the world and it's not only quantity, it's the quality as well."
The competitive Grand Am DP title came down to the final race this season with Max Papis and Scott Pruett clawing to the crown for Lexus over General Motors' Pontiac division, which had left Cup competition to cast a lot with this growing sports car series.
"It's going to be more like a 24-hour sprint race in my mind," 2003 Rolex 24 DP winner Maxwell theorized, "because there's probably - of those 30 cars entered - about 15, 18 cars that have the potential to win and have really high quality driver lineups. It's going to be a hell of a race."
With the NASCAR season ending with a New York City banquet in December and starting up again just two months later, it's not a case of rust that drives its stars to a contest like the Rolex 24 though. "I'm just hoping for the opportunity to be able to get in there and drive the car and see if I can't develop my skills into being a decent teammate for these guys," Biffle noted, "and have a chance at winning the 24-hour race. I mean that's our goal."
While he's not looking at leaving Cup racing, "I would certainly love to have more opportunity to drive these cars. I love to road race," Biffle added. "I can't wait till we go to the Glen and Sears Point every year. I love to road race and this is a big deal for me"
The agreement to put together this #49 Crown Royal Ford Multimac team for the 2005 Rolex 24 at Daytona came together later than Hoyt might have preferred but he still believes the personnel in place can deliver a viable effort.
Despite losing about 400rpm due to engine rules changes (from 7300rpm to 6900rpm maximum, "We've got to live with what we've got," Hoyt sighed. While he thinks he's got a good setup, "We haven't been able to buy any of those rpms."
The Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series will have its first test for the Rolex 24 at Daytona the 7-9 January and the star-spangled starting race of the year is set for 3-6 February 2005.