November 12, 2002, El Cajon California: Twenty year-old race driver Brandon Whitt has clinched the Rookie-of-the-Year Award in the Featherlite Southwest Series, NASCAR Touring, and has finished ninth in the overall championship standings.Â In the...
November 12, 2002, El Cajon California: Twenty year-old race driver Brandon Whitt has clinched the Rookie-of-the-Year Award in the Featherlite Southwest Series, NASCAR Touring, and has finished ninth in the overall championship standings. In the final event of the season last Thursday at Phoenix, Whitt capped off a standout debut season with an exciting last-lap pass on Steve Belletto, his principal rival in the rookie class of 2002. Whitt's 17th place finish at Phoenix marked his sixth "rookie-of-the-race" award this season, placing the final rookie points tally at 126 for Whitt and 119 for Belletto.
A third-generation stock car driver from El Cajon, Whitt and his family-run Clean Line Racing team set three goals at the start of their debut season in Featherlite Southwest competition: to qualify for every race, win rookie-of-the-year, and finish in the top ten in overall points. "It's a very satisfying feeling to have accomplished all three of these goals," exclaims Brandon, "and I had a blast every step of the way!" Adds Brandon's father and team owner Dan Whitt, "one of the toughest things to attempt in racing is to enter a series with a brand-new team and a rookie driver. Although our family has a good deal of experience in Super Late Model racing, we assembled a new team of people for our Southwest Featherlite debut, and the new tracks and new cars presented a very steep learning curve. It's been great fun to watch Brandon's capabilities improve with each race, and I'm especially proud that he was one of only eight drivers to qualify for all fourteen races in the series this year."
Back in February at the season opener in Phoenix, Whitt faced off against ten rivals for the rookie crown. Whitt's 28th place finish gave the driver and his team a taste of the fierce competition in NASCAR Touring, and they were determined to raise their game. The six-week gap between races gave the team an opportunity to further test and refine their equipment before race number two at their home track of El Cajon Speedway.
Returning to El Cajon Speedway was the emotional boost the team needed, as the 3/8th mile oval is filled with memories for the Whitt family. Brandon, his father Dan, his uncle Tobin, and his grandfather Jim have all raced at El Cajon, and the Whitts even set a track milestone several years ago when Jim, Tobin and Brandon competed on the same night, the first three-generation appearance in the history of the speedway.
Brandon's hometown debut in Southwest Featherlite competition came on March 23rd, and he qualified and finishing fifth. The team's confidence grew, and Brandon began to pull away from the other rookies with a string of strong qualifying performances in the next several races. By late spring the number of rookies with a realistic chance to win the points battle had dwindled to three. Immediately prior to the June 22nd Sears Point event, nine of the eleven rookie candidates withdrew from consideration, leaving Whitt and Belletto as the sole remaining competitors for Rookie-of-the-Year.
Whitt left Sears Point with a six point advantage over Belletto in the rookie standings, and the second half of the season saw a spirited competition between the two drivers, who often found themselves racing for position on the track. The pair traded off rookie-of-the-race honors, and Brandon's lead in rookie points held steady around six points throughout the rest of the season. The pair also found themselves competing for 8th position in the overall championship standings, and Belletto ended up on top in that category, 11 points ahead of Whitt, who ended the season in ninth place.
During an October break in Featherlite competition, Brandon was invited to compete in the final two rounds of the ASCAR championship at the recently-constructed 1.5 mile oval in Rockingham, England. Brandon spent the weekend of October 5-6 competing in back-to-back races, qualifying tenth and finishing eleventh in the first of the two events, which were conducted at the highest speeds of Brandon's young career.
As his team spends the winter preparing for the 2003 season, Brandon will be hitting the books, continuing his second year of collegiate studies. While proud of his accomplishments this season, Brandon has no illusions about the challenges ahead. "We've done everything we set out to do this season, except win races. That's the next thing, and the only thing. We have to start running at the front on a regular basis and bringing home trophies. We're hungrier than ever, so watch out for the 'Big-W' car in 2003!"