NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, NORTHWEST SERIES DRIVER MIKE LONGTON LOGGING MILES ON THE TRACK AND IN THE AIR DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 17, 2006) -- Bi-Coastal is a term normally used in association with the uber-wealthy personalities of the ...
NASCAR AUTOZONE ELITE DIVISION, NORTHWEST SERIES DRIVER MIKE LONGTON LOGGING MILES ON THE TRACK AND IN THE AIR
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 17, 2006) -- Bi-Coastal is a term normally used in association with the uber-wealthy personalities of the business and entertainment world. However, for Mike Longton of the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series it's a way of life right now.
While racing a full season in the Northwest Series, Longton, originally of Moxee, Wash., has taken up residence in the Charlotte, N.C. area in hopes of furthering his career behind the wheel of a racecar.
"A lot of people say that's what you have to do," he says. "I guess you have to go where the jobs are. I'd like to say that if you are good enough, then team owners would find you, but I've seen too many awesome drivers lose out to that philosophy. So, that's what I have done."
Longton didn't just wake up one morning and decide to move across the country thinking that he'd walk into one of the many NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and NASCAR Busch Series team shops in the area and get hired to drive next season.
"I've wanted to move there for a while now, but I just couldn't go down there without some sort of way to get my foot in the door," he says. "My uncle (Randy Longton) is a hauler driver and does some work in the shop for the #43 [NASCAR Busch Series] team and he agreed to let me move in with him. It's been a great way to get introduced around, meet people and start relationships."
Even though, his frequent flyer account has increased exponentially since April, Longton says that the travel hasn't been all that bad. "The schedule was fairly spread out in the beginning and will be at the end. I'll just stay out here for this stretch here in the middle."
Why not take the car and race in the southeastern portion of the country? He didn't want to do that for a few reasons. "I thought about that, but decided against it. Mostly, I wanted to race up here. It's home. The competition is stout. There's great turnout for the races and some of [other Northwest Series competitors] are the best short track racers there are."
Another factor in the equation is the assembly of his race team. "A few of these guys have been with me forever and we picked up a few folks from Jeff Jefferson's team."
Jefferson is the reigning and winner of three straight Northwest Series titles, who is not competing in the series this year. He is in the midst of forming a program for the NASCAR Grand National Division, AutoZone West Series.
The impact of those few people has had a great effect on the team's performance according to Longton. "They've been champions and they know what to do and they just do it. In the past, we'd be thrashing on the car Friday night all in a hurry. This year, I don't think there has been one time that the car wasn't ready by Friday. That makes a difference."
Last season, the Longton team competed in just a handful of events after fighting a myriad of engine and equipment woes. "It was one thing after another, mostly with the motor, and always different little things," he says. "I trust my engine builder completely and didn't change anything there, but we did go through the car and changed out almost everything we could."
Apparently, that has made a difference, as well. This season, the current leader in the Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year standings has posted a trio of top-10 performances and has not finished worse than 14th. Consistency is a key ingredient to points racing, whether it is for the series championship or top rookie honors.
This season in the Northwest Series, however, winning the Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year Award will be almost as difficult as winning the series title. "Whoever comes out on top of this rookie class, they will have earned it. No disrespect to all of the previous winners, but I don't think there has ever been a rookie class this deep and talented. It would be a tremendous honor to win that thing."
Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year contenders currently hold three spots in the top 10 and 10 of the top 20. They have won three of the five Bud Pole Awards and finished on the podium in three of five races including a win by Jay Sauls.
Longton started on the pole after the invert in last Saturday's race at Evergreen Speedway and led the first 62 laps of the race. He was knocked out of contention for his first win when a lapped car made contact with him causing him to loose two laps in order to make repairs. Despite that, he sees it as a building block.
"We're heading to my home track [Yakima (Wash.) Speedway] where I am most comfortable and have tons and tons of laps," says the driver of the No. 37 Key Financial/Owens Enterprises Chevrolet. "We, or I, need to qualify better. Track position is so important at these tracks. The cars are all so event and everyone is so bunched together and competitive. So, we do need to step up our qualifying efforts and Yakima's a great place to start."
Tickets and information about this event can be obtained by calling the speedway office at (509) 248-0647 or by visiting www.yakimaspeedway.us.
What: Yakima 125 (Race No. 6 of 11 in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Northwest Series).
Where: Yakima Speedway, Yakima, Wash.
When: 8:45 p.m. PDT (approx.), Saturday, July 22, 2006
Track layout: 1/2-mile oval
Race length: 125 laps/62.5 miles.
Posted awards: $52,933
2005 winner: Jeff Jefferson.
2005 polesitter: Troy Tramell.
Top 10 in points: 1. Gary Lewis -- 827; 2. Travis Bennett -- 790; 3. Brandon Riehl -- 713; 4. Jay Sauls -- 681; 5. Mike Longton -- 671; 6t. Wilbur Bruce -- 669; 6t. Shane Mitchell - 669; 8. Jeff Barkshire -- 667; 9. Steven Howard -- 652; 10. John Bender - 630
Pre-race schedule (all times local): Sat., 7/22 - 11:00 a.m. Registration opens; 2:30-5:00 p.m. Practice; 6:00 p.m. Bud Pole Qualifying; 8:45 p.m. Yakima 125.