SWS: Mesa Marin preview

Mesa Marin Raceway means action for Featherlite Southwest Series. BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (March 15, 2003) - There is an old saying that says, 'the more things change, the more they stay the same.' That rings true for the drivers of the NASCAR Elite...

Mesa Marin Raceway means action for Featherlite Southwest Series.

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (March 15, 2003) - There is an old saying that says, 'the more things change, the more they stay the same.' That rings true for the drivers of the NASCAR Elite Division, Featherlite Southwest Series as they return to Mesa Marin Raceway on Saturday, March 22 for the running of the Star Nursery.Com "200" presented by Community Recycling.

Mesa Marin Raceway has hosted more Featherlite Southwest Series races then any other track (53). Since 1987, Mesa Marin Raceway has played an important part in the history of the series, where championships have been won or lost. MMR is a track where a good race set-up is key, and knowledge of the track vital.

A good qualifying lap will be at a premium as drivers of the Featherlite Southwest Series attempt to qualify for one of 30 starting positions in Saturday's 200-lap race and vie for their share of $53,672 in posted awards.

During the off-season the staff at MMR has been busy with capital improvements that have been made throughout the eighty acre racing facility, including the track itself as it has been resealed and a six foot paved apron added at the base of seventeen degree banked turns.

"Our philosophy has always been to make improvements to the facility over each off-season," stated Mesa Marin VP, Larry Collins.

"This year we made improvements for both the racers and spectators, the sealer we put down on the track surface helps the grip, so we may see new track records in the early events of the season." Collins added.

Craig Raudman, the 2001 series champion, knows the improvements will make for an interesting race. "The new sealer is going to make it exciting," Raudman said. "It will take a bit of time to wear the groove into shape and with the new apron; guys are going to have to drive the car into the corners a bit differently."

Current series point leader, Bryan Germone, knows a strong finish at Mesa Marin is critical if he hopes to stay in the championship hunt. Germone has one win and nine top-ten performances at the high-banked half-mile speedplant. "Mesa is a fun racetrack," Germone said. "You have to be real smooth and since this race is going to be 200-laps, I believe the pit strategy is going to be real key."

"I think some guys may try to run the race without a pit stop in the hopes that track position will prevail," said Darrell LaMoure. "The new sealer is a variable we don't know about yet, but I am sure after practice we'll all be creating new strategies."

Heading into to Mesa Marin there are several drivers on similar, but very different paths. Eddy McKean, the 2002 series champion, wants nothing more then to repeat as champion. In the eighteen year series history, only Ron Hornaday Jr. has been able to achieve that feat. Then there is Brandon Whitt who looks to have a break-out season after his Rookie-of-the-Year performance in 2002. Whitt wants to graduate through the NASCAR ranks into Winston Cup someday, but knows that he must prove himself in the NASCAR Elite Division first.

"We had a good year last season," Whitt said. "We won the Rookie title and finished in the top-ten in the points, but we were disappointed that we did not win a race. This season I know we will be much better and now that I call Bakersfield home, I would like nothing more then to win here."

Jim Pettit II tested at Mesa Marin over the past week, along with several other drivers, and gives the sealer passing marks. "The surface has better grip then in the past," Pettit said. "I think the biggest variable is going to be the tires. Hoosier has a great tire, but it races very different then what we are use to. The guys are going to have to give the tires some time to get up to temperature before burying the car into the corner."

The action at Mesa Marin Raceway gets underway Friday night, March 21 at the annual Downtown Street Festival in Bakersfield where more than 10,000 race fans can spent time with their favorite drivers from the Featherlite Southwest Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. The Star Nursery.Com "200" is scheduled to take the green flag at 8:00 pm PST on Saturday, March 22 and will be broadcast on FOX Sports Net.

The Featherlite Southwest Series is one of eight NASCAR Regional Touring Series that blanket the United States. In 2003, the Featherlite Southwest Series joins the Raybestos Brakes Northwest Series, International Truck and Engine Midwest Series, and Kodak Southeast Series to form the new NASCAR Elite Division. The NASCAR Elite Division brings special events to many NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series tracks and some NASCAR superspeedways and road courses. The NASCAR Elite Division can provide a competitor with an entire career, or the division can provide valuable experience to competitors moving through the NASCAR ranks. Corporate sponsors make significant contributions to the NASCAR Elite Division Series point funds. The sponsors include Anheuser-Busch, Featherlite Trailers, Powerade, Raybestos Brakes, KODAK, and International Truck & Engine.


The race within the race . Frank Deiny Jr. heads the Rookie class of 2003. Deiny finished fifth at the season opening event at Phoenix Int'l Raceway. JR Patton joins Deiny in the top-ten standings after his sixth place effort at PIR. There are eleven drivers set to compete for Rookie-of-the-Year honors this season.

How many cars? More than 35 cars have pre-entered the Star Nursery.Com "200" several hometown heroes from Bakersfield. Drivers include Craig Raudman, Dan Holtz, and Kevin Vernon.

M.K. Kanke may not run a full season in 2003. Kanke holds almost all of the records in the Featherlite Southwest Series, but has never claimed the series crown.

Darrell LaMoure of Phoenix, Arizona welcomes NAPA Auto Parts and Yerf-Dog Fun Karts as sponsors to his team in 2003. LaMoure continues to bring awareness regarding missing children to fans through his Racing for the Missing program.

Featherlite Southwest Series drivers will meet race fans during the Downtown Street Festival in downtown Bakersfield on Friday, March 21 from 6-9pm. Autograph sessions, food, music and fun for the whole family is on tap at this annual celebration.

Drivers to keep your eye on: Joe Herold, Steve Belletto, Brandon Whitt, and Todd Souza all finished in the top- ten final point standings last season and each has the potential to win at Mesa Marin Raceway. Each driver has had strong top-ten finishes at MMR in the past.

Hoosier Racing Tire is the official tire of the NASCAR Elite Division in 2003 and will award 32 tires tires to eligible car owners at each series event. Hoosier will also award two tires to the highest eligible Rookie-of- the-Year candidate's car owner.

Featherlite Southwest Series contingency sponsors include: Anheuser-Busch, Auto Meter Products, Edelbrock Intake Manifolds, Featherlite Trailers, Five Star, Flowmaster, G-Force, Goody's Headache Powder, Holley Carburetors, Hoosier Tires, JR Pistons, Mac Tools, Mobil 1 Oil, Moroso, MSD, Penske Shocks, Powerade, Quarter Master, Quick Car, Raybestos Brakes, "76" Race Gasoline, Victory Circle Chassis, and Wix Air Filters.


Auggie Vidovich Jr. had a disappointing season in 2002, but after a strong third place performance at PIR, he and his PG Series team are back on track. Vidovich won at MMR in June of 2001.


"Its always fun at Mesa Marin. You never know what will happen." - Mike Ledbetter (No. 61 Pabco Gypsum Chevrolet).

When: 8 p.m. PT, Saturday, March 22.

Pre-race schedule (all times local): Friday - Street Festival, 6:00 p.m.-9: p.m. Saturday - Garage opens, 6:00 a.m., Rookie Meeting, 9:00 a.m., Practice, 10:00 a.m. - noon, Time Trails, 2:00 p.m., Driver's Meeting, 5:30 p.m., Qualifying Race, 7:00 p.m., Star Nursery.Com "200", 8:00p.m.

Tickets available at all Vallitix locations, www.Vallitix.com or at Mesa Marin


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Drivers Ron Hornaday Jr. , Brandon Whitt , Bryan Germone , Joe Herold , Dan Holtz , Darrell LaMoure , Jim Pettit II , Craig Raudman , Steve Belletto , Auggie Vidovich , Todd Souza