Menard's Darlington scheme gives honor to Al Unser Jr.
RELATED: Buy Darlington tickets " '16 throwback schemes CONCORD, N.C. -- When Valvoline officials queried NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Paul Menard about his racing heroes, the first name on the list was Al Unser Jr. So Menard couldn't be more pleased that the Valvoline-themed throwback paint scheme he will run in this year's Bojangles' Southern 500 pays tribute to Unser Jr.'s lone NASCAR premier series start. Menard's Richard Childress Racing No. 27 Chevrolet will carry the gray, orange and black color scheme used by Unser Jr. for the 1993 Daytona 500 with sponsor Valvoline featured on the hood when the series travels to Darlington Raceway for the annual Labor Day weekend classic. "Little Al's first NASCAR race was the Daytona 500 in 1993," Menard said earlier this week as preparations for the unveiling of the paint scheme got underway. "The partnership with Valvoline this year -- we got to talking earlier about who some of my racing heroes were and Al Jr. was right away, even without the Valvoline relationship. I've always been a huge fan of his. He was the guy in IndyCar that I always pulled for." Menard said he met the former open-wheel champion and two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 "when I was probably 12." "I remember; he probably doesn't," Menard continued. "But I pulled up (this morning) … and he was standing out in the parking lot. We were out there talking probably 10 or 15 minutes, just about the '93 (Daytona) 500, his autocross stuff that he's doing now, just talking about a little bit of racing." Unser Jr. was carrying the Valvoline colors in 1992 when he won his first Indy 500 title. Already a NASCAR sponsor, Valvoline wanted additional branding in '93 to promote its line of synthetic products, particularly for that year's Daytona 500. And the Daytona 500 just happened to be on Unser Jr.'s bucket list. "There were special races that I wanted to race in my career," Unser Jr. said. "The Indy 500, the Daytona 500, the Daytona 24 Hours and Le Mans. Those are the ones that I really wanted to run as a kid. "The Indy 500 is really where my heart is so we'd been doing that. But yeah, I wanted to run the Daytona 500 sometime during my career and it was just a blessing when Valvoline called me up and said, 'You know, we'd like to do this down in Daytona. Would you like to do it?' "I said, 'Of course I would. It's got to be with a great team.' "They said, 'We've contacted Hendrick Motorsports,' and I go, 'Awesome.' " At that time, the Hendrick organization consisted of three teams with drivers Ken Schrader , Ricky Rudd and rookie Jeff Gordon. The addition of Unser Jr. made it a four-team effort for the series' most notable race. A crash during the second of two twin qualifying races three days before the 500, however, cost Unser Jr. his primary entry and he wound up racing Schrader's backup Chevrolet Lumina. Instead of a gray, orange and black paint scheme, Unser Jr.'s race-day car was white with the Valvoline branding on the hood and across the rear quarter panels. A crash with less that 50 laps remaining took Unser Jr. out of contention, and he finished 36th. When told that Menard and Valvoline were bringing the original paint scheme back to the track for the Darlington throwback weekend, Unser said he was "just overwhelmed." "Mainly because this was just a one off," he said, "not a traditional kind of car with a lot of running behind it, a lot of heritage to it. So when they contacted me and said they were thinking about doing this throwback at Darlington … it was a true blessing." Menard praised Valvoline for not only bringing back the paint scheme, but for the company's long involvement in auto racing. "The brand is iconic in our sport," he said. "You pick out right away where that Valvoline car is on the race track, whether it's a stock car race or IndyCar races, NHRA. They're always around the sport. They have a huge racing legacy and I'm proud to be a part of it." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Schrader wins first heat, will start on Pole
Ken Schrader wins the first heat race and will start on the Pole at Eldora Speedway.
Schrader won't let age slow his racing days
The 59-year-old has run 14 races in just 23 days
Return to Martinsville joins past, future for Wood Brothers
Photo credit: Eddie Wood/Wood Brothers. Glen Wood stands next to his first NASCAR Grand National car, a 1953 Lincoln, at Martinsville Speedway on May 17, 1953 – his first NASCAR start. It's a home game for the Wood Brothers. But the April 3 STP 500 (1 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is a home game the Wood Brothers haven't experienced as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team with a single driver since Ken Schrader filled the seat of the vaunted No. 21 Ford in 2006. We're talking about Martinsville, of course, the shortest track on the Sprint Cup circuit at 0.526 miles, the closest to the Wood Brothers' family home in Stuart, Virginia, and the next race on the Sprint Cup schedule. "It's a huge thing," says NASCAR Hall of Fame crew chief Leonard Wood, who co-founded NASCAR's most venerable organization with brother, driver and fellow Hall of Famer Glen Wood. "We look forward to going to Martinsville. We used to run over there and have a lot of fun." The Wood Brothers last competed at Martinsville in 2011, when Trevor Bayne 's unexpected victory in the season-opening Daytona 500 gave the family-owned team the wherewithal to run more races than originally planned. The Woods' last trip to the paper-clip-shaped track before Bayne's 35th-place run was with veteran driver Bill Elliott in 2008. This year, they return to the track with Sunoco Rookie of the Year hopeful Ryan Blaney , a 22-year-old who has never driven a Sprint Cup car at Martinsville, though he does have five NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races under his belt there. Blaney appreciates the significance Martinsville holds within his organization. "It's really a home race for those guys, and almost for me, too," Blaney said. "I grew up in High Point, North Carolina, an hour away from Martinsville, and I vividly remember every Martinsville race I went to, watched my dad ( Dave Blaney ) run it. "And it's really neat to go back and bring the Wood Brothers back there and have them in their hometown and home state. Hopefully, we'll see a bunch of Wood Brothers fans out there. I think we will." Obviously, Leonard Wood’s memory is a bit longer than Blaney's, dating to the days in the early 1950s when Martinsville was still a dirt half-mile. In 1953, Glen Wood raced there for the first time at NASCAR's highest level in a '53 Lincoln. "It had power steering on it, and the power steering was so easy that we had to mark the steering wheel, because, when the track was wet, it was so smooth you couldn't feel it," Leonard Wood says. In 1959, Glen Wood won the pole at Martinsville with a lap at 69.471 mph, a track record at the time. All told, Glen won four poles there, though he never won a race in NASCAR's premier division. In fact, the only two Martinsville victories recorded by the Wood Brothers in 109 starts came with NASCAR Hall of Famers Cale Yarborough (1968) and David Pearson (1973) behind the wheel. When Blaney completes his 22nd lap at the .526-mile track on April 3, it will mark 45,000 laps in Cup competition at Martinsville for the Wood Brothers. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Thanks to the beneficence of track founder Clay Earles, the Woods spent countless hours testing there. Leonard recalls one instance where Glen was testing the team's "back-seat car," a 1937 Ford with both the engine and driver's seat moved radically toward the rear of the car. Glen though the car needed a bigger spindle on the right front. From observing the car on the track, Leonard wasn't so sure. "So I climbed in and rode with him around the track at Martinsville" Leonard says. "He is just flying through the corners, and it felt like there's about 10 tons of pressure on the right front. It was getting so much grip that I was just holding on, like it was trying to throw me right out the window. "I'm trying to get him to slow down. He can't hear me. Finally we came to a stop. And I said, 'Glen, you need a bigger spindle on that right front.'" Blaney's experience clearly is a lot more limited, and he's not sure racing the trucks at Martinsville will be all that helpful, even though he posted fifth-place finishes in his last three starts. "I think there are some things you can take away from running the Truck races," Blaney said, "but I think there's a reason why the Cup guys don't normally run both of them. For one thing, it's really hard on your body. And, two, I hear it kind of messes them up when they run both, trying to be consistent between the two cars. "There are probably some things we can take away, and I'm looking forward to learning and everything like that, but there's not a lot that you can take away." Though Blaney readily admits Martinsville hasn't been one of his best tracks, he credits crew chief Jeremy Bullins with helping to retool his attitude. "Last year, when we announced the full-time deal, I said 'Martinsville's the one place I’m not looking forward to,' and he persuaded me (otherwise)," Blaney said. "And now I'm looking forward to going to Martinsville, and I want to go real bad. "So it's nice to have someone that can motivate you." Doubtless, on April 3, there will be a large contingent of fans in the grandstands trying to amplify that support. After all, it's a home game for the Wood Brothers—and by extension and proximity, for Blaney, too.
Wood Brothers going full time in 2016
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Wood Brothers Racing , one of the longest tenured teams competing in NASCAR's premier series, will return to full-time competition beginning in 2016. Officials with the team and Ford Motor Co. made the announcement Friday afternoon at Homestead-Miami Speedway , site of this weekend's Ford EcoBoost 400 (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM) season-ending event. Ryan Blaney will handle the driving duties, embarking upon his first full season after making 15 starts for the team this year heading into Sunday's race. Weather issues kept the team from attempting to qualify at Daytona, Kentucky and Chicago earlier this year. "These are the guys that made it happen, Ford Motor Company," co-team owner Eddie Wood said. "It is just a lot of people that have been working on this for a long time and we are really proud of our association and heritage with Ford Motor Company. We have been racing Ford Motor Company products for 65 years and we are really looking forward to next year and getting started with that." The team will continue to have a technical alliance with Team Penske , which fields Sprint Cup entries for drivers Joey Logano and 2012 champion Brad Keselowski . "It is what you dream of as a kid," Blaney, 21, said. "I have been fortunate enough to get great opportunities and meet great people being with Team Penske in 2012 which led to the Wood Brothers this year and then beyond for next year. "Obviously it is a little overwhelming right now … knowing what is going to come but I am excited for it. I don't get excited about a lot of things and maybe I don't show it but I am really excited about this program for next year and having the opportunity." It will be the first time since 2008 that the Wood Brothers organization, founded by team owner Glen Wood in 1953, has attempted to run the entire NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. That season, three drivers -- Bill Elliott , Marcos Ambrose and Jon Wood -- split the driving duties, although Johnny Sauter made one attempt, failing to qualify at Las Vegas. The last full season with a single-driver for the team came in 2006 with veteran Ken Schrader . "We were in Pocono … testing for the Pocono race on May 28, 2008," Wood said. "At about noon that day Mr. Ford called me looking for a phone number. I hadn't talked to him in a while and he said, 'I haven't heard from you in a while, why haven't you called?' I told him we had been running so poorly that I had really just been ashamed. He says, 'So, you are saying this 21 is broken?' and I said, ‘Yeah, it is broken right now.' "So he said we were going to see about that, that we would fix that. From that day until now, it has been just like this. He put some things in motion that started to help like increased engineering and just more of everything. There were some Ford Motor Company people that … moved in with us and helped get us straightened out and three years later we win the Daytona 500 (with driver Trevor Bayne ). You can never give up." Wood Brothers entries have visited Victory Lane 98 times, sixth most among active teams and seventh overall. The list of drivers who have won for the team includes NASCAR Hall of Fame members Wood, Curtis Turner (a 2016 inductee), Cale Yarborough, David Pearson and Dale Jarrett. Leonard Wood, younger brother of Glen and crew chief for the majority of the team's victories, is also in the Hall of Fame. Despite often running a limited schedule, the organization has finished in the top 10 in points 13 times and won the series' premier event, the Daytona 500 , five times. "I think the timing was perfect for this to all come together," Edsel Ford II said. "I think with Team Penske 's help, that kind of motivated us to sort of talk to the Wood Brothers internally … and find out if this was possible. It just all came together this year and fit. It fit perfectly. So why not do it." NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series schedule consists of 36 points races and two non-points event and runs from February through mid-November. Entering this weekend's event, 35 teams have competed in all points races contested thus far this season.
Prayers for Elijah: Brave boy sparks a movement
Standing on stage holding his arms high above his head giving double peace signs, 10-year-old Elijah Aschbrenner looked like a rock star -- bright red hair, high wattage smile and unmistakable attitude. A year after being diagnosed with a rare childhood cancer, Epithelioid Sarcoma, Elijah struck the pose after joining NASCAR stars such as Dale Earnhardt Jr . and Danica Patrick walking the runway as part of the Martin Truex Jr . Foundation's "Catwalk for a Cause" pediatric cancer fundraiser this past May. Predictably, Earnhardt and Patrick got rousing cheers, but Elijah clearly stole the show -- afterwards be-bopping around the Mooresville, North Carolina, venue shaking hands with donors, grabbing snacks with his little brother Sam, 9, and posing for photos with the race car drivers. It was difficult to tell who was the celebrity and who was the cause célèbre. That was only five months ago. Unfortunately, a recent CT-scan revealed that despite the chemotherapy and the radiation and the surgeries -- despite great courage and faith -- Elijah's cancer has spread. And after a brief and hopeful time participating in a clinical trial in Atlanta last month, doctors have decided there is no further treatment to prescribe. A hospice nurse visits Elijah every Tuesday at his home outside Charlotte making sure he is comfortable. A hospice social worker also stops by regularly to counsel Sam and Elijah's friends, whom his mom, Becky Hughes, says "are having a real tough time with this." Though Elijah would much rather be riding a Ripstik outside with his brother and friends, he mostly spends his days in a wheelchair building elaborate Lego creations or watching television -- "Wheel of Fortune" is one of his favorites. "My mom and I are really good at it," he says. He loves the occasional trips to Target or Toys "R" Us, and the steady stream of visitors who bring prayers and love. The cancer has taken a real toll on Elijah's young body. His voice is softer and strained, his stamina greatly diminished, but cancer has not sapped his incredible spirit or lessened his intense resolve. "There are so many days I could just cry and let myself get buried in that, but I can't," his mom explained. "Elijah is strong and Sam is strong, always there to make us laugh and smile. "I have prayed to God to just give me this tumor. I would do that in a heartbeat. The worst pain in the world is seeing your child going through something like this, and you can't fix it, you can't do anything. "I could be an emotional wreck, but Elijah only allows me three minutes of crying a day. Some days I don't need it, but if I start to, he'll say, "Three minutes, Mom." Hughes has worked in the racing industry for years both as a driver public relations representative and now with sponsor Great Clips. She has been buoyed by the outpouring of support from the NASCAR community but not surprised. This weekend Elijah and his family will be guests of Ann and Ken Schrader at the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway . After some souvenir shopping -- his favorite part of the day -- Elijah is looking forward to stopping in the garage area and seeing his "friends" from the Catwalk event. So many of them have provided help to Elijah and his family. Drivers have lent their private airplanes to transport Elijah to various doctors around the Southeast. They have donated money to cover the escalating medical bills and sent messages of support using the hashtag #prayersforelijah on social media. More significantly, they have given their time and attention. Truex and his girlfiend, Sherry Pollex, herself undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer, are essentially on speed dial with the family and have been constant support for Elijah. Pollex organizes the Catwalk event and had been raising money ($300,000 this year) for childhood cancer long before she was affected personally by the disease. Team Penske put Elijah's name over the door of both of its Sprint Cup Series Chase contending cars last week. And 2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski devoted one of the entries on his popular blogs to remind people about "perspective" in life. He used Elijah as a shining example. Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Childress Racing are among the organizations to publicly offer good wishes -- the entire team from shop foremen to drivers posing with a "Prayers for Elijah" sign. And while it is all a bit overwhelming and "very cool," Elijah joked this week that it does cause a minor problem when it comes to picking a driver to cheer for. "That's the hard part," Elijah said. "They are all so good to me. "The fact they know me is outstanding, I don't know how a kid like me would get that lucky to meet them. Just knowing them means a lot to me." His mother begins to cry when trying to explain the impact of those relationships. "He really looks up to Martin (Truex) and Dale Junior and Kasey (Kahne) and Jeff Gordon and feels like they are all his buddies because they have done events with him," Hughes said. "After the Catwalk, he'll talk about how Dale Junior is his buddy. During a race, he'll ask me to call Dale Jr. and get him to do this or that. I'll laugh. It shows how great these guys have been to Elijah. "Even if they were just with him for half an hour it made such an impact on him and made him feel comfortable and like a friend.That means everything to me. To see how happy he gets thinking he has all these buddies in all these different avenues of sports." Taking the cue from NASCAR's best, other sports have rallied about Elijah, too. WWE wrestling star Titus O'Neil changed a flight to detour to Charlotte and pay a visit to Elijah. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton surprised Elijah at a block party in his honor -- a Halloween theme because that's Elijah's favorite holiday. News outlets from People Magazine to "The Today Show" shared the story. "I'm in disbelief. Every day we'll hear of another athlete doing something for him, last night someone sent us a picture of Kirk Cameron holding up a sign saying 'Prayers for Elijah,' " Hughes said. "It's just amazing to me, the outreach and the people that have been impacted throughout all this, from NASCAR, to WWE to the Panthers. Everyone's just put their arms around us and are supporting us. "He is definitely a loved little boy, and I am so blessed that God chose me to be his mom. He is the bravest little boy I know and I just pray for many, many more years to watch him grow up." It's not just famous people who have recognized and rallied for Elijah. Classmates from school visit him. The community organized a golf tournament fundraiser, and even local restaurants designated certain nights to donate funds. In some ways, "Prayers for Elijah" has grown from a sentimental hashtag or well wish into a movement. It is a plea for more funding and research into childhood cancers, which currently receive a very small portion of the overall funds. It is an inspiration reminding us if a 10-year-old boy can be this strong and positive despite all he's going through, then we should have great courage and a better attitude, too. It is a lesson in living in the present each day. As a breast cancer patient myself, I feel a special connection to Elijah. I was diagnosed a couple months after him and our chemotherapy treatments and surgeries often coincided. In fact, I had radiation treatment the morning I flew from Florida to Charlotte to attend May's Catwalk event. And I had to leave early the next morning to be back in the cancer center for my next round. That evening I asked Elijah what advice he had for other cancer patients. "Keep fighting," he said. "And breathe." His mom considers that evening a gift -- a time of pure happiness and excitement. How proud to know her son was an inspiration to every soul in the room. And still is. "He was amazing, he just shined that night," Hughes recalled. "It was like, 'Here I am and I'm not going to let cancer get the best of me.' And he's had that attitude from Day 1. "There have been many days when my faith is down and I’m scared and worried and he'll look at me and say, 'Mama, we're going to get through this.' So never once has his faith been in question. A few months ago he coined the phrase, 'Faith and believing are your cure.' And he really means it. "He is amazing and he gives me strength every day." He does the same for all of us.
From past to present, rookie challenges change
See how the rookie meeting has evolved over the years RELATED: Labonte's crash still impacts rookies " Youngest, oldest rookie winners One by one, before the first engine has fired and the first car has hit the track, they gather in the NASCAR hauler parked inside the garage. It's a scene repeated every weekend when NASCAR rolls into town. Their levels of experience often differ quite a bit. There are champions and those with numerous starts in lower series seated alongside those with limited experience and much less success. Yet here everyone is treated the same. And everyone carries the same label -- rookie. • • • "A lot of stuff happens fast here," Richard Buck, NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series managing director, tells the group that's gathered on a cool, damp Friday morning at Martinsville Speedway . Each driver has been given several sheets of paper showing diagrams that include the placement of timing and commitment lines, pit entrance and exit and the proper route to enter and exit pit road from the garage area. It's information that is track-specific. While the basic processes that take place during any given race weekend are relatively the same, there are certain details at each venue that those with limited experience need to know. Proper procedures are explained and advice is doled out. "Use your hand signals so you don't start to slow down and get all jammed up and have somebody's radiator in your backseat," Buck tells the drivers. Each week, a veteran driver will also attend the meetings to offer pointers and answer any questions a rookie driver might have. At Martinsville, 2004 premier series champion Kurt Busch was on hand. "Those of you that have made laps around here before, you know how quick it is," Busch said of the series' shortest venue. "It's an awkward track. There's no other place that really compares to this. So the thing you have to do is to get comfortable with the surroundings." Busch said he would often walk around tracks "even if I've been here before" to reinforce the information given during the meeting. "Have your spotters communicate to you where the holes are when you pull out ... your tires will be ice cold here ... they won't help you do much turning when you get into (Turns) 3 and 4 ... but if you're consciously making an effort to warm up your tires, somebody's going to be right on your bumper and it's going to be chaos," he said. Busch also urged them to take note of the commitment and blend lines at Martinsville. "It's the same Turn 2 line that's painted at Bristol," he said later. "But at Bristol, you have two pit roads (one on the frontstretch and one on the backstretch). It's the same line in the same place and it means two different things." Drivers' left-side tires must touch the blend line near Turn 2 at Martinsville before pulling up onto the track. A similar line at Bristol signifies the pit entrance on the backstretch -- touching any portion of it without proceeding onto pit road will result in a commitment line violation. "Now they'll go to Bristol (in two weeks)," Busch said, "and they need to remember." • • • So what constitutes a rookie in the eyes of NASCAR? In most cases, it's up to the discretion of the series director and is based on the individual's prior experience. Matt DiBenedetto , 23, made his first Sprint Cup Series start this year after running the bulk of the races (29 of 33) in the XFINITY Series last season. Brett Moffitt , 22, made seven Sprint Cup Series starts in 2014. Between 2009 and 2013 he made just one XFINITY Series start and two in the Camping World Truck Series. Both are among those competing for this year's Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award in Sprint Cup , along with Jeb Burton , Tanner Berryhill and Alex Kennedy . To be eligible for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award, a driver must attempt to qualify in at least eight of the first 20 points races. A 10-1 point system, separate from the NASCAR championship driver points format, is used for scoring rookies in each race. The highest finishing rookie receives 10 points, second highest receives nine, etc. Only the top 17 finishes by each driver count toward his or her points total at the end of the year. Bonus points are also awarded for attempts, finishing inside the top 10 and upon the completion of the final race of the season. A panel then grades each rookie on conduct with officials, conduct and awareness on the track, personal appearance and relationship with the media. Points awarded by the panel are then averaged and added to each driver's total, and the driver with the most points is the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award recipient. Jeb Burton is one of five rookies this year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. • • • Of course, it wasn't always that way. In 1959, Darlington Raceway , in conjunction with sponsor Pure Oil (later to become Union 76), debuted the Darlington Record Club. Members were those that had qualified highest for each auto manufacturer during time trials for the annual Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway . Special recognition went to those that established track records there as well. While NASCAR had been selecting a rookie of the year for nearly a decade -- Rocky Mount, North Carolina's Blackie Pitt was the first recipient in 1954 –- the Union 76/Darlington Record Club was eventually tasked with monitoring the progress of rookie drivers on the uniquely shaped, treacherous 1.366-mile track. What began as an effort between driver Glenn "Fireball" Roberts and NASCAR official John Bruner Sr., to observe new drivers eventually evolved into a panel of Record Club members whose job was to either pass or fail those drivers attempt to make their Southern 500 debuts. (It's worth noting that the club also played a crucial role in requiring all drivers to complete a physical examination before being allowed to compete at Darlington. Today, a physical examination is mandatory for all three national series prior to the start of each season.) Before the Record Club came into existence, "you just went down there and run," said NASCAR Hall of Fame member Richard Petty, a seven-time NASCAR premier series champion and winner of the 1967 Southern 500. "(The Record Club) was good public relations. It gave those (rookies) something they had to do. Indianapolis (home of the Indianapolis 500) always had a rookie test you had to pass before you could go out and run. Well, we said if they can do it, we can do it, too. "Back then, (Darlington) was a one-groove track through (Turns) 3 and 4, which is now 1-2. We'd explain what you had to do to pass people or let people pass you. Then you just said, 'OK, now go out and run.' " To pass the test, drivers new to the series were required to run within a percentage of a pre-determined speed. "If we were running 130 mph," Petty said, "they would have to run 125 or something like that. Then they'd go out and run six or eight laps on the track by themselves." "It was a little easier to show up at Daytona with a car even though you may not have that much experience and get in the race," three-time series champion and NASCAR Hall of Fame member Darrell Waltrip said. "But they really observed you. If you were somebody new that they didn't know and you showed up at the track, they'd have some drivers that would kind of see how you did, see if you could handle the track and the speed and all that. There was always somebody watching you, but Darlington was the only official test we took." The panel would make its recommendations to NASCAR, but it was up to Bruner, a former flagman who eventually became Chief Steward for the sanctioning body, to make the final call. Richard Petty, who won the Southern 500 in 1967, used to show rookies the ropes at the iconic track. • • • In 1976, the Record Club's competition panel began overseeing the rookie program. Nearly a decade later, one of racing's greatest figures found himself labeled a rookie, and was required to go through the orientation process. Far from being a rookie, Anthony Joseph Foyt, better known simply as A.J., already had seven NASCAR premier series wins to his credit including a victory in the 1972 Daytona 500 . But Foyt, a four-time winner of the Indy 500 as well, had never raced at Darlington. "I am going to Darlington as a bonafide rookie. I don't want anything waived," Foyt told the press prior to his debut. "Why should I be different than anybody else? I know a lot of guys would have too much pride and ego to take the rookie test, but I'm not that type of person." NASCAR driver Ricky Rudd was the president of the Record Club at that time. Among the members of the competition panel were fellow drivers Waltrip and Buddy Baker. "Buddy and I and I forget who else, we observed A.J. Foyt and we flunked him his first day," Waltrip said. "Well, we told him we flunked him. "I told Buddy, I said 'Go down there and tell A.J. that we're going to have to have a meeting about his test because I'm not sure he passed.' Buddy looked at me and said 'Do you think I'm crazy? You go down there and tell him.' " Foyt passed the test, eventually finishing 25th in his only Southern 500 start. • • • Ken Schrader , a four-time race winner in NASCAR's premier series, was in that same rookie class with Foyt in 1985. Schrader posted three top-10 finishes that year en route to winning the Rookie of the Year title, beating out Eddie Bierschwale and Don Hume. Twice he served as president of the Record Club. "Yeah, I got elected president one time, then got elected president another time because at the banquet in Darlington I sat in the back and drank with the wrong group," the fun-loving Schrader said. "I was sitting with, I think, Phil Holmer and T. Wayne (Robertson) and some Unocal folks." Holmer was a Goodyear representative while Robertson headed up series sponsor R.J. Reynolds sports marketing arm. "They threw my ass right in," Schrader said of his election. "My acceptance speed, I stood up and said 'This is (expletive)!' "But the rookie meetings were neat. We'd just go in there, talk about the do's and don'ts for the tracks. Some of it was repetitious obviously but then there was so much about each individual track and it was the first time that some of those guys went to those tracks. Because back then not everybody then came through the Truck or ( XFINITY ) Series. "Now, hell, you're a rookie at a race, you've been to how many places (already)? You've probably raced there in some other series. "So it's a little different now." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Reddick rules final truck practice at Eldora
Dirt-track background pays off for 19-year-old in chaotic session RELATED: Practice 1 results " Final practice results Tyler Reddick claimed the top spot in final NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice Wednesday at Eldora Speedway in a spin-filled final prep for the only NASCAR national series race on dirt. Reddick, who possesses a rich dirt-track pedigree, drove the Brad Keselowski Racing No. 19 Ford to a best lap of 89.264 mph in the 85-minute session. He enters the third annual 1-800-Car-Cash Mud Summer Classic (9 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, MRN, SiriusXM) in second place in the series standings, just 20 points behind two-time series champion Matt Crafton . NASCAR XFINITY Series regular Ty Dillon was second-fastest in the GMS Racing No. 33 Chevrolet at 88.924 mph. Timothy Peters landed the third-fastest lap at 86.248 mph on the half-mile track in the Red Horse Racing No. 17 Toyota. Illinois dirt-track hotshot Bobby Pierce, 18, was fourth-fastest in the MB Motorsports No. 63 Chevrolet with Christopher Bell in the Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 54 Toyota capping the top five. Speeds were slightly slower than the first practice session, topped by 19-year-old Erik Jones in the Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 4 Toyota, but the amount of incidents rose sharply with several spins and some isolated instances of contact. The dirt cushion inched up closer to the outside wall, but a significant dip also developed at the exit of Turn 2, causing trucks to become unsettled as they traveled across the bump. The trucks of Johnny Sauter , John Hunter Nemechek and Cole Custer sustained the most damage. Sauter and Nemechek both backed into the outside retaining wall after separate spins, and Custer's No. 00 truck crunched into the back of the slowing truck of teenage newcomer Madeline Crane. Other drivers involved in solo spins without damage (in chronological order): Matt Tifft , Ty Dillon , Chad Boat , Custer, Brad Keselowski , Jennifer Jo Cobb (twice), Jody Knowles , John Wes Townley , Christopher Bell , Jake Griffin, Nemechek and Pierce. Former Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski managed the 16th-fastest lap among the 34 drivers to participate in final practice. Fellow Sprint Cup regular Austin Dillon , winner of the truck series' inaugural dirt-track event in 2013, was seventh-fastest. Crafton registered the ninth-fastest lap in the ThorSport No. 88 Toyota. Ken Schrader , the first pole winner for the annual Eldora event, was 19th-fastest in preparation for his first NASCAR national series start of the season. Keystone Light Pole Qualifying is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. ET. Qualifying heats are scheduled to start at 7 p.m. ET with the 150-lap main event set for a 9 p.m. ET go. Jones fastest in opening Eldora practice Erik Jones topped the charts in Wednesday's opening practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at muddy Eldora Speedway. Jones drove the Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 4 Toyota to a mud-slinging lap of 89.454 mph around the historic half-mile dirt track. The 19-year-old driver was fastest in qualifying last season in his Eldora Speedway debut. Jones' lap edged second-fastest Austin Dillon , who turned a 89.299-mph lap in the NTS Motorsports No. 31 Chevrolet in preparation for Wednesday's third annual 1-800-Car-Cash Mud Summer Classic (9 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, MRN, SiriusXM). Dillon holds the distinction as the inaugural winner in 2013 of the truck tour's only race on dirt. Bobby Pierce -- an 18-year-old dirt Late Model driver from Illinois, prepping for his first Camping World Truck Series start -- was third-fastest in the MB Motorsports No. 63 Chevrolet owned by Mike Mittler. Christopher Bell was fourth-fastest in another Kyle Busch Motorsports Tundra with two-time defending series champion Matt Crafton completing the top five in the ThorSport Racing No. 88 Toyota. Dillon wasn't the only Sprint Cup regular making his mark in the opening 55-minute session. Brad Keselowski , making his first Eldora start in the truck series, brushed the wall late but was 24th-fastest in the No. 29 Ford from his own race shop. Ty Dillon , an XFINITY Series regular and part-time Sprint Cup entrant, was seventh-fastest in the GMS Racing No. 33 Chevrolet. Ken Schrader , a longtime Sprint Cup driver now racing recreationally, was 22nd-fastest in his own No. 52 Toyota. The 60-year-old Schrader won the inaugural Keystone Light Pole Award at Eldora in 2013. Teams furiously fought for grip in the early going as the ground-pounding trucks began to work in the damp dirt surface. The track's characteristics, though, created plenty of tacky mud on windshields and inside the trucks' wheel wells, caking the inside of the fenders. Ben Kennedy had the hardest contact of the 55-minute session, slamming the right side of his Red Horse Racing No. 11 Toyota in the Turn 4 wall. Korbin Forrister continued after a pair of spins, and Pierce also looped his truck without any damage. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Keselowski headlines Eldora entry list
Austin and Ty Dillon also set to compete at Ohio dirt track RELATED: Complete entry list for Eldora " All you need to know for Eldora Former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski is scheduled to make his first start on the dirt of Eldora Speedway in the Camping World Truck Series next week. Keselowski, who will drive the No. 29 Ford from his own race shop, joins Sprint Cup regulars Austin and Ty Dillon on the preliminary entry list -- released Wednesday -- for the third annual 1-800-Car-Cash Mud Summer Classic (July 22, 9 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, MRN, SiriusXM). Keselowski has one victory in 64 truck series starts, but did not participate in the tour's first two events on the half-mile dirt track. The Dillon brothers, who share an extensive racing background on dirt, both competed in the previous two Eldora events. Austin Dillon prevailed in the series' inaugural dirt-track race in 2013 and will drive the No. 31 Chevrolet for NTS Motorsports this year. Ty Dillon is set to drive for GMS Racing in the No. 33 Chevy. Veteran owner/driver Ken Schrader , 60, is scheduled to make his first NASCAR national series start of the season, wheeling his own No. 52 Toyota. Schrader has participated in the previous two Eldora races, winning the Keystone Light Pole Award for the inaugural running. Christopher Bell carries a rich dirt-track pedigree in sprint cars into just his third truck series start. He'll wheel the Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 54 Toyota, aiming to improve upon the fifth-place effort in his series debut at Iowa Speedway. The event is also scheduled to mark the Camping World Truck Series debut of teenager Madeline Crane, a product of Legends Car and dirt late model racing in her home state of Georgia. Crane took part in the NASCAR Drive 4 Diversity Combine at Langley Speedway last October. A total of 31 trucks -- with one listed with a driver to be announced at a later date -- are posted for a maximum 32-truck field. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Bobby Pierce earns first career pole at Eldora
The 18-year-old will be making his first Truck start in tonight's event RELATED: Qualifying race lineups " Qualifying results After recording top-five speeds in both practices today, newcomer Bobby Pierce earned his first career 21 Means 21 Pole Award on Wednesday, using a high speed of 86.889 mph to bring his No. 63 MB Motorsports Chevrolet owned by Mike Mittler to the top of the leaderboard. It also was Mittler's first pole. Pierce, an 18-year-old dirt Late Model driver, will be making his first Camping World Truck Series start in tonight's 1-800-CarCash Mud Summer Classic (9 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1). His qualifying effort tonight made him the fifth driver in Truck Series history to win the pole in his first start. He joins former series champions Ron Hornaday Jr . (Phoenix, 1995) and Bobby Hamilton (Martinsville, 1996) as well as Kerry Earnhardt (Daytona, 2005) and Alex Tagliani (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, 2014). After sustaining damage in the second practice, Johnny Sauter rebounded, posting the second-fastest speed (84.818 mph) on the leaderboard in his No. 98 ride. Ray Black Jr . was third on the leaderboard, his No. 07 Truck recording a high speed of 84.567 mph. Cameron Hayley (84.380 mph) and John Wes Townley (84.309 mph) rounded out the top five. The top five from this evening's single truck qualifying willl start on the pole for each of the five qualifying races, which will determine the rest of the field for tonight's 1-800-CarCash Mud Summer Classic (9 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, MRN, SiriusXM). Beyond the pole, the random draw will decide the order of the qualifying races. RELATED: Learn more about Eldora race format Sprint Cup Series Brad Keselowski will be making his dirt track debut in tonight's Mud Summer Classic. After a brush with the wall, Keselowski's No. 29 BK Racing Truck picked up the 21st-fastest spot on the leaderboard. Former Sprint Cup Series driver Ken Schrader -- who was the first pole winner for the annual Eldora race -- ranked 18th on the leaderboard in his own No. 52 Toyota. Wednesday's opening qualifying session provided the drivers with plenty of challenges associated with dirt track racing. JR Motorsports' Cole Custer took a hard hit to the wall in his first qualifying run, damaging his No. 00 Chevrolet and giving him a flat tire. The incident left him with a 34th qualifying spot. Ty Dillon 's No. 33 GMS Racing truck made contact with the wall on his first qualiyfing run, giving him a 20th qualifying position for tonight's five-race event. Madeline Crane's No. 80 truck -- which took on damage in the second practice -- also hit the wall in Turn 1 early in the qualifying session, which qualified her 33rd. Matt Tifft -- who qualified 27th -- spun out in his second lap, but didn't make contact. The Camping World Truck Series is back on track for the first qualiyfing race at 7 p.m. ET (FOX Sports 2). FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule