(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following selections were comprised by an evaluation of 40 industry leaders in short track racing, including directors, promoters, NASCAR talent scouts, media and former #1 Draft Picks. More than 100 drivers received votes. The Top 51 Draft Picks are annually announced by Speed51.com to coincide near the date of the NFL Draft.)
Age - 20
Hometown – Berlin, CT
Series – NASCAR WMT
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour has not had a young racer compete on a high level and graduate to the next level of the sport since Steve Park in the late 1990’s. That drought may be coming to an end with 20-year-old Ryan Preece. The young Connecticut native finished second in 2009’s Tour standings and has three career Tour wins, all driving the famed “Ole Blue” #3. He’s moved on to a new startup team on the Tour, plus has added weekly SK Modified racing to his schedule.
Pros: A confident and friendly personality, Preece can talk a big game and back it up. He’s shown the ability to make anything go fast, winning the SK Modified feature on Spring Sizzler weekend at Stafford and finished 14th in his first-ever fendered-car race – the prestigious Snowball Derby in 2008.
Cons: There’s nothing wrong with being a Modified “lifer,” racing in the groundpounders for your entire career, but it’d be a shame for this kid to not get any more experience in fendered cars to try to progress up the ladder. Park didn’t really make a big enough splash until he went East Series racing, so that could be a good route for Preece.
Age – 19
Hometown – Prosper, TX
Series – ARCA, NNS
Chris Buescher spent the 2009 and 2010 seasons gaining experience with Roulo Brothers Racing in the ARCA Racing Series where he gathered two wins and six top-5 finishes. Buescher currently sits third in 2011 series standings. Most recently, Buescher has been subbing for Trevor Bayne for the last few weeks in his #16 Nationwide car while Bayne is recovering from an insect bite.
Pros: Buescher is a points racer. He keeps himself out of trouble so he can always carry his machine over the line at the end of an event damage-free.
Cons: Despite being in such close ties with Cup Series star David Ragan he really doesn’t get much press. Buescher is often very soft-spoken and not exactly a personality in the garage.
Age - 22
Hometown – Germantown, TN
Series – Midgets/East Series
Winning the prestigious Chili Bowl Midget race in Tulsa, Oklahoma two years in a row is a feat last done 25 years ago, but Swindell made it happen in 2010 and 2011. The son of legendary open-wheel racer Sammy Swindell, Kevin has been one of the most impressive Midget racers in recent seasons. His abilities in the open-wheel ranks led him to some NASCAR K&N East Series rides, finishing seventh in East Series points in 2010.
Pros: Winning lineage and a heavy right foot. He’s not just “Sammy’s kid,” but has developed a personality of his own.
Cons: No full-time stock car ride in 2011. Also has a bit of shyness to him, which doesn’t help sell corporate America on him for financial support.
Age - 20
Hometown – Acworth, GA
Series – Super Late Models
When you’re driving one of, if not the most paid-attention-to cars in all of short track racing, you darn well better be sure you can get the job done. Driving the Kyle Busch Motorsports #51 Super Late Model has brought a lot of attention to TJ Reaid, but he’s been able to prove that he is doing the car and number justice. Reaid scored the victory in one of the granddaddy’s of all short track racing, the All-American 400, in 2010. Before teaming up with KBM, he won a bunch of Georgia Asphalt Series and Southeast Asphalt Tour events.
Pros: Good looking and personable. He’s shown to not let the pressure of driving a high-profile ride get to him.
Cons: Only one win in the KBM car, while his car owner Busch wins seemingly every time he gets in it. KB has plenty of talent, but folks expect that car to win no matter who’s driving it.
Age - 19
Hometown – South Bend, IN
Series – CRA/Outlaw SLM
Noted Midwestern Crew Chief Bobby Blount took teenager Derrick Griffin under his wings a couple years ago and ever since, the kid has been a rising star. Griffin burst onto the radar for many panelists when he pulled a bump and run on veteran Jeff Parr to win the big money Stan Perry Memorial Outlaw Super Late Model race at Angola (IN) in 2010. Blount hooked him up and got him into a NASCAR Nationwide Series event mid-Summer, then Griffin locked down a full-time ride in the CRA Super Series with series superteam Welch & Wilson Motorsports. Griffin has made good use of the opportunity, running up front consistently and had a strong showing with the team at the Snowball Derby last year.
Pros: Has surrounded himself with people who can help him along the way. Friendly, some would say goofy, but a fresh face in a CRA pit area full of grizzled veterans.
Cons: Used the bumper to get his signature win at the Perry Memorial, which has forced some to label him as an aggressive racer. Time will tell as this kid is still pretty green.
Age - 19
Hometown – Lawrenceville, GA
Series – ARCA/Late Models/Legends
All Casey Roderick has done is win and yet he still flies beneath the radar at times. He’s a Legends Car National Champion, a winner of some of the most prestigious Legends races in the Southeast and beyond, a Pro Late Model track champion, plus he’s an ARCA winner having taken down the win at New Jersey Motorsports Park in 2010. Still, that wasn’t enough to keep him under the Bill Elliott Driver Development program beyond 2010 or in a major touring series, as he’s now back in Legends Cars.
Pros: All this kid does is win. He’s polite and friendly and hasn’t ruffled too many feathers as many Legends graduates have.
Cons: Without bringing a wad of cash, Roderick has seemingly run out of opportunities to advance. It’s hard to do these days, but we’d like to see him roaming the pits of some K&N East or ARCA races to help market himself better.
Age - 28
Hometown - Buda, TX
Series - Pro Late Models
With a name like Colt you can easily tell he is a kid from Texas. James is a Crate Late Model ace having won the Pro 5 title at Concord and the North South Shootout CRA race at the North Carolina track, as well. He was second in the World Crown 300 a few years back on a small scale budget. He also cut his teeth in the old ASA Late Model south ranks where he had nearly a half-dozen wins.
Pros: No matter what he races, he contends. He's good at saving his stuff for lat race runs.
Cons: Has not been able to move to switch up to Super Late Model racing full time. James knows at this point that Late Models are his home, he can have more fun there then trying to bankrupt his family to fill a field at the next level.
Age – 18
Hometown – Winchester, VA
Series – K&N East
Sergio Pena came into the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East like gangbusters in 2010, battling NASCAR star Joey Logano for the win in the Toyota All Star Showdown at Irwindale in his first-ever race. Unfortunately, his second-place Showdown showing seemed to be the highlight of his year as he went on to finish 12th in series standings. In 2011, Pena finished seventh in the season opener and followed up that performance with a win in the very next event. Pena then held the points lead for a few weeks before the series next event at Richmond where he brought home a ninth-place finish.
Pros: Despite being only 18 years old, Pena is very level headed and works hard to keep himself out of trouble. He speaks well and never fails to provide emotion to a winning interview.
Cons: After competing with Logano in All Star Showdown it was a letdown to see him finish 12th in series standings. He seems to show only flashes of brilliance. His good runs are sprinkled throughout stretches of mediocre finishes.
Age – 24
Hometown – Indiantown, FL
Series – ARCA
2010 ARCA Racing Series champion, Patrick Sheltra has spent four years in the series and amassed three wins. Sheltra proved that he was championship worthy by capturing victories on speedways as well as dirt tracks en route to his title. Sheltra also owns one NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start and six NASCAR Nationwide Series starts with a best finish of 18th at Talladega in 2010.
Pros: Sheltra was the perfect points racer in 2010 with only two finishes outside the top-10 in 20 races.
Cons: Where is he now? Milka Duno is now gaining stock car seat time in a Sheltra Motorsports car and Patrick is not in the seat at all. He ran the NNS race at Daytona in February and we haven’t heard from him since.
Age – 28
Hometown – Orlando, FL
Series – SLM
Tim Russell owns two Sunbelt Series championships, two Brighthouse Challenge Series championships, two Triple Crown titles, and a Florida State and Hoosier Elite championship, all awarded within four years. The Florida native has captured wins in many prestigious events including: the World Series of Stock Car Racing, Billie Harvey Memorial, Pete Orr Memorial, Marion Edwards Memorial and the prestigious Governor’s Cup. Russell also owns five ARCA Racing Series starts.
Pros: Tim Russell is nothing if not consistent. Early into 2011 season Russell set sail with a four-race win streak and if he continues on his usual route through the central Florida short tracks it surely won’t be the only win streak he produces this year.
Cons: We’ve seen him dominate his own territory, now let’s see him leave Florida and come challenge himself in a new region or series against a different crop of drivers! It’s been his biggest knock for several years now and the #36 still rarely, if ever, leaves the state line.
Age - 20
Hometown - Mequon, WI
Series - Super Late Models, Pro Late Models
We all saw Kasten gain promise with Revolution Racing in 2010, but it's what she has done since she left the program that has really turn heads. Kasten had strong runs all weekend at Oktoberfest in Wisconsin and was the runner-up in the Future Stars race. She then went the Governor's Cup at New Smyrna where she ran solid. She went back to New Smyrna in February to win a Super Late Model race and contended for the points title. She's got talent and she is starting to back it up.
Pros: She is just another driver on the track. She races with the boys and she'll be rough with the boys if it comes down to that. One Late Model driver said she has never seen someone as young as her give such good feedback on the car.
Cons: 2011 has been ugly outside of Speedweeks. She had a decent run going at "THE RACE," only to be taken out early. Since then she has struggled to make the show after DNQ at the Easter Bunny and the Hamlin Showdown.
Age - 15
Hometown - Las Vegas, NV
Series - West Series, Super Late Models
Las Vegas, Nevada has produced some of the biggest stars in NASCAR today. Brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch became household names out of Las Vegas and it appears early on that Dylan Kwasniewski may be headed down the same path. He came East and dominated a PASS race at Anderson and then matched the best finish for a 15-year-old in an K&N car with a fourth at All American Speedway (CA). He also has won twice in the Super Late Model class at Las Vegas' Bullring.
Pros: "DK" as he is known is has had lots of success early on and that could just fuel his confidence for the 2011 West Schedule.
Cons: 15-year-olds can be aggressive. He tore his stuff up on his way into the show at the Easter Bunny 150 PASS South event.
Age - 29
Hometown – Farmington, ME
Series – PASS Super Late Models
It’s this driver’s final year of eligibility in the Speed51.com Short Track Draft, as at age 29 he’s just under the age limit to be in the running. Clark is a former PASS National Champion with 14 career PASS wins, including the first-ever Mason-Dixon Meltdown PASS South race at South Boston, VA. He also won the 2010 Atlantic Cat 250 at Scotia Speedworld in Canada.
Pros: A proven winner and can work on his own stuff. Once considered over-confident, Clark has toned it down and is a work-for-what-you-have kind of kid.
Cons: Clark’s in the midst of a bad luck string down South, with mechanical problems and crashes keeping him from success. At 29, there’s no time left for bad luck.
Age - 21
Hometown - Bowling Green, KY
Series - Super Late Models, Pro Late Models
Last year, Dillon Oliver took the Pro Late Model portion of the All American 400 at Nashville to add a guitar to his crown for winning the King's Ransom 300 from 2009. He is just about the best there is in the Pro Late Model cars and his car control is top notch. We look to see him contend several more times for victories and even someday a championship.
Pros: Has ice water in his veins. We saw him wheel an ill handling car to a starting spot in the Easter Bunny 150 by holding off series stud Ben Rowe.
Cons: Does not race often enough to know where he will pop up next. Geographically he is in a semi challenged area, but he still finds ways to make some big shows.
Age - 29
Hometown – Atascadero, CA
Series – NASCAR K&N West
To finish in the top-five of nearly half of your 40-plus career starts in any series is impressive, but to do it in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West over the years like David Mayhew has, it makes 21 top-fives in 44 starts seem even more astounding. Mayhew has three career West Series wins and is the 2006 Rookie of the Year in the old NASCAR Southwest Tour. He’s also made a couple NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts with his family team.
Pros: Handsome and consistent. He’s done a lot with a family team, finishing second in points in 2010 to the big-time operation Bill McAnaly Racing, but also has some ties with Kevin Harvick, another Californian.
Cons: At 29, it’s his last year of eligibility and may be running out of time for those shots at the big time. Harvick’s help is good, but the way of the young kids with money will eventually trump friendships.
Age – 16
Hometown – Brentwood, TN
Series – CRA SS, SLM
16-year old Mason Mingus is not only a strong Super Late Model racer but also an asset to his high school’s wrestling, football and track teams. While balancing school, wrestling, football, track and racing, Mingus was able to capture the 2010 Ken Ten Late Model Series championship. Now with short track veteran Chuck Barnes Jr. on his side as he takes on the 2011 CRA Super Series schedule it won’t be long before he finds victory in the Super Late Model ranks.
Pros: Very well-rounded kid. Will be successful on the track, but should he not be, he has plenty of academic and athletic achievements that will make him successful in one venture or another.
Cons: Quite shy. He’s got to break out of his shell if he wants to get the fans’ love.
Age - 24
Hometown - Hempsted, NH
Series - SMT, Modifieds
Andy Seuss is almost a complete package as far as Modified drivers go. Seuss is a well spoken, good looking youngster mixing it up in one of the toughest classes around. Already a proven winner in the Southern Modified Tour ranks Seuss looks for his next goal, a championship. He has been very close each of the last two seasons, but came up short. He is a winner from the top of the county to the bottom as he has several MRS wins in the north to back up his southern prowess.
Pros: Can wheel a car, almost any car. Right now Seuss is with a new team for the 2011 season and is already taking home good runs.
Cons: Has struggled on the northern Mod tour. Little success to back up his performance in the South. Needs to get some full fendered laps if he plans to make a move.
Age - 18
Hometown – Tucson, AZ
Series – K&N East/Midgets
Many people knew of two of the three drivers for X Team Racing when the organization debuted in the NASCAR K&N East Series earlier this season. Matt DiBenedetto and Coleman Pressley were established short trackers (and also early Short Track Draft picks this year), but when Alex Bowman, in the third X Team Toyota, finished third at Greenville (SC) in the season-opener, eyes were opened. But, it shouldn’t be that much of a shock, as the 18-year-old Arizona native was the 2010 USAC Ford Focus Midget National Champion with 11 feature victories before moving to stock cars in 2011.
Pros: Very young with only a handful of full-fendered starts under his belt. A quick learner too, with several top-10 finishes already in 2011 in the East Series.
Cons: Off to a quick start, he’ll have to keep that up. We’ve seen kids come into series like the KNPSE, have some strong runs off the bat, then fade away into obsucurity. With some talented teammates, Bowman will have to show he’s capable of running up front consistently.
Age - 26
Hometown – Barre, VT
Series – ACT
They don’t call Vermont’s Thunder Road International Speedbowl the “Nation’s Site for Excitement” for nothing, as the quarter-mile bullring provides some of the toughest racing in all the short track scene. Nick Sweet’s not intimidated by the action at his hometown track. Instead, he thrives on it. Sweet won the 2010 “King of the Road” track championship at Thunder Road, as well as the Merchants Bank 150 and Governor’s Cup 100 at T-Road, as well.
Pros: Smart and marketable. He’s got the look of a champion and the stats to prove it.
Cons: Has a few career ACT wins, but needs to succeed more than he does now outside of his hometown track.
Age - 19
Hometown – El Reno, OK
Series – PASS South/ARCA
As one of only two female racers to make this year’s Short Track Draft top 51, Kenzie Ruston has a history of not only being one of the top female racers in the country, but one of the most decorated, as well. Ruston is a former Legends Car Champion who has spent the last two seasons getting acclimated to Late Model racing in the Southeast. She had some flashes of brilliance in the Pro Late Model ranks, including a solid 10th-place finish in the Snowflake 100 in 2010. She will also be trying her hand at ARCA racing later this year with Venturini Motorsports.
Pros: A marketing dream. Has a great personality and very well-spoken.
Cons: Hasn’t had a victory, or even a “wow” kind of run yet in Late Models. Went through a tough stretch of tearing up equipment in rookie season, so a consistent string of finishes would do wonders.
Age – 24
Hometown – Chelsea, AL
Series – SLM, PLM
Josh Hamner, son of successful late model engine builder Jeff Hamner, was born into the hotbed of racing in the southeast and has made a name for himself in the region. Hamner owns wins at Salem Speedway (IN) and Birmingham International Raceway (AL) in the ASA Late Model Challenge Series and Southern All Stars, respectively. And in 2008 Hamner captured the Five Flags Speedway Blizzard Series Super Late Model championship.
Pros: Hamner has a lot of things on his side. His father is a renowned engine builder, he hails from the state of Alabama which has produced numerous successful racers before him and has no shortage of short track racing, and he’s a clean cut, well-spoken young man.
Cons: After spending 2010 in a Kyle Busch Motorsports Super Late Model and going winless, Hamner needs to rebound and get back to victory lane.
Age - 21
Hometown - Center Conway, NH
Series - East Series, Super Late Models
DJ Shaw is the last of a dying breed. Not many drivers out of the Northeast still run the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East because of the cost and travel. Shaw is doing it the hard way and is getting results. In 2010 he was sixth in the East Series points with five top-10 finishes. They have strong resources, but not like those of the southern teams with Cup ties. Shaw also runs Late Models and wins. A Multi-time PASS winner and a former Track Champion at White Mountain shows he's a well rounded driver.
Pros: Has a full season under his belt in an East Car and is a proven winner. Because of where he is he will get more looks then those in the ranks below him.
Cons: Deep pockets go far in the East Series and some might think they bring a knife to a gun fight. Either way they still find a way to get the job done.
Age - 23
Hometown – Holtsville, NY
Series – NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour
It’s hard for someone to set track records at a place like Bristol Motor Speedway and win a series’ Rookie of the Year title under the radar, but that’s essentially what New York’s Justin Bonsignore did in 2010. After racing weekly at Riverhead Raceway for a few seasons, Bonsignore and his family team went full-tie on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and went out and won the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title. Bonsignore also wowed the crowd with a record-setting pole run in the WMT event at Bristol.
Pros: Very personable and a hoot to talk to.
Cons: Will need some consistent top-five finishes to truly be considered a threat. Had two top-fives in his RoY season and his only one of this season also ended up with a penalty after a carburetor infraction at Thompson.
Age - 27
Hometown – Meriden, CT
Series – NASCAR Whelen Mod Tours
Once considered a New England Badboy, James Civali has turned into an aggressive, yet successful, racer in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and the Southern Mod Tour, as well. Civali has four career Whelen Mod Tour wins in the Northeast, plus two on the Southern Tour. He was one of several drivers in contention for the 2010 Southern Mod Championship, only to be out of the running late in the race after some contact with another title contender, LW Miller.
Pros: A winning smile and a friendly demeanor outside of the car, when the helmet goes on, he turns into a take-no-prisoners driver.
Cons: His aggressive nature cost him some respect over the years. He’s tried toning it down, but that kind of reputation is hard to shake.
Age - 19
Hometown - Montgomery, AL
Series - Pro Late Models, Super Late Models
At 19 Hunter Robbins has done more than most will ever accomplish. The former Blizzard Series winner has also taken the top event in Pro Late Models, the Snowflake 100. Off the panhandle, Robbins won Rookie of the Year in the Pro Cup ranks and scored a win at the historic Hickory Motor Speedway (NC). Funding has brought him back to the deep south where he run his Pro Late Model and is a threat to win each time out.
Pros: Has lots of experience for someone who is 19. So far he has been able to contend at every level he has raced in.
Cons: Does not have the budget to run all the big shows in the south to get noticed. Will run a handful of 100 lappers and will do well, but harder to make a move up the ladder from that area.
Age - 23
Hometown – Cedar Springs, MI
Series – Outlaw Super Late Models
Dakota Carlson is not only a strong competitor on the racetrack, but the Michigan State University student is pretty good in the classroom, as well. Carlson has been getting it done in his Outlaw Super Late Model over the past few seasons, earning the win in the first Great Lakes Outlaw Series race. He finished fourth in Great Lakes points in 2010 and is a past winner of such big Outlaw shows as the Firecracker 150 at Auto City (MI) and the East Vs. West Shootout at Dixie (MI).
Pros: Has won some big shows in the past and isn’t afraid to mix it up on the track. Has worked with Johnny Benson, Sr. in Michigan, so he knows how to make cars go fast.
Cons: A tad on the pudgy side. Admitted in an article last year that he thinks he’s too old to make it to the next level at just 23, so maybe he’s okay with being a short track ace in the future.