The Camping World Truck Series rolls into Kansas this weekend and celebrates a milestone. The O’Reilly Auto Parts 250 marks the 400th race since the series was first dreamed up in 1994. Born from an idea and a “we’ll give it a try” attitude, the Truck Series has turned into more than anyone could have imagined 16 years ago.
After a four-race demonstration series was held at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, CA, a 20-race scheduled was released for the first ever Truck Series season. The inaugural race was held February 5, 1995 at Phoenix International Raceway, where Mike Skinner, behind the wheel of the GM Goodwrench Service Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, beat out Terry Labonte to claim his first of 28 career victories.
Fast forward to the 2011 season, and the Truck Series is still going strong. From seasoned veterans to new rookies learning their way around the tracks on NASCAR’s schedule, the series features several teams and a large variety of ages. While some drivers have attempted to move elsewhere in NASCAR and landed back in the Truck Series to race competitively, others are just getting their careers started.
And only one person in the Truck Series garage can say they’ve been around for all of the 399 races to date: Chris Showalter. Since joining the series in 1995 as shock specialist for Butch Miller, Showalter has worked in several different positions from crew chief to tire changer with 20 different drivers, including Travis Kvapil during his 2003 championship campaign. And Showalter finds himself at home right where he is–at the track week after week for the last 16 years.
“I think it says a lot that the series is so strong that we are celebrating 400 starts and that I have not had the desire to go do anything else,” Showalter said. “The Truck Series kind of reminded me of our Saturday night down-home racing that I grew up doing. It’s grassroots. We ran the shorter tracks in the beginning and it just seemed like a home for me.”
And there are certainly moments in his career that stand out more to Showalter than others.
“Winning at Mansfield (Motorsports Park) in 2004 with Jack Sprague is special to me for personal reasons. I grew up about 30 minutes from the track,” he said. “So to grow up dreaming of racing, leaving town to follow my dreams and then come back and win the inaugural race was just amazing.”
Since that special win in 2004, Showalter has five more wins to his credit with three different drivers. Still serving as crew chief for Jack Sprague in 2005 at Xpress Motorsports, the two visited victory lane at Texas Motor Speedway, and two years later, Showalter tacked on a win–Mansfield again–with Morgan Dollar Motorsports (now Randy Moss Motorsports) as truck chief for driver Dennis Setzer. Fast forward a couple years to the 2009 season, and Showalter found himself as truck chief for Mike Skinner where the pairing scored three wins and a third-place finish in the points.
Today, Showalter remains at Randy Moss Motorsports where he’s truck chief for Travis Kvapil in what can only be called a disappointing season. After scaling back to a minimal schedule to pursue a full-time career in the Sprint Cup Series, Kvapil was expected to run well, yet he hasn’t scored a single top-10 finish in seven starts this season. In fact, his best finish–11th–came just two weeks ago at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
*Milestones in the Truck Series*
Through the years, the Truck Series has grown tremendously from its roots. Here’s a look at just a few of the many special moments that have happened throughout the last 399 starts. The list is by no means all-inclusive and touches on just a few of the important moments since 1995.
*Closest Finish Ever*
In its inaugural year, the Truck Series lived up to the current day expectations of tight racing and close finishes. The 1995 Total Petroleum 200 saw Butch Miller, driving the No. 98 Raybestos Ford, edge Mike Skinner by a slim 0.0001 seconds in what can only be called a photo finish. You can see the last lap of the race including the margin of victory at the 25 second mark in “this clip”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kmMzCofhj0. As it turned out, the victory was the only one for Miller in 145 series starts.
*First Rookie to Win a Race*
On March 16, 1997, the late Kenny Irwin, Jr. became the first Rookie of the Year contender to win in the Truck Series. Irwin scored the victory in the Florida Dodge Dealers 400K in only his eighth career start. Sadly the young driver’s life was cut short when he was the victim of a stuck throttle during a practice session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2000, just two months after Adam Petty was killed in nearly the exact same spot on the track.
*First Two-Time Champion Crowned*
On November 8, 1998, Ron Hornaday, Jr. became the first driver in the Truck Series to score a second championship. With six wins in 27 starts, Hornaday, Jr. finished second to Jack Sprague in the final race of the season and edged Sprague by just three points in the standings that year. Sprague went on to score his second championship the following season, but since then Hornaday, Jr. has tacked on a couple trophies and holds the current series record of four championships.
*Three Drivers Duke it Out for Championship*
Entering the final race of the 1999 season at California Speedway, three drivers–Greg Biffle, Jack Sprague and Dennis Setzer–found themselves separated by just 25 points when the green flag flew. But it was Jack Sprauge who came out on top after winning the NAPA Auto Parts 200 and his second career championship–he edged Biffle by just eight points.
*First Rookie to Win Back-to-Back Races*
On July 8, 2000, Kurt Busch became the first rookie driver to win back-to-back races in the Truck Series. Behind the wheel of the No. 99 Ford for Roush Racing (now Roush Fenway Racing), Busch visited Victory Lane for his first career victory at the Milwaukee Mile and followed it up with another win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Later, Busch joined the Sprint Cup Series behind the wheel for Roush Racing where he stayed until leaving the team for Penske Racing at the end of the 2005 season. Busch remains behind the wheel of the No. 22 for the team today.
*Toyota Joins the Series*
In February, 2003, NASCAR and Toyota joined together for a special announcement. Starting with the 2004 season, Toyota would join the Truck Series with the Tundra thanks to its assembly line in Indiana. It was July 31, 2004 when Travis Kvapil took Toyota to victory lane for the first time at Michigan International Speedway. Since joining the series seven years ago, Toyota has racked up 86 wins–including six this season in seven races–and six manufacturers’ championships.
*Double File Restarts Introduced*
In just a few short months after the Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series began using double-file restarts, the Truck Series began using them in the 2010 season. Having used the previous standard of restarting with lap-down trucks inside the lead lap drivers since the series began in 1995, the slower vehicles often got in the way and likely affected the outcome of at least a few races. Since the 2010 season began with only lead lap drivers up front for each restart, fans have been treated to several exciting finishes that would most likely have turned out differently had there been lap-down vehicles in the way.
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