The Gatorade All Pro Series concluded their 16-event 2001 schedule at the new Nashville SuperSpeedway on November 25 with another million dollar season. Part of the million dollar year was the MBNA All American Thanksgiving Classic at Nashville...
The Gatorade All Pro Series concluded their 16-event 2001 schedule at the new Nashville SuperSpeedway on November 25 with another million dollar season.
Part of the million dollar year was the MBNA All American Thanksgiving Classic at Nashville Superspeedway where competitors competed for posted awards that exceeded $143,000, the largest in the 17-year history of this NASCAR Division. The starting field for this event, 43 cars, was the largest ever for the division.
"What a way to end the year," said 2001 Champ Wayne Anderson. "I have been with this series steady since 1996, except for the year with the Craftsman Truck Series, and we have never seen posted awards where the last place finisher takes home $1,000."
Anderson was ecstatic about winning his second series championship but not in the fashion of 1999. His car lost an engine 76 laps into the event and he watched the finish behind pit wall. "We have not blown an engine in three years with Frankie Grill commented Anderson and I am just glad we had a decent point lead coming into this final event." "Posted awards like this really make this series inviting," commented Stanley Smith who raced with the former NASCAR All-American Challenge Series. "With more superspeedway events on the schedule, posted awards like this will attract many more competitors." Competing at 13 different speedplants, drivers visited seven states during 2001, with the season producing many noteworthy events by series competitors. Ninety-seven drivers attempted to make series starts in 2001.
Wayne Anderson, Wildwood, Fla. earned his second Gatorade All Pro Series, NASCAR Touring Championship besting Randy Gentry, Jeff Fultz, David Reutimann and Eddie Mercer. The points battle went down to the wire at Nashville with Anderson winning the title by 82 points over Gentry. Anderson and Gentry held the upper hand for most of the year as these two drivers were number one or two in points from the fifth race of the season with Fultz, Reutimann and Mercer maintaining third, fourth and fifth respectively from the middle of the year.
Anderson was clearly the man to beat in 2001 as he gunned for his second NASCAR Diamond ring. Despite a 29th place finish in the first race of the season, he bounded back to win the next three consecutive events at Nashville Speedway USA, USA International Speedway, Lakeland, Fla. and Greenville-Pickens Speedway. These three victories vaulted him into title contention and he left Greenville second in points. Another significant fact in Anderson's Greenville win was that it made him the all-time career winner for this NASCAR Division with 18 stops in victory lane.
Anderson's consistency was very evident as the Wildwood, Fla. driver led over 32% of the total laps run for the season and during the last half of the year he added three more trophies to his trophy case with second wins at Greenville-Pickens Speedway, and Nashville Speedway USA and a win at Louisville (KY) Motor Speedway boosting his career total to 21 wins. The series championship was not the only title decided at the final event as the Wireway/Husky Corporation Rookie-of-the-Year battle went down to the final checkered flag with two drivers Charlie Bradberry and Jody Lavender tied for that honor. Bradberry finished sixth in the event while Lavender's car experienced overheating problems. He was able to complete only 44 laps and finished 30th.
Nine drivers committed to the rookie program at the start of the season with seven drivers running the full season in what had to be one of the finest rookie classes ever for this division.
Certainly one of the high points for Bradberry in his quest for this honor was that he didn't qualify for the first race of the season and therefore earned no rookie points. But that was forgotten as his team regrouped, led by his older brother Gary, and went to work. During the year he earned rookie-of-the-race honors seven times and was runnerup four times.
Lavender was also very consistent earning rookie-of-the-race honors four times and was runnerup six times. Finishing third in the Wireway/Husky Corp. rookie program was Roger Parker, London, Ky., Richie Beasley, Brewton, Al. was fourth, Chris Fontaine, Lakeland, Fla. was fifth, Wayne Bowen, Concord, N. C. was sixth and Michael Britt, Cumming, Ga. was seventh.
Without a doubt the Most Improved Driver on the series in 2001 was Randy Gentry of Easley, S. C. Gentry was the most consistent driver during the year with a laps completed percentage of 98.1% which was four percentage points greater than second place driver, Jeff Fultz. Gentry finished 15th in the 2000 national points with two top five and three top ten results. In 2001 he finished second with eight top five and 12 top ten results.
Twelve drivers earned Bud Pole starts with Josh Clemons, David Reutimann and Stanley Smith earning their first Bud Pole Award. Seven drivers won events led by Anderson's six wins with Scott Carlson and Tim Sauter being first time series winners.
Gatorade, The Official Sports Beverage of NASCAR, gave drivers added incentives during the year with the creation of the Gatorade Championship Performance Award that added $1,000, $300 and $200 to the top three finishing positions in every race. Addtionally, Gatorade posted contingency money with their "FrontRunner" Award Program with Anderson also winning that end-of-year award.