DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 5, 2003) -- For NASCAR Elite Division, International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series standout Jon Lemke and car owner Tim Schumacher, 2003 was going to be the year they stopped chasing points and focused on...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 5, 2003) -- For NASCAR Elite Division, International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series standout Jon Lemke and car owner Tim Schumacher, 2003 was going to be the year they stopped chasing points and focused on big tracks throughout the NASCAR Elite Division. That was until NASCAR officials announced the inaugural Toyota All-Star Showdown.
The invitation-only event will be held Nov. 6-8 at the half-mile Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway. The top 10 drivers in the four series that comprise the NASCAR Elite Division -- the Featherlite Southwest Series, International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series, Kodak Southeast Series and Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series -- will be invited along with the top 15 drivers in each of the two series in the NASCAR Grand National Division -- Busch North and Winston West -- who will compete in a similar format. The races will be televised live on NASCAR TV on SPEED Channel, beginning at 8 p.m. ET, Nov. 8.
The four series of the Elite Division compete on a variety of tracks, including Gateway International Raceway, Kentucky Speedway, Nashville Superspeedway, Phoenix International Raceway and Pikes Peak International Raceway -- all considered superspeedway stops for a division that regularly runs on short tracks under 5/8-mile in length. Visits to these facilities provide valuable experience for Elite Division drivers, as well as opportunities to get noticed during combination weekends with NASCAR's national series.
"I love the superspeedways," says Schumacher. "Our original plan for this year was to run the big tracks, no matter what Elite Division series was running. But that changed in spring. The thing that really changed my mind to focus on one series was the Toyota All-Star Showdown."
Drivers in the Showdown will be competing for their share of $500,000 in prize money.
"The prize money is incredible. Live national TV is something I never thought I'd see and the fact that we get to go and stack ourselves against 39 of the best teams in the nation, at our level, is just too much to pass up," Schumacher said.
Schumacher got involved with racing as a sponsor in 1991 and jumped into a car owner role in 1992. He dabbled part-time on the International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series for several years with driver John O'Neal before focusing his full attention towards Lemke just two years ago.
Lemke was the series rookie runner-up in 1994 and has been a consistent top competitor ever since. He notched his first career win in 2001 and followed it up with another in 2002. Lemke currently sits fifth in the International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series championship standings.
"The season started out rough for us with bad finishes in the first two events," said Lemke. "It would have been easy to get down, but the goal of finishing in the top 10 and getting an invite for the Toyota All-Star Showdown kept us going."
After disappointment in the first two events of 2003, Lemke rattled off an amazing string of seven top-five finishes and thrust his team squarely in the thick of the battle to travel to Irwindale.
"From a driver's standpoint, this event is huge," said Lemke. "You can showcase your talent against the best drivers the Elite Division has to offer, for the whole world to see. And you don't know who'll be watching; maybe someone at Richard Childress Racing or DEI will take notice. Television can make a star out of you. Guys like Ron Hornaday and Greg Biffle got noticed on TV running at this level and look at them today."
"And from a car owners' standpoint, I can honestly say that I've never been associated with anything like the Toyota All-Star Showdown," says Schumacher. "It has changed everything we do on this series. It's our Daytona 500."
The Toyota All-Star Showdown is an invitation-only, non-points event. Drivers will be invited based on their finish in the 2003 point standings for their respective series. Thirty Grand National teams and 40 Elite Division teams will make up the event's starting fields.
The three-day event begins with practice on Thurs., Nov. 6. Teams return for another practice session on Fri., Nov. 7, along with twin 50-lap qualifying races for both divisions. The feature races will be held Nov. 8.