October 19th, Columbia, SC - Early this year, John Huffman and Dr. Jim Kasin locked themselves in their Columbia office and together made a profound decision that has reshaped the short track racing landscape in the southeast. The decision was...
October 19th, Columbia, SC - Early this year, John Huffman and Dr. Jim Kasin locked themselves in their Columbia office and together made a profound decision that has reshaped the short track racing landscape in the southeast. The decision was to create a short track racing sanctioning body, the American Racing Association, for weekly racers, and to create a regional touring series that would carry that banner from speedway to speedway. Ten months later, that effort has culminated with Robert Deal, a Modified driver competing at Florida Speed Park in St. Augustine, Florida, winning the inaugural ARA Weekly Racing Series National Championship.
Throughout the year, over 1,500 race teams competed in ARA-sanctioned weekly racing events at seven different speedways throughout the southeast. A points system giving extra weight to passing and higher car counts was implemented to increase the competition and create more exciting racing for fans. After eight gruelling months, Deal survived the ordeal leading an extremely competitive group of drivers to the top of the standings.
"This is awesome," says Deal. "I've been racing for years and years and years, and never raced for anything of this magnitude.
Deal's effort came down to a remarkable final evening in St. Augustine. Having charged from deep in the field to third place, Deal's motor began to come apart entering into the last lap.
"I told 'em on the radio and said it was burning down," recalls Deal. "They said 'burn it down,' so I did. I guess it was meant to be. If there had been another four or five laps I wouldnt've done it."
Shane Canipe, who competed at North Carolina's Hickory Motor Speedway and Tri-County Speedway in the Mini Stock division, led Deal heading into the final points weekend on October 14th. A strong Modified turnout and the addition of multiple points events to make up for a remarkable season-ending string of rainouts in St. Augustine, pushed Deal over the top by what turned out to be a comfortable 10-point margin. Second through sixth place was separated by a total of 10 points in the season-long competition.
"This is a remarkable collection of drivers in the ARA top 20," says the ARA's Louis Smith. "With as many teams that competed in these events throughout the season, the names on this list represent some pretty elite company. This is an honor they can all be proud of."
The top 20 drivers will share in a $50,000 points fund created for the inaugural running of the series. Deal stands to collect $15,000 as the champion's share, which will be awarded at the first annual ARA banquet on January 6th in Columbia.
Finishing in third and fourth place respectively were division rivals Wild Bill Ihrie and Kevin Eby, both Super Sport drivers at Hickory and Tri-County. Ihrie and Eby, as well as Marshall Sutton, who finished in 8th place, thrilled local fans throughout the closing weeks of the season with intense division battles. Donnie Oden, piloting a Late Model, leapfrogged from 13th to fifth place on the final night of racing in St. Augustine.
The ARA Kool Seal Short Track Challenge Series, a touring series featuring Late Model Stock Cars, had completed its season in early September with its 200 lap finale at Florida Speed Park. Greg Marlowe emerged as the touring series champion, beating out Frampton Ferguson, Kevin Piercy, Tom Pistone and Westley Huffman for the honors.
"I think it's fitting for Deal to have pulled this championship off," says Smith. "The ARA ran its inaugural event in St. Augustine in February, and it now lays claim to home of the inaugural ARA national champion. I know everybody there is very proud."
The ARA is expanding its Kool Seal Short Track Challenge, televised on southeastern Fox Sports Net affiliates, to 20 events in 2001, and is launching the ARA Southern Thunder Series, featuring Late Models prevalent in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, next year as well. The ARA Weekly Racing Series is expected to include up to 15 southeastern speedways next season.
<pre> ARA Weekly Racing Series 2001 Points Championship
1 Deal, Robert FSP / Modifieds 172.822 2 Canipe, Shane HMS / Mini Stocks 162.993 3 Ihrie, Wild Bill HMS / Super Sports 158.948 4 Eby, Kevin Tri-C / Super Sports 156.308 5 Oden, Donnie FSP / Late Model 154.493 6 Smith, David Tri-C / Cruisers 152.698 7 Perry, Kevin PSS / Mini Stocks 149.741 8 Sutton, Marshall HMS / Super Sports 148.527 9 Pilinko, Brad FSP / Hobby Stocks 142.170 10 Farris, Jay FSP / Mini Stocks 142.092 11 Manucy, Chris FSP / Hobby Stocks 141.694 12 Bean, Marty MMS / Pure Stocks 140.450 13 Cumby, Chuck FSP / Modifieds 140.232 14 Lewis, Dubby MMS / Super Stocks 139.751 15 Mills, James LPIR / Pony Stocks 134.410 16 Leth, Mickey FSP / Mini Stocks 133.744 17 Middlebrooks, Dewayne MMS / Super Late Model 131.657 18 Shore, Russell PSS / Mini Stocks 125.327 19 Lagasse Jr, Scott FSP/Late Models 124.008 20 Osteen, Larry FSP / Late Model 123.753