Best of Grand-Am and NASCAR Nextel Cup Combine at Iowa Shane Lewis/Randy Ruhlman Joined by Mark Martin in PLP Southard Motorsports Lexus-Riley POWELL, Ohio, June 14, 2007 - The best of the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series and the best of...
Best of Grand-Am and NASCAR Nextel Cup Combine at Iowa
Shane Lewis/Randy Ruhlman Joined by Mark Martin in PLP Southard Motorsports Lexus-Riley
POWELL, Ohio, June 14, 2007 - The best of the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series and the best of the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series will combine at Iowa Speedway on July 14. Steve and Martha Southard, owners of the Southard Motorsports' No. 3 Preformed Line Products Lexus-Riley, in conjunction with Grand-Am and Iowa Speedway officials announced today that NASCAR superstar Mark Martin (Batesville, Ark., now living in Daytona Beach) will join lead driver, Shane Lewis (Jupiter, Fla.) and co-driver Randy Ruhlman (Greensboro, NC) at the upcoming 400k debut of the Daytona Prototypes at the Newton, Iowa track. The announcement came moments ago during a press conference at the team's Powell, Ohio-based shop where Martin is visiting for a seat fitting in the No. 3 PLP Daytona Prototype. Lewis, who is racing for H.A.R.T. Racing this weekend in the KONI Challenge Series at Mosport International Raceway, was unable to attend the press conference.
While many of his Nextel Cup competitors have used the close relationship between NASCAR and Grand- Am to moonlight in the highly competitive sports car series, the July 13-14 weekend at the new 1.3-mile Iowa facility will be Martin's first time in a Daytona Prototype. However, it is the second time that Lewis and Southard Motorsports have used the bridge between the two organizations. In early 2006, two-time NASCAR Busch Series Champion Randy LaJoie (Kannapolis, NC) co-drove the No. 3 Southard Riley with the multi-time Grand-Am event winner.
Despite being a "rookie" in the Daytona Prototypes, Martin is not without an impressive road racing resume. Long considered one of NASCAR's elite road racers, Martin competed in multiple sports car events from the late-1980s through the mid-1990s. Most impressively, Martin helped take GT victories in the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 1989, '91, '93 and '95. Since that time he has focused on NASCAR's top-circuits. His past experiences and Lewis' expertise with the mid-engine prototypes will serve Martin well as he will not test the red, white and blue sports car prior to the first official track activity at Iowa Speedway.
Their road racing knowledge aside, one might be surprised with how much Lewis and Martin have in common. Both got their racing start on the dirt ovals of their hometowns, Martin in Batesville, Ark., Lewis in Lancaster, Calif. Both are avid fitness enthusiasts with an eye towards maximizing their driving through a physical training routine. Beyond these, at their core is something even stronger; a desire to race. Both Lewis and Martin delight in competing in a variety of cars. Martin is regularly seen jumping between NASCAR Nextel Cup, Busch Grand National and Craftsman Truck Series machines as well as the occasional visit to the local short track. Lewis regularly races in both the Rolex Sports Car Series with Southard Motorsports and the KONI Challenge Series with the H.A.R.T. Honda Accord. Earlier in the season the 24- time, 24 hour race starter also got his first taste of the Indy Pro Series and continues to actively pursue opportunities in the IndyCar Series. He has also been involved in both NASCAR Nextel Cup and ARCA stock car programs in the past.
Martin has enjoyed 35 Nextel Cup race victories and earned over $58 million in prize money (through 2006) since joining NASCAR's top division in 1981. He is the all-time leader in International Race of Champions (IROC) titles with five and earned three-consecutive ASA Championships (1978-1980) plus a fourth title in 1986. Martin holds the record for most Busch Grand National wins (47) and pole positions (29). The Iowa event is currently scheduled as Martin's only appearance in the Southard machine.
Southard Motorsports' participation in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series dates back to 2003. Lewis joined the team as lead driver in 2004 and has driven for the team in every event since that time. One of the most sought-after test and development drivers in motorsports, Lewis has helped the team earn multiple top-10 and two podium finishes.
Live television coverage of the nighttime race at Iowa Speedway can be seen on the SPEED Channel starting at 10 PM (ET), July 13.
Lewis will drive the No. 3 Preformed Line Products Lexus-Riley twice more with Ruhlman before Martin joins the team at Iowa. The EMCO Gears Classic is next on the schedule at the team's home track, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, on June 24. That event will be followed by the Brumos Porsche 250 at Daytona International Raceway on July 5. The 250- mile event is the traditional Rolex Series/Nextel Cup doubleheader celebrating Independence Day.
Shane Lewis: "Everyone at Southard Motorsports is really excited about having Mark joining us at Iowa and no one is happier about it than I am. I've been asked if I am worried about how little track time Mark will have in the PLP Lexus-Riley before he'll be running wheel-to-wheel in the race. I just sort of look at them funny. Mark is in the elite of the elite in the Nextel Cup Series. The guy was leading the points' race earlier this year and he has won the Rolex 24 twice. The man knows what he is doing. He'll be fine in the car. The team has been struggling this season with our new engine-chassis combination. The whole Southard team, including Randy and I, are working day and night but we can't seem to break into the top of the pack on a regular basis. Having a guy like Mark in the car at a debut event like Iowa gives us a lot of added energy. This could be just the thing we need to push it over the top. Will he have his challenges? Sure, we all do trying to learn a new car, especially on a 1.3-mile road course at night. But, I've been on the track with Mark Martin, I've seen him hustle the stock cars at Watkins Glen and Sonoma [Infineon Raceway]. He'll be up to speed in a heartbeat and we're really excited about having him onboard!"
Mark Martin: "I'm looking forward to driving the Daytona Prototype for the first time, I'm also very excited to see and race at Iowa Speedway. Co- driving with Shane will be fun. I know he can get the job down, he will be a big asset in helping me get comfortable in the car during our test sessions. I love road racing and sports car racing. Winning a time or two in the Rolex 24 hour races will help me I think. I just need to get used to the car and with the help of Steve Southard I feel that won't take very long."
Steve Southard, Team Owner: "Being able to work with someone the caliber of Mark Martin is really a great opportunity for all of us at Southard Motorsports. When Craig Armstrong at Iowa Speedway approached us with the idea, I had my concerns, not about Mark as a driver, but about us being up to task. I think the guys here will step-up our program another notch and will make not only our fans but all sports car fans proud. I'm sure that Mark will draw on his immense background and help our team considerably. We are looking forward to the challenge and welcome Mark Martin to our team."