BNS: The final three races

Three Races to Decide Busch North Title Between Friends And Rivals Andy Santerre and Mike Olsen; Next Round at NHIS, Saturday, September 18. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 4, 2004) - Andy Santerre and Mike Olsen are nearly mirror images of one ...

Three Races to Decide Busch North Title Between Friends And Rivals Andy Santerre and Mike Olsen; Next Round at NHIS, Saturday, September 18.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 4, 2004) - Andy Santerre and Mike Olsen are nearly mirror images of one another. Both are the products of small towns in northern New England, and display the traditional Yankee personality traits of ingenuity and self-reliance. Both are full-time racers with young families to support. They were even born in the same year- Olsen observed his 36th birthday last February, while Santerre will do so just after the Labor Day weekend. Most notably, between them they have won the last three NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch North Series titles - Olsen in 2001, Santerre in 2002 and 2003- and one or the other is virtually certain to wear the crown for 2004, as Santerre currently leads Olsen by 82 points and no other competitor is within 200 markers of the lead.

There are differences to be sure. Santerre put down roots in the NASCAR industry center of Harrisburg, N.C., during the 1990's and operates his shop within a few blocks of dozens of other racers including the top NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams, while Olsen remains in his native North Haverhill, N.H., with his shop on the banks of the Connecticut River where there is no sign of another race car, let alone another full-time race shop, for miles around. Olsen grew up under the mentorship of his grandfather, legendary Busch North racer Stub Fadden, and made his debut as Fadden's teammate in 1989, while Santerre raced in obscurity on tracks in Downeast Maine until mounting his rookie assault on the Busch North Series in 1993.

Nevertheless, the similarities far outweigh the differences, and one of the most pronounced is the high regard in which each title contender holds the other.

"Mike's been really consistent this year. He hasn't had any bad races. That's what it takes to win championships," Santerre noted, adding "The only reason I'm leading him right now is that I've got four wins and he doesn't have any. If you look at the top fives and top tens I think we're right together."

Analyzing the three remaining races, at New Hampshire International Speedway, Dover (Del.) International Speedway, and Wall Township (N.J.) Speedway, Santerre admits he has an edge on paper at two of the three, but declines to rate himself the favorite.

Speaking of the nearly-flat, one-mile oval at NHIS, the defending champion and two-time winner is cautious. "Anything can happen, but over the years my record has been good there," he said. "I usually run better at New Hampshire than Mike, but the last time we were there he won the pole. He wasn't as good in the race as we were, but we're pretty even going to all these tracks."

"At Dover maybe I should run better than him because of experience on that kind of race track, but I've only run a Busch North car once there and I finished eighth, so I didn't set the world on fire," he continued, referring to the high-banked "Monster Mile". He added a challenge to himself and his team: "I hope we have a better car this time. We're really going to put a lot of effort into Dover. I want to have a chance of winning there and we didn't the last time."

"Mike's testing at Wall and I'm not, so he may have the upper hand there, but I usually adapt pretty quickly to new race tracks and I think it will be a good place to decide the championship," Santerre remarked in concluding his overview of the title race.

Taking a break from that Wall Township Speedway test session, Olsen spoke of Santerre in equally favorable terms. "I wouldn't want to race anyone else for the title," he said, noting the pair learned together by making mistakes in the early 1990's.

Olsen sees the upcoming Sylvania 125 presented by Lowe's at NHIS as both a chance to close the gap and to atone for a missed opportunity in July. "We tested there in early spring and the car was good and we went back for the race and it was really good," he recalled. "We should have left it alone after qualifying but we tried to adjust on it. That hurt us a little bit but we recovered for an eighth place finish. This time if we have a good car we'll leave it alone."

At Dover in the next to last race, he expects to benefit from the advice of Frank Stoddard, NASCAR NEXTEL Cup crew chief from North Haverhill whose career began turning the wrenches for Stub Fadden. "I don't think I can go there at this point and win the race, but I'm going there looking to be competitive, which I wasn't always in the past," he said.

As for the finale at Wall Township Speedway, his first outing on the high-banked third mile at the Jersey Shore had him thinking back to a fondly-remembered bullring of years past, the Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, Mass. "When I first went out, I got on the radio and told my crew, 'This is like Riverside Park on steroids'," he chuckled. Olsen scored the best finish of his career to that point, a third place, at Riverside Park's quarter-mile in 1993.

Whatever the final outcome of the 2004 Busch North Series point race, the winner can expect the loser to be near the head of the line to offer congratulations. "He's a great racer and I have a lot of respect for him and for what he does. I enjoy racing against him and I wish it would come down to two or three points," Olsen said of Santerre.

"He's a great competitor and an awesome guy on and off the track. There's no one in the country I'd rather race for a championship. He's a top-notch individual," replied the defending champion to the same question.


* Five Busch North Series teams were on hand at Wall on Thursday for a day-long open test. The teams of Mike Olsen and Mike Stefanik shared Stefanik's Burnham Boilers hauler for the trip form their bases in the far north, the Buzz Chew crew made the trek from the central Adirondacks, Matt Kobyluck came from southeastern Connecticut, and Ryan Seaman towed 15 minutes up the Garden State Parkway from Toms River, N.J.

* Not surprisingly, it was Auto Meter Rookie of the Year Ryan Seaman, a former Wall regular in the modified division, who set the pace. No official timing apparatus was in use, but Seaman was clocked at 13.36 seconds by his crew, with Olsen nearly as fast. After their early experimentation, everybody ran around 13.4 on new Goodyear Eagles, 13.7 on older rubber.

* Comparisons to other tracks were the order of the day, with several drivers joining Olsen in making the Riverside Park analogy. Stefanik first cited Holland (N.Y.) International Speedway, but then changed his mind and offered the long-closed Westboro (Mass.) Speedway as the closest parallel to Wall's combination of tight, banked turns and long (for a third-mile) straights. Stefanik raced at Westboro early in his career and ran extensively at Riverside.


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Drivers Matt Kobyluck