Ponoco Steele returns

Steele returns with a bullet Dave Rodman LONG POND, Pa. (June 20, 1998) Tim Steele had barely gotten back in a race car and he was eagerly anticipating the next phase of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career, but after winning Saturday's...

Steele returns with a bullet Dave Rodman

LONG POND, Pa. (June 20, 1998) Tim Steele had barely gotten back in a race car and he was eagerly anticipating the next phase of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career, but after winning Saturday's Mountain Dew 400k ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series race at Pocono Raceway, Steele could hardly wait to get on the phone and plot his next move.

Steele's last competitive outing in a stock car had come with a victory in the ARCA race at Springfield, Ill., last Oct. 18. But Saturday it was as if he had never been away as he dominated the 100-lap event by leading 75 tours of Pocono's 2.5-mile triangle in his H&S Die & Engineering Ford Thunderbird. He started from the second position.

"It really didn't seem like I'd ever been away," said Steele, who had hoped to contend for Raybestos Rookie of the Year on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series this season. That was until he had to be cut out of Bud Moore's DAYTONA USA Ford Thunderbird last November after he crashed during a test session at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Steele, 30, suffered a closed head injury among other dings, but he attempted to run a NASCAR Winston West Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway shortly after that. His father, Harold Steele, convinced him to call that effort off after a brief foray in practice. He later tried to test at Daytona International Speedway for the season-opening Daytona 500, but his medical condition there led him to seek the medical opinions that led to him taking more than half this year off. Until this weekend.

"There were a lot of doctor's appointments, and passing all their tests," said Steele, who had never stopped planning his return. ARCA President Ron Drager said on Saturday he had weekly phone conversations with Steele discussing his progress and the best strategy for his return. The decision to return at Pocono was not made a the last minute.

"I've been wanting to get back in a car since February, but I had to pass all their tests to their satisfaction, but also my own," Steele said. "It's been a long, hard road to get here.

"It's only June and yet it seems like I've been out for three years. I've been racing something all my life, every year since I was about five years old. To not have that, it's amazing how really tough it is. It's been real frustrating."

In addition to passing a comprehensive physical exam on June 15 and providing a note from the physicians who had been treating his closed head injury from the Atlanta accident, Steele also passed an on-track test when he drove a Late Model car owned by speed equipment dealer Randy Sweet at the 3/8-mile Kalamazoo (Mich.) Speedway.

The dramatic Pocono victory by the driver who has dominated ARCA competition in the 1990s -- with 31 total wins in 88 starts and championships in 1993, '96 and '97 -- obviously makes the decision facing Moore Robinson Motorsports team manager Greg Moore's decision more difficult.

For his part Steele, who with his Saturday victory lengthened his grip on the all-time ARCA superspeedway victories tally with his 18th and tied veteran ARCA competitor Bob Schacht with his sixth Pocono win -- his third in a row -- said he is weighing a lot of options and has been on the phone with a lot of prospective employers -- NASCAR car owners.

Bud Moore, who had envisioned an aggressive campaign in 1998 with Steele as his driver, was forced to reconsider his program after Steele's rehabilitation program was enjoined. In the meantime he has signed Rescue Engine Formula to a limited number of races this season, with NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division driver Blaise Alexander tabbed drive at least some of those, and NASCAR Winston Cup Series veteran Morgan Shepherd also a possibility for others.

"I want to get through today and if everything goes good today I'll probably go talk to some of those people," Steele said on Saturday morning. On Saturday afternoon he had no more definite plans than certainly picking up the phone, but his leverage certainly increased with the dominant victory.

"I'm still planning on putting that in place, but I don't have anything rock solid," he said of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series aspirations. "There's plenty of people who still want me, and it's good to feel wanted.

"I'd like to do a few races this year but basically I want to have a solid deal for 1999 and into the future. I'd like to do a rookie of the year program for next year.

"A lot of people wanted me to sign contracts, but I wasn't sure I was ready. Until I knew myself I was ready I wasn't really interested in signing any contracts, because the doctors told me the best thing I could do to get better was to take away all the stress in your life.

"That's what I did and I think I got better pretty quick."

Thirty-eight other ARCA competitors would certainly agree.

"I gotta thank God for the natural talent he gave me to do this," Steele said in Victory Lane. "I was just praying to God that I wouldn't have to close one eye out there to quit seeing double. The race is over and I don't have any headaches or blurred vision.

"The doctors out at the Mayo Clinic, what they put me through ... I said 'What the hell am I going through this for?' I've done everything they told me, only double that, because they said in March to feel good if I could come back in a year."

Now, his competitors might have to worry about seeing any of Steele in the near future.

"This feels really good," he said. "I just can't express what it feels like to get in a race car and feel normal again, and to win. I've gotta thank everyone who stood behind me."

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series ARCA , NASCAR Cup
Drivers Blaise Alexander , Tim Steele , Morgan Shepherd , Greg Moore , Bob Schacht