There’s something you notice when you go to the track – any track. It doesn’t happen when you park your car, apparently even the biggest and brightest facilities don’t bother landscaping the parking lots. But as soon as you approach the grandstands it stares you in the face. Either you’re looking at new pavement, bright flags and glittering aluminum and steel stands, or you’re checking for splinters on the handrails, bench seats and how far it is to the porta-pottie. I’m talking about money.
This week, for the second time in three years, a developmental driver in the Camping World East Series won the championship. Ryan Truex, just 17 years old, grabbed the title on Friday at Dover International Speedway, edging out Eddie MacDonald by just 34 points. There’s no doubt Ryan is talented. He tucked four victories under his belt this year and finished in the top 10 for eight out of 11 races. Those are killer stats. The kind that makes somebody in the big-time sit up and take notice.
Somebody needs to run out and sign that boy up! Oh, wait. Somebody already did.
Ryan blazed his way through the season sporting a driver’s suit, unlike his closest competitors, adorned with a plethora of sponsors and a familiar blue tinge to it. Truex is but the latest driver to reap the rewards of landing a developmental deal with a Cup level stable before he was barely legal to race in NASCAR’s regional series. Michael Waltrip Racing took Truex under its wing and gave this racer the kind of support very few teams at this level enjoy.
But I have to wonder… are we crowning a champion because he is the most amazing driver on the circuit, or are we handing trophies to the teams that bring the most toys to the track?
Joey Logano ran away with the East trophy two years ago, sitting behind the wheel of a suspiciously familiar Gibbs No. 18 for the entire season. While the youngster earned the title of “Sliced Bread” during his meteoric rise through the ranks, there was more than one comment about a monkey’s ability to achieve the same results with the same equipment.
I’m beginning to feel as if I’m no longer discovering unknown talent by following this regional series, but instead, I’m being prepared for the arrival of the next pre-ordained NASCAR star. Truex already has Nationwide races lined up for 2010. Would you like to place a bet on how many years it will take this future prince of the track to accept a Cup ride?
I guess I’m just an idealist. I want to believe that the Eddie MacDonalds of this world, driving for an all-volunteer team, are capable of garnering the kind of interest and support that is required to make the leap to the next level in this sport. However, the realist in me is wondering if that opportunity has gone the way of the buffalo.
Not every driver worthy of our adoration drives a car with a fancy paint job and arrives at the track in a kick-ass hauler. Sometimes they’re hiding right under our thumbs, sitting in a small, white trailer with a beat-up toolbox nearby. I just wish we could see them through all the bright lights glittering around those that have already been “chosen.”
Congratulations to Ryan Truex and his team!
Good luck to those hoping to make it to the big show one day. You are going to need it!