The field for the second annual Polar Bear 150 of the Frank Kimmel Street Stock Nationals
It's always satisfying when a project car lines up to take the green flag in actual competition. It's even more satisfying when a project car wins a race. And while some magazines can only dream of that happening we, here at Circle Track, have been fortunate enough to have both of those events happen on more than one occasion in each of the last two race seasons. However, and please pardon the editorializing here, I was beyond excited for the Saturday after Thanksgiving 2010. Let's face it, it's not every day that a NASCAR Champion jumps behind the wheel of a magazine project car, but that's exactly what happened on November 27.
Frank Kimmel's increasingly popular Street Stock Nationals is a traveling series, of sorts, that gives Street Stock racers the opportunity to race their cars on some of the bigger, more well known NASCAR/ARCA racetracks around the country. Kentucky Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, and Rockingham Speedway have all been sites of FKSSN events. This year Kimmel and Rockingham Speedway owner Andy Hillenburg jointly decided to move the date of the annual Polar Bear 150 to the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The PB150 was traditionally run on January 1, but the Saturday after Turkey Day afforded spectators and racers alike better scheduling, not to mention the fact that the weather would be far more cooperative in late fall rather than the dead of winter.
Kimmel's series has made big strides in popularity in the few years it has been in existen
How It Started
One racer in particular found the scheduling perfect to head back to his roots from his Sportsman racing days. "Originally, it was something that several of my racing buddies had discussed as a 'got-to-do,'" said Kurt Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup Champion, and soon-to-be driver of Roger Penske's No. 22 Shell Dodge.
Rockingham General Manager Robert Ingram recounts the story of a recent Penske test at the Rock. "Myself and several of the Penske crew chiefs were leaning over a stack of tires talking when Kurt walked up. One of the crew chiefs turned to him and said, 'You want to race in the Polar Bear?' He said, 'Sure, be glad to.' It was just that simple."
Kurt Busch had raced in the Sportsman division as a kid, so the Kimmel Street Stocks brought back plenty of memories and according to Ingram, the more Busch got into the idea, the more excited he got.
Busch and his crew push Project Bomber onto Rockingham's pit road.
"Just a back to grassroots fun, no stress time, like the way it was when I first started," said Busch. "I tried to generate some interest with a couple other NASCAR drivers but none could commit the time to it. They really missed out. It was a great way to unwind after a tough season."
Busch's plans started out with another car but that would soon change. "Ingram put us in touch with Andy Hillenburg who had access to a car that we could race. It was a 1970 Chevelle," said Busch. "My guys scooped it up and brought it to our shop where we could get a closer look. It was, let's say, 'not race ready.' There were several things, as far as safety and handling, that we were worried about. It was then that we reached out to Frank Kimmel and explained we wanted to run but this car was going to take quite a bit of the fun out of it."
Kimmel didn't have to look far to find a car for Busch to race. Project Bomber was offered up. "Frank said he would gladly bring it to the October 31 test so that my guys could have time to prepare it, (seat, head rest, belts, and decals)," continued Busch. "The idea came to us: Why not run a few laps while the car is there at the test? The Cup cars were at Talladega that weekend so I had no chance to do it myself. I asked Parker Kligerman, my Penske teammate, to shake it down and give me his input. He ran very competitive lap times on old tires. He brought another level of excitement leading up to the race."
Busch got his hands dirty helping out the No. 60 car.
Climbing into the Circle Track Street Stock is quite a bit easier than getting into the cr
Frank Kimmel's Street Stockers sport a trademark wicker bill across the roof of the car. T
Readers of the magazine will notice two differences about Project Bomber with Busch behind
The race was, by all accounts, a dominating performance by Will Kimmel, Frank Kimmel's nephew. Kimmel led 148 of 150 laps en route to his first victory at the track. The only other guy to lead any laps was, you guessed it, Kurt Busch. Ironically, Busch's best finish at Rockingham in any car was a Second and that's where he ended up in the Polar Bear 150.
While the stats say the race was a runaway, it was anything but. At one point, Busch didn't hesitate going four wide to briefly grab the lead, a move that caught Kimmel's attention. "It was a little intimidating to look back and see the No. 22 (Busch) in the mirror," said Kimmel.
"Will and I raced each other very hard; that was what I came for," explained Busch. "The most fun a guy like me can have is to run neck and neck with another driver and put on a show for the fans. It's no fun for anybody to watch one car check out and run away with the race. We ran 110 laps side by side, nose to tail, both cars sliding around on hard tires before we ever touched.
Fifty Street Stocks took the green flag and with that many cars on Rock's 1-mile oval, the
"I was pretty confident in my car but at the same time it was pretty hard to keep it on the bottom where it ran the best," said Kimmel, who started on the pole. "My guys built a great car today. This thing just ran awesome all day. It's been a while since we've been in Victory Lane, so this is really cool."
All Frank Kimmel Street Stock Nationals races are divided into two segments with a short break in between. "When we designed the series, we wanted the races to be long enough to put on a good show for the fans," explains Kimmel. "But longer races generally mean pit stops and that would drive the cost up too much. So we divided the race in half with a short break. It was a big cost savings to avoid pit stops."
In the second segment of the Polar Bear 150, Busch had his work cut out for him. Contact with Kimmel forced the Las Vegas, Nevada, native to make a pit stop to pull the fender off the left front tire. "I got alongside him going down the backstretch and a lap car tried to get out of the way, instead he went the opposite direction," said Busch. "Will wasn't at fault. If anything it made the race that much more interesting. I passed a lot of cars as the laps wound down. We had to come in to repair the damage; it was rubbing the left front tire. I wanted to come from the back to worry him to death but we ran out of laps and power.
Will Kimmel, Frank's nephew, leads Chuck Barnes, winner of the last two Polar Bear 150 eve
"It was a blast," said Busch, despite the contact with Kimmel. "It was just as much fun as I thought it would be. It was old-school racing-toss it in sideways and drive the hell out of it. We got every ounce out it."
In total, the race was slowed by nine cautions for 42 laps while 10 of the 50 cars that started finished on the lead lap.
Frank Kimmel was pleased with the results. "I'm really, really impressed with the race, yes we had a few big accidents, but that's kinda part of the deal. All the safety equipment did its job and nobody got hurt. There was great racing throughout the field and the race wasn't a runaway, Kurt was battling with Will the whole way."
Try as he might, Busch couldn't get by Kimmel and settled for Second. Kimmel, an up and co
How Did Project Bomber Perform
Of course, the biggest question on our minds here at CT was what Busch thought of our little project. "It was great," he said. "The car was aero loose the whole time, the wicker provides a lot of down force ahead of the windshield, but makes lift behind. Most people would think, 'What fun is that to run a Street Stock?' I must say the package of aero and hard tires makes you really have to drive the cars. Frank has a really good concept; it puts the driver back into the racing. You have to be on your toes and bring good stuff to run all day. My car was very well built; it had safety as the major focus and reliability as the key ingredient. We only had one problem. About 20 to go, the engine started to misfire, a burnt plug wire boot is what we found, but it still came home in Second.
"Racing Rockingham was as much fun as it always was," said Busch. "There were all the lanes to choose from. We worked the low groove and the high groove. This place is so fun with the bumps and quirks. This racetrack, for sure, gets a gold star. Guys in our series (Sprint Cup) who are car guys-who are racers-should definitely be down here racing."
Will Kimmel celebrates his win in Rockingham's Victory Lane.
The Impact That quote from Busch says it all. And for the Series founder to have Busch race in the Polar Bear was a big deal. "It was huge," said Frank Kimmel. "I felt privileged that he came and raced with us. It was really big for the competitors. That somebody of his stature came to race gives us so much credibility.
Not only that, but Kimmel says that Busch fit right in with the Street Stockers. "He was genuinely happy to be there, happy to work on the cars. I couldn't imagine anybody better to race with us. Everybody he came in contact with said how gracious he was; what a cool guy. I'll tell you, Kurt Busch just gained a lot more fans."
Busch's positive experience at the Polar Bear begs the question: Is Kimmel going to encourage other Cup guys to come race the Street Stock Nationals? "I think we could have more guys come race with us, especially if their schedules allow. You know, Kurt came down and had success and he enjoyed himself. So, I could see the message getting out to other Cup guys about what we are doing here.
Your eyes don't deceive you, that's an open-wheel Modified taking a lap at Rockingham. Tra
The Rock Opens Up
Before the cars of the Frank Kimmel Street Stock Nationals (FKSSN) took the green flag for the Polar Bear 150, race fans in attendance and drivers alike got to witness something truly unique to the 1-mile oval. Track owner Andy Hillenburg arranged for a special exhibition of open-wheeled Modifieds prior to the green flag of the Polar Bear 150.
Although readers of this magazine are surely familiar with the pavement open-wheel Mod, fans likely recognized them as the cars raced at Bowman-Gray Stadium featured in the History Channel show Mad House.
"The Modifieds are just such cool race cars and have such a tremendous cult following. We've had some tests on the track and the cars handle well here," said Rockingham Speedway President Andy Hillenburg. "The exhibition before the Polar Bear will be something new for our race fans and, who knows, the Modifieds could find themselves on Rockingham Speedway's schedule for 2011 and beyond."
The thought of Mods racing around Rock's 1.1-mile oval is tantalizing to say the least.