Looking Back: Emory, Reen Took Similar Path To Top Rookie Honors
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Dec. 26, 2008) -- For Buddy Emory and Glen Reen, similar paths led to the same results in 2008: Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in a NASCAR Modified.
Emory, from Petersburg, Va., finished 11th in points during his first full NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour season in 2008. Two top 10s in 10 starts helped him secure top rookie honors in the series. Reen's 2008 rookie campaign followed a similar storyline. The Wilbraham, Mass., native made all 16 starts and registered three top-10 finishes en route to the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
While Emory and Reen are each first-generation race car drivers, both can attribute their start in motorsports to their fathers.
"My dad, George Emory Jr., always liked racing and I always watched the races with him," Emory said. "He used to take me to the race track since I was in a stroller. I was always around racing."
It was a friend who was racing go-karts that got Emory thinking about getting behind the wheel, but it was his father who got his career off the ground. When Buddy was 18, the elder Emory furnished him with a go-kart and a racing career was born.
Emory's father passed away in 1998, but other family members stepped in to keep his racing career going. His sister and brother-in-law have owned and managed his teams since. Emory graduated from go-karts and moved on to IMCA Modifieds in 1999. Over the years he saw the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race at places like Richmond International Raceway and South Boston Speedway and looked toward the future.
Like Emory, it was Reen's father, Thomas Reen, who got his current career jumpstarted. After a few years in motocross, and a migration to four-wheeled racing with shifter karts, Reen was looking to advance his career. That's when his father stepped up in a big way.
"We had heard that [Stafford Motor Speedway] was going to make a SK division that was cheaper," Reen said. "We thought about it, but it kind of was on the backburner. Then my dad, unbeknownst to me, went out looking for cars. On my 21st birthday I wound up with an SK car in our garage. The only thing I had to do was put everything together, maintain the car and come up with the funding."
Prior to their Rookie of the Year campaigns, Emory and Reen were able to get some experience driving a Modified. Emory made his NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour debut with five starts in 2007 while Reen ran a partial season and a full season in the SK Light division at Stafford. Getting that experience proved to be beneficial for both in 2008.
"It was a big jump," Emory said. "We had never been around these type of cars. My sister and my brother-in-law own the car, and we don't have the help that some of the other teams do. We don't know that much about [Modified racing], but we're learning every race."
Although he had to make a significant adjustment to how the new race car drove compared to his previous shifter kart experience, Reen was able to find success early on in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series action at Stafford.
"The first race we went out and finished third, the second race finished third, and the third race we went out and won," Reen said. "That's when we realized we kind of had something. I had adapted to the big car quick, I had never been in anything that big coming from the shifter karts. It was a whole new ballgame for me, but I liked it."
Next came decisions by both Emory and Reen to run for Rookie of the Year honors in the respective NASCAR Modified series.
"I went to the North-South Shootout and was looking at cars and getting some numbers," Emory said. "We found a car up in New York and went up and bought it. We took it all apart and pretty much rebuilt the whole car."
Following his SK Light debut in 2006, Reen thought about stepping up to an SK for 2007, Stafford's premier division, but stuck with the SK Lights and wound up in Victory Lane eight times. Talk in the subsequent offseason again led toward a move to the SK division, but the chance at greater exposure relative to the additional investment prompted Reen and his team to move on to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
The decisions of both proved to pay off in 2008. Emory was able to get past the engine troubles that had plagued his team the previous year to record top 10s at Southern National Raceway Park and Lanier National Speedway.
"At Southern National I was real fast, but I had to back off a little bit because of the temperature of the motor started getting hot," Emory said. "I was running them down."
Although he was caught up in an accident early on in the race, Emory also counted qualifying for the Made In American Whelen 300 at Martinsville Speedway for the second year in a row as one of the highlights of his season.
Reen's rookie campaign was successful, yet he looks back with a critical eye, and sees room to improve as a sophomore.
"I definitely think we could have done better," Reen said. "I started out the year not driving as hard as I would have liked to. I was a lot more conservative and I think toward the beginning of the year I was intimidated to be out there with all these guys I looked up to. Now I look back at it and wish we would have done better, but all-in-all, we had a decent year. We came home with Rookie of the Year, which was nice because that was our big goal."
With their rookie stripe off, both Emory and Reen look for more consistency and an improvement in the points standings in 2009.
"I sold my IMCA Modified so I could help buy another car," Emory said. "I missed a race last year when we had back-to-back races because I had to put a front clip on. In 2009 we'll work toward making all of the races and finishing every race and just having fun. That's the main thing, to just have fun."
"A realistic goal would be to finish in the top 10 in points," Reen said. "Obviously the big goal that you put out there so that you can go chase it is to be the champion. Todd Szegedy won the series title a year after being Rookie of the Year, so it's not impossible."
The 2009 season should be exciting for both. The recently-released schedules will feature two combination races with the NASCAR Whelen and NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tours at Bristol Motor Speedway on Aug. 19 and at Martinsville on Sept. 27. Emory's second full-time season on the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour will begin at Caraway Speedway on March 15 while Reen's sophomore effort is slated to commence at Thompson International Speedway on April 5.