Mike Bruno and the #3 Summit Racing Team was at the New Hampshire International Speedway over the weekend for the NASCAR Busch North Series, touring division's final event of the season at the one mile oval track. The New Hampshire 100 was the series final visit to an oval track this year. After having a pair of top ten finishes in the series first three visits to the premiere track in the northeast, Mike was very optimistic about his team's chances of a great race. But that optimism quickly turned dismal on the morning of the race.
"I'd like to qualify in the top ten and pick up a top five this time," Mike said a few days before the race. "We've had a twelfth, a seventh and a sixth so I'd like to shoot for a top five and maybe even finish in the top three or four in the Loudon track championship."
The weekend of racing actually started on the Thursday before the race when the BNS teams arrived for practice and qualifying. But hurricane Floyd put a damper on all the on track activities, and went right through Friday's activities as well. After rain washed away practice and qualifying on Thursday and Friday, the teams were to start the race based on their points standings, which meant Mike was to start the #3 Summit Racing Chevy in 18th place.
NASCAR changed the weekend schedule to allow the BNS teams a half hour of practice time from 8:30 to 9 AM the morning of the race. Like all the teams, Mike was anxious to get the teams car out on the track for some laps. As the practice session wound down, disaster struck the Summit Racing Team. Mike came over the radio and said there was a problem. The motor in the car let go.
Mike coasted the car into the garage area where the team checked it out and verified the bad news, the motor was blown. The team doesn't have a spare motor to carry from race to race, so what had started as a very promising day, suddenly turned bleak.
"The only good thing was it let go during practice and not one or two laps into the race," Mike said. "My heart sunk when I knew. It was about the most disappointing feeling I've had at a race this year. We didn't have any idea what we'd do."
As word spread of the Summit Team's troubles, several teams came by to offer help. One of the first was JD Gibbs of the #8 MBNA Team. JD is second to Mike in the Rookie of the Year competition. But Gibbs wasted no time in showing what a classy competitor he is by offering Bruno his spare motor. After some thought, the team realized the Gibbs motor would not work as the two use different chassis's, so the motor would not line up properly. This left the Summit team scrambling again.
When they couldn't find a motor that would work, several teams offered the use of their back up cars. The 26 team even offered the use of their car, as they had not made the show when qualifying was canceled. But as time was almost out for the team to do something, they struck a deal with Mike Olsen to use his #61 Little Trees back up car. This car had been prepared for Stub Fadden to use before qualifying was canceled, so it was almost completely race ready.
The team had to change the decals to Mike's number three. The #23 Hollywood Video team had some extra number three's that were put on the car and the car was rushed through inspection. Then Mike was forced to drop to the rear of the field, as the NASCAR rules require a driver that does not start the car they qualify to go to the rear of the field for the start of the race, losing their original starting position. That meant Mike would have to start the race dead last, rather than his 18th starting position. It would be quite a challenge for Mike to keep his streak of top twenty finishes intact as well as hope for a top three finish in the NHIS track championship.
"I can't thank all of the teams that offered help enough," Mike said before the race. "JD, Dale Quarterly, Dale Shaw, Olsen, the 26 team, David Smith and many others all offered help. It was a good feeling. I'm glad we worked out a deal with Mike. I can't say enough about this team too. It was a complete team effort by the entire team to get us into this race."
Just six laps after the race started, Mike narrowly missed disaster when a multi car wreck unfolded directly in front of him in turns three and four. Mike was then able to get into a groove that saw him gain an incredible 24 positions in the first 24 laps! By the half way point Mike had moved the #3 Summit Racing Chevy up to 12th place.
There were several more wrecks before the end of the race, but Mike was able to get through all of them and finish the race without a scratch on the car. When the checkered flag waved, Mike had moved into eighth place. He certainly turned some heads with his incredible run, going all the way from 44th up to 8th.
"The car was really fast until we got up to about 9th or 10th place," Mike said after the race. "It started to tighten up late in the race, but we finished well and never put a scratch on it. I have to thank Mike (Olsen) and the Little Trees team for letting me use this car, it was great. It was good for both of us, he got his sponsor two top tens in one race!"
" I can't say enough about my team," Bruno went on. "There is no way I could have pulled this off with out this team pulling together the way they did. They have been right there for me all year. They never gave up today, it's a great feeling to have a strong finish for them after what we went through today."
Mike's eighth place finish earned him his tenth Rookie of the Race award. It was also good enough to move him up two positions in the NHIS track championship, earning him third place, just behind winner Dale Shaw and runner up Brad Leighton. It was Mike's sixth top ten in his 13 BNS starts this season. He is still the only driver in the top twenty with no finish worse than 20th.
The team will now turn their focus on the series finale at Lime Rock Park, the famous road course track in Connecticut.