DETROIT, May 25, 2001 - Last Sunday, rookie Pontiac driver C.T. Hellmund became an overnight sensation that has been 10 years in the making. Hellmund, who has spent the last decade paying his dues running short track modifieds and late models,...
DETROIT, May 25, 2001 - Last Sunday, rookie Pontiac driver C.T. Hellmund became an overnight sensation that has been 10 years in the making.
Hellmund, who has spent the last decade paying his dues running short track modifieds and late models, made his first career NASCAR Winston West start on Sunday at Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., and made the most of it. He was fastest in the morning practice, qualified fourth and went on to post a surprising four-second victory over a field of series veterans.
But, Hellmund's impressive weekend effort was only part of the story. Despite making it look easy, the team found its trip to victory lane full of challenges. Hellmund and his crew worked the entire night before qualifying to troubleshoot a mechanical problem that had them well off the pace in a Friday practice session. Then during the 250-kilometer race, they overcome two 40-second pit stops and a 15-second penalty to claim the upset win.
The partially-funded team, which intends to run just five races in 2001, made the trek from its Austin, Texas base to the West Coast in a dually pickup with a 40-foot gooseneck trailer behind it. Inside was a Pontiac Grand Prix, originally constructed at Tyler Jet Motorsports -- former owner of Johnny Benson's No. 10 Winston Cup Grand Prix. Hellmund's crew, which was comprised entirely of volunteers, had hopes of qualifying and running in the top 10 as they made their "big-time" racing debut.
Thoughts From C.T. Hellmund, No. 39 Pontiac Grand Prix
HAS YOUR WIN SOAKED IN YET?
"We had no idea what we were getting into, but it's starting to sink in. I've gotten a lot of calls this week and have heard from a lot of people that I haven't heard from in a long time that all of a sudden want to say, 'Hi.' It's really cool. It's just so sweet. "It was literally one of those 'hodge-podge' efforts, but it just turned out like a dream. Everyone here is just ecstatic. We're pretty fired up."
YOUR WEEKEND DIDN'T EXACTLY START OUT THE WAY YOU WANTED, DID IT?
"We unloaded on Friday and there was something wrong with the car. I ran five laps or so, came in and said, 'I think something is broken on this thing.' We changed springs, and I'm talking like 200 pounds worth, and it didn't make a bit of difference - not for better or for worse. We actually loaded up and decided to go find a place to work on it all night. I'll be honest - at that point, we were wondering if was even worth going back. We were afraid we might look like idiots.
"But, we found a little shop behind the airport out there and worked on it until 5 o'clock in the morning. The guys found that the mount on one of the rear truck arms was bent, so it was kind of bound up on the left-hand side. They fixed it, we squared up the car, scaled it, rolled back into the track about 7:15 [a.m.], unloaded, went through tech, we went to the first practice and were fast right off the bat.
"It was just awesome. It's just been so hard. We've had so many people that have tried to help us. Suzuki Motorcycles and ATV is really who helped us a lot for this event and we got some help from Pontiac, too. Herb Fishel, Dave Hederich and Ray Smith [of GM Racing] all had a hand in helping us out with this deal."
WHAT KIND OF RECEPTION DID YOU GET AFTER YOUR VICTORY?
"It was awesome. On the cool-down lap, the corner workers were in the middle of the track going nuts. It was just awesome. I pulled into victory lane and everyone was bawling - all my guys, my wife - we were all a bunch of sissies."
WHAT'S NEXT FOR YOU?
"I don't know what the future holds. I know that I have really paid my dues over the past 10 years. I feel like I could do a good job for anyone. I think I bring a lot to the table. I'm bi-lingual, I'm educated, I do a program for kids called "Safe and Sober" that President Bush has commended me on, and I think I'm pretty decent behind the wheel, as well.
"Hopefully, something will come of this and maybe somebody will want to give me a shot. I'm not picky. I just want to make a living at doing what I love."
Thoughts From Herb Fishel, Executive Director of GM Racing
HOW DOES HELLMUND'S SURPRISING VICTORY STRIKE YOU?
"It is a significant achievement for any driver to win the first race they enter in any of the NASCAR touring series because this type of racing is so highly competitive and professional today. When you hear about a young man from Texas towing a borrowed race car to the track behind a pickup truck and beating some of the best stock car drivers and teams on the West Coast, it brings back memories of another Texan who used to do the same thing back in the '60s -- A.J. Foyt.
"Obviously, C.T. has a long way to go before being compared to A.J. But when you think about what Terry and Bobby Labonte have accomplished more recently in winning three Winston Cup championships, there is no shortage of Texas role models for C.T. to look up to if he pursues a career in NASCAR racing."