NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, SOUTHEAST SERIES 2006 SEASON OPENER SET FOR APRIL 29 AT GREENVILLE-PICKENS SPEEDWAY DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 21, 2006) -- The NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series is set to kick off its 16th and...
NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, SOUTHEAST SERIES 2006 SEASON OPENER SET FOR APRIL 29 AT GREENVILLE-PICKENS SPEEDWAY
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 21, 2006) -- The NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series is set to kick off its 16th and final season Saturday night, April 29, at Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway in the 'Rock 101' 150.
It was announced in January that NASCAR will restructure its regional touring series divisions beginning in 2007 and that the four current Late Model Elite Division Tours will be discontinued following the 2006 season.
Some of the top Southeast Series drivers say it would be easy to look at the scenario as the glass being half empty, but they look at the glass as being half full as they write the final chapter for the tour that the late 'Uncle' Bob Harmon formed in 1991 in what was then called the All-Pro Super Series. After NASCAR took over the series from Harmon, he continued to be an important part of the tour in his role and a consultant and promoter until his death in 2002.
Though he may be gone, Harmon will never be forgotten as winning the last Southeast Series title is a goal of all the drivers heading into next Saturday night's season-opener at the famed Greenville-Pickens short track that has also played an important role in the success of the Southeast Series.
"It's pretty fitting that the season is starting and ending at Greenville-Pickens because the track has stood by NASCAR's side for such a long time," Driver Dusty Williams says. "We've always known that we could count on Greenville-Pickens. Tom Blackwell and Kevin Whitaker have done a lot for the Southeast Series through the years. I'm looking forward to writing my name in the record book as not only the last winner of a Southeast Series race at Greenville but also the last champion. I really do think the Southeast Series has done its part of providing a lot of great drivers that have ended up in NEXTEL Cup."
The Southeast Series is scheduled to run its finale at Greenville-Pickens on August 12 in a combination race with the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Midwest Series. Southeast Series driver Jason Hogan agrees with the sentiments of Williams, in that it's going to be hard to walk away after the final race.
"To win the Southeast Series championship would be big because the competition is so strong," Hogan says. "NASCAR has a great series with the Southeast Series and even though it's the last year, the championship is something I'm really focusing on pretty hard. To win the last Southeast Series championship would mean a lot to me personally because I was always a good friend with 'Uncle' Bob Harmon since he was so big a factor in getting this series started. Winning the last Southeast Series championship would mean a lot to me and be amazing for several different reasons."
Another thing that Hogan and Williams agree on is that it's a relief to finally get the 2006 Southeast Series season started after an almost sixth month break.
"We were so good at the end of last year that we've really been anxious to get the 2006 season started off on the right foot," says Hogan, who finished second in last year's championship race behind Jeff Fultz. "We want to get started off on the right front at Greenville-Pickens. I think we're definitely going to have a very good shot at the championship, especially if our cars are as good as they were last season. I know the team and the driver are pumped up about getting things started and hopefully we'll be a championship contender at the end of the year."
"I'm ready to go racing," Williams says. "We've tested a few times and worked on the car about as much as we can. Hopefully we've made everything a little bit better than it was last year. I'm really looking forward to going to all the races and trying to dominate them as much as I can and I don't see any reason why we should fall short of what we were able to accomplish last year. I'm going into every race this year with the mindset that I can win them all. My confidence level this year is a lot better than it was last season because I really wasn't sure I was capable of winning. We had a great year last year and I had a lot to hold my head up high about over the off-season. Last year was just a year where I had to prove to myself that I was capable of being a threat every race."
Hogan is well aware that the road to the Southeast Series title is going to be a tough one considering his fellow competitors who also want to go out as the champion.
"Dusty Williams is going to be tough and so it Gary Helton," Hogan predicts. "Josh Hamner is going to be really good even though this is his first full season with the Southeast Series tour. Justin Wakefield is always tough just like J.R. Norris."
Williams, who led the Southeast Series championship for a portion of the year last season and was in contention until the season finale, agrees with Hogan as far as to which will be the drivers to beat for the title.
"I think Jason Hogan and Justin Wakefield are going to be tough this year," Williams says. "J.R. Norris is also going to be strong. Gary Helton is also a guy that everybody is going to have to watch because he really was tough at the end of last season. There's going to be some good racing this year because of the depth of talent that we have. Obviously I think I'm going to be in there battling with those guys and we're going to end the Southeast Series on a positive note even though it will be the last year for the series."