MWS: Rockford: Season opener preview

Haseleu Has Championship Look DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 31, 2004) -- Entering the 2003 campaign, Nathan Haseleu (G&M Auto & Transmission Ford) wasn't sure what his racing plans were going to be, so he and team owner Gary Schultz skipped the ...

Haseleu Has Championship Look

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 31, 2004) -- Entering the 2003 campaign, Nathan Haseleu (G&M Auto & Transmission Ford) wasn't sure what his racing plans were going to be, so he and team owner Gary Schultz skipped the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Midwest Series opener at Rockford (Ill.) Speedway. Their plan was to pick and chose races between NASCAR's Midwest Series and its twin, the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series. However, it was at Rockford where Midwest Series teams learned of the inaugural NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown. Only the top-10 in points from each of the four series of NASCAR's Elite Division would be invited.

Haseleu and Schultz quickly rethought their "cherry-picking" strategy and focused their full attention on the Midwest Series, but came up one position short of an invite to the Toyota All-Star Showdown.

"It's just so hard to play catch-up when you miss that first race," recalls Haseleu.

Haseleu and Schultz have resolved to focus all their racing efforts on the Midwest Series from the get go in 2004, including the Rockford Speedway opener.

"Last year was actually a great learning experience for us," said Haseleu. "We had a year to work together and gel and I think that will pay dividends this year."

The team has already used one of their allotted private test sessions, in an effort to get the 2004 campaign off to a solid start.

"It's been a few years since I've run a Midwest Series car at Rockford," said Haseleu. "Gary and I don't have very many tracks on the schedule that are close to both of us, and we don't have much time to go and test, so we thought we'd try and get a jump on things. We just don't want to have to play catch-up again this year."

The pair has also put their off-season to good use, putting the finishing touches on what they hope can be a title contending team.

"We've added some new team members who will be able to go to all the races, and again, that should help with the chemistry and the gelling process," said Haseleu. "We changed our shock program half way through the season last year and over the winter we went to shock school and got smarter there."

Haseleu knows, however, that even the best planning can take a hit when the Midwest Series travels to Rockford.

"Anything can happen at Rockford, and it usually does," says Haseleu. "But I feel good heading into Rockford. We just have to take things one race at a time, maybe get a win or two, keep the bad breaks to a minimum, and we might be in a position to battle for a spot in the All-Star Showdown and maybe even a crack at the championship."

Haseleu's quest will begin with an optional practice session, April 2. Practice for the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Midwest Series drivers takes place Saturday afternoon, April 3 with qualifying scheduled for 5:00 p.m. (CT). A 40-lap last chance qualifying race is slated for 7:00 p.m. Saturday night. The green flag will fly over the Spring Classic 250 at 2:00 p.m., April 4.

The fastest 16 drivers from qualifying will earn automatic starting spots in the main event with six starters added as a result of the last chance qualifier. Up to four additional provisional starting spots are available based on 2003 series point standings.

Rockford Speedway is located at the intersection of Forest Hills Road and Hwy. 173 in Rockford, Ill. In addition to the Spring Classic 250, a full program for the Rockford Late Models, Mid American Stock Cars and the Grand Nationals is also on tap. Further weekend schedule information and ticket prices can be obtained by visiting www.rockfordspeedway.com <http://www.rockfordspeedway.com/> or calling (815) 633-1500.

NEWS OF NOTE

* This event marks the first under the series' new name: NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Midwest Series. The series was previously known as the International Truck and Engine Corporation, Midwest Series and also the RE/MAX Challenge Series. Prior to that it was known throughout the Midwest as the ARTGO Challenge Series. 2004 marks the 30th year of racing for the series and seventh under the NASCAR banner.

* This marks the 18th consecutive year the series has attempted to open its season at Rockford Speedway. While Mother Nature has been a major story line on no less than 10 occasions, the event has been postponed just twice.

* Steve Carlson leads the series win column at Rockford, finding victory lane on 12 occasions.

* A wild ending highlighted the 2003 version of this event. A late race caution forced the distance of the event over the 250-lap advertised distance. Rookie Eric Fransen led the first 253 laps and took the white flag as the leader. The action intensified as Fransen and second running Ron Breese, Jr made contact in turn two. Breese led for a short time before Steve Carlson took over the top spot with a bold move in turn three and beat Breese the checkered by less than a foot. Justin Diercks charged to third while Fransen fell all the way to fourth. Earlier in the event, it was Jon Lemke who set the pace in Bud Pole qualifying.

* While getting the season off to a bad start at Rockford can put you behind in the rookie standings, it is possible to come back and win the Auto Meter Rookie of the Year title. In 1999 Jimmy Mars, making the transition from dirt to pavement, failed to qualify for the Rockford opener and ended up winning rookie honors. The 2000 series opener saw Tim Schendel's (Mathews Solo Cam Bows Chevrolet) day end after just 12 laps, against the turn three wall. Schendel dug out from that hole and handily captured series top rookie glory. The 2004 Auto Meter rookie class includes 18-year-old Justin Hirt, racing veteran Russ Blakeley, Jamie Wallace and Brent Kirchner.

* Hoosier Tire returns as the tire of choice for the Midwest Series in 2004. The Indiana based company will give away over $4300 worth of their rubber at every series event. Other contingency sponsors include AutoZone, Anheuser-Busch, Auto Meter Gauges, Competition Cams, CV Products, Edelbrock, Featherlite, Five Star, G-Force, Holley, JE Pistons, Mac Tools, Mechanix Wear, Mobil 1 Oil, Moroso, POWERade, Quarter Master, Raybestos Brakes, and Timken.

WHAT'S THE WORD?

* "Rockford is the kind of place where you either have real good memories or real bad memories, there is no middle ground."--Steve Carlson

FROM THE ARCHIVES

* March 31, 1996--Pushed ahead on the schedule because of Easter, Larry Schuler picked up the win in the 150-lap event. It marked the earliest ever series event. Schuler started from the outside of row one and led all 150 laps. Dudley Fleck was second with Steve Carlson third. The win was the 10th career triumph for Schuler.

Fast Facts

What: Spring Classic 250 (NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Midwest Series, Race 1 of 13).
Where: Rockford (Ill.) Speedway.
When: 2 p.m. CT, Sunday, April 4.

Track layout: .29167-mile banked paved oval.
Race length: 250 laps, 73 miles.

Schedule: Friday, open practice 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm (free grandstand); Saturday, qualifying 5:00 pm (CT), last chance race 7:00 pm; Sunday, Fan Photo 11:30 am, Spring Classic 250 2:00 pm.

Tickets: Saturday, Adults $15, Kids $7; Sunday, Adults $20, Kids $8. Reserved seat tickets are now on sale.

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR
Drivers Jimmy Mars , Tim Schendel , Justin Diercks , Steve Carlson