Kevin Rutherford · Friday August 2, 2013
Third generation NASCAR drivers aren’t complete rarities, but are still an exciting continuation in NASCAR tradition. Familiar names often prevail in the sport, as families such as Earnhardt, Blaney, Burton and Labonte send drivers from different eras entirely through the sport’s ranks, solidifying a dynasty of sorts that lasts well through multiple decades.
On Saturday, one family will continue its own legacy, with its fifth driver — and first of its third generation — making his NASCAR national series debut.
The Sauter family traces its NASCAR history back to 1980, when Jim Sauter made his Winston Cup debut. Sauter, 37 at the time, drove a RahMoc Enterprises Chevrolet in the National 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, finishing dead last after engine failure 33 laps in.
Sauter proceeded to become an occasional driver in the Cup Series, with his biggest season coming in 1989, when he drove in 17 of the 29 scheduled races and finished in the top 10 twice. He also had intermittent starts in the Nationwide and Truck series, driving a Richard Childress-prepared truck to a 10th-place finish at Michigan in 1999, at age 56.
It’s Sauter’s grandson that will carry on the family tradition with a NASCAR start this Saturday, as Travis Sauter pilots Joe Nemechek’s No. 87 in the US Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway while Nemechek drives in the Cup race at Pocono.
Travis is the son of Tim Sauter, a longtime NASCAR competitor in his own right. Though he only managed two Cup starts in his career, Tim maintained a lengthy Busch/Nationwide run, making his son’s debut in the series all the sweeter. In 111 series starts, Tim’s best season came in 2002, scoring seven top-10 finishes for AP Performance Racing’s No. 19.
But while Travis would do well to live up to his father’s statistics, it’s his uncles that have brought the brunt of the success to the Sauter name.
Jay Sauter also made only two Cup starts in his career, but added to that a decent Busch/Nationwide career that involved four top-five and 23 top-10 finishes from 2000 to 2007. However, his best results came in the Craftsman Truck Series, where he won four times in just three years of full-time competition. All of this was done in the late ’90s, driving for Richard Childress’s black and white No. 3 Goodwrench team, never finishing lower than sixth in the overall standings.
Of course, it’s the Sauter family’s most successful — and longest-lasting — NASCAR driver that Travis will likely hope to emulate, should he want a healthy NASCAR career.
The current driver of Thorsport Racing’s No. 98 in the Camping World Truck Series, Johnny Sauter, Travis’s uncle, was once touted as one with a bright future ahead of him. He immediately found success with Richard Childress in the Busch Series, finishing fifth in his debut and winning three times between 2002 and 2005. More recently, he’s become a favorite in the Truck Series, with eight wins since 2009 and a runner-up finish in the 2011 points standings.
Not that Travis may have much trouble doing that. Though there’s obviously many unknowns heading into his first NASCAR start, Sauter famously won the 2012 Howie Lettow Memorial 150 at Milwaukee, defeating Rusty Wallace and Matt Kenseth in the process. He followed up the win with a second-place finish in this year’s edition, losing to Kyle Busch and beating his uncle Johnny by one spot.
Given Nemco Motorsports’ decent-but-not-great standing in the series, it’s tough to imagine Sauter contending for a victory in his first race. But with just one Cup driver — Brad Keselowski — entered, the race at Iowa Speedway this weekend is as good a time as any to show one’s prowess in much less of a stacked field.
Sauter’s just one of three — Ryan Gifford and Richard Harriman joining him — that are making their Nationwide debut this week; as such, it’s possible he could get lost in the hubbub of other debuts and part-time drivers looking for big results in a non-companion race.
But when it comes to family ties and tradition, you won’t do much better this weekend than Travis Sauter’s NASCAR debut. Keep an eye on him.
Looking Ahead: Iowa
Stats (Entered Drivers)
Most Wins: Elliott Sadler, Trevor Bayne, Brad Keselowski (1)
Most Top Fives: Elliott Sadler (5)
Most Top 10s: Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier (5)
Most Poles: Elliott Sadler (3)
Entered Past Winners: Elliott Sadler, Trevor Bayne, Brad Keselowski
Top Average Finish: Brad Keselowski (2.7, 3 starts), Elliott Sadler (2.8, 5), Kyle Larson (5.0, 1), Regan Smith (7.0, 1), Sam Hornish Jr. (10.8, 4)
Iowa Nationwide Debuts: Richard Harriman, Brett Butler, Ryan Gifford, Danny Efland, Travis Sauter
Season Nationwide Debuts: Richard Harriman, Ryan Gifford, Travis Sauter
Series Nationwide Debuts: Richard Harriman, Ryan Gifford, Travis Sauter
Connect with Kevin!
Contact Kevin Rutherford
©2000 - 2008 Kevin Rutherford and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!