Open season: Menard boarding NASCAR express By Brett Borden
INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 2, 1999) - The immigration of open wheel owners into NASCAR continues as Indy car owner John Menard is putting together a team to compete in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series with Bryan Reffner as the driver. Reportedly Menard, who owns a Pep Boys Indy Racing League team and is part owner of CART Fed-Ex Championship Series team with Robby Gordon, is looking at a long-term plan that will eventually result in a NASCAR Winston Cup Series program.
"We don't have a lot of the details yet," said Reffner, 35, when reached at Menard's shop in Indianapolis. "But I'm going to drive and it's going to be a long term commitment to the truck series."
Menard will join Bobby Rahal as open wheel owners with vested interests in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series next year. Rahal co-owns the No. 55 Icehouse Beer Ford team with Tom Gloy. Also, CART owner Cal Wells, who also owns other open wheel teams, will make the jump into the NASCAR Winston Cup Series and the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division in 2000.
CART owners Carl Haas and Roger Penske have been involved with NASCAR for several years, and A.J. Foyt, Eddie Cheever and Chip Ganassi are known to be contemplating moves into NASCAR.
Reffner, the 1996 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Rookie of the Year, has competed on the circuit for parts of four seasons. The 1995 American Speed Association ACDelco Challenge Series champion's best series finish came in 1998 driving for Dale Phelon, when he finished 3rd at Flemington, N.J. His best finish in 1999 came at Memphis Motorsports Park, when he finished 14th driving for John Conely. Reffner has since left Conely's Michigan-based team.
"We haven't decided on the manufacturer," Reffner said. "But we do know we will run the shop out of Indianapolis. And Tom Knapp (Menard's team manager in the Indy Racing League) will become manager."
Menard is a Wisconsin billionaire who made his fortune with home improvement stores bearing his name in the Midwest. He won the Indy Racing League championship with Tony Stewart as his driver in 1997.
"NASCAR is something that if you're in this business you have to look at it because it's been so successful," Menard said in a published report by Dave Kallmann in the Journal Sentinel in Milwaukee. "If we're successful in the trucks, we're going to want to move on to the higher series, whether it's Busch or Winston Cup. Like anything else, you have got to walk before you can run."
According to reports, Menard and Reffner hooked up at a Midwest short track where Menard's son drove a Late Model car owned by one of the Reffner family. Reffner is enthused about the chance to form his own future.
"If this doesn't work out it's my own fault," Reffner reportedly has said. "The people I'm surrounding myself with, I'm going to make certain that they're capable of doing their own job."
Source: NASCAR Online