SWS: Phoenix: Auggie Vidovich preview

Champion Auggie Vidovich returns to Autozone Southwest Series after busy off season. LAKESIDE, CA -- 2003 NASCAR Elite Division, Southwest Series Champion Auggie Vidovich is ready to defend his 2003 championship in the recently renamed NASCAR...

Champion Auggie Vidovich returns to Autozone Southwest Series after busy off season.

LAKESIDE, CA -- 2003 NASCAR Elite Division, Southwest Series Champion Auggie Vidovich is ready to defend his 2003 championship in the recently renamed NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series formerly Featherlite Southwest Series. Twenty-two year old Auggie Vidovich returns to the 1-mile D-shaped Phoenix International Raceway this weekend for the "Winter Heat 100" race that kicks off the season for the repeat 14-race series. Forty-five entries including Kenny Schrader will attempt to make the 42-car field for this Sunday's SuperSpeedway race.

Last year, Vidovich finished third racing on a race-by-race basis at the beginning of last year. Although Vidovich did not claim any victories in 2003, he was consistent and that kept him in the championship hunt and got him the championship trophy in the end. This season Vidovich and the Vidovich Racing team are ready to challenge for a position back on the podium and realize that won't be easy with the level of competition in this popular series. Vidovich's 8-top five and 11-top ten finishes last year were enough to lead the series from the second race of the series season at Mesa Marin Raceway (Bakersfield, CA), right down to the final race at Phoenix International Raceway (Phoenix, AZ) October 30.

After being the runner up twice (2000 and 2001) in the "left coast" regional touring series, Vidovich was relieved to finally secure the championship in 2003. Not only has the level of completion stepped up each year, this year's new title sponsor AutoZone will be bringing the series to a whole new level of exposure with a new outlook for the 19th year of the Southwest Series, a stepping stone for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck, Busch and Nextel Cup series'.

After winning the 2003 championship by 60 points at the final series race in Phoenix, AZ, Vidovich has been on the go ever since along with preparing for the upcoming 2004 season. Vidovich was then off to the invite-only inaugural NASCAR Toyota All-Star Show Down hosted by Irwindale Speedway. Along with Vidovich, the lineup included the three other Elite Division regional division champions (Midwest, Southeast and Northwest) plus the top-ten competitors of each series. Festivities began with Vidovich attending a media session with the other champions. Vidovich thoroughly enjoyed the well-thought out three-day event and would like to participate again this year. "The pressure of the championship was over and I was able race with the best-of-the-best in NASCAR racing," stated Vidovich. Vidovich was also selected to run one of a handful of in-car cameras for the races. Racing at the 1/2-mile Irwindale track started with two 50-lap Elite Division qualifying races Friday where Vidovich was positioned at the back of the pack (20th) where all champions started including the Southwest Series drivers lined up due to track advantage. Vidovich was held up at the beginning of the 50-lap race but quickly moved up lap-by-lap to finish the qualifying race in 10th position. Vidovich then started the final 25-lap "show your best stuff" race and was happy with his eighth place finish out of 40 competitors. Although he would have liked to have won the race to be on the podium with his longtime friend, Austin Cameron (also from Lakeside, CA) who won the Grand National Division race.

Days later, Vidovich was then off to New York to attend the NASCAR Winston Cup banquet December 5 as an invitee of NASCAR. Taking along his dad with him for the four-day trip, Vidovich attended numerous champion dinners and photo shoots along with getting a sneak preview of the upcoming IMAX NASCAR 3D movie due out soon. "What a wild ride, guaranteed to give you all the effects of NASCAR racing. And I can't wait to get all my friends together to check it out," stated Vidovich

Then Vidovich returned to attend his championship Southwest Series banquet in Reno, NV December 13. As 2003 was the final year for Winston and Featherlite as sponsors for NASCAR series', Vidovich thanked Winston and Featherlite for their support and stated they will greatly be missed. He also looked forward to the new relationship with AutoZone for the Elite Division with the many proposed in-store promotions and commercials promoting the Southwest series in 2004. Vidovich thanked his sponsors (CARQUEST, Creative Touch Interiors, Ransom Brothers Lumber, No Fear, Sobe, SPY, PG Series Custom Trucks, Ron's Rear Ends, Wide World of Maps and Collision Repair Specialties), the Vidovich Racing Team, his Mom and Dad and family who all helped make the 2003 championship possible.

Vidovich, soon to be twenty-three next month, was also awarded the "most popular" driver in the Southwest Series for 2003. He won this award also in 2001, an award voted on by his series competitors and NASCAR members each year. Vidovich was pretty excited about the unexpected award.

Auggie Vidovich is the second driver from San Diego County to win the Southwest Series championship. In 1986 when Featherlite was introduced as the title sponsor of the Southwest Series, Lakeside resident Ron Esau won the inaugural championship. 2003 was the final year as title sponsor for Featherlite ending an 18-year relationship with NASCAR. "Kinda cool having the series start and end with Lakeside, CA winners. Something unique," replied Vidovich.

Having just won the prestigious Southwest Series championship in a year which began with racing on a race-by-race schedule due to sponsorship and funding, Vidovich hopes to keep his CARQUEST, Creative Touch, Ron's Rear Ends, Eibach Springs Chevrolet in the front all year while posting several wins for the season. Even though Vidovich completed the most laps in 2003 by any competitor in the series (1880 of 1882), he vows to improve and dig deeper in 2004 for the wins.

Friday, January 23, NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series Champion Auggie Vidovich is scheduled to meet the Phoenix fans and AutoZone store customers plus sign autographs from noon to 3pm at the AutoZone store at 8669 NW Grand Avenue in Peoria, AZ. Stop by and meet the champion and check out the #59 CARQUEST, Creative Touch, Ron's Rear Ends, Eibach Springs Chevrolet.

The 100-lap "Winter Heat 100" race takes the green at 12:00 noon PST, Sunday, January 25. For Tickets call (602)252-2227 or online at www.phoenixraceway.com.


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Drivers Auggie Vidovich , Austin Cameron