FOUR SOUTHEAST SERIES DRIVERS HEAD INTO SEASON OPENER WITH SIGHTS SET ON 2005 SUNOCO ROOKIE-OF-THE-YEAR AWARD DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 22, 2005) -- It's that time of year when you break out the calculator and notebooks and start adding in all...
FOUR SOUTHEAST SERIES DRIVERS HEAD INTO SEASON OPENER WITH SIGHTS SET ON 2005 SUNOCO ROOKIE-OF-THE-YEAR AWARD
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 22, 2005) -- It's that time of year when you break out the calculator and notebooks and start adding in all the new drivers and sponsors for the upcoming season. The start of the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series is near as the season kicks off April 30 at the famed Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway with the 'Rock 101' 150 Presented by Keith Whitaker Chevrolet.
In addition to all the usual drivers and teams in the Southeast Series, there will be four rookie drivers in the field who are looking to show their talents at the next level that the Southeast Series provides. The new drivers -- Gary Helton, Michael Foy, Eddie Stivers and Terry McMahan -- will be competing for the $1,500 Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year award. Sunoco, the official fuel of NASCAR, will support the rookie program this year and will also be awarding additional prize money through its contingency sponsorship program.
Two-time and defending Southeast Series champion Jeff Fultz says he welcomes the newcomers with open arm and feels like they are going to make the series even stronger.
"I'm sure all those guys are going to bring a lot of new talent to the table for the Southeast Series this year," says Fultz, who is on a three-race winning streak at Greenville-Pickens. "I know how talented Gary Helton is, but then again all three of the other drivers are just as good. I remember how much fun it was back in 1996 when it was me, Wayne Anderson and Steve Christian who ended up winning the Rookie-of-the-Year award. NASCAR is continuing to bring in new talent to the Southeast Series and it shows us what the future of our sport is going to look like."
One of Fultz's duties as the defending Southeast Series champion is to conduct rookie meetings at each track before each event.
"I just try to help them understand what the different tracks are like to help speed up their learning curve a little bit," Fultz explains. "I let them know that they are more than welcome to come to me with a question or problem and I will give them an honest answer. I don't care if they're having problems with something like their gears or something else. They can come talk to me, and I'll help them.
"A lot of it is just teaching them things like safety on and off the track and using their hand signals the way they should. I want to see these young guys progress because I know they're going to bring a lot to the Southeast Series this year."
Longtime Southeast Series technical director Les Westerfield is also excited about the new crop of talent.
"I'm thrilled about all four of these guys that are going to be with us in the Southeast Series this season and I know they're bringing a lot of talent to the table," Westerfield says. "I've looked at all four of their resumes and they are some very good competitors who have had a lot of past experience. I really think the battle for this year's Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year title is going to be every bit as good as the race for our Southeast Series championship. It's going to go down to the last race of the season, and as matter of fact probably the last laps of the year.
"I can't thank the folks at Sunoco enough for stepping up to sponsor this year's Southeast Series Rookie-of-the year award and they are going to bring a lot to the competitors."
The list of former Southeast Series rookies of the year is an impressive one to say the least. One of the biggest names to have won the crown is current NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series competitor David Reutimann, the 1997 rookie of the year now drives for a team owned by racing legend Darrell Waltrip. Other former rookies of the year are Bart Ingram, Ron Barfield Jr., Scott Kilby, Coy Gibbs, Casey Yunick, Charlie Bradberry, Jason Hogan, John Wilkinson III and most recently J.R. Norris.
The history and tradition that makes up the Southeast Series is not lost on McMahan, a resident of Asheville, N.C.
"I feel like this is a dream come true for me," McMahan says. "It's just unreal to get the chance to race in a series like the Southeast Series after all these years. I'm finally getting my shot to go racing full-time. I've always enjoyed the people in the Southeast Series through the years and really admired them. I've always thought this series is the epitome of short track racing.
"There have been a ton of very talented drivers to come through this series that I was fortunate enough to watch race when I was growing up as a kid. I used to love going to the races and just sitting in the stands and watching those guys. This is an opportunity that I've always dreamed of getting."
In fact, McMahan didn't know he was going to get the chance to drive the No. 23 Pure Lip Protection Chevrolet until mid-January when close friend and last year's driver Wayne Bowen had knee surgery.
"Wayne's a good buddy of mine," McMahan says. "He's had his surgery and probably could race if he had to, but he chose to give me this shot. Wayne's actually going to be spotting for me at several races this year when he's not working with Larry McReynolds' son, Kyle, as his spotter. I'm looking forward to getting things started. I'm also glad that Sunoco has stepped up to the plate by sponsoring our rookie race this year. That's pretty cool because they do a lot for all the drivers."
One of the drivers that many are expecting to be in early contention is Helton, a native of Seymour, Tenn., who has had tremendous Late Model success across the South in other divisions before deciding the Southeast Series is the place to be.
"This is going to be something new for us and I'm excited about it," says Helton. "We've raced for championships in a lot of different divisions, but the Southeast Series is going to be a step up for us. All the guys on this team are committed and I think we're going to have a good year. We like going to different tracks and the Southeast Series is a series that races in a lot of different places. I think we're going to be good.
"It's awesome when you get a company like Sunoco to support a program like the Rookie-of-the-Year award," continues Helton, the driver of the No. 86 Volunteer Race Engines/Swaggerty Sausage Company Chevrolet. "Sunoco lends a lot of credibility to this sport through their support."
One of the hometown favorites heading into the season-opener at Greenville-Pickens comes in the form of Columbia, S.C. native Stivers. He made a limited number of Southeast Series starts last year to preserve his rookie status as he made the transition last season from dirt to asphalt.
"We had the good fortune to run a few Southeast Series races last season so we've got a little experience under our belts," Stivers says. "We're really looking forward to running the whole season. I want to go out there and be consistent, keep our car in one piece and learn a little bit more this year in the Southeast Series. I don't think the few races we ran last year is really going to give us that much of an advantage over the other three rookie drivers. We're going to a few new tracks this season so I think the playing field is going to be pretty level. I'm looking forward to competing with all the drivers and I think we're all going to be in for a lot of fun this year.
Another rookie making his Southeast Series debut at Greenville-Pickens is Foy, from Grayson, Ga., who will be behind the wheel of the No. 32 Aaron's Sales and Leasing Pontiac.
"I'm real excited to be going racing in the Southeast Series this season," Foy says. "It was a deal that we had to put together pretty quick, but we've got some good equipment so I think we're going to be pretty competitive. The neat part about this is that it is sanctioned by NASCAR and it's a traveling series. The best part about the Southeast Series is very cost effective with what we're trying to get started."
AUTOZONE DRIVER APPEARANCE: For race fans in the Greenville area who want to get the chance to see several Southeast Series cars and get a few autographs, the AutoZone store in Easley will have drivers Chris Davidson, Eddie Stivers and Dusty Williams on hand Thursday evening from 5:00-8:00 p.m. The store's physical address is 5554 Calhoun Memorial Highway, Easley, SC, 29640.