Joe Gibbs Racing 2004 preview

Joe Gibbs Racing's diversity program readies for 2004 season drivers and sponsors aligned for two-car effort in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series. HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (Jan. 20, 2004) - In May of 2003 Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) announced its ...

Joe Gibbs Racing's diversity program readies for 2004 season drivers and sponsors aligned for two-car effort in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series.

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (Jan. 20, 2004) - In May of 2003 Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) announced its partnership with former NFL defensive end Reggie White to create a grassroots stock car team that would identify and assist minorities with the desire and talent to make a career in motorsports. Today that partnership has become a reality, thanks in large part to the support of JGR's sponsors, most notably The Home Depot and MBNA, who will serve as primary sponsors, and Rockwell Automation, which will serve as an associate sponsor.

"We've come a long way since we announced this project eight months ago," said J.D. Gibbs, President of Joe Gibbs Racing. "With the help of our loyal sponsors - Home Depot, MBNA and Rockwell Automation - we've been able to find drivers and crewman to field two Late Model teams at two tracks in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series. The process involved to get to this point has been very rewarding, as we've been able to interview many talented individuals. Now the process continues on the race track, and we look forward to developing future NASCAR talent."

Driving the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series at the .4-mile Ace Speedway in Altamahaw, N.C., will be Aric Almirola. The 19-year-old Hispanic from Tampa, Fla., began racing go-karts when he was eight. After winning many races and local titles around Florida, Almirola took his talent to the national karting scene in 1998. He quickly made his presence known, qualifying on the pole for the World Karting Association Grand Nationals at Daytona Beach (Fla.) Municipal Stadium before finishing fourth in the season-ending point standings.

At 16, Almirola graduated to open-wheel modifieds - 2,750-pound race cars that put out over 700 horsepower. In 2000 he won the rookie of the year title in two separate modified divisions - Florida Modified and SARA (Southern Automobile Racing Association) Modified, while garnering his first career win in the Joslin Memorial 100 at Orlando (Fla.) Speedworld, beating the top drivers in Florida, many of whom were twice his age.

In March 2002, Almirola advanced from open-wheel modifieds to the Sunbelt Super Late Model Division, where he finished runner-up in the rookie of year standings. Almirola continued in that division in 2003, winning three poles at USA Speedway in Lakeland, Fla., two poles at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway and one pole at Bronson (Fla.) Speedway.

"I pride myself on being more than just a driver," said Almirola, who studied mechanical engineering at the University of Central Florida before moving to North Carolina. "Along with my crew, I've built every race car that I've ever driven from a bare chassis. Working on race cars is nothing new to me. As I've learned to drive in each class I've raced in, I've learned all the aspects of my race cars. This opportunity with Joe Gibbs Racing is awesome, and I plan on making the most of it."

"Home Depot is proud to sponsor Joe Gibbs Racing's diversity program and driver Aric Almirola," said Hugh Miskel, Director of Sales Promotion, The Home Depot. "Their know-how and commitment to succeed are qualities embodied everyday by Home Depot and its more than 300,000 associates. We've expanded our sponsorship with Joe Gibbs Racing in this endeavor because we strongly believe in the opportunities this program provides to minorities."

Driving the #18 MBNA Chevrolet in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series at the .455-mile Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, N.C., will be Chris Bristol. The 26-year-old African-American from Columbus, Ohio, began racing in 1998 as a student at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro. There he was selected as the driver for the university's ICAR (InterCollegiate Association for Racing) Legends team. Bristol garnered two wins and delivered the school its only ICAR national championship in 1998. He won two more races in 1999 before graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Thanks to his solid performance in Legends cars, Bristol landed a ride in the Street Stock division of the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series at Concord (N.C.) Motorsport Park. He finished the 1999 season in that division before moving to Limited Stock in 2000, where in nine starts he garnered one top-five and six top-10 finishes.

In 2001, Bristol started his own racing team and competed in the Thunder Roadster division as part of Lowe's Motor Speedway's Summer Shootout Series. He earned two heat race wins along with four top-five and seven top-10 finishes while taking fourth in the season-ending point standings.

The next steps for Bristol were starts in the NASCAR Goody's Dash Series, where in late 2002 he drove for Bryant Motorsports at Pittsburgh's Motordome Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway. In 2003, Bristol competed at Caraway in the Late Model Super Truck division of the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series, where on July 18 he won a pole and two races, as the track ran two 35-lap features. It marked the first time an African-American had ever won a pole or a race at Caraway. And on Aug. 15, Bristol added another pole and another win to his record at Caraway. When the season ended, he finished second in the championship point standings and garnered rookie of the year honors.

"Being able to drive a Late Model with the support of Joe Gibbs Racing at a race track I'm very familiar with is incredible," said Bristol, who works part-time as a motorsports development engineer for Roehrig Engineering. "A year ago, this opportunity didn't exist. But Joe Gibbs Racing stepped up in a big way, and I'm grateful to have the chance to pursue my dream."

"It's a privilege for MBNA to celebrate our sixth year of support of Joe Gibbs Racing by becoming a part of this effort," said K. David Elgena, Senior Executive Vice President and Director of MBNA Motorsports. "Joe, J.D., Reggie White and (Vice President, BGN Operations) Steve de Souza have done a terrific job scouting for talent and putting together young drivers and crew members who could become the stars of the future."

Overseeing the two-car Late Model lineup will be Ray Thiess, who will serve as general manager and crew chief for both teams.

The 49-year-old Thiess is a motorsports veteran, first hooking up with longtime friend Ray Evernham in 1994 after moving south from his home in Long Island, N.Y. Thiess worked with Evernham at Hendrick Motorsports for six months before joining Bahari Racing where he served as a fabricator. During his time at Bahari, Thiess moonlighted as a crew chief in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series for Late Model driver Gary Laton. Their most impressive year together came in 1997, when they won 11 out of 17 races at Concord Motorsport Park.

During Thiess' stay at Bahari, he became friends with crew chief Doug Hewitt. When Hewitt left for Petty Enterprises, Thiess followed, serving as shop foreman for the team's research and development program. And when Hewitt left Petty Enterprises for JGR to become crew chief for Coy Gibbs' NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series effort in 2002, Thiess came along for the ride.

"Doug recommended me for this position," said Thiess, who owned and built race cars for local drivers back home in Long Island. "I like the challenge this program offers, and I really enjoy working with young drivers. We tested Aric and Chris at Hickory (N.C.) about a month ago and they both did great. This is a team that can grow into something more - a Craftsman Truck or Busch Series team - depending how successful we are. To anyone associated with this team, that's a pretty big incentive."

"Rockwell Automation is proud to support JGR's diversity program and its drivers, Aric Almirola and Chris Bristol," said Jay Lee, Director of Business Communication, Rockwell Automation Power Systems. "We were excited when Joe and J.D. told us about their plans last year, and we're pleased to be able to partner with JGR and Reggie White on such an important initiative. We believe it will pay dividends, both inside and outside the NASCAR community, for years to come."

-jgr-

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About this article
Series NASCAR
Drivers Ray Evernham , Aric Almirola , Jay Lee
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Joe Gibbs Racing