BNS: Andy Santerre wins 2002 Championship

Santerre earns first NASCAR Busch North Series title. Harrisburg, North Carolina - Andy Santerre, driver of the ...

Santerre earns first NASCAR Busch North Series title.

Harrisburg, North Carolina - Andy Santerre, driver of the #44 LesCare Kitchens/Castle Chemical Chevrolet, survived a rain-shortened Burnahm Boilers 200 at Lime Rock Park on Saturday. October 26, 2002, three weeks after the initial race was scheduled, to ea rn his first ever NASCAR Busch North Series Touring Championship.

"I couldn't be happier. I'm ecstatic!" exclaimed a visibly excited Santerre while hoisting his Championship trophy above his head in victory lane. "We, myself and this team, have overcome so many obstacles this season and have faced so much adversity. W e were handicapped before the season even began because of the distance to the tracks and our proximity to each other. At times I wondered if working myself to death was worth it, but I can tell you nothing compares to this feeling. Nothing!"

Santerre wasn't just handed the trophy, he earned it. He had to wait three extra weeks to compete for the title and when the green flag finally flew on the final race of the 2002 campaign, Santerre found himself not just battling Matt Kobyluck and Brad Le ighton, but the weather as well.

"Man, that is some pressure," the 34-year old Santerre confirmed. "It is one thing to know you have to go out there and perform to the best of your abilities and beat the competition fair and square, but when you throw in the unknown of the weather, pit s trategy and a shortened event, it is stress at the highest level. So many scenarios run through your mind when the stakes are that high. You fantasize about all the parts that can fail, you worry about having a flat tire, getting wrecked, the list goes o n and on." Santerre continues, "The bottom line was it didn't matter how good or bad our car was, track position was everything. We were in a good position behind Kobyluck because we knew if we stayed close to him and followed his pit strategy, we would w in the title."

Santerre did just that as Kobyluck pitted on lap 20 for fuel and tires. The LesCare Kitchens/Castle Chemical Chevrolet came in the next lap for fuel only. Six short laps later the rain came.

"I didn't realy know what to think of the rain delay," Santerre stated. "I knew we were close enough to Matt (Kobyluck) to win the title if the race ended there, but we weren't to half way so it wasn't a legal race. It is a 12-hour, 790 mile trip to Lime Rock one-way from my shop in Charlotte, North Carolina and I did not want to have to come back a fourth weekend. At that point, I wanted to keep racing and get the race in win, lose or draw."

The track was eventually dried and the cars ran caution laps to get to half way to make it a legal race. Santerre's day was not yet over though, the drama had just started.

"No one knew NASCAR was going to announce five to go at the stripe on lap 58. It was as much a shock to me as the other competitors," the Cherryfield, Maine native said. "At that point I knew it was going to be close. I knew Matt had a fast car and that he was going for it, he had nothing to lose at that point, meanwhile, I was 15th and knew that the seven cars ahead of me that hadn't yet pitted were staying out so my track position wasn't the best. I was trying to keep in mind where I had to finish, and what I had to do." Santerre adds, "We knew the numbers game and I was conservative enough to stay out of trouble and stay within so many positions o f Matt."

Santerre crossed the stripe in the 14th position, clinching the Championship by nine points, the third closest point battle in Series history.

"I couldn't be happier for my sponsors or my team," said a smiling Santerre. "To accomplish what we did on our budget with all the travel involved and an all-volunteer team, it is truly a remarkable accomplishment. I don't know if the enormity of this Ch ampionship has even sunk in yet."

"My hats off to Matt Kobyluck and Brad Leighton," Santerre stated. "They both came into the race with the attitude of all or nothing and their performances backed that up. They and their teams did a remarkable job all season long. I have every confiden ce that Matt and the Mohegan Sun Racing team will earn their Championship before too long."

Still, you have to wonder, if the race had played out, would Santerre still have won the Championship? "I believe we would have," Santerre answered. "There were seven cars ahead of me that had to pit and we only had to finish 8th or better to clinch the title. I concede that we didn't have the fastest hotrod there, but I was confident we would have a top-8 car and I believe we did. I don't think racing the entire event would have changed a thing."

Santerre became known as the ultimate road warrior this season, not because of his road racing prowess, but because of the miles he travels just to compete in the New England events. Santerre was scheduled to travel almost 30,000 miles by season end, but with three rain dates and testing, Santerre put over 46,000 miles on the Chevrolet Duallie he purchased in April.

"People don't realize the adversity we faced this season logistically," Santerre related. "I have an all-volunteer crew and we hail from seven different states and meet at the track. We don't work together during the week at the race shop or travel toget her. I am the sole person in the shop. I believe I am the only team in the top-5 in points that doesn't have one full-time employee. Our sponsorship dollars, though greatly appreciated, don't compare to those of some of the other front-running teams and I didn't have the luxury of bringing a back-up car in case we had problems at one of the tracks." Santerre adds, "This vChampionship is what fairy tales are made of."

Santerre certainly proved that hard work, dedication, commitment and perseverance can be rewarded His accomplishments of this season are nothing short of miraculous and he is humble enough to realize the Championship isn't his alone.

"I really have to thank LesCare Kitchens, Castle Chemical, Wittenburg University, EJP, Coastline Homes and all the other sponsors who jumped on board this season," Santerre commented. "If it weren't for them, I would never have had this opportunity. My crew as well, they are all volunteer and worked so hard all summer long to help me achieve this goal. There are so many other people who have helped and supported me along the way, no one gets to this level of racing without strong support behind them." S anterre continues, "This championship is a dream come true for me and a title I will always treasure. Thank you everyone who helped earn it."

Santerre's future plans are to celebrate his Championship with his team, sponsors and family at the Busch North Series Banquet on November 9, 2002 at the Lowell Auditorium in Lowell, Massachusetts and to do a little snow sledding this winter. His racing plans for the 2003 season have yet to be announced.

-lck-

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Series NASCAR
Drivers Matt Kobyluck