NASCAR Toyota All Star Showdown Midwest Series News, Notes And Thoughts This past weekend at Irwindale (Cal) Speedway, Ron Breese, Jr, of DeKalb, Illinois, put an explanation point on a season that wasn't designed to play out anything like it...
NASCAR Toyota All Star Showdown
Midwest Series News, Notes And Thoughts
This past weekend at Irwindale (Cal) Speedway, Ron Breese, Jr, of DeKalb, Illinois, put an explanation point on a season that wasn't designed to play out anything like it did. Breese, who finished third in the 2003 NASCAR Elite Division, International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series championship point standings put on a dominating performance to claim top honors in the inaugural Toyota All Star Showdown.
The Toyota All Star Showdown was an invitational event, sending the top-10 in the season-long point standings for the Midwest Series, the Raybestos Northwest Series, Kodak Southeast Series and the Featherlite Southwest Series. At the Midwest Series opener, Breese openly declared he had no intention of running the entire Midwest Series schedule and likely forfeiting a trip to Irwindale. Early in the campaign, however, Breese found himself in the midst of a championship battle and switched gears to chase points. While he came up short in the title hunt, an invitation to Irwindale awaited shortly after the regular season curtain closer at LaCrosse (Wis) Fairgrounds Speedway.
But once at Irwindale, Breese struggled. Thursday featured three, one-hour practice sessions for the Elite Division. At the end of the first session, Breese was last on the speed charts of the 40 total competitors.
"We put a setup in the car that a friend told us to use and it was just crap," said Breese. "I think I only turned four laps the whole hour."
Breese and crew quickly threw a new setup on his EWT, Inc/Pinkston-Tadd Roofing Chevrolet and just as quickly moved up the speed charts. In addition to being fast, it was obvious Breese could work the lower groove well. And on Irwindale's compound banked track, the high lane may be the fastest, but you have to be able to run low to pass.
Breese started 13th in Friday's first 50-lap qualifier. By the half-way point he was in second and moving up to battle with the Southwest's Burney Lamar. Breese worked under Lamar with just five laps to go and took the win, earning the pole position for Saturday's 100-lap main event.
Outside pole setter, Jim Pettit, got the jump on Breese in Saturday nights first 75-lap segment. Breese worked past the Prunedale, California driver in lapped traffic at lap 23 and never looked back.
The field was shown the caution on lap 75 and sent down pit lane for a 10-minute break. While Pettit hounded Breese in the first segment, he couldn't stay close to him in the final 25-laps and settled for runner-up honors. Southwest Series driver David Gilliland was third while Midwest driver Ryan Hanson and Steve Carlson rounded out the top five.
"It's a credit to my team to come from absolutely last on the speed charts to winning everything we were in this weekend," said Breese. "I just can't say enough about those guys."
Aside from being in front of a live SPEED Channel audience, Breese earned $14,500 for his car owner, use of a Toyota Tundra Truck for a year for himself and huge rolling Craftsman toolboxes for himself and crew chief John Prestagaard. But the highlight may be the fact that Breese will have his name permanently engraved in the Toyota All Star Showdown trophy which will be housed at Daytona USA.
"That is so cool," said Breese. "I'm gonna have to take a trip down to Florida just to see that."
Midwest Dominates Team Competition
A unique twist to the Toyota All Star Showdown was a team competition between the four regional Elite Divisions represented. Race finish points were awarded in the first 75-lap segment of Saturday's main event just as they would have had the race been complete. The point system followed the NASCAR Elite Division rulebook. Five Midwest Series drivers were scored in the top-10 and all were in the top-20 at the 75-lap break.
The Midwest notched a 200+ point win over the Irwindale Speedway favorite Southwest Series. The Southeast Series was third while the Northwest placed fourth.
"Didn't you just know that was gonna happen," questioned Steve Carlson. "After watching Ron run last night I kind of figured it was going to happen that way with the Midwest Series winning the team competition."
At the checkers, nine of the 10 Midwest Series contingent was in the top-17. If not for his third transmission failure of the year (all on restarts), Eric Fransen arguably would have placed in the top-20 giving the Midwest Series a virtual clean sweep.
"Coming into this, I thought the Southwest guys were gonna have an advantage, and I think they actually did," said Breese. "But NASCAR and Toyota really did a great job of trying to even the playing field, because by the end of the practice sessions on Thursday there was a lot of Midwest Series guys near the top of the charts. "
At 10th place, Southeast Series Champion Charlie Bradberry was the highest finishing driver from his team while Chris Hart was the highest placing Raybestos Northwest Series driver at 15th.
Combined with the fact that the following day, Wisconsin native Matt Kenseth secured the NASCAR Winston Cup, maybe the Midwest will finally get the credit it deserves as the true hot bed of racing talent.
Racing One For Dad
Ryan Hanson's mom and dad, Butch and Vickie, have been behind their sons racing efforts since he turned his first lap in a go-kart. This past weekend marked just the second time they have not been with Ryan at the track for one of his races. The only other race they missed was because Ryan's brother was graduating.
Ryan's parents couldn't be at the biggest race of his young life because Butch was at home fighting for his. For the past 14-years Butch has battled bladder cancer. He recently lost another round in the war when doctors removed both of his kidneys. While he'll have to be on dialysis for the next two years before he can have a transplant, the good news is, doctors feel they have removed all the cancer.
"It's different being here without them," said Hanson. "As soon as I got out of the car, there was a message on my cell phone. So I called home and the line was busy because they were calling me back."
"All we've been doing is battling adversity since we left Davenport a couple days ago," said Justin Diercks.
Mechanical problems ailed the teams new transporter on the way to Irwindale. Fortunately, the gremlins showed up while crew chief/truck driver Nick Carlson was at a truck stop and he was able to make repairs without being stranded. Once at the speedway, the trailers lift gate began to act up. A hydraulic repair specialist had to meet the team at the track on Thursday because Diercks and company didn't know if the gate would have enough power to lift the car back in the trailer at the end of the weekend.
To make matters worse, Diercks badly damaged his racer in the final minutes of Friday's practice session. The crew pulled out the backup ride, but instead elected to make repairs to the primary car. He and his short-handed team was aided by several members of other Midwest Series crews as they returned the mangled mount to as good as new.
Diercks finished sixth in his Friday night qualifier and seventh in Saturday's 100-lapper. He was debuting two new sponsors at Irwindale; Iowa-Illinois Taylor Insulation and Mug Master. Both will be with the popular young driver in 2004.
"We've got new sponsors coming on board next year and we're excited about that," said Diercks. "We got them a good run against the 40 best drivers in the nation and hopefully they're proud of that."
Ed Hoffman, Sr Sighting
Ed Hoffman, Sr was a 15-time Chicagoland late model champion before moving to Southern California to semi-retire. Hoffman raced on a part-time basis the past two years at Irwindale Speedway. Hoffman was in the pit area all weekend as he tried to give his son Eddie an advantage in the inaugural Toyota All Star Showdown, but to no avail.
"There's gotta be something wrong with the car, somewhere, after we whacked the wall at Phoenix, I hope," said the younger Hoffman. "We changed more stuff than we did in half a season and we just couldn't get the car to work."
Eddie, the runner-up in the Midwest Series 2003 championship chase finished a disappointing 11th in his qualifier and 16th in the Saturday finale.
Breakfast And Lunch On Toyota
Toyota rolled out the red carpet for the drivers, car owner, crew members and officials at the inaugural Toyota All Star Showdown.
It started Thursday morning when they hosted a breakfast for all drivers and car owners and included a dinner party for everyone in the pit area on Thursday night. In addition, every team member and official got a goody bag from Toyota as a thank-you.
"Toyota did a phenomenal job with the way they treated everybody," said Eric Fransen. "Everything they did just made you feel welcome and appreciated."
Various Post Race Thoughts--
"The car just wasn't as good after the break as it was before. We put the same size tires on after the break, because the first 25 laps of the race, the car was on a rail. But for some reason, they just didn't come in. I got a real good jump on the restart for the last 25-laps. The car was so tight though, I went into turn one in first and came out of turn two in third."-Steve Carlson
"Every practice session you saw more and more Midwest Series drivers working their way up the speed charts, and we sort of figured that would be the case."-Jon Lemke
"It all started Friday night which made tonight (Saturday) a major work out. Something in the left front is messed up, we still don't know. We had a really good car in all the practices and I figured we'd be good in the qualifying race, but it was just bad tight and I couldn't hardly drive it. So we were mired back in 23rd at the start of tonight and humped to get to 11th."-Tim Schendel
"This is the nicest track in the United States, it absolutely has to be."-Ron Breese, Jr
"Anybody in the top-10 in points in the Midwest Series is all winners, they're all good drivers."-Steve Carlson
"The experience has just been awesome. I really, really, really hope we can come back next year and the year after that and the year after that. It gives everybody a chance to see who's the best in the country, at least on that given day. I was glad that we were able to run well in the first 75-lap segment to contribute to the Midwest winning the team race."-Eric Fransen
"Very frustrating race. Last night (Friday) we hit it, everything was perfect. Tonight we made just a slight adjustment in the sway bar and we went out there and the car just wasn't there. We struggled."-Jeremy Lepak
"I've gotta thank my parents because they give me everything I need to run up front. This weekend just shows that this whole team is coming together, we're maturing, I'm maturing as a driver. It's looking bright for the future."-Justin Diercks
"It was definitely a gamble coming out here and it worked out to the good. I still lost money, because the car owner keeps all this and I could have been home working; I'm still in the red, but it was WELL worth it."-Ron Breese, Jr
"The guys from our series are tough and this just shows how tough we are. I think money is tight in the Midwest and I think the hard work and dedication we put in showed tonight. And tonight showed just what clean racers all 40 of these guys are."-Tim Schendel
"I race against the best people in the United States and no matter where we (Midwest Series) go, we're gonna put on a show. It showed tonight how serious the Midwest guys are about racing."-Ron Breese, Jr
"The way my car is now, as we put it in the hauler, I wish we were just getting here. We struggled all weekend, but got the car better every practice session and I finally (after the race) feel like we have a really good car."-Brian Hoppe
Fast Finishes--Brian Hoppe revealed to this scribe that he and wife Bobbi are expecting their second baby next June--1999 champion crew chief, Bruce Carlson, was helping to call the shots for Hoffman at Irwindale. Carlson is a candidate for the #8 Crew Chief job in 2004--Scott Hansen, a 10-time Midwest Series winner, was mentoring Jeremy Lepak at Irwindale. Hansen has seat time at Irwindale and hoped to pass some of that knowledge along to the Midwest Series rookie runner-up--Was Irwindale the final race for Tim Schumacher, the owner of Jon Lemke's K.C. Colors entry?