Among the Elite Davenport, Iowa's Justin Diercks might not want to talk about the Toyota All-Star Showdown. In the middle of August, his thoughts were nowhere near the November race. Fresh from his sixth win in the first 10 races of the AutoZone Elite Midwest Series schedule, Diercks was keen on winning the championship, and his pursuers were not rolling over. At that point, he was leading veteran Steve Carlson, but not by much.

"We have to take it one race at a time," says Diercks. "We worry about points at the end of the year. We're out to win races, and so far we've been pretty successful."

Diercks may have been lost in the shuffle in the 2003 Showdown crowd. The only publicity he got was negative. From the time the team headed to California, nothing seemed to go right. "We got wrecked in practice," he recalls. "On our way out there, the hauler broke down. When we got there, the lift broke and we couldn't get the car out. We were happy to finish and be a part of the team championship."

They didn't just finish . . . they finished Seventh as the Midwest Series put five drivers in the Top 10. That's not going to make it easy for the series drivers who return in 2004.

"The Midwest has bragging rights," Diercks says. "We won last year, so the guys we're taking this year have to step it up. Everybody else is going to be stepping it up to try to beat us. We've all got to have our program dialed in."

Like most competitors, Justin didn't really know what to expect last year. He'd never been to California, so it was a "working vacation" of sorts. "I was excited to be there," he says of the first Showdown. "It was interesting. The NASCAR officials from all the series were working together. Everyone was treated fairly."

It also gave him a chance to go wheel-to-wheel with drivers like Jeff Fultz, David Gilliland, and Jim Pettit. "I've read about them, but it was great to race them," he adds.

The trip in 2004 will again force Justin to dig into that vacation time. He works in the construction industry and has a weekly job that requires quite a bit of his attention. His car is owned by his parents, Steve and Lisa Diercks, and his father serves as his spotter. Mom and brother Spencer provided needed support. The crewchief is Nick Carlson, and Tim Carlson is the car chief. The car is a Lefthander chassis with Tesar Power. Sponsors include Iowa Illinois Taylor Insulation, Adrian Carriers, Shabbona Creek RV, TC Fab, Roemer Machine, and Precision Embroidery.

New Faces While the true lineup won't be set until the series finales, expect to see a number of new names on the race roster in November. Garrett Evans, who ran a part-time schedule in 2003, is expected to be a strong representative of the Northwest Series. J.T. Norris and Erik Darnell of the Southeast Series will likely represent their series well. Rip Michels, a Dodge Weekly Series regional champion in 2003, may find himself in the field from the tough Southwest Series.

On the Grand National side, David Gilliland, a representative of the Southwest Series last year, made the move to the Grand National side in the West Series and will be there. Stockton winner Mike David will likely join the West squad in 2004. From the Busch North team, expect second-generation racer Bobby Dragon and legendary Dave Dion to join up with the squad of top North racers.

A footnote on the roster: A driver can turn down an invitation. That invitation is then extended to the next position in the standings until a roster is filled from each series.

Showtime for the Showdown Once again, Toyota has stepped up and joined forces to set the stage for the excitement at hand. The anticipation is building as this unique short-track racing event heads to its sophomore season. Given last year's results, it's a tough act to follow, but it doesn't shrink from the challenge. It will be a true showdown.