First Career Victory For Santerre, MONRO Muffler, and Innovative Motorsports Harrisburg, North Carolina - Andy Santerre, driver of the ...
First Career Victory For Santerre, MONRO Muffler, and Innovative Motorsports
Harrisburg, North Carolina - Andy Santerre, driver of the #47 MONRO Muffler Brake & Service Chevrolet Monte Carlo, won his first ever NASCAR Busch Series event in the Pikes Peak 250 at Pikes Peak International Raceway in Pikes Peak, Colorado on Saturday, July 25, 1999. Santerre powered by Dale Earnhardt, Jr., after a 50 lap side-by-side battle, on lap 235 of the 250-lap race for the lead and never looked back. Santerre, the 1998 Raybestos "Rookie of the Year," has only four starts to his credit in the 1999 season as he broke his right leg in a lap-24 crash in the season opening Napa Auto Parts 300 at Daytona International Speedway. Santerre and his MONRO Racing crew had won a NASCAR Busch North Series event at New Hampshire International Speedway on July 10, but failed to qualify for the next Busch Series event at Myrtle Beach Speedway on July 17, 1999.
Santerre wasn't entirely pleased with his qualifying run at Pikes Peak either, but the team made first round, qualifying 20th. They were in the show and could spend an extra day working on race set up.
"I don't really know what happened," the 30-year old Santerre admitted. "We were the 6th fastest after the practice before qualifying and we were thinking a top-10 qualifying run. I was the fourth car to time and our time dropped off about .1 second. A lot of other drivers picked it up and we stayed about the same. We made first round anyway and that was the main objective."
Still, Santerre and the MONRO Racing team never dreamed they would have the winning car. They worked hard during Friday's first two practices and were still not satisfied with the results. During the three-hour span of time between second round qualifying and happy hour, the crew changed four springs and three shocks on the car. They went out for happy hour and made only 15 laps.
"We went out for happy hour on 25-lap tires," Santerre confirmed. "We were third fastest. I told the crew the car was real comfortable and seemed to stay pretty neutral on the long run. We decided as a group to put the car to bed and get ready for the race."
Santerre and the MONRO Racing crew discussed strategy prior to the start of the event.
The main goal was to stay out of trouble and work on the car during the race to earn a top-10 finish when the checkered flag flew. About 160 laps into the race, while Santerre was running 5th, that strategy changed.
"We can win this thing," Santerre radioed his crew during the lap-161 caution period. "If things fall our way, we can win this thing." Santerre, always a survivor, had a brief talk with his spotter as well, "I'm going to do everything I can to win this thing, but you have to let me know it Timmy (Fedewa) or anyone gets a nose under me. This team needs a top-five more than we need a wrecked race car."
The race went back green with Santerre battling Dale Earnhardt, Jr. for the fourth position. Santerre and Earnhardt, Jr. put on a show the crowd won't soon forget, battling door-to-door for almost fifty laps. Santerre, in the bottom groove, couldn't quite get by Earnhardt, Jr., who had the preferred line, but kept the pressure up anyway.
Santerre sat 3rd at the lap-225 caution flag and when the race went green again, Santerre sat back while Jeff Green and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. swapped paint, waiting for his opportunity. At lap 229 he saw it. He powered to the inside of Jeff Green for 2nd place and started working on Earnhardt, Jr. again. Side-by-side they raced but this time it was for the lead. On lap 235, Santerre made the pass that made Mainers and New Englanders alike stand up and cheer. He passed the defending series champion for his first ever NASCAR Busch Series career victory.
"I had been trying to get by the #3 car all day it seemed," an elated Santerre remembered. "He had the preferred line and I had to pinch my car off the corner and I couldn't get a good run. But that pass was for the lead and I was hungry, I wanted that win bad. The second I heard my spotter say clear I grabbed the preferred line and never looked back."
Santerre had to fend off one more challenge for the lead after a late-race caution set up a four-lap shootout for the win. Santerre held Tim Fedewa, Jeff Green, and Todd Bodine at bay to cross the finish line and take the checkered flag for his first ever NASCAR Busch Series victory. The victory was worth $66,575, one of the largest purses on the series.
"Unbelievable," Santerre screamed from victory lane. "Thanks to George deBidart (owner) and Mike Greci (crew chief) and the team. MONRO, Speedy, Dynomax, Kendall Motor Oil, Llumar Window Films, Peterbilt Carolina, all my sponsors who stood behind me and supported me through my recovery and my return to racing. To my family and friends, I love you! This is for you!"
On Sunday morning, Santerre and the MONRO Racing crew headed home to Charlotte, North Carolina. Upon arriving at the airport and departing the plane, they were greeted by friends and family waving banners and signs, carrying balloons and blowing noise makers and spray string at them as the exited the aircraft. It was a fitting homecoming for a team that had worked so hard in the past with little rewards.
"The airport greeting was unexpected," Santerre confided, "But we soon found out we had an even bigger surprise waiting for us at home."
In October of 1998, Santerre and his wife, Sue, purchased a new house from Charlie and Linda Seigars. Charlie is the head engine builder for Winston Cup Champion, Jeff Gordon, and the #24 Dupont Chevrolet and Linda manages the Fast Track Driving School and spots for the #34 Gould's Pumps Chevrolet on the Busch Series. Mike McLaughlin, driver of the #34 Gould's Pumps Chevrolet, and wife Katie live right next door. The Santerre's closed on the house the week of Charlotte, 1998 and remember going to do the final inspection and seeing the McLaughlin's house with the remains of toilet paper stuck in the trees (Mike had won the Busch Series event). They were warned if they ever won to expect the same treatment.
"I remember Charlie and Linda telling us to expect it if we win," Sue Santerre said. "And I said if we ever won, I would welcome it. Wrong answer!"
"Sue and I suspected that Charlie and Linda would do something," Santerre admitted. "But the something ended up being a neighborhood record of 85 rolls of toilet paper stung throughout the yard and house. Mike and Katie had 70 rolls."
Former neighbors and friends helped with the massive toilet papering effort. The same friends and neighbors waited for the Santerre's and the MONRO Racing team to return home for a celebration. Food, drinks, and baked goods were brought by all to help the Santerre team celebrate a much deserved and well-earned victory.
This victory is the first for all parties involved with Andy Santerre and the MONRO Racing team.