DAYTONA BEACH, FL (December 10, 2001) By now all the 2001 statistics are filed away and the teams are already anxious about the start of the new season in February. But there are some interesting facts about 2001 that need to be revisited. The...
DAYTONA BEACH, FL (December 10, 2001) By now all the 2001 statistics are filed away and the teams are already anxious about the start of the new season in February. But there are some interesting facts about 2001 that need to be revisited.
The assault on the 2001, eighteen race, schedule had its usual beginning in February at Daytona International Speedway. The teams and drivers showed up with their new paint schemes and renewed vision of trophies, champagne, and Championships.
One of the biggest stories of the year would prove to be Toyota Racing Developments involvement. It had been many years since a foreign automaker had any involvement in the All-American Stock Car sport known as NASCAR. Driver Eric Van Cleef had participated with TRD in 2000. Van Cleef had road racing experience, but the Goody's Dash Series races on ovals only. The manufacturer decided to add two more teams to the stable. One would be an entry by Jerry Weaver and David Watson. Watson's cars had won championship and has numerous Daytona victories to its credit. Rookie driver, Wayne Edwards was given the ride and also a shot at the MAG-KLIP Rookie of the Year title. TRD secured a contract with Series four-time Champion Robert Huffman, as a Research and Development avenue for the Toyota teams. Huffman requested that his engine builders be involved in the project. This proved to be a winning combination, as Huffman would win four events throughout the season, giving Toyota their first NASCAR Stock Car victory.
Cam Strader came into the season as the 2000 Rookie of the Year. It had been his nature to see success fairly quick in his young career. His focus was clear from the very beginning. He fully intended to unseat the dominant Huffman and win the Series Championship. Strader won four events in 2001. One of those victories came at Lowes Motor Speedway, at the hand of Robert Huffman. Huffman had been dominating the event when a broken steering arm sent him into the wall just seven laps from the finish. Strader was where he needed to be and capitalized on Huffman's misfortune. Huffman made good on that situation two-fold, passing Strader in the waning laps of two major events to take the win away from him. Huffman edged Strader in the final turn at Kentucky Speedway and then again at Nashville Superspeedway he made the winning pass with just 7 laps remaining.
The Hobgood family made their mark in 2001. Justin finished second in the season points and had a clear shot at the Series title. Justin won the season opener at Daytona, something that any racer wants to claim. The team was nearly sidelined by lack of sponsorship dollars. Older brother Jake was unable to race in the July event at Daytona. Both of their speedway cars were destroyed in wrecks just weeks before at Kentucky. Justin was offered a ride by another team. Just one week later Tracker Boats/Holiday Kamper and Boats signed on breathing new life into the team. Justin would go on to win at Ace Speedway. Jake captured victories at Myrtle Beach and Lakeland. Jake also won the most Bud Poles in 2001.
The MAG-KLIP Rookie of the Year battle was intense, right down to the last race. Shane Hmiel, Tim Nichols, and Wayne Edwards each had their moments. Nichols was on top right out of the box with a daring move in the season opener that catapulted him to a top five finish. But Hmiel came right back with a win at Darlington Raceway, and another at Greenville-Pickens. Hmiel and Nichols were only separated by two points heading into the season finale at Nashville. Hmiel finished ahead of Edwards and Nichols giving him just enough to finish in a tie, which was decided by which driver finished higher in the Championship points.
The most trying part of the schedule came the week of July 4. The series visited South Boston Speedway on Tuesday, July 3rd and then had to travel the next day to Daytona where they raced on Friday, July 6th. Mike Conover scored the victory at South Boston and Huffman won at Daytona.
Bristol Motor Speedway is notorious for its excitement and wild finishes. The Goody's Dash Series event is never an exception to that rule. Brandon Ward came from behind to take the win from Cam Strader.
In 2001 there were six speedway events and twelve short track events. Three first time winners, Shane Hmiel, Mike Conover, and Brandon Ward. Robert Huffman moved into sole possession of second place on the all-time win list with 35 career wins. Cam Strader won the Championship in a Mercury.
Cam Strader plans to return in 2002 to defend his Championship, while making a few starts in ARCA and Busch Series competition. Shane Hmiel has plans to run in the Busch Series. Robert Huffman will return and hopes to collect his fifth Championship and give Toyota it first.
Two rookies to keep a close eye on in 2002 will be Kelly "Girl" Sutton and Chuck Gafrarar. Sutton has competed in the series on a limited basis over the past few years. Gafrarar is a crewmember for Rusty Wallace and has shown that he can run well in the few appearances he made in 2001.
The schedule for 2002 will be released very soon. The series plans to add some new tracks in 2002. Plan to see this excited series when it visits a track near you. You will be sure to see some of the stars of the future. Happy Holidays!