BNS: Waterford: Round seven preview

BUSCH NORTH SUNOCO ROOKIE RIVALS CAISSE & LEWANDOSKI BRING TOUCH OF EXPERIENCE TO WATERFORD'S TOWN FAIR TIRE 150, JULY 23 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 18, 2005) -- At first glance, the statement "experienced rookie" looks like an oxymoron.


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 18, 2005) -- At first glance, the statement "experienced rookie" looks like an oxymoron. A rookie in any sport is a first-year competitor, but few rookies arrive at a professional level without a strong background in their sport.

That's certainly true of the leading contenders for the 2005 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award in the NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch North Series. Sean Caisse of Pelham, N.H., and Charles Lewandoski of Stafford Springs, Conn., both started the season at age 19, but each has an impressive racing resume. In fact, when the series arrives at Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl for the Town Fair Tire 150 on Saturday, July 23, both will feel right at home.

Lewandoski raced with the Busch North Series at Waterford in 2004, recording a 12th place finish, the best of the three races he contested in his "pre-rookie" season. While Caisse will be making his Waterford debut in a full-bodied stock car, he has raced at the Speedbowl in NEMA Midget open cockpit action, posting a second-place finish, and with the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.

Caisse and Lewandoski are both fully committed to the quest for the rookie title which has been won in the past by the likes of Ricky Craven, Brad Leighton, Mike Johnson, and Ryan Moore, but they have chosen greatly different paths toward that goal. Caisse has aligned himself with Busch North Series veteran Barney McRae of Colchester, Vermont, who has stepped out from behind the wheel of the Motion Racing Chevrolet to coach Caisse from the spotter's stand. Lewandoski, meanwhile, has located his family-backed team in the NASCAR heartland of Concord, N.C., commuting to New England for each race in the same manner that helped Andy Santerre win three straight Busch North Series championships.

The early rounds have gone to Caisse, who posted two top-ten finishes in his first three starts, despite a learning curve he admits is mighty steep. "Every time we've gone to a race track, whether I'm completely green or I've got a bunch of laps on it, it seems like whole new ballgame with the Busch North car," he confided.

"There's a little bit of modified mentality you get when you have bars all around the car," he said, referring to the so-called nerf bars which keep open wheels away from the sheet metal of a NASCAR modified. "After a couple of weeks of body work I've had to do I don't know too many times I'll be rubbing with anyone from now on. The biggest thing is taking care of both sides of the race car and making sure the fenders are on at the end of the race so you can earn the respect of your fellow competitors," Caisse concluded.

The steady hand of his mentor will be especially important at Waterford, a deceptively-fast 3/8-mile track with little margin for error. "I've got Barney McRae to work with. He's a smart guy and a good driver coach. He's my spotter and he's done a fantastic job of keeping me out of trouble," Caisse noted. "With him and the whole crew we should be pretty good. We ran midgets and modifieds there so I'm looking forward to it. The Waterford Speedbowl is a real drivers' track."

Lewandoski's opening races have been plagued with mechanical problems, leading some to question his ambitious "southern strategy." The driver is not one of them. "We've got better cars and better equipment because of it. We're meeting new people and learning a lot more than we would in Connecticut," he declared. "The toughest thing is that we have two groups of crew members, a group from Connecticut and a group from North Carolina and it's tough trying to get them all on the same page with timing and scheduling. Once we get that figured out, it will be really good."

Waterford could be just the ticket to get Lewandoski's season on the fast track. "We finished 12th, ran in the top ten during the night, so I learned a lot," he said of his 2004 venture, adding "I have some laps there in these cars, which is big. We should run even better this time, with more seat time and experience. When I looked at the schedule for this year, I said, 'that's one of the places I really look forward to going back'."

For a young man who is learning to live on the road and to survive on truck stop cuisine, there's another attraction to the Waterford weekend. It's just 60 miles down the road from Stafford Springs and some real home cooking.

The Town Fair Tire 150 is scheduled as a one-day event on Saturday, July 23, with practice at 1:30 p.m., Busch Pole Qualifying at 5:00 p.m., and race time at 8:15 p.m. SPEED Channel will tape the event for national telecast on Friday, August 5, at 3:00 p.m. Waterford's regular NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series classes will also be action during the evening.


* Mike Johnson was "in the zone" at Waterford in 2004 as he won the Busch Pole and led all 150 laps to defeat Mike Stefanik by half a second. Matt Kobyluck, Mike Olsen, and Joey McCarthy completed the top five. It was John's second win in four years at Waterford, split by a pair of Kelly Moore victories.

* Johnson's Busch Pole time was 15.011 seconds, 88.735 miles per hour, The track record was set in 2002 by Martin Truex Jr. at 14.980 seconds, 90.129 mph.

* Stefanik's second place finish in 2004 was his second straight at the 'Bowl, and until his recent victory at Holland, N.Y., those marked his best performances since returning to full-time Busch North action in 2003.

* The 2004 Waterford event was the only race Andy Santerre finished outside the top ten all season. He qualified 16th of 24 cars and finished 11th, on the lead lap.

* Brad Leighton, in the 2000 inaugural event, is the only driver other than Mike Johnson and Kelly Moore to score a Busch North Series victory at Waterford.

* The Waterford Speedbowl was built as a dirt track in 1951 but asphalt was applied after less than a month of operation and it has remained in that configuration ever since.


What: Town Fair Tire 150, fifth race of the 2004 Busch North Series season

Where: Waterford Speedbowl, Waterford, Conn.
When: Saturday, July 23, 8:15 p.m.

Track layout: 3/8 mile paved oval
Race distance: 150 laps, 56.25 miles

Television: SPEED Channel, Friday, August 3, 3:00 p.m. Eastern

2004 Town Fair Tire 150 race winner: Mike Johnson
2004 Town Fair Tire 150 Busch Pole winner: Mike Johnson

Schedule: Saturday, July 23 -- Practice 1:30 to 3:00 p.m., Busch Pole Qualifying 5:00 p.m., Town Fair Tire 150 8:15 p.m.


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Drivers Ricky Craven , Martin Truex Jr. , Matt Kobyluck , Mike Johnson , Ryan Moore , Sean Caisse , Charles Lewandoski