Clay Rogers sits on pit road...
Clay Rogers sits on pit road as his crew goes to work. Rogers had to give up the lead to receive his pit service, but regained the spot a few laps later.
The off-season developments had to draw plenty of attention to the USAR Hooters ProCup Series. The true test came with the season opener, and it provided indications that another great season is in store.
The changes for 2004 included a new tire as the series moved to radials with BFGoodrich Traction TA models. The series also increased the rewards for the rookie campaigners, a move that has attracted the interest of dozens of race teams from the United States and Canada. A new engine head rule will come into being, and safety rules such as mandatory helmets for over-the-wall pit crewmembers took shape. With the season opener, the chase for the championship began.
Three-wide racing action brings...
Three-wide racing action brings fans to the edge of their seats. Michael Ritch (28), Sam Fullone (48), and Joe Gaita (06) choose their real estate for the race.
The 36-car field was composed of 22 veterans and 14 rookies, but the rookies were far from novice racers. Canadian racer DJ Kennington has finished in the Top 5 in CASCAR point standings in each of the past three seasons. Tom Buzze is a two-time track champion at Tri-County Speedway in North Carolina. George Brunnhoelzl III is a third-generation racer who has traded his Modified days for a full-fendered ride. The list can go on.
Many of the rookies faced USA International Speedway's 31/44-mile highbanks for the first time. The conundrum was further intensified by the fact that most were getting their first experience on radial tires. There were plenty of factors to provide adequate excuse if the performance was less than spectacular.
BFGoodrich had plenty of engineers...
BFGoodrich had plenty of engineers on hand for the race. During practice, crews were taking temperatures and pressures. Many of the drivers followed the recommendations of the engineers for their race time setups.
Clay Rogers set the pace by establishing a new track record in qualifying, eclipsing the mark set just three months before. Rogers used his pole start to his advantage, leading 237 of the 250 laps in a dominant win.
The story of the race came in the charges from the rear. Bobby Gill, who ended up in Second, was slated to start on the outside of the front row, but was moved to the back after the crew had worked on the car between qualifying and race time. Jay Fogleman, who finished Fifth, started the race from the 22nd spot. The efforts of rookie Jimmy Mann and veteran Calvin Redwine saw them improve their starting spots by 23 positions.
The BFGoodrich tires stood up to the test of the 250-lap event. Drivers were singing praises for the ability of the tire to hold its performance, even in longer runs. Ford drivers had a banner day with a sweep of the Top 5. Fords came home in 10 of the Top 11 spots.
During the pre-race autograph session, Clay Rogers posed with "Sunny," mascot of the Sunshine Foundation. The next time Rogers posed for pictures was during Victory Lane ceremonies.
Calvin Redwine's team spent the afternoon chasing engine problems. The car was ready just in time for qualifying and eventually came home in the Top 15.