The country is filled with drivers who started racing on Friday and Saturday nights and built strong resumes. Their talent improved and so did their win totals. Discussions in local pit areas and grandstands centered on big-time NASCAR team owners who would be wise to take a look at so-and-so.
But good timing and opportunity are everything for the guys who have made it to the major leagues. And lack of good timing has held back a few thousand racers for every Joey Logano who got the chance to shine on stock car racing’s brightest stage.
Here are five men who have the ability to win at the Cup level, yet are still winning on grassroots short tracks. Many readers could supply their own names of stars that are worthy of rubbing fenders with Jeff Gordon. Here are the ones I have witnessed that stand out.
1. Ted Christopher, Plainville, Conn. ‘T.C.’ brings back memories of 50 years ago when drivers were not committed to only one type of race car. If there was a New England modified accomplishment that he has not reached, I would like to hear about it. Races and championships have been won in Tour Modifieds and SK Modifieds. Track titles have been achieved at legendary Stafford, Waterford and Thompson Speedways. Christopher has seen victory lane in midgets, supermodifieds and the former NASCAR North Tour. Hundreds of trophies have been brought home by him as well as the acknowledgement of the motorsports world.
2. Steve Carlson, West Salem, Wis. The 2007 NASCAR Weekly Series National Champion is representative of a generation that got caught in the time warp. When he was in his late 20s, he was too young to be considered for an upper level NASCAR ride. Years later, a young 21-year-old named Jeff Gordon changed the rules by running up front. Suddenly, team owners were looking for the next "young gun." And Carlson, in his early 30s, was now not what they were looking for. Big league racing’s loss is Wisconsin’s gain with his four ARTGO titles, five NASCAR Midwest Series crowns and six La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway championships.
3. Danny Lasoski, Dover, Mo. Cup racing is filled with drivers who have come from sprint car racing. "The Dude" is a strong talent that remains a force on the dirt tracks. Four Knoxville National wins, eight Knoxville track championships and a World of Outlaws title spell Hall of Fame for anybody. Lasoski competed four years in the IROC Series and he defeated some of the best in the country in April of 2004 at Texas Motor Speedway. The question remains "what if he had accepted a full-time NASCAR touring series ride?"
4. Mike Stefanik, Coventry, R.I. The modified veteran accomplished many things in his career in terms of race wins and championships. An impressive feat stands out. He won titles for two separate NASCAR Series in the same season. And he did it two years in a row. In 1997 and 1998 Stefanik raised the trophy in the Modified and Busch North Tours simultaneously. Four championships in two seasons are Jimmie Johnson-like accomplishments. His resume is filled with race wins and titles including an additional five Modified crowns. And he was the Truck Series rookie-of-the-year in 1999 for good measure. One more skilled racer benefiting the grassroots fans.
5. Billy Pauch, Frenchtown, N.J. Primarily a dirt track ace in the northeast, he is one of the most versatile winners in short track racing. He has over 600 feature event checkered flags in multiple divisions. Pauch claimed big block and small block modified wins, as well as winged and non-winged sprint car wins on dirt, and modified and late model races on pavement all in the same year. Ray Evernham was impressed enough to recommend Pauch for Richard Childress’ Truck Series operation in the late 1990s.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR mechanic who co-hosts the One and Done auto racing radio talk show Tuesdays at 11am ET. Listen at www.wsicweb.com.)
Gordon Vegas Tire Gamble
Future NASCAR stars
RCR rises at Fontana
Five NASCAR Myths
Daytona 500 track analysis
Best Daytona 500 Finishes
I Prefer The Busch Clash
A Few Moments with Ned Jarrett
Steve Waid looking forward
NASCAR Scene closes
Best Cup races of the 2000s
Top grassroots races
Biggest disappointments of 2009
The races that won Johnson’s title
Best Cup titles
Why the Sprint Cup needs a dirt race
Fan fixes for Talladega and why they won’t work
How to improve NASCAR
The perfect Sprint Cup schedule