Perhaps one of the most underrated racing tours in the U.S. today is the 56-year old ARCA Re/Max series. Known for its competitiveness, diverse schedule, and ability to produce future Sprint Cup stars, this series is one of the best options for fans who love old school racing. Today, Frontstretch will provide a 2008 season preview which will cover the drivers behind the wheel, events on the schedule and rule changes so you’re ready and raring to go for the year ahead.
The offseason certainly did not provide any off time for several members of the ARCA circuit, as many of the drivers changed teams, and teams themselves changed names. Perhaps the most notable Silly Season move involved Frank Kimmel, who will no longer pilot Larry Clement’s familiar No. 46 Ford – the team which Kimmel won nine ARCA championships with. Instead, the veteran has partnered with Cunningham Motorsports to form Kimmel Racing, and will now drive the No. 44 Dodge Charger. Taking Kimmel’s place in the vaunted No. 46 is rookie Matt Carter, son of longtime Sprint Cup crew chief Travis Carter.
Speaking of rookies, expect all eyes to be on Alli Owens, the 19-year-old NASCAR late model graduate who will be attempting a full season in Mario Gosselin’s No. 12 Chevrolet. On the other end of the age scale, 73-year-old James Hylton is returning to run the Daytona ARCA 200 one more time this weekend. It seems like the new definition of “retirement” in NASCAR refers to running part-time, which is giving this likable veteran a new lease on his racing career. Hylton will be running for E&M Motorsports, carrying the No. 48 that he made famous.
Making a comeback of another sort is Bobby Gerhart, who climbs back into the driver’s seat after a season-ending injury at Pocono last August. Reports say that the Lebanon, Pa. native has been rehabbing four to five times a week, which has allowed him to return to what has to be his favorite racetrack – Daytona International Speedway. This weekend, Gerhart will attempt to record his sixth career victory and fourth in a row at the famed 2.5-mile speedway.
Rolling into DIS this February along with him are some recognizable teams with some new names. Are you wondering where “Country Joe Racing” went? Well, the No. 32 car is still on the track, but under new management with a new name: “Win-Tron Racing.” Driving duties of this car will be split between Dominick Casola and James Buescher throughout the upcoming year. Another well-known name, Brewco Motorsports – who finished sixth in the driver standings with Phillip McGilton – has changed ownership and will now be called Baker-Curb Racing. The team will begin the 2008 season with driver Brad Baker.
Switching gears from drivers and teams to the tracks they will be competing on, ARCA fans can look forward to perhaps the best schedule the series has run on in quite some time. Featuring one of the most diverse lineups in auto racing, the ARCA Re/Max series will once again tackle superspeedways such as Daytona, Talladega and Pocono; intermediate tracks like Michigan and Kentucky; short-track racing on the likes of Toledo and Salem; and dirt tracks such as the Illinois and DuQuoin State Fairgrounds. As if that those venues did not provide enough variety, for the first time since 2001, the series has added a road-course event, which will be held at the brand-new 2.3-mile New Jersey Motorsports Park road course. That’s not the only new track on the schedule; team members will have to obtain their passports soon, as this June they will travel north of the border for the inaugural event at the Cayuga Speedway in Ontario, Canada. But perhaps the most widely anticipated race, however, will be the 500-kilometer event at the Rockingham Speedway this May. Former ARCA competitor and current team owner Andy Hillenburg purchased the defunct speedway last November, and will bring the track back to life with the most competitive stock car series this spring.
While fans eagerly anticipate some of the new races on the schedule, the classic events still remain some of the most popular. For the 45th time, ARCA returns to Daytona this weekend for the annual season-opener. Qualifying for this year’s race will be just a bit easier for the entry list of 72 drivers now that the sanctioning body increased the field from 41 to 43. One reason for the popularity of this event is the usual influx of development drivers, and this year is no different. The 2008 list of would-be participants include Chip Ganassi’s Dario Franchitti, Landon Cassill driving for Rick Hendrick, Roush Fenway Racing prospect Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Bill Davis Racing’s Michael Annett, who won the ARCA event at Talladega last fall.
Finally, finding information about the series has never been easier. New in 2008 is The Pit Lane, reporting all the latest news in rumors about the series. Did you know that the series is instituting the “Lucky Dog” rule this season? You would have if you were up to speed on The Pit Lane news. Race Talk Radio will once again feature ARCA Thunder presented by the Rockingham Speedway, a weekly show airing Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m.; and as always, www.arcaracing.com will also keep you up to date on everything ARCA-related. Check it out its new format, which will feature for the first time timing and scoring for all track sessions. And of course, continue visiting Frontstretch for all your NASCAR-related news; for 2008, that will include those items related to the ARCA Re/Max series.