When you think of Late Model racing in the past few years, among the list of names that comes to mind will undoubtedly be Chase Elliott.
When Elliott first hit the scene in the Bandolero/Legend Car ranks, it was hard not to think he was just another kid with a famous last name trying to live up to his dad’s legendary status. However, following his domination in the Legends divisions, Elliott continued his domination into Pro and Super Late Models and the world took notice.
In 2009, Elliott’s first season in the Late Model ranks, the young Dawsonville, Georgia driver posted three wins in the competitive Late Model hotbed of the Southeast.
Those wins weren’t just luck for Elliott. Elliott had three key players in his corner, his father – Million Dollar
Bill Elliott, 1988 NASCAR Cup Series Champion and 16-time Most Popular Driver, his mother – Cindy Elliott who put her PR skills to work marketing Chase and the Bill Elliott Driver Development team to some of the most influential sponsors in the sport, and his crew chief – Ricky Turner, short track veteran and 2002 Snowball Derby winner.
With those three and an able-bodied crew in his corner for the 2010 season, Elliott set out on a schedule of 42 Pro Late Model, Super Late Model, Pro Cup and Sunoco National Tour races. At the end of the year, the team returned back to Dawsonville with an astonishing 13 wins. Those wins included the historic Winchester 400 and the Snowflake 100. Elliott also brought home three championships in the Five Flags Speedway Blizzard Series, Mobile International Speedway Miller Lite Series and the combined Sunoco Gulf Coast Championship Series.
Many drivers compete their entire careers and don’t accomplish what Elliott had at only 14 years of age. After such a record-breaking season, Elliott was voted the 2010 Driver of the Year by a panel of experts compiled by Speed51.com.
Then, as the 2011 season was gearing up to take the green flag, news came from the proverbial “powers that be,” NASCAR, that they would be lowering their minimum age limit in the touring series to a mere 15 years of age. Now Elliott’s biggest setback, his age, was no longer an issue keeping him from moving up the ranks.
It was only a few short weeks later that Elliott announced a partnership with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports with plans to run the full season in NASCAR’s premier developmental stepping stone series, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. Now with a fourth key player in his corner, Elliott is ready to step up the ladder into a slightly more equal playing field with drives who have key players of the same caliber in their corners as well.
However, it’s not just a new series and new competition for Elliott – it’s a totally different car. The Super Late Models he’d been dominating with averaged about 2600 lbs, the East cars he’ll be stepping into, many former NASCAR Nationwide Series cars, weigh a hefty 3300 lbs. There is also a trade-off under the hood, the best Super Late Models carry about 700 horsepower in their lighter chassis’ and the East cars generally run about 550 horsepower in their beastly chassis.
“It’s completely different,” Elliott admitted when asked about the difference. “It’s something that the transition can be very hard to, especially on short tracks. On bigger tracks, those cars are almost made for places like Bristol, Iowa and places like that. I mean it’s definitely very different from anything I’ve ever done. Late Models are so light and that’s something I’ve gotten used to the past two years.”
Although it shouldn’t be forgotten that nine USARacing Pro Cup Races were included in Elliott’s 2010 schedule, so he has had a taste of the heavier equipment before.
“We didn’t run as well as I would have like to in the Pro Cup series, but we learned,” said Elliott. “To me, jumping in the K&N Series is going to help me more than anything else we’ve done so far. I’ve already been at Iowa once and some of the other bigger tracks, so that’s going to be a huge help. The Pro Cup series gave us a lot of new ideas for bigger racetracks. We’ll just take what we’ve learned from that and hopefully we’ll be pretty close when we need it down the road.”
Regardless of the learning curve he’s facing, Elliott knows he’s still got the right people behind him to be successful and is excited to be keeping the same team together, headed by Ricky Turner, into the K&N Pro Series East.
“I think it’s great,” said Elliott. “He’s done an awesome job to me, especially on the Late Model side of things. I mean we haven’t run a lot of big-car stuff yet, but I think he’ll be great at it. I have a lot of faith in Ricky, he’s really good. Personally, I don’t think there’s anybody better than him at the Late Model side of things. He’s unbelievable at what he can do. I’m excited to work with him on the K&N side now. He’s really smart, knows the car backwards and forwards. We’ll go out there and try to work together and hopefully we’ll get it figured out before too long. Hopefully this weekend, but we’ll see what happens.”
In the off-season before the K&N Pro Series East kicks off its 2011 season, Elliott has already won three major Late Model events. He will be looking to continue that momentum into his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East debut at the famed Greenville-Pickens Speedway this weekend against a stacked field of over 30 cars.
“We tested a few weeks ago in the K&N car,” said Elliott. “That’s the first time I’ve ever been in one at Greenville-Pickens. I’ve been to the racetrack a few times, but it was definitely something new, something I’ve never driven before. It was something that Ricky (Turner) and everybody has never worked on before too. It’s new to everybody and something we’ve never done. It’s so much different than a Late Model; it’s so much heavier, and that track is so unique. We practiced and hopefully we learned a lot; I felt like we did. We were pretty close for our first time. I didn’t think we were too bad. We got it back to the shop and I think we still have a few more gains to make. I’d be happy to just run consistent and run up front.”
Although he’s only 15-years-old, Chase Elliott has already established a winning legacy with or without the shadow of his father over him. Now he’s ready to elevate that legacy and conquer his next challenge in a whole new world of racing with the big kids in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.
“I’d be happy with just a solid, consistent finish,” said Elliott. “But we’re going there to win.”