THOUSAND OAKS, California -- 2005 stirred the emotions of us all. There were so many exceptional stories, but alas there is only room for 10 on RacingWest's 2005 biggest story list.
A lot of great stories receive honorable mention.
There was no shortage of stories surrounding the Grand National West. Don Hawk was considered for the list for breaking free of the NASCAR mold. He may not like message boards but he put it all on the line on one to talk to the racers. His announcement at Kyle (Texas) of a forthcoming Grand National rule change featuring a recipe motor and composite body in the Grand National West stirred a lot of emotions and was certainly considered for top-ten spot on the list. As were the combination races of the Midwest and Southwest Tours in 2005. Yakima Speedway surprising the fans with the announcement they would hold a Grand National Race, shortly followed by the announcement of a cancellation of the event due to a lack of sponsorship was mulled over.
Then there are so many drivers that stood out, but to narrow it down there was Southwest Tour veteran Nick Joanides running a season in the Midwest Tour was noticed. There was Joe Herold's hauler burning down and our not seeing the gentleman racer on the track for the remainder of the year. Driving instructor Tom Dyer winning the Southwest Tour race at Infineon Racewayin a series he is not a regular in was big.
Interesting were the extraordinary number of disqualifications at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, including the DQ of Chris Clyne at the Fall Classic which gave the win to Nathan Wulff. And while on the topic of DQ's we cannot overlook the disqualification of John Moore at Stockton 99 while he was the points leader. We saw a battle of two Andrews in the Grand National West with rookie Andrew Myers winning a pole and Rookie Andrew Lewis winning the Rookie-of-the-Year title.
And there was definitely a heart break when we all read with horror the story of St. James Davis being attacked by chimpanzees—fortunately he survived and is slowly recovering at home with wife, La Donna at his side.
But after much consideration here are our top-ten picks for the 2005 racing season in the west:
10) The year of diversity that wasn't. With all the press conferences and interviews about the drive for diversity it would have seemed we would have seen a bigger variety pack of races/ethnicities. It didn't happen. But on the bright side the women were given a chance and many shone from Mackena Bell to Angela Cope to Allison Duncan to Jill Lang to Sarah Fisher and so many other women that should be included here. They became role models for little girls to look up to and added interest to the tracks or series they competed in. It is the hope that in 2006 racing in the west will have more than women taking part in the drive for diversity programs. It should be added that those in racing such as Tim Woods, Takuma Koga and Joe Nava (to name a few) are not mentioned as they have been supporting NASCAR before NASCAR started "supporting" and pushing a drive for diversity.
9) NASCAR releasing the 2006 Grand National West, Northwest Tour and Southwest Tour schedules in 2005. In 2005 teams were already racing “unscheduled” events as the schedules were not released until after races were in the books. NASCAR said they would get the 2006 schedules out before the end of 2005 and they did. The schedules had fewer dates, but nonetheless NASCAR kept their word.
8) The Texas Thunder 200 at Thunder Hill Raceway at Kyle (Texas) – It was a little event with big attitude. The rookie promoters said they would make the race as big as if it was a one of NASCAR's top tiered series. And they pulled it off. With an opening dinner at the Hyatt overlooking the river followed by a race so packed with fans some had to be diverted, it was the best attended NASCAR Grand National race of 2005.
7) NASCAR's DQ of Mike Olsen's Toyota All-Star Showdown win for wheels, which were too wide and too light. It is not with any regularity that NASCAR disqualifies a driver that has won on live TV, but this time they did. David Gilliland who had originally finished second, was now declared the winner, without the perk of celebrating at his home track in front of a hometown crowd, but with knowing at least that NASCAR did the right thing.
6) The fire at Stockton 99 – There was a double header at Stockton 99 the last weekend in April. Both the NASCAR AutoZone Elite and the NASCAR Grand National West series were allowed to come the Friday before the event for a paid practice. There were 42 cars that showed for the race and many of them took advantage of the practice. The NASCAR hauler and NASCAR officials were there, as was the NASCAR safety truck. During practice Takuma Koga hit hard into the turn two wall which in turn resulted in his car catching on fire. There was no safety that came out to him and Koga remained in the car for 32 long seconds until finally climbing out. As seconds then minutes ticked by there was nothing but track workers in T-shirts with hand held fire extinguishers valiantly attempting to conquer the raging fire. Their fire extinguishers were useless and the NASCAR safety truck was out picking up lunch. Car owner Dick Midgley called the Stockton Fire Department, which arrived just under 12 minutes later and instantly put the fire out.
5) The ASA Speed Trucks-- In a world where big time racing such as NASCAR's Cup wants younger and younger drivers, The ASA Speed Truck Challenge provided a place for youngsters to get their touring experience on various tracks while learning from experienced talented veterans. 15 year old Alex Haase won a Trophy Dash and 14 year old Victor Pfluger won a main event. The Speed Trucks also had one of the most exciting finishes of the year when a fierce battle at the end of an Irwindale race between Spencer Clark and Bobby McGowan ending with McGowan spinning backwards across the start/finish line for the win. This series also enjoyed increased competition in 2005 which netted 9 different winners in 14 events. The series was covered by 34 nationally televised broadcasts.
4) Saying our goodbyes to too many good people too soon -- Jeff Anthony, Michelle Gross, Sandi Davis, Allen Cole, Corky McMillin, Ed Hale, Pat McIntire and Jason Baldwin and Friends and Pikes Peak International Hill Climb Official, Henry Bresciani.
3) All three of NASCAR's Western region Touring Divisions saw back-to-back champions with Jeff Jefferson, actually winning his third-in-a-row championship in the AutoZone Northwest Elite Series. Jim Pettit II won for his second time in the AutoZone Southwest Elite Series and Mike Duncan won his second Grand National West Series title. Mesa Marin regular, Duncan, also closed out Mesa Marin raceway winning the championship at the last event that would ever be held at that track.
2) NASCAR's Jim Hunter announcing it would discontinue its four AutoZone Elite Touring divisions at the end of 2006 followed shortly by the SRL/ASA with Dennis Huth and Steve Fensler partnering announcing they will provide the NW/SW Tours a series to take the existing cars to beginning in 2007 .
And the biggest news of all…
1) The tracks – One after another the announcements of closure came from Cajon Speedway to Champion Motor Speedway to Mesa Marin Raceway to Pikes Peak International Raceway and there were others. They all put darkness over the 2005 season. For this reason the announcement of new tracks in the works is the biggest story of 2005-- for without the tracks the series we love to watch, compete in, discuss would have no place to play. To Jeb Onweiler and Robert Kline working on the Nevada Motor Speedway (NMS) to John Condren and his efforts on the Riverside Motorsports Park project in Merced (Calif.) and to the Collins and DeStefani families for their vision of a new track in Kern County—Thank You! You have brightened our hopes and warmed our hearts and I am sure I speak for others when I say, we cannot wait to hear the first “Drivers start your engines” command at each new track!