NWS: Wenatchee: Round three preview

WILBUR BRUCE IS NO STRANGER TO NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, NORTHWEST SERIES * WVSO Hosts Its 35th Northwest Series Race July 2 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 24, 2005) -- One of the best trivia questions to swirl around NASCAR AutoZone Elite...


* WVSO Hosts Its 35th Northwest Series Race July 2

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 24, 2005) -- One of the best trivia questions to swirl around NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series this year is to name the two active drivers who participated in the first Northwest Series event on May 5, 1985 at Evergreen Speedway.

Most Northwest race fans are very much aware that four-time series champion Garrett Evans won that inaugural race over 21 years ago. However, the other half of the answer is a bit more obscure. Well, it's Wilbur Bruce. A motor problem took him out of the race early, but he was there for that first series race.

"It's pretty amazing, but I remember quite a lot from that race," said Bruce who is from Tacoma, Wash. "I started between Ron Hall and Dirk Stephens and about eight or so laps in we had an oil pump bolt shear off. We didn't know much of anything at that time." There are few things that walk the Earth with a better memory than a racecar driver.

Over the next several seasons Bruce was racing one, two or, maybe, three events a year until 1998. "We raced wherever and whenever we could," he said. "Other times we were racing at various Late Model shows in the area."

The 1998 season proved to be a hallmark year for Bruce. He was able to put a deal together to run and entire season and it definitely paid off. He collected Rookie-of-the-Year honors and recorded six top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 16 outings.

Most importantly, he was able to collect his first Northwest Series victory in Wenatchee. "It was the last race on the old pavement before it got resurfaced," Bruce recalled. "Raced door-to-door with Gary Lewis for much of the night. It was a lot of fun."

After 13 races in 1999, the deal fell apart and, once again, Bruce was racing as many Northwest Series events as he could.

That remained to be the case until this past off-season. A sign maker by trade, Bruce had done lettering work for several race teams including Neil Weiner's. Weiner is a car owner and, most recently, had his son, Bryan, in the car for the 2004 season, but they decided to sell the car and take a break until he went into Bruce's shop one day.

"My sign and race shops are sort of one in the same. One day we were working on the car and Neil came in and asked what we were doing. I explained that we were trying to get the car ready to run a few Northwest Series races this season," Bruce said. "He ended up putting a deal together and we built a brand new car collecting pieces from here and there to race the entire schedule."

Bruce didn't have to be asked twice. "I'm thrilled to get the opportunity to race the whole thing," he said. This opportunity drastically changed the priorities and goals of Bruce's team. Before Weiner walked through the door, Bruce had intentions of racing a few Northwest Series dates and take the car down to Phoenix for the Southwest Series finale with its high dollar purse. Now, after a pair of top-10 finishes in the first two races of the season, Bruce says, "We've changed gears a little and our focus is now on Irwindale and the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown."

To get there, Bruce will need to finish in the top 10 of the Northwest Series championship standings, upon which he'll be invited to Irwindale along with the top 10 drivers from each of the other three series that comprise the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division.

The business at hand, though, is the Wenatchee 125 to be raced at Wenatchee Valley's Super Oval in East Wenatchee, Wash. on July 2. The site of Bruce's first series win brings back fond memories for the 42 year-old driver. "I really enjoy the shorter tracks and I like Wenatchee a lot. There's great racing that goes on there," he says. He does like to kid Evans, who owns the Wenatchee track, by saying that he liked the old track better. There's the memory of a racecar driver again.

Bruce's 12 seasons in the Northwest Series have produced just 63 starts, to date, compared to Evans' 279, but the two were there at the very beginning and still running strong today. Heading into Wenatchee, Bruce and Evans, the answers to the trivia question, rank fifth and seventh, respectively, in the championship point standings.


What: Wenatchee 125 (Race No. 3 of 10 in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series).

Where:  Wenatchee Valley's Super Oval, East Wenatchee, Wash.

When: 9:30 p.m. PDT (approx.), Saturday, July 2, 2005.

Track layout:  1/4-mile oval.

Race length: 125 laps/31.25 miles.

Posted awards: $53,025.

2004 winner:  Jeff Jefferson.

2004 polesitter: Brandon Riehl.

Top 10 in points: 1. Brandon Riehl 350, 2. Jeff Jefferson 316, 3. Pete Harding 315, 4. John Bender 310, 5. Wilbur Bruce 302, 6. Joe Benedetti 289, 7. Garrett Evans 288, 8. Jeff Bailey 273, 9. John Dillon 268, 10. Travis Bennett 261.

Pre-race schedule (all times local): 12:00 p.m. Registration opens, 3:00-4:45 p.m. Practice, 6:00 p.m. Bud Pole Qualifying, 9:30 p.m. Wenatchee 125.


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Drivers Jeff Jefferson , Jeff Bailey , John Bender , Gary Lewis