EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN AS NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES MARKS 400TH START
COMPETITION THE CONSTANT AS TRUCK SERIES ROLLS OFF SATURDAY AT 2 P.M. ET FROM KANSAS LIVE ON SPEED™
Carelli: “As soon as the first trucks went around the race track … everyone wanted to be a part of it.”
Dunlap: “It didn’t take me long to realize those bizarre contraptions - those trucks - were for real and Bill Sr.’s idea was sheer genius.”
In a world increasingly fixated on superfluous updates and upgrades, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in some ways looks refreshingly similar to the way it did 400 races ago. But the crux of its focus and its primary constant remains the competition.
When Greg Biffle leads the field to green in the pace truck for Saturday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Kansas Speedway (2 p.m. ET live on SPEED; NCWTS Setup with Krista Voda at 1:30 p.m. ET), he guides a highly-successful property to its 400th start.
Despite the warp speed at which the Truck Series’ popularity took off with the first green flag at Phoenix International Raceway in 1995, no one really knew what those 33 trucks in the field would ever produce.
“We were like the new kid on the block showing up for something,” said Rick Carelli, who drove in the inaugural Truck Series race and competed fulltime in five of the first six seasons. “When anything new comes on board, no one knows what it’s going to be like. Could those trucks even race? But then all of a sudden, at the end of the day, everyone was very satisfied with what they got in the Truck Series. There were a lot of unknowns but there was excitement. I think as soon as the first trucks went around the race track … everyone wanted to be a part of it.”
“When Bill France, Sr. first made the announcement that NASCAR was starting a series that raced pickup trucks, I thought he had lost his marbles,” said Ray Dunlap, longtime SPEED reporter in the Truck Series. “Coming from a background in Late Models and full-bodied stock cars, I couldn’t begin to grasp the concept of trucks out there, and when I saw them for the first time, I found them very boxy and strange-looking. However, it didn’t take me long to realize those bizarre contraptions - those trucks - were for real and Bill Sr.’s idea was sheer genius.”
Drivers, teams and sponsors have come and gone in the series, now in its 17th season, since France first dreamed it up and Carelli first wheeled a Truck, but the more things change in the Truck Series, the more they stay the same.
“If there is a series that has stayed pretty much the same over the years, it’s the Truck Series,” said Andy Houston, former driver who now serves as the spotter for the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet and driver Austin Dillon. “Yeah, the venues have changed and we’ve gotten away from a lot of the Saturday night short tracks, but as far as the atmosphere of the garage or crew members or competitors or the competition level, I don’t think it’s a ton different. It’s more close to what it was than Cup or Nationwide are.”
“I remember thinking in 1995 what a cool group of drivers they had assembled in that series because the average race fan hadn’t heard of many of them, although they all had some pretty incredible credentials in their respective backgrounds,” Dunlap recalled. “But that was part of what really intrigued me. ‘Who were these drivers and why should I like them?’ But that eclectic, diverse pool of drivers still is part of what makes the Truck Series so interesting. We don’t have a bunch of corporate spokespeople or polished and shined puppets. We’ve got some down-to-earth, dirt-under-the nails guys who love to race and happen to be very good at it.”
Perhaps the biggest change in the series over the years, though, was the transition from “halfway breaks” to pit stops.
“When the series first started, we really ran two races in one day,” NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Director Wayne Auton explained. “Most of the time it was 100-lappers. We would run 100 laps, take a break, then come back and run another 100 laps. We then allowed teams to change two tires and eventually four. Then halfway breaks had run their course and we knew that if we wanted to run with the big boys in the national series, we had to implement full pit stops. It took small steps but over time it evolved into the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series we see today.”
The popularity of the Truck Series hasn’t waned, either, over the course of 399 races. Fans still love the Truck Series, as evidenced in increased television ratings on SPEED in the last four consecutive races.
“The races are very good,” Houston said. “They always have been. The trucks race well and draft very well. In the early days, I don’t think they took that into consideration as much as they do now because we were not running on as many speedways, but as soon as they started running at places like Texas and Las Vegas, they realized they put on a really good show and draft well. They make for a tight field and a very competitive race.”
“You have to wheel them from the green flag to the end,” explained Carelli, now General Manager of Kevin Harvick Inc., which fields Truck and NASCAR Nationwide Series teams. “You’re driving on the edge all the time and I think that’s what has given the series the support it has now.”
The first rung on NASCAR’s top-three ladder system still enjoys the support of the sport’s most veteran drivers. Many continue to return to their old stomping grounds to compete, including fulltime NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, who cut their NASCAR teeth in the Truck Series. Additionally, Busch and Harvick own proven Truck teams and Busch and Bowyer are entered at Kansas, with Busch looking to notch his 98th NASCAR win in Saturday’s Truck Series race in his quest to reach 100.
Ray Dunlap, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Reporter. (Photo: SPEED)
“I learned so much in the Truck Series,” said Biffle, 2000 Truck and 2002 Nationwide champ. “They gave me my start and gave me my opportunity. I really miss the Truck Series and all the people there ….”
“If it weren’t for the Truck Series, I wouldn’t be here,” stated Carl Edwards, 2007 Nationwide champion. “Mike Mittler reluctantly hired me to drive his truck in 2002. I ran seven races for Mike, so if NASCAR hadn’t come up with the Truck Series and guys like myself didn’t get those opportunities, this sport would look a lot different today.”
The Truck Series long has served as an excellent proving ground for young drivers such as the aforementioned success stories.
“You’ve seen guys go straight from Trucks to Cup and be successful,” Houston explained. “You’ve seen guys go from the Trucks to Nationwide and be successful. You come in as a young guy and you get to go to all the venues the Cup cars do. They don’t have nearly the power but the way they drive and handle is pretty similar to Cup or Nationwide. If you have a lot of success Truck racing, I think you can make it to Cup without running Nationwide. I think it’s that competitive and you can learn what you need to be successful in the higher ranks.”
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