LEE, N.H. (April 13, 2001) - It's opening day, and everybody in the league is tied for first place. That is the attitude of the Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring teams as they prepare for the first race of the series' 15th season, the Lee...
LEE, N.H. (April 13, 2001) - It's opening day, and everybody in the league is tied for first place.
That is the attitude of the Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring teams as they prepare for the first race of the series' 15th season, the Lee 150 at Lee USA Speedway on Sunday, April 22.
The Lee 150 is a one-day event, with practice starting at 12 noon and Bud Pole Qualifying at 2:45 p.m. The 30-car field is scheduled to take the green flag at approximately 5 p.m.
While everyone starts the season on an even footing, one driver will leave with both the opening day victory and the early Busch North Series point lead, a psychological as well as practical advantage as the 21-race season moves in to high gear. Brad Leighton, Dale Shaw, and Tracy Gordon are experts at getting out of the blocks quickly. Leighton, the two-time defending Busch North Series champion, won this event three years in a row from 1997 to 1999, while Shaw led all 150 laps in last year's season premiere, with Gordon in hot pursuit all the way. Not surprisingly, they would finish the 2000 season first, second, and third in the standings. All will debut something new for the 2001 season: a new sponsor for Leighton, a new crew chief for Shaw, and a new race shop for Gordon.
"We hope to come out of the box a little better this year," says Leighton, who won the Bud Pole at Lee in 2000 but saw his winning streak snapped as he settled for a fifth-place finish after pitting for tires. "Like so many of the series NASCAR runs, there's only a few mistakes you can make during the year and still wind up on top."
"In sense, it's nice going to Lee now that we've lost once," Leighton observes. "We had four victories in a row down there (counting a late-season race win in 1996). After a while, you put pressure on yourself, but we got over that last year." Leighton and the championship-winning Grizco Racing team return intact for their run at the championship hat trick, with sponsorship from Burnham Boilers added to their Chevrolet.
The man who ended Leighton's opening-day streak, Dale Shaw, says qualifying well and getting the setup right from the start are vital on Lee's three-eighths mile oval. Last year, Shaw won the drag race to turn one with front row mate Gordon and was able to make that advantage stand up throughout. "The track is wide, but the groove stays right down on the inside," Dale notes.
Lee's infield pit road provides the opportunity for a strategic pit stop, as Leighton made in last year's race, but Shaw thinks that strategy is a longshot. "Unless ten guys all decide to pit, you won't pit and come back to win," he states. Shaw has added crew chief Tony Andrews to help call those shots for his Guaranteed Overnight Delivery Chevrolet team as he seeks a second Busch North Series title to add to his 1994 crown.
"We were real good on long runs, but we kept having short runs toward the end of he race and Dale kept getting the jump on restarts and we couldn't track him down," says Tracy Gordon. He's also a believer in getting it right from the start. "New tires won't help you that much at Lee", declares Gordon, whose Tic Tac Chevrolet will run in 2001 out of an all-new shop in Maine.
While drivers agree Lee is a difficult place to pass, that didn't stop Dave Dion from advancing 17 places in last year's Lee 150, while Matt Kobyluck picked up 16 spots and Bryan Wall improved by 15 positions.
Mother Nature has changed preparations for the Lee 150 by forcing the traditional pre-season practice day to be postponed from Saturday April 14 to Saturday, April 21, due to wet grounds. That means the teams will be practicing just 24 hours before they qualifying and race, a scenario more like a superspeedway event than the usual Busch North Series short track routine.
Brad Leighton, Dale Shaw, and Tracy Gordon agree the extra race-weekend track time could make a positive difference. "It will make it a better race, says Leighton. "Basically, if the temperature stays within ten degrees from Saturday to Sunday, we'll have some decent rubber on the track."
Lee USA Speedway is located on Route 125 in Lee, N.H., less than 15 miles from Portsmouth and the New Hampshire Seacoast resort area, and approximately 65 miles north of Boston, Mass. A full program for Lee's regular NASCAR Weekly Racing Series classes will accompany the running of the Lee 150 on April 22.