DAYTONA BEACH--Brandywine, Maryland native Donnie Neuenberger now calls the Southern Anne Arundel County community of Edgewater home. But most weekends from February to November, you are more likely to find him in a motorhome parked at a NASCAR...
DAYTONA BEACH--Brandywine, Maryland native Donnie Neuenberger now calls the Southern Anne Arundel County community of Edgewater home. But most weekends from February to November, you are more likely to find him in a motorhome parked at a NASCAR race track or in a motel nearby. Donnie Neuenberger is a race driver, and this year he is planning to take on some of the best drivers in the world in NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series. With sponsorship from International House of Pancakes (IHOP), Neuenberger is driving a Dodge Ram full sized pickup truck against Chevrolet Silverados and Ford F150s at race tracks all across the country. The series is sponsored by Sears Craftsman Tools which, last year, signed a five year extension with NASCAR guaranteeing that the series would thrive.
While NASCAR's two premier stock car racing series, Winston Cup and Busch Grand National, are televised exclusively on Fox, NBC, and TNT; for the past two years, the Craftsman Truck Series has been the feature motorsports series shown on cable network ESPN, and that unique situation has caused it ratings to grow dramatically. Although the trucks are built on tube frame chassis, the sheet metal must be true to the shape of the pickup trucks race fans can purchase in dealers' showrooms, and the race engines must be based on parts that each manufacturer actually produces--a Dodge motor in a Dodge race truck, a Ford in a Ford, etc. One of the unique features is that the race trucks still use carburetors while most trucks today are sold with fuel injection for efficiency, reduced pollution, and fuel economy. The engines produce about 730 horsepower in race trim.
Donnie Neuenberger started racing in 1992 in NASCAR's Goody's Dash Series for compact cars. His crew chief was Barry Owen, who is now working with Crownsville, Maryland's Kelly Sutton as she competes for Rookie of the Year honors in this year's Goody's Dash series. Neuenberger drove in his first race at the Daytona International Speedway in 1993. He has competed in a number of major national series including the Auto Racing Club of America (ARCA), Hooters Pro Cup, and NASCAR's Busch North and Busch Grand National divisions. For the past three years, he has been concentrating his efforts on succeeding in the Craftsman Truck Series.
2002 is the third year that the Craftsman Truck Series has competed in Daytona as part of the February Speedweeks schedule. In many ways, it is the biggest race of the year, akin to the NFL scheduling the SuperBowl as the first game of each season rather than the last. Not only is the purse larger at Daytona, but it turns out the largest crowd of the year, the highest tele vision ratings and the fiercest competition. In the two previous races, Neuenberger finished 9th and 15th out of starting fields of 36. This year 42 race trucks attempted to qualify for the race. Six of them were not fast enough to make the field including the first year team of Port Tobacco, Maryland driver Jerry Hill. Neuenberger, however qualified 30th and started on the outside of the 15th row, of 18.
Neuenberger had a terrific race. For the first half of the race, he ran with the lead pack of trucks, and by good driving and smart pit strategy got as high as 4th in the field. Taking advantage of a caution period on the 20th Lap (of 100) he stopped for two right side tires and a can of racing fuel. On Lap 60, the crew had to call him into the pits for four tires and fuel under green flag racing conditions. Returning to the track without a drafting partner, Neuenberger found himself out of touch with the leaders and losing time in the demanding conditions at Daytona which place a premium on aerodynamics and drafting.
With 10 Laps to go in the race, a caution flag again slowed the field and another of the race trucks ran into Neuenberger, damaging his radiator and ending his race. He was credited with a 25th place finish. After the race, an enthusiastic Neuenberger said, "I had one of the best race setups out there today. We made a change in the rear end gearing this morning that was absolutely perfect. I had to stand on the brakes to keep from running over trucks as I was gaining on them. Our green flag pit stop killed our effort because I lost my drafting partners. The team is feelinga good about our effort here because they saw how fast the truck was and how well we did against the best NASCAR truck racing has to offer."
Departing from the track to get back to Maryland, Neuenberger was looking forward to the next Craftsman Truck Series race at Darlington, South Carolina--the Track Too Tough To Tame. He is competing for the series Rookie Of The Year title.
For many years, Donnie Neuenberger has been a radio personality talking about racing. He had a Saturday morning program on Washington sports station WTEM and for the past four years he has been featured on Baltimore FM station 98 Rock. The Racing with Donnie show is on every Monday morning from 9:45 to 10:00 AM, Last week, he did the show from the cockpit of his race truck in the Daytona garage area while he waited to go out on the track for practice.
2002 holds the promise of being the best year yet in the racing career of Donnie Neuenberger.