(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.)
Darrell Wallace Jr.
Hometown: Mobile, AL
Series: NASCAR K&N Pro Series East
Being the #2 selection in the draft can be anticlimactic, just as Texas A&M Linebacker Von Miller found out in the NFL Draft this year. He was picked #2 and behind a big name in Auburn’s Cam Newtown.
Same can be said for Darrell Wallace, Jr. He is the #2 pick in this year’s Short Track Draft presented by Hedman Husler Hedders and he too was selected behind a big name in Ross Kenseth, the son of former NASCAR Cup Series champ Matt Kenseth.
But like the Texas A&M Linebacker, Darrell Wallace Jr. is tough as nails. Through the years, whether it was in Bandoleros or East Series cars, “Bubba,” as he has always been affectionately called, has been a guy you don’t want to mess with on the racetrack. Just ask East Series champion Ryan Truex about the race he lost to Wallace last year in Lee, NH.
At 17 years-old, Wallace is prime for the picking. And his performance in what was essentially a talent-combine at Richmond International Raceway in the K&N East race at Richmond International Raceway (he won) and the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown Late Model race against the stars of NASCAR (challenged for the lead late in the race with Kyle Busch) live on SPEED, certainly helped his cause.
In fact, in comparison to last year’s draft, Wallace jumped 24-spots. He was selected by 31 of our 40 experts and received 21 top-10 votes, including a leading five first place selections.
He has become more marketable during the past couple years and has certainly improved with his media interviews. He’s a serious competitor at the track that our experts would love to see smile a little more.
More importantly, Darrell Wallace now has three NASCAR East Series victories in just more than a year and is a serious contender to become the champion. He now leads the standings after three races for the Revolution Racing team, which has ties to NASCAR’s diversity program.
Hometown: Hubbard, Ohio
Series: PASS South, NASCAR K&N Pro Series East
While he may not have a dad that won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, Ryan Blaney comes from generations of racing expertise. Grandpa Lou and dad Dave, the Buckeye Bullet, have passed on their talents and determination to Ryan, who won the 2010 CRA Southern Six-Pack Super Late Model Championship and finished second in PASS South points after a down-to-the-wire battle with Preston Peltier for title.
Growing up in Quarter Midgets as the son of a former World of Outlaws Champion, Blaney did the same step early on that his dad did later in his career. The elder Blaney dominated the dirt tracks before switching to asphalt fendered racing, but as soon as he was old enough, Ryan was driving Late Models and driving them quite well.
Blaney is not flashy, but he’s good enough to earn one number-one vote and 22 top-10 votes. He’s working at getting more comfortable in front of cameras and a microphone, which will take him a long way. That was a major knock on him in years past in the Short Track Draft, but already in 2011 our panel noted a marked improvement not just behind the wheel, but in his media abilities, as well.
He still has to win a “big one,” but he’s already dabbling in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and turned some heads in his debut in that series at Richmond. Like the #3 Draft pick in the NFL, Alabama’s Marcell Dareus, who’s main criticism was his stamina going into the draft, Blaney is going to have to win the longer, tire-consderving races, but after winning already in a PASS South event and running in the top-10 in the PASS South “THE RACE” at North Wilkesboro, this could be a breakout year for Blaney.
Andrew “Bubba” Pollard
Hometown: Senoia, GA
Series: Super Late Model/Pro Late Model
Senoia, Georgia produced one of the top NFL Linebackers in the past decade, Keith Brooking. Brooking was selected in the first round in 1988 by the Atlanta Falcons and made the Pro Bowl five-times for the “Dirty Birds.” Now retired, Brooking is certainly someone the little town in the Peach State is proud of.
Lately, it’s another kind of athlete they are proud of. This time, the number four draft pick out of Senoia, GA, is that of racecar driver Andrew Pollard better known to all in the short track ranks as, “Bubba.”
Pollard is also like that of this year’s #4 selection in the NFL Draft, Wide Receiver AJ Green, who was selected from; you guessed it, the University of Georgia by the Cincinnati Bengals. Both are fast and both love to win.
In the last two years, Pollard has won more than 20 races in the tough deep south Late Model ranks at tracks such as Five Flags Speedway, Mobile Int’l Speedway, South Alabama Speedway, and Lanier Nat’l Speedway.
This year, the combination of the toughness of a Linebacker and the speed of a Wide Receiver has paid big dividends for the 24 year-old. He has triumphed four times and has only finished out of the top 10 in two of his 13-races at press time. In fact, he’s also had four, second place finishes.
Pollard used to be a little rough around the edges, but his current team has polished him up nicely. He speaks well in interviews and is one of the most respected Late Model drivers in the country. He’s much taller than Tony Stewart, but similar in appearance, and that’s worked well for the two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champ.
Five of our panel of voters selected him as their overall #1 pick. Of his 34 overall votes, he also had 18 top-10 picks and 30 top-20 selections. Those numbers are just a tick off of the #1 pick in the Draft, Ross Kenseth. Pollard was also a favorite among the masses, with 62 fan votes.
Pollard is certainly the latest to make the town of Senoia, Georgia proud.
Hometown: Pinellas Park, Florida
Series: Super Late Model/Pro Late Model
Six of the first 10 selections in the 2011 NFL Draft were underclassmen. In this year’s Short Track Draft four of the first five picks are underclassmen (under the age of 18 as deemed a requirement to race in NASCAR “Big Three” series).
The youngest of them all, is the #5 pick in the Short Track Draft; from Pinellas Park, Florida, 16 year-old Stephen Nasse.
During the past couple of years, the youngster has broken track records and taken checkered flags in some of the best series (Super Late Model / Pro Late Model / Pro Cup) and toughest tracks in the state of Florida.
While all of the successes made everyone take notice, 2011 has been a “coming out party” for the high school student. He won the Redeye 100 at New Smyrna Speedway to kickoff the calendar year and then was victorious again during Florida Speedweeks in the shadows of the “Big Track” just up the road. He then broke the track record at the famed North Wilkesboro Speedway on one of the biggest racing weekends of the year. He topped off all that by winning one of the toughest Super Late Model races of the spring, the Pro All Stars Series Easter Bunny 150 at legendary Hickory Motor Speedway (NC).
The recent success has vaulted the teen up the polls. Of our 40 experts, Nasse was selected 30-times, with two #1 overall selections, 19 top-10 and 24 top-30 picks. He also is a fan favorite, who received 53 mentions on the “Fan Vote” category derived from the Speed51.com Five Star Race Car Bodies Facebook Feed.
At 6’5” tall, Nasse resembles that of a top NFL Cornerback, which just so happened to be the #5 pick in this year’s NFL Draft. The following is the NFL.com breakdown on Patrick Peterson, from LSU, who was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals. But while you read it, fill Nasse’s name in wherever you see Peterson.
“Peterson is built like a safety, has the speed of a corner and is an elite playmaker. He has the explosion and range to play on an island and the instincts to be effective in zone heavy schemes. He has elite ball skills and is a shifty runner that is a nightmare to take down in the open field. He is a supremely confident kid that always looks to make plays.”
In 2011, Nasse is planning to race the entire PASS South schedule, which many people laud as one of the most competitive series in the nation.
A message to all talent scouts; don’t let this one slip away.
Hometown: Kannapolis, NC
Series: Super Late Models
To earn a nickname in racing like “Hotshoe,” you’ve got to be able to back it up. We remember all the buzz about Carnell “Cadillac” Williams when he came out of Auburn into the NFL with the Bucs, but his career has resembled more of a Hyundai than a Cadillac.
But thus far, “Hotshoe” Hemric has been living up to the name. Hemric came onto the scene like gangbusters in 2009, winning just about everything there was to win in Legends Car racing, including a National Championship. In 2010, he won the biggest race in the history of Legends racing, the Million at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
He dabbled in some NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour races in 2010, but he saw the most success when he was behind the wheel of a Pro and Super Late Model. In his very first Pro Late Model race at Concord Speedway (NC), Hemric set a new track record and finished second. In his first PASS South start, he finished second at Orange County Speedway (NC) and finished fourth in his third-ever Late Model start.
Then, everything came together for Hemric to score his first Late Model victory, albeit after the apparent winner was disqualified in tech, during Florida Speedweeks at New Smyrna Speedway (FL) this past February. His record to date earned him two #1 votes, 18 top-10’s and his name on 32 of the 40 ballots.
Hemric is not one of the much-talked-about “rich kids” in the sport. His very meager start in the sport and humble background has led several influential people in the industry, including former NASCAR All Pro Series Champ Jeff Fultz and his car owner Curtis Venable, to take a liking to him and are helping him achieve his goals.
Hometown: Fairhope, AL
Series: ARCA, Super Late Models
It’s no secret that an athlete’s reputation sometimes speaks for itself and often times precedes the actions of an athlete in many eyes. When you hear, “Cam Newton,” sure you think of the 2010 BCS National Championship winning Auburn University quarterback, but thoughts of the scandal surrounding his choice and incentives to attend the Alabama school will inevitably also fill your mind. Regardless, Newton has a reputation of performing under pressure and getting the job done; winning on the field.
The same goes for Grant Enfinger. When anyone see’s Enfinger’s blue #82 Super Late Model unload at any track they know to keep an eye on him because he’s going to be fast. They also know that when the laps are winding down and he’s running towards the front, you don’t want to be the guy in front of him.
The Fairhope, Alabama driver’s reputation of fearlessness and aggressiveness when it counts often reaches the car in front of him before his bumper does. And in recent years those attributes have found Enfinger success in both Super Late Models as well as in ARCA, although his first win continues to elude him despite a string of top-5 finishes in ARCA.
Like most athletes who spend the majority of their time preparing for their next event by practicing physically or mentally, Enfinger is known to spend his time working on his equipment as well. In past seasons Enfinger has found success in the ARCA Racing Series in his own equipment and it was not uncommon to see the driver working alongside his crew on their machine in the garage.
Enfinger made his second trip to victory lane in the South Alabama Speedway "Rattler" event in 2011 and is currently only one point out of the lead in the Sunoco Gulf Coast Championship Series standings after two second-place finishes. He is also in contention for the CRA Southern Six Pack crown in 2011. The 26-year old driver teamed with Allgaier Motorsports this season and they are currently 5th in ARCA Racing Series points with two top-10 finishes in three races thus far.
Although Enfinger didn’t receive any fan votes, he did receive two #1 votes from our expert panel of 40 contributors as well as 19 top-10 and 22 top-20 votes.
It also doesn’t hurt that Enfinger hails from the great state of Alabama, which has produced the last two BCS National Championship teams and draft powerhouses the University of Alabama and Auburn University.
Hometown: Asheville, NC
Series: NASCAR K&N East, Late Models
Number-eight NFL Draft Pick Jake Locker from the University of Washington stayed in school for his senior season and, according to some experts, that hurt his Draft stock. Short Track Draft #8 pick Coleman Pressley’s stock only went up as he stayed in school on the short track ranks in 2010.
Pressley followed in his dad Robert’s and grandfather Bob’s footsteps and became a champion in 2010, as the 22-year-old earned the UARA-Stars Late Model Stock Car tour championship. He did all that in “school” on the short tracks, but he also was part of the accelerated graduation program as he made a handful of starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2010 with JR Motorsports and R3 Motorsports.
Pressley made the best of his opportunities in the Nationwide Series, but without a big wallet to keep himself there, he wasn’t able to secure a full-time ride there going into the 2011 season.
That didn’t stop him from still making every effort to stay in the seat, as he partnered with the newly-formed X Team Racing for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season opener at Greenville-Pickens Speedway (SC). The deal was scheduled to only be for that one race, but a second-place finish at Greenville now has him behind the wheel of the #14 regularly in the East Series.
Pressley earned three #1 votes and appeared in the top-10 on 11 voters’ ballots and in the top-20 on 23 ballots.
Hometown: The Woodlands, TX
Series: UARA, ARCA
The Woodlands, Texas might not have the name recognition as one of the big cities in a state where everything’s big, but it’s produced some famous NFL athletes, including Larry Izzo, who earned Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots and Danny Amendola of the St. Louis Rams.
Twenty-year-old Late Model and ARCA racer Brennan Poole may not have much in common besides his hometown with Izzo, who is a burly Linebacker and Special Teams specialist, but he and Amendola are just alike – small and speedy.
Poole will not impress anyone with his size, but his right foot does plenty of talking for him. He has won half – eight out of 16, to be exact – of the most recent UARA-Stars Late Model races. Even after splitting from the team that earned him most of those races after the 2010 season, Poole kept up his winning ways with his newly-formed family team by winning the 2011 season opener at Hickory in dominating fashion.
A stellar 2010 season would have earned him the UARA title, but a carburetor infraction and subsequent disqualification from a win at Tri-County Motor Speedway (NC) forced him to end up a few points short of Coleman Pressley for the title at year’s end.
In a case of “What have you done for me lately,” Poole put himself in a Venturini Motorsports car and won in his first-ever series start at Salem, Indiana just before the voting for the Short Track Draft commenced, which shot him up the rankings in the minds of some voters. Poole earned two first place votes and appeared on 26 of the 40 ballots.
Bobby Santos III
Hometown: Franklin, MA
Series: NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour / Open-Wheel Racing
Blaine Gabbert, from the University of Missouri, was touted as the top Quarterback prospect for the NFL Draft. Two other QBs were taken before him as Gabbert slipped to the 10th pick with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The same can be said of the 10th pick in this year’s Short Track Draft. Bobby Santos III is touted as one of the most talented and versatile racers in the country, but this year he slips from #2 in the Draft one year ago, all the way to the bottom of the ten best in the country.
Ironically, “the slide” comes after second generation racers’ most successful seasons. Santos landed the ride in the potent Mystic Missile #4 machine on the ultra-competitive NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 2010. He won four times, including at the prestigious Martinsville Speedway in Virginia, en route to a career first National Championship.
“Potential” has been a label that Bobby Santos had been tagged with for so many years, but not anymore.
And this year the 25 year-old is backing it up again. He just became a now two-time winner of the “Greatest Race of Spring,” the “Spring Sizzler” at Stafford Motor Speedway (CT).
With all of his attributes in Modifieds, Sprint Cars and Midgets, Santos received 30 selections, in which 26 of them were top-20 and 21 were top-10 picks. He is, however, the only driver in the top-10 Draft Picks to not have a sole #1 selection. However, Santos did receive a whopping six, #2 picks, by our experts.
Santos did not receive a single “Fan Vote” and while he remains popular among the Northeast racing community, he’s always had difficulty speaking in public and that is the only blemish to his reputation. A win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with a smiling face in victory lane in front of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in July or September could give him the big boost he needs in his career.
While the Short Track Draft focuses solely on the future drivers for NASCAR, Bobby Santos III could certainly by a top draft pick for any form of big league racing.