Andy Santerre Completes His Busch North Series Championship Hat Trick DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (October 7, 2004) - Some events happen in New England each fall with complete regularity. The leaves turn to red and gold, the Red Sox make the playoffs as...
Andy Santerre Completes His Busch North Series Championship Hat Trick
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (October 7, 2004) - Some events happen in New England each fall with complete regularity. The leaves turn to red and gold, the Red Sox make the playoffs as a wild card, and Andy Santerre clinches the NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch North Series championship.
For the third year in a row the Cherryfield, Maine native has won NASCAR's premier full-bodied series title in the northeast, equalling the feat previously achieved by Jamie Aube from 1988 to 1990. All three crowns have been accomplished racing out of his Harrisburg, N.C., shop with a northern crew headed by crew chief Roger Tryon of Waterford, Conn. After fielding his own team in 2002, Santerre has won the last two titles driving the Aubuchon Hardware/Castle Chemicals Chevrolets owned by fellow Maine native Joe Bessey, himself a former Busch North Series runner-up in 1992 and a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup car owner for driver Geoffrey Bodine in the late 1990's.
In 2004, Santerre captured the season opener at Lee USA Speedway for the third consecutive year and quickly made his intentions clear by winning three of the first seven races. Although he briefly lost the point lead to two-time champion Brad Leighton during the spring, Leighton was running a lmited schedule, so Santerre was effectively in control from the start. For most of the summer, however, he could not shake 2001champion Mike Olsen, who remained in striking distance with continuous top-five finshes despite not winning a race. Finally, a pit mistake by Olsen's crew at Watkins Glen in August and an unavoidable restart accident at New Hampshire International Speedway in September gave Santerre some breathing room, and he clinched the title with one race remaining.
"It was such a great year. We really only had one bad race," Santerre observeed. "Looking back on it, the only thing that worried me was that Mike Olsen was so good all year," he continued. "He basically had a flawless season too up until New Hampshire in September. He just hasn't won a race yet. That's odd because he ran so good. He stayed so close to me in points until the last two races. We didn't have any bad luck and he had a bad race in New Hampshire. Until that point we were pretty even and I'd won four races."
With the season finale, the Trim Spa 150 at Wall Township Speedway in Wall, N.J., yet to be run on October 16, Santerre's 2004 log shows five victories, nine top-fives, and 12 top-tens in 13 races. His self-described "bad race" was an 11th place finish at the Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl. His 21 career victories, starting in 1994, rank him third on the all-time Busch North Series list behind Kelly Moore (26) and Brad Leighton (24). Besides his three series titles, his trophy shelf includes the 1993 rookie of the year award, the most popular driver honors in 1994, 2002, and 2003, and the 2003 sportsmanship award.
There' no secret to Santerre's formula for winning races, and ultimately, winning championships. His team arrives ready to race, not to dazzle with qualifying speed. He did not win a Busch Pole in 2004, and in fact, he's won only one pole during his three-year title run, despite ranking third on the all-time Busch Pole list with 15. "I wish I could say that we just go with a race setup," he noted, adding "We do try to qualify good. I guess qualifying is just not my strong suit. Our cars are always good in the race, they always seem to last the distance. I guess you're better off to be there at the end of the race."
There's also no doubt that Santerre's meeting in the winter of 2002-2003 with Joe Bessey turned what could have been a one-time title into a dynasty. He had won the 2002 crown on his own, with little help, little sponsorship, and unbelievable hours on the road. "That first year was really tough. I figured if I could get through that I could get through anything. I wasn't willling to go through that again," he recalled. "At the end of the year I said, 'I want to race, but I don't want to race that bad.' Then Joe came along with this deal and we got ourselves a truck dirver and a couple of guys to help at the shop. It definitely made my life a lot easier."
Indeed, it's been a lot easier with a small but dedicated crew at the shop and a sponsorship package which places Massachuetts-based Aubuchon as the primary sponsor for most races and Castle in the primary role for the events closest to their western New York headquarters. But there are still long hours on the interstates commuting from the North Carolina shop to the races in New England. Still, Santerre thinks it's worth the effort. "A lot of people think I'm crazy being down here and running the Busch North Series, but I think it's easier," he declared, explaining the NASCAR racing infrastructure around his adopted home works to his advantage. "It's easier to do it down here, because our equipment is here and we can get cars fixed in a day or two because there's so many places that do it. If one guy is booked for the day, we can just take it to another shop," he noted. The Santerre truck also serves as an unofficial delivery service for other Busch North teams who send engines to shops in the Charlotte area for rebuilding or order parts from the many speed shops in North Carolina.
One item of unfinished business remains on Santerre's calendar, even after the Busch North season ends. That's the second annual NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale Speedway in Southern California, set for November 11-13. In the 2003 inaugural, he did everything but win the feature event, where he finished second to Austin Cameron of the NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series. "I guess we started thinking about it when we left last year," he said. "We had the fastest car out there. We dominated the qualifying race and the times we ran, there was nobody up where we were."
"I think everybody thought we had the best shot at winning that race," he continued. "I was happy in one sense, but a little bit dejected in another. I really wanted to win. To finish second really isn't all that bad against the 30 best drivers from the whole country in our division. This year, since I'm not really sure what direction I'm headed with my driving career, if I could win the Showdown it would put a cap on everything."
Andy's final comment raises the annual issue of whether he is ready to trade his driving helmet for a headset in the pit area as mentor to a young driver on his way toward NASCAR stardom. He's expressd the desire to spend more time at home with his wife Sue and yound daughter Sarah, but at age 36 he's at the top of his game as a driver. "I'd like to go out a winner, and now I've got three championships. I've had a lot of fun, but if I could put a younger driver in the car, and stay here and work for Joe, keep all our guys together and help somebody else win a championship, that would be my choice," he stated emphatically, but with an equally strong disclaimer: "If that doesn't happen then I'll be glad to get behind the wheel again and make a run for it."
The rest of the Busch North Series has been put on notice- whether in the cockpit or on the pit wall, don't expect Andy Santerre to rest on his laurels.