LACK OF CORPORATE FUNDS CAN'T STOP THEIR DREAMING
If you attended any NASCAR Winston cup races the past few years, you probably saw Mike Witters and Hal Hicks.
They were standing among all those people you see outside the track, the ones holding up the signs. You know, the signs in big letters that spell out one word.
If you attend a NASCAR Winston Cup race this year, they won't be there. Instead, you'll probably find them inside the track, next to a stock car.
That's the red No. 50 Chevrolet Monte Carlo with MidWest Transit splashed across the hood and rear end.
MidWest Transit is the trucking company that Witters, 63 and Hicks, 64, have owned in Mount Carmel, IL, the past 25 years.
They also happen to be crazy.
Well, how else do you describe a couple of guys who have no major corporate sponsor other than their own company in a sport that demands an investment in the tens of millions of dollars just to be able to compete, let alone win?
OK, maybe they're not crazy. Maybe they're just dreamers.
They're living our dreams. "We thought we would try to do this-kind of like the old days without a Fortune 500 company backing us - with the hope of making races," said Witters
Notice he said "hope". Sounds like he and Hicks went into this with their eyes wide open.
"You're not gonna win a lot of Winston Cup races without a lot of money" said Witters, "but we thought we could creep in and make some races."
Their car did qualify 26th at last year's Pepsi 400, but finished 33rd because of an accident.
Their car also drove fast enough in practice to make last year's Brickyard 400. But heavy rain just before their qualification attempt changed the track conditions, the team wasn't able to re-adjust the car's setup and it missed the race.
As for the driver, he's 36-years-old Dan Pardus from Daytona Beach. His racing background includes a ninth place finish in the NASCAR Dash Series points standings in 1992 and a 14th place finish after running a limited schedule, in the ARCA Supercar Series in '97.
This year, he finished 37th in qualifications for the Daytona 500, one spot out of the race. He also got caught up in an accident caused by Wally Dallenbach in one of the Twin 125's.
The only other attempt the team has made was for the March 7th race at Las Vegas, but even with Winston Cup veteran Ron Hornaday driving, No 50 failed to qualify.
The teams next attempt will take place this week when it tries to make next Sunday's DieHard 500 at Talladega, Ala.
Of course, there's no guarantee they will ever make another race. But no one could ever accuse Witters and Hicks of not trying.
About three weeks ago, they hired veteran Winston Cup Driver Lake Speed as the teams General Manager. They also buy their engines form Hendricks Motorsports, which, in case you've been living in another galaxy, owns the No 24 car driven by defending Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon.
Still, they have a long way to go.
"Most of the cars on the track are wind-tunnel designed," said Witters, "Obviously, our car is not."
There is much more involved than just getting recognizable names to back you up.
"Anyone who tells you this is not rocket science - is wrong," said Witters, "It IS rocket science."
They have not only learned that there can be a mere half-second difference between the car that sits on the pole and a car that doesn't qualify for the race, but that difference could be caused simply by the loosening of a screw or the tightening of a bolt.
If nothing else, Witters and Hicks are getting a look at racing that few fans ever get.
"It's the hardest thing we've ever done," said Witters.
"Somebody asked me how Winston Cup has been so far and I told them it's been a lot like recreational knee surgery. But we're thinking it's gonna get better."
Written by: Dan Kord