Daytona Beach, Florida (November 25, 2001) Craig Raudman of Bakersfield, Calif. captured his first Featherlite Southwest Series, NASCAR Touring title by dominating nearly every statistical category during the 2001 16-race schedule. The driver of...
Daytona Beach, Florida (November 25, 2001) Craig Raudman of Bakersfield, Calif. captured his first Featherlite Southwest Series, NASCAR Touring title by dominating nearly every statistical category during the 2001 16-race schedule. The driver of the Yerf-Dog Fun karts/Advantage Memory Chevrolet emerged from the shadow of his brother Chris Raudman, who won the series title back in 1996, to etch his name significantly in the records books.
Raudman returned to the series full-time for the first time since 1997 determined to win the championship. A renewed sense of direction was clearly present in the Dave Reed Racing Team as the Yerf-Dog crew unloaded at the season opening event at Phoenix Int'l Raceway back in February. That optimism quickly turned to frustration as the team sat outside the top 20 after two events due to mechanical failures. A 35th place finish at PIR and a 21st place finish at Cajon Speedway had the entire Yerf-Dog Crew shaking their collective heads.
The series then headed to Irwindale Speedway in Irwindale, Calif. where then series point leader M.K. Kanke was grabbing a majority of the headlines on the strength of two wins. Raudman finished second to Kanke at Irwindale, a finish that began his rise in the point standings. He would only finish outside the top ten on two more occasions, a stat that made the difference in the championship.
Raudman found Victory Lane in the season's fourth event on the 3/8-mile Bullring at LVMS. He followed that up with a convincing win on the one-mile Pikes Peak Int'l Raceway two weeks later. After a third place run at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. Raudman found himself in second place in the point standings behind series leader Kanke. Kanke suffered a season ending injury at SPR and Raudman would never relinquish the point from that time on.
Raudman would pick up two more wins, one at Irwindale Speedway and the other on the 1.5 mile LVMS in October. Along the way Raudman won eight Bud Pole Awards including five in a row to set a new series record. Raudman now sits tied for third with Rick Carelli for most Bud Pole Awards (18) and tied with Dan Press for fifth on the all-time win list with 14.
Although Raudman was grabbing most of the attention in the series, 2000 series runner-up Auggie Vidovich Jr. was not going to let the championship be a run away. Vidovich closed the gap in the point standings with two victories, but every time Vidovich would seemingly have a finish that would turn the tides, Raudman finished close. Raudman was able to build a lead that could not be challenged.
At seasons end, Raudman topped the point standings on the strength of four wins in 16 starts. He added eleven top-5, and twelve top-10 finishes along with 1,939 laps completed out of a possible 2,132. Raudman also won a series leading $57,435 in purse winnings to go along his Gatorade Front Runner performance as he led 18 times in ten races for a total of 577 laps. Raudman also helped seal the manufactures championship for Chevrolet that included 15 wins. Chevrolet nearly swept the series if not for a thrilling victory by John Zaretske that put Ford in the Winners Circle.
"This championship is what I have always wanted," Raudman said. "We set out to get fast time at every track and win every race. We not only wanted to win, but we wanted to win by a lap. The entire Yerf-Dog team did a tremendous job all season. This was our year!"
Owner Dave Reed echoes Raudman's sentiments. "When we got together in 1992, we both dreamed of this day," Reed said. "It has taken longer than we anticipated. We finished third twice and this championship makes all those disappointments disappear."
Raudman will join the rest of the top 20 in the final FSWS point standings at the Eldorado Hotel in Reno, Nevada on Saturday, December 8, 2001 as the FSWS hold their annual awards banquet. With his season winnings and point fund money, Raudman will become the second driver in series history to top the $300,000 mark in career winnings and join Kanke in that elite club. Raudman plans on defending his series title in 2002 as he and the entire Yerf-Dog/Dave Reed Racing Team will be intact to defend. Only Ron Hornaday Jr. has successfully defended his series title with championships in 1992 and 1993.
The Featherlite Southwest Series, NASCAR Touring division will resume racing in February 2002 at Phoenix Int'l Raceway as the series and drivers embark their 16th season of competition. Raudman will not rest on his laurels as he feels PIR owes him one, a track where he has not historically done well, but a place that sets the stage for each championship run. "Phoenix is a place I really want to win at," Raudman said. "If we can win at Phoenix then we definitely have a good shot at the title next. Mike (Kanke) will be back, so it is going to be tough, but we have a great team so I know we are up for the challenge."