Pendleton, Indiana (Wednesday, November 28, 2001) - To the average fan, looking at the 2001 rookie class and their results for the season would look pretty typical. Then you add in rookie sensation Johnny Sauter, and the 2001 Pat Schauer Memorial...
Pendleton, Indiana (Wednesday, November 28, 2001) - To the average fan, looking at the 2001 rookie class and their results for the season would look pretty typical. Then you add in rookie sensation Johnny Sauter, and the 2001 Pat Schauer Memorial Rookie of the Year class accomplished more than any other. The totals look pretty good. All together, rookies collected 10 wins, 25 top fives, 37 top 10s and led 2,360 laps.
But outside of Sauter's Rookie of the Year and National Championship, many of the other rookie contenders had very successful rookie years, led by veteran short track driver Mike Cope, who was the preseason favorite to win Rookie honors.
Bad racing luck and bad decisions kept Cope out of the top 10 until the season's fifth race. This was a hard pill for the veteran to swallow after his practice run at ASA in 2000, one that netted him a runner up finish at the Milwaukee Mile. Cope finally b roke through at the April Hawkeye Downs Speedway race in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, notching his first top-five of the 2001 season. Several more races of successful runs led up the Florida driver to Nashville Speedway USA, the high-banked, high-action short track that Cope had seen plenty of time on.
After starting 23rd, the veteran moved his way up and came up just short of his first career ASA win, capturing second after a great battle with fellow rookie Sauter.
"We struggled early, we had a lot of mechanical problems stupid rookie stuff happening," said Cope. "But after we got going, our qualifying efforts got better and we got on track. Outside from winning race like we were used to, we had a typical rookie seas on. It wasn't something that any of us expected.
"I don't feel that bad with where we finished in the points," added Cope. "I mean, we were best in class, the (number) 9 car (Johnny Sauter) was just in his own class all year long. And it wasn't that we just got spanked. I mean, the very best racers in t he country got spanked this year. Everyone was second in class this year."
Cope's season finished strong, with several more top-fives and top 10s, including a dominating afternoon at Winchester Speedway, where he once again narrowly missed his first career win, coming home second for the third time in his ASA career.
In 20 races and 20 starts, six-time track champion Johnny Spaw showed some flashes of brilliance, while suffering through typical rookie mistakes and troubles on the way to a third-place in the rookie standings and a fitting 13th in the overall points. The Iowa driver looked very strong in California, but an accident with a lapped car put him at the back, the same thing that would happen when ASA visited his home track in Cedar Rapids. The one-mile Chicago Motor Speedway finally saw Spaw break into the top- 10, coming home eighth.
Spaw had the weekend to remember in ASA's return to Madison International Speedway in Madison, Wisconsin. After being fastest all afternoon long in practice, Spaw held the provisional pole before ultimately starting second. Spaw never dropped out of the to p 10 before coming home eighth, his best finish of they year.
Unfortunately for former Goody's Dash Series driver Ricky Bryant, his year started off bad, failing to qualify his Washington Apples Pontiac for the season opener in St. Augustine. Bryant struggled all season long, especially with his qualifying efforts, o ften having to run in the 100-lap qualifying races or use provisional spots to make the field. The season turned around for the North Carolina driver in his home state, at Concord Motorsport Park, where he came "oh-so-close" to his first top-10 finish in A SA competition. Despite two qualifying efforts in the top 10 late in the year, the only time Bryant saw the top-10 was in July at Berlin Raceway in Marne (MI).
"It was tough, a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be," said Bryant. "The amount of money that is took compared to what I thought it was going to take was totally wrong. It was really competitive. I couldn't believe how hard it was to race competi tively with these guys. These are the toughest short track racers in the country. But I enjoyed the series. The professionalism was unbelievable. From the get go, it was just amazing. Being a new guy, it made me feel like a part of the group. I had some u neasiness about the first time we were there."
The young and inexperienced Wisconsin native Chris Wimmer was the only other rookie to attempt to make all 20 events in 2001, and qualify for all 20 he did. In fact, the rookie brother to 2000 rookie and two-time race winner Scott Wimmer, was the early sea son rookie points leader, capturing five consecutive top-15 finishes to open the season, including two ninth place finishes at USA International Speedway in Lakeland (FL) and Hawkeye Downs Speedway. Another ninth-place finish at Nashville Speedway USA woul d pretty much end Wimmer's successful rookie run, as the next 12 events resulted in missed opportunities and failed runs.
"It was a tough, tough year," said Wimmer. "A lot of our problems wasn't anyone's fault, it was just mechanical issues and gremlins that we were facing. So that made the season tough, especially after such a strong start."
To the end of the season, Wimmer recorded only one more top-10 finish, coming close to home at Madison, and only two other finishes even inside the top-20. The rest of the year's events saw the 22-year-old fall victim of accidents or several mechanical pro blems.
"The long races were the toughest thing to get accustomed to in ASA," said Wimmer. "Everyone ran so hard lap after lap. They never took a break, even in the middle of the race. That was just a shocker to me."
Another North Carolina hot shoe, Matt Sielsky, was looking to be one of the most promising rookies of 2001. Unfortunately, things didn't work out and the team failed to make the trip for the season's final few races.
Sielsky, outside of Sauter' accomplishments, may have had one of the most impressive rookie experiences of 2001. At Concord, the rookie wrecked very hard while racing in the qualifying race, destroying the car. After making it into the field via a points p rovisional, Sielsky, who could barely walk and suffered a case of vertigo due to the accident, and the team prepared the backup and recorded their only top-10 of the season, brining the car home ninth after being upfront for much of the event.
"Big" John Silverthorne made 15 starts in his rookie season, and while the Texas-native failed to finish in the top-10, he steadily improved all season long, finishing as high as 17th on three occasions. It was a steady improvement for the driver who faile d to make 14 of the 18 events he attempted in 2000.
Scott Fraser, who was the other preseason favorite for rookie of the year honors, made only 13 starts in his rookie year, and, what was one of the most cursed rookie seasons in ASA history, collected eight DNFs.
He started the season out on the right foot, collecting three top-five finishes in the season's first four races, and another top-10 soon after, but his season went quickly downhill. Fraser suffered more mechanical problems or was caught up in accidents mo re than any other driver in 2001. Fraser's last event came at Chicago, where, after qualifying on the second row and running up front for much of the event, an accident after spinning on some oil destroyed the car and cut the Canadian's season short. The t eam returned later in the season, but both outings resulted in rearend issues knocking them out of competition.
Francesco Gaudesi had a rookie season to remember, and most of the highlights will be remembered what happened off the track than his on track performance. Gaudesi, a native New Yorker, made 12 starts in 2001, one of which came at Berlin Raceway. During th at race, where he finished 25, Gaudesi had an off-track excursion that made national television audiences laugh, when he took out the inflatable Texas Roadhouse Armadillo in the second corner. Gaudesi's best finish of 2001 came at Winchester Speedway, wher e he came home 16th.
Gaudesi's other notoriety came off-track, when the New Yorker was affected with the rest of the country during the September 11 terrorist attacks. Gaudesi, whose several business ventures include a demolition company, became a front man in the cleanup help , using both his demolition business and restaurants to help the cleanup efforts.