The UARA STARS offer exciting...
The UARA STARS offer exciting door to door late model racing.
I was shooting my first movie, SHORT TRACK, about a stock-car-racing family. I wanted to show the real heart of the sport, the dedicated people involved and some really smokin' race footage. No big feat, right? Well, the movie turned out great and will be released later in 2008, thanks in large part to the UARA-STARS (United Auto Racing Association-Southern Touring Asphalt Racing Series).
Although I'd grown up in racing, it had been a while since I'd been so close to my racing roots. While scouting locations for the movie, a family friend, Jimbo Mann, recommended that I take a look at the UARA. So, I loaded up the truck and headed out to the very next UARA-STARS event. I needed all the information I could get on this budding new series.
For the UARA-STARS, founded in 2001, this season will mark the seventh year of racing action. Headquartered in Hendersonville, N.C., the day-to-day operations are headed by husband and wife team, Kerry and Wink Bodenhamer. Their success is the result of their well thought out initial concept and excellent management.
The Dawning of a New Series
UARA-STARS President Kerry Bodenhamer says, "NASCAR's Late Model Sportsman Division transformed in the late '80's to what is now known as the NASCAR Nationwide Series. It then developed the Late Model Stock Division, in which the cars and rules were created for the local racer." On the inception of this series, Kerry recognized the need for an affordable touring series that would give young drivers the opportunity to run many other tracks and gain valuable experience to advance their careers.
Husband and wife team Kerry...
Husband and wife team Kerry and Wink Bodenhamer founded and run the UARA.
The UARA-STARS has evolved into a strong sanctioning body by defining the cars and rules so that almost any Saturday-night, late-model stock team can compete without much extra expense. Basically, for travel expenses and a small entry fee, teams are able to compete with championship veterans and a handful of really experienced teens. Running with this unique mix of drivers can only have one result-really good racing. It also offers regional "weekly show" tracks the opportunity to showcase their local talent upon the tour's visit.
The UARA-STARS has become an exciting and well-respected racing series in a very short time and it continues to grow rapidly. It is attracting new corporate sponsorships, garnering large fields of cars and drawing interest and participation from major NASCAR team driver development programs. Best of all, it's providing race fans with great door-to-door short-track racing action!
The Powers That Be
The Boden-hamers know stock car racing extremely well and have a great appreciation for the sport's participants as well as its fans. Kerry is a longtime member of the racing community, having been a competitor, car owner, car builder and a supplier to race teams for decades. In the '70s, he built cars with Banjo Matthews, raced himself, and in 1981 founded KLB Race Cars & Parts.
Kerry's wife, Wink loves the sport and its competitors and handles UARA administration. It requires her expertise in so many areas that, by all rights, Wink's title should be "Executive in Charge of Get-R-Done." Southern comfort and hospitality is alive and well in this series, much of it provided by Wink.
Filmmaker Marie Hopkins chose...
Filmmaker Marie Hopkins chose the UARA as the backdrop for her movie Short Track. Here, racer Alex Yontz (left) talks with SHORT TRACK's star, Pepper Sweeney.
Not surprisingly, the first official sponsor for the UARA-STARS was the Bodenhamer's KLB Race Cars & Parts. The STARS are now attracting local, regional and nationally known companies, such as Holley, CV Racing Products, ARP Bodies, and many others. This is homegrown sponsorship that supports the local Saturday night racer, who may in turn be a future winner at Daytona.
The UARA competitors run a late-model stock car weighing 3,100 pounds. The V-8 engines generate over 450 horsepower and use a 390 four-barrel carburetor. The frames and bodies are very similar to the Nationwide cars, and the rules are designed to mirror late-model stock cars throughout the country.
In keeping with that idea, the rules also allow the use of crate sealed engines. A team running a crate motor will get a 75 pound weight break, and will also be allowed to run a 650 four-barrel carburetor. Kerry Bodenhamer says that with these concessions to help level the playing field, there have been several teams running crates who posted really good runs throughout. He also pointed out that this season at the Tri-County race, Randy Porter was really competitive and even made up a lap under a green flag run. That said, built motors still far outnumber the crates. But I don't see the UARA going to an all crate field in the near future, as the series is very dedicated in its commitment to afford great experience to its race teams, mechanics and engine-builders as it does its drivers. So look for the series to hang on to its "enginuity."
UARA Late Models weigh in...
UARA Late Models weigh in at 3,100 pounds. While most competitors choose to run open V-8 engines with a 390 four-barrel carburetor, the GM crate motors are legal in the series. Alex Yontz seen here waiting to qualify at Hickory opts for the open motor.
How much does it cost a team to run a race or a full UARA season? If you already own and run a late-model stock car, most teams report they spend anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 per event. But if you're interested in putting together a budget for sponsorship or planning on running competitively for a full season, you're looking at a $100,000 investment. However, several of the well-heeled teams have spent upwards of $150,000. But experience, a lot of talented and supportive people in place and a tad of good luck can put you in contention for wins and a championship, even without spending $150,000.
In 2007, more than 125 teams participated in UARA-STARS events. In its short history, more than 200 drivers have qualified to run one of its 16 annual races. The 2007 season saw 11 different winners, and the summer months brought seven different winners in a seven-race stretch. With so many in the field capable of winning, fans are guaranteed to see an exciting race, regardless of venue.
B.J. Mackey from Rock Hill, S.C., was the only driver to claim three wins in the 2007 season, taking home trophies from Tri-County, Caraway and Dillon Motor Speedway.
Several teams won two races this past season:
Veteran Dennis Queen from Waynesville took home The Bad Boy Mowers 150 at Hickory Motor Speedway. He captured his second win in The Food City 150 at Newport Speedway.
Fifteen-year-old Matt DiBenedetto achieved wins at The Fairborn Equipment 150 at Concord, and again at Franklin County.
Kevin Leicht, Mark Setzer...
Kevin Leicht, Mark Setzer and Alex Yontz at a race at Bristol Motor Speedway, a crown jewel of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
The likable Alex Yontz claimed two wins in 2007. In June, Yontz won The Strutmasters 150 at Ace Speedway. Later in the season, he won the first race to take place on the new surface at Bristol Motor Speedway. Yontz was also the 2006 winner of the Bailey's 300, the big annual late-model stock race at Martinsville.
He ran several 2007 ARCA/Remax Series races in a Richard Childress Racing development ride. And at the end of the UARA season, he played the role of car-owner, putting young Austin Dillon in the driver's seat of his orange No. 55. Dillon is the grandson of Richard Childress and the winner of last year's late-model portion of The Eckerd Outlaw Showdown on The Dirt Track at Lowes Motor Speedway.
Also posting wins in 2007 were Jamey Caudill, Roger Lee Newton, Jake Crum, R.A. Brown, Mark Setzer, Brandon McCarson and Ross Furr.
The 2007 season also saw several visits from Dale Earnhardt, Inc. development driver Jeffrey Earnhardt, a few runs by 2005 UARA-STARS Champion Matt McCall, as well as a driving appearance from Andy Petree, ex-Nextel Cup crew chief and car-owner turned ESPN race announcer.
The 2007 Championship
The 2007 UARA-STARS Championship was decided in The Marlow Racing Chassis 150 at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, N.C. Only 12 points separated the top two drivers.
After an impressive season, Mark Setzer was in the coveted First spot. He recorded 12 Top 10 finishes and three pole positions. Trailing Setzer was Ross Furr. This 24-year-old from Concord, N.C., headed into the championship-deciding race with the highest average finish of the season. Furr missed qualifying for the first race of 2007, leaving him to play a bit of catch up, but his team persevered, and put the young gun into title contention.
B.J. Mackey stood Third in championship points. However, it would take more than a win to have a shot at the championship. Both Setzer and Furr would have to falter.
Many UARA racers tend to be...
Many UARA racers tend to be fierce competitors on the track but have good relationships off. Here, Ross Furr receives congratulations from Roger Lee Newton.
As Ross Furr hit the asphalt for his qualifying laps, the previous qualifier had spun, and then pulled around the track where he commited himself to the pit access road. Meanwhile, as Furr worked his way to full speed, everything took a dramatic turn. Furr entered turn four as the previous qualifier cut up onto the track from the pit access road (in an effort to retake his qualifying run) and hard contact was made. One small mistake from a momentarily confused young driver and things didn't look good for Furr. Fortunately, Furr retreated to his pit stall and was able to get his car back into shape to qualify Eighteenth.
When the race got going, points leader Mark Setzer spun early in the race and had several altercations throughout. He ended up running much of the night in close proximity to Ross Furr, who had worked himself up through the pack. The two points leaders made contact several times. Nearing the end of the race, Setzer lost a front wheel and tire and ended up head-on into the turn three retaining wall. This ended the championship hopes for Setzer and the Mitch West Racing Team. Thankfully, Mark was unhurt. It was a hard day for Setzer, but he and his team have shown that they are everything champions are made of. This just wasn't their year.
B.J. Mackey had a very impressive run; he ran up front all night and took the win. Matt DiBenedetto came home in Second. With the addition of hardcharger points, Ross Furr, who'd worked his way to Fifth, clinched the 2007 UARA-STARS Championship. Mackey's big win tied him with Setzer for Second place championship honors, but Mackey's 2007 three-win record broke the tie.
Newly crowned champion, Ross Furr and his team fought for every point. They bested some great competitors, and provided fans with a memorable show despite some rather harrowing obstacles.
2007 UARA Champion Ross Furr...
2007 UARA Champion Ross Furr celebrates his title with his team, family and friends.
The 2006 Season
My crew and I shot the race footage for SHORT TRACK during the UARA's 2006 season. This championship battle was fierce with Brandon Ward coming out the victor. Alex Yontz was only 26 points behind, followed by Kyle Grissom and Jamie Yelton in Third and Fourth.
Ward clinched top honors and added two win trophies to his collection. Yontz was right on Ward's bumper and collected three wins. Kyle Grissom, the tour's 2005 Rookie-of-the-Year won the 2006 season opener at Hickory. Jamie Yelton, always a serious threat wherever he unloads his black No. 8 Monte Carlo, steered his way to the most wins of the season, and Barry Andrews was the 2006 Rookie-of-the-Year.
Thanks guys for providing such electrifying race footage for SHORT TRACK! I started shooting my movie with four fabulous stars and ended up with 30 more!
Past UARA-STARS Champions
So, how effective is this touring series at advancing driver's to the next level?
* 2006 UARA-STARS Champion
* Brandon was tapped straight off of his championship to drive for USAR Pro Cup team owner Randy Humphrey. Running the USAR Pro Cup Northern Division, Brandon won 2007 Rookie-of-the-Year honors.
* 2005 UARA-STARS Champion
* Matt was tapped to compete in the Discovery Channel's Roush Racing: Driver X, and also signed a driver development contract with Robert Yates Racing. In 2006, Matt made his debut in the ARCA/Remax series at Daytona, where he qualified Second and finished Second. He also competed in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Late in 2007, Matt worked with Roush Fenway Racing, setting up and testing cars for Carl Edwards.
Look through the UARA ranks...
Look through the UARA ranks and you'll find plenty of youngsters like Lucas Ransone and his fellow competitors seen here attending a UARA Driver's Meeting.
* 2004 UARA-STARS Champion
* Sharing an interesting honor with short-track racing icon Ralph Earnhardt, Lee Tissot of Arden, N.C., was the last track champion at the now closed Asheville Speedway. The late Ralph Earnhardt was the first. This veteran driver has a win column that any driver would envy.
* 2003 UARA-STARS Champion
* Jason York has more than 50 career wins. He captured three NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series Late Model Stock Championships. York also competed in the USAR Pro Cup and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. In 2007, Jason started the season strong at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, N.C., taking home three winner's trophies and logging an astounding Seventh place finish in the season's points race after competing in only 13 out of 22 events.
Danny O'Quinn Jr.
* 2002 UARA-STARS Champion
* Danny O'Quinn Jr. won both Rookie-of-the-Year and the Lonesome Pine Late Model Track Championship in just his second year of competition. After his UARA championship, Danny went on to run in the USAR Pro Cup Series, where he was the youngest driver at the time to win a series race. In 2004, O'Quinn was invited to compete in Roush Racing's Race for the Ride. He was then offered a driver development deal with Roush Racing, who ran him in USAR Pro Cup, ARCA, and NASCAR'S Craftsman Truck Series. Danny is still with Roush Fenway Racing, after having brought home the 2006 NASCAR Busch Series Rookie-of the-Year honors.
Who to Watch in 2008
Sponsorships, at this level, can be a day-to-day thing. One day you've got them; one day you don't. It's very hard for these young drivers and teams to plan very far ahead. Many are running out of their family's back pockets. Most are working jobs by day and at their race shops by night. Still, they show up with racecars, family and friends in tow with big dreams and lots of determination.
Darrell Wallace Jr. is one...
Darrell Wallace Jr. is one of the up-and-coming stars of the UARA. He's just 14 years old.
2008 is gearing up to be the best season yet for the UARA-STARS. Along with the series' veteran drivers, I'd look for some extra excitement from these hungry youngsters:
Matt DiBenedetto will show up with his supportive family and crew and be gunning for the championship. Matt placed Fifth in the season opener at Hickory. In only his second race with the STARS, he took the win at Concord Motorsports Park, North Carolina's fastest short track. There is no doubt that Matt and company are hitting on a lot of things right. And Matt is not the only talent out of that shop; his hot rod is hooked up too!
Lucas Ransone, a high school junior from Madison, N.C., has already shown a lot of talent, maturity and consistency in only his second year in the UARA. This handsome, self-proclaimed country boy would be any sponsor's dream.
I can't imagine what it would be like to have two sons run in the same series, but the Leicht Family of Asheville, N.C., somehow manages. Twenty-year-old Kevin Leicht, already a UARA race winner, is two years older than brother, Matt Leicht. I'd bet the Leicht boys will have a significant future in racing.
Darrell Wallace Jr. turned 14 a few days before his UARA debut. He ran a very impressive Second at Greenville in 2007, and as the cars pulled into the tech line after the race, fans and press alike crowded around the youngster just to get a look at who was driving that car.
Coming to a Track Near You
I brought some of L.A.'s finest professional actors to North Carolina for the race, but they weren't the STARS out that night. Coming to a track near you, the UARA-STARS 2008.
Marie Hopkins is writer, director and producer of the upcoming film, SHORT TRACK, slated to be released this summer. It was her love for short track racing and admiration of its competitors and their families that brought SHORT TRACK to the screen. Marie has several other film projects in various stages of development. She is also a freelance writer and has contributed numerous articles to several motorsports magazines. Though Marie is currently living in Los Angeles, Calif., she was born to a Greenville, S.C., NASCAR racing family. Her late father, Ronnie Hopkins Sr., was a NASCAR Championship car owner with the notorious Tiny Lund at the wheel. Ronnie also fielded short-track cars for both the late Ray Hendrick and Butch Lindley. He was better known in his later years as the founder of Ronnie Hopkins Enterprises (RHE), a car builder and chassis specialist supplying many of the teams now competing in NASCAR's Craftsman Truck, Nationwide Grand National and Sprint Cup Series.