2009 ARCA RE/MAX Series Produces Third-Closest Championship Points Margin in History Justin Lofton and Parker Kligerman concluded the 2009 race season at Rockingham Speedway this weekend, where Lofton was able to clinch his career first ARCA ...
2009 ARCA RE/MAX Series Produces Third-Closest Championship Points Margin in History
Justin Lofton and Parker Kligerman concluded the 2009 race season at Rockingham Speedway this weekend, where Lofton was able to clinch his career first ARCA RE/MAX Series Championship by a margin of five points, the equivalent of one finishing position or one lap led. It is the third-closest final points spread in the 56-year history of the ARCA RE/MAX Series and a fitting end cap to 2009 for two NASCAR hopefuls who have spent their time in ARCA honing their skills through close, side-by-side racing on a diverse schedule that included paved speedways and short tracks, two dirt tracks and a roadcourse.
"So far ARCA has done an awesome job of preparing me for the next step in my career," said Lofton. "Especially stepping up the competition with drivers like Parker Kligerman and running against the Penske organization like that. ARCA does a great job preparing drivers. Parker Kligerman showed that last week. He went out to his first NASCAR Nationwide Series race and sat on the pole, finished 16th. I didn't qualify as well in my first Nationwide race but I finished 16th. I've gained a lot of respect in those garages from being here in ARCA and running like we have. More than anything me and Parker running against each other the way we have this year has brought a lot of recognition to both of us. A lot of people are talking and noticing the way that we have raced each other all year. I don't think we ever got together. It just really goes to show that we are capable of racing that way and we can race with the big boys. I realized how much focus is on us and how many people are watching us. I learned a lot from last year with Scott Speed and Ricky Stenhouse [both losing the ARCA Championship by getting into each other on the track]. It might have been a big media/publicity stunt thing but ultimately I think it has hurt both of their careers. I knew it would be better to finish second knowing that you raced clean against an awesome competitor like Parker Kligerman and the 77 team then to go out there and win it because I wrecked him."
The ARCA RE/MAX Series Championship has been closer on just two previous occasions. Ron Hutcherson and Dave Dayton tied to form ARCA's only co-championship team in 1974. In 1957 Iggy Katona won the title over Nelson Stacy by 4.5 points.
2009 a Learning year, both on track and off, for Kligerman By all accounts, the 2009 ARCA RE/MAX Series was a successful endeavor for rookie Parker Kligerman. In February, the then 18-year-old arrived in Daytona to make his career-first superspeedway start and begin a partial schedule of eight ARCA RE/MAX Series races. His early successes allowed him to take command of the Series' point lead and helped convince his team's ownership group to stretch his eight-race deal into the entire 21-race ARCA RE/MAX Series. Just six races into 2009, Kligerman secured his first of nine race victories and his season included a stretch of four consecutive wins. He led 926 laps in 15 races and also clinched the 2009 Bill France Four Crown, a prestigious award designed to measure a driver's success on a diverse combination of race tracks within the ARCA RE/MAX Series. He concluded the 2009 race season with a chance at earning the ARCA RE/MAX Series Championship and as the Rookie of the Year Points Leader. Beyond the racetrack, Kligerman graduated from high school, moved from his childhood home of Westport, Conn., to Charlotte, North Carolina and began his Freshman year of course work at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
"Definitely as a person I have matured this year," said Kligerman. "Anytime you go through such an emotional and physical struggle throughout the season when you are trying to beat someone and you are at that high of a competition level you grow up because you have to. I went from balancing high school and racing to no high school and just racing to being in college as a freshman and it's been a huge transition. We've had some really big highs, including those four wins in a row. Our first win came very early. And then we had some lows, which was probably when we spun out in Kentucky, at Pocono we got hit and we ran out of gas at Chicagoland. But other than that-nine wins. In most Series you would walk out the champion and that just shows how competitive this series was this season. We weren't able to win the Championship but nine wins and Rookie of the Year. It's a season most people dream of so I'm glad that we were able to live it."
Just two other drivers-Frank Kimmel and Tim Steele-have acquired more than nine ARCA RE/MAX Series race wins in a single season since 1985. Both drivers were considered veterans during the years that they achieved the feat, unlike Kligerman who was a registered rookie this season and who now holds the title of most race wins in a single season by a rookie competitor.
Drivers with nine or more wins in a single season of ARCA Competition
Parker Kligerman, 9 wins, 2009
Frank Kimmel, 10 wins, 2002
Frank Kimmel, 10 wins, 2001
Frank Kimmel, 9 wins, 1998
Tim Steele, 12 wins, 1997
Tim Steele, 11 wins, 1996
The record for most victories in a single season is 16, set by Jack Bowsher in 1964.
What's Next for Lofton, Kligerman?
Both Justin Lofton and Parker Kligerman have yet to announce their plans for the 2010 race season. In post-race interviews Lofton's car owner, Eddie Sharp, was quizzed as to whether or not he will attempt to defend the 2009 Championship next year with Lofton as a driver in the Eddie Sharp Racing stable:
"My job is not to marry him it's to date him," said Sharp. "My job is to give these kids an opportunity, prepare them for the next step, and then watch them go on. I'm supposed to kick him [Justin Lofton] out of the nest. It's not easy to do. As much as I would like to have him back, or maybe even to move forward with him, right now I need to worry about what I am doing in the ARCA RE/MAX Series. It was my job to give him the opportunity. Everybody who goes through my program and makes it to the next level lets me know that I've succeeded. It's a bitter-sweet thing. You turn your kids loose when they turn of age and I got to turn one loose."
Eddie Sharp Racing has been in the Championship hunt in the final stages of the season in the ARCA RE/MAX Series for the last three consecutive years but 2009 marks his first title.
"It's just beautiful when everything comes together like it's supposed to," said Sharp. "2007 was the first year that I really ventured out on my own and Michael McDowell walked into my life and really helped take our program to the next level. In 2008 Red Bull trusted us and gave us an opportunity and we competed for a championship. At the end of the day this is all great and fun and you shake the champagne but it's a business-a performance-driven business. If I don't do these things then I can't do them the way they are supposed to be and I won't be here long. This is the way it is supposed to be. I told my guys last year on the 2 [Red Bull Toyota Team with driver Scott Speed and crew chief Patrick Donahue] team that this will all happen when it's supposed to happen. And I told Justin Lofton last year that if he came back we could do this. He and his dad entrusted me with his future and that's the ultimate compliment to a team owner when a dad trusts me with his son. Justin has become a son to me. I couldn't have wrote a script and made it any better or with a better person-not a driver-but with a person than Justin Lofton and his family and this Championship means the world to me."
Key to Rockingham: Race the track, not your competitors
Before the start of the American 200 ARCA RE/MAX Series Championship Race at Rockingham Speedway, Eddie Sharp told his drivers, including Justin Lofton, Craig Goess and Tim George, Jr., that the key to performing well at Rockingham is to treat the old, historic, one-mile oval as another competitor.
"From the racing standpoint you just have to race the racetrack," said Sharp. "You have to deal with 40 other cars but this place is the 42nd car. I'm at the point in the season with this 6 team and with Justin [Lofton] that I really don't have to say a lot. I just try to give them my encouragement and my trust. They know to race the racetrack. And I've preached to them all year to make good decisions."
Sharp has raced at Rockingham as both a car owner and a driver. As a driver, he made a start at Rockingham in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in the early 1990's.
Spotted in the Garage Area at Rockingham
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series veteran Bill Elliott, NASCAR/ARCA veteran Ken Ragan, promoter Humphy Wheeler, 1961 Daytona 500 winner Marvin Panch and former NASCAR official Ray Hill were among those in attendance this weekend at Rockingham Speedway.
What They're Saying...
More than 80 Media Credentials were issued by Rockingham Speedway Officials for the American 200 ARCA RE/MAX Series Championship weekend, Including National Speed Sport News' Keith Waltz, whose column, "ARCA Championship Offered More Than A Little Drama," currently appears in the online version of the weekly publication:
ARCA Championship Offered More than A Little Drama--By Keith Waltz--At 3 p.m. on Saturday, it appeared as if Justin Lofton's hopes of holding off Parker Kligerman to claim the ARCA RE/MAX Series championship had suffered a severe blow.
As the 23-year-old native of Westmorland, Calif., stood in the Rockingham Speedway garage area, members of the Eddie Sharp Racing team removed the engine from the No. 6 Toyota Lofton had just placed on the outside front row for Sunday's season-ending American 200.
"Something happened to the top end," Lofton replied when quizzed about the reason for the engine change. "I really don't know what it is. One of the guys stuck his head in and told me to pull over here because we have to change engines." Turns out the team had found a problem with the engine before qualifying, but neglected to share the information with their driver.
"Right before qualifying there was some stuff in the oil filter and it looked like some valve-guide seals were coming apart for some reason," team owner Eddie Sharp later explained.
ARCA awards points to the top-three qualifiers, and representatives of Triad Racing Technologies, the company that builds the team's Toyota engines, assured Sharp the powerplant would be fine for qualifying.
For the entire story, and more, subscribe to the online version of National Speed Sport News today by clicking here . Also don't forget to vote for the ARCA Nation Most Popular Driver Award presented by National Speed Sport News for a chance to win a trip to the 2009 ARCA Championship Awards Banquet by clicking here.
Still a Good Season for Ansell-Menards Driver Kimmel
Although Frank Kimmel was unable to secure a race victory in 2009 for the first time since 1995, the veteran driver still enjoyed a stellar season, securing eight top-5 finishes and 14 top-10 finishes for his family-owned team. The nine-time ARCA RE/MAX Series Champion reached a major milestone this year of 10,000 career laps led in ARCA RE/MAX Series competition.
Casey Roderick finished second in his career-first ARCA RE/MAX Series start
Casey Roderick qualified third and finished second in his career-first ARCA RE/MAX Series race at Rockingham Speedway this weekend. The Bill Elliott Development Driver, who has previous experience in super late model and legend car competition, used the Rockingham race to gain experience in full bodied stock cars. The race proved successful for the young driver as an early race pit stop allowed him to work his way from the rear of the field to the front, gaining experience in the area of passing cars. He battled side-by-side with eventual Series champion Justin Lofton on the white flag lap in a battle that may not have turned out as well for lesser driver:
"I knew it was close going into turn 1," said Roderick. "I probably could have given him a little bit more room and I hope he's not mad at me. I didn't want to get too close because these cars are very aero-dependent so when you get right up next to somebody side-by-side it takes the air off of the car on the inside and they can get very loose and get up into you and cause you to wreck. I had to be careful over there but luckily we came out with no issues. My spotter said 'easy, easy' because he knew I was close and I knew I was close. His right side door was inside of my window net so once I knew he was that close I moved up the racetrack to give him some room."
After the race, Lofton noted the skill level of Roderick:
"I was getting greedy," Lofton said of his last lap move. "I was getting really greedy. I saw an opportunity and I thought my car was a little bit better than the 51. I got in there and I have to thank Casey Roderick for being as good of a driver as he is. He could have turned me. I think it was about ten or 15 laps to go Mark [Rette, crew chief] came on the radio and just said 'go get it.' So that's exactly what I was trying to do."
202 Races for RE/MAX, Int'l
The American 200 marked the 202nd and final race for RE/MAX, Int'l as the Series Title Sponsor of the ARCA RE/MAX Series. The company, which has been title sponsor of ARCA's national stock car tour since 2001, will maintain its involvement in ARCA as a presenting sponsor in 2010.
TOP TEN UNOFFICIAL FINAL ARCA RE/MAX SERIES POINTS AFTER THE AMERICAN 200 AT ROCKINGHAM SPEEDWAY (RACE 21 of 21; 10/11/09); 1) Justin Lofton, 5715; 2) Parker Kligerman, 5710; 3) Frank Kimmel, 5255; 4) Joey Coulter, 5020; 5) Craig Goess, 4705; 6) Bryan Silas, 4625; 7) Steve Arpin, 4570; 8) Tom Hessert, 4495; 9) Patrick Sheltra, 4485; 10) Robb Brent, 4315.
2009 ARCA RE/MAX Series Championship Awards Banquet
The 2009 ARCA RE/MAX Series Championship Awards Banquet, honoring the stars of ARCA, will take place on Saturday, December 5, 2009, at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center in Covington, Kentucky. For tickets, call (734) 847-6726.