Starting in 1953, the first 55 seasons in ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards history - a period stretching to 2007 - featured just 10 road course races. This weekend, the ModSpace 150 at New Jersey Motorsports Park's Thunderbolt Raceway will be the fifth such event for ARCA in the last four years.
Representing the series' improved commitment to road racing and schedule diversity, the 67-lap, 150-mile ModSpace 150 will begin at 1 p.m. on Sunday, May 22, with live timing and scoring presented by ARCA Nation at ARCARacing.com. This year's race will be the fourth for the ARCA Racing Series at the technical, 2.25-mile Thunderbolt Raceway course, the park's signature track. Justin Allgaier won the debut event before securing a series championship in 2008, and Patrick Long won from the pole in 2009 in his only ARCA Racing Series start.
Last year, Casey Roderick won after spinning leader Tim George Jr. (No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Development Chevrolet) on Lap 59 of 67; the win was the first for the 18-year-old Bill Elliott protégé.
This season, George enters as a favorite, still armed with a past victory at the track (Grand American Road Racing Association Rolex Sports Car Series, 2008) and a fourth-place finish at Toledo Speedway Sunday. The recent result tied for George's best short track finish, and provided a fair amount of confidence to the driver from nearby New York City.
"We've really been running strong, and to actually have the results is good," George said. "Now we look good on the track and on paper, so I'm happy. We'll go to a road course where it's my home track and hopefully we'll get a W in Jersey."
The race is the fifth of 19 this season and the first of four in pursuit of the Bill France Four Crown, the season-within-a-season contest which rewards ARCA Racing Series drivers for success on a diverse slate of tracks. The Four Crown schedule is comprised of the races to be held at New Jersey; at Michigan International Speedway (2-mile superspeedway, June 17); at the (Springfield) Illinois State Fairgrounds (1-mile dirt oval, August 21); and at Salem Speedway (0.555-mile oval, September 17).
Joey Coulter won last season's Bill France Four Crown, finishing in the top 10 in each of the four events, which were all held in August.
Chris Buescher (No. 17 David Ragan Fan Club Ford) is the highest returning finisher from last August's race at New Jersey Motorsports Park. Buescher finished third, just ahead of Frank Kimmel (No. 44 Ansell/Menards Ford) and Tom Hessert in the top five. Hessert, a New Jersey native and resident, drove for Cunningham Motorsports last season but now races for Ken Schrader Racing and the No. 52 Federated Auto Parts Chevrolet.
Kimmel, meanwhile, has by far the most ARCA experience on road courses, with seven top-10s in eight starts dating back to 1991. Kimmel's road experience ranges from Heartland Park in Topeka, Kan. and the Des Moines, Iowa Grand Prix to Watkins Glen International, Palm Beach International Raceway, and of course, New Jersey Motorsports Park, where he's finished 10th (2008), ninth (2009), and fourth (2010) in three attempts.
After losing his chance at victory following an incident involving eventual winner Ty Dillon (No. 41 Richard Childress Racing Development Chevrolet) at Toledo Sunday, Kimmel insisted his focus is on the future, not the past.
"I think I'm ready," Kimmel said. "There's a few more right turns than what we're used to, but like I said, our road course program is competitive. This race last year put us at the top of the standings and I'd love it if the same thing could happen this weekend."
Kimmel is currently third in points, five behind Matt Merrell (No. 32 Champion Brands Dodge) and 100 behind Dillon, a two-time ARCA winner this season.
"Any track can be fun and that's what is great about ARCA," Kimmel said. "(ARCA president) Ron (Drager) and the boys aren't afraid to throw a different track at us, whether it's a superspeedway, a short track, a road course, or a dirt track. This race adds a lot to the ARCA Racing Series and I expect it to be one of these that tightens up the points race."
Though no driver among the 31 entered can claim a New Jersey ARCA victory, seven on the current entry list have made all three ARCA starts at the track: Kimmel, Hessert, Darrell Basham, Bryan Silas, Brad Smith, James Hylton, and Bob Schacht. Kimmel is the only driver with three top-10s; Hessert has two.
Two Saturday practices are scheduled for the ModSpace 150, from 11:15 a.m.-12:45 p.m. and 1:45-2:45 p.m. Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell - won on all three occasions by Dillon - will begin at 4:30 p.m., in turn setting the field for Sunday's race, which starts at 1 p.m. Live timing and scoring coverage of all ARCA Racing Series activity will be available on ARCARacing.com.
The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards features 19 events at 16 tracks on its 2011 schedule. The series has crowned an ARCA national champion each year since its inaugural season in 1953, and has toured over 200 race tracks in 28 states since its inception. The series tests the abilities of drivers and race teams over the most diverse schedule of stock car racing events in the world, annually visiting tracks ranging from 0.4 mile to 2.66 miles in length, on both paved and dirt surfaces as well as a left- and right-turn road course.
Founded by John Marcum in 1953 in Toledo, Ohio, the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) is recognized among the leading sanctioning bodies in the country. Closing in on completing its sixth decade after hundreds of thousands of miles of racing, ARCA administers over 100 race events each season in two professional touring series and local weekly events.