Kirk Rogers reminds himself that Harry Gant started his Winston Cup career at 43.
Rogers, at age 38, embarks on a similar late-in-his-racing-life move that could put the veteran local late-model driver in the stock car racing big leagues.
Rogers begins his season at the wheel of Minnesotan Jim Daly’s Pontiac Grand Prix Sunday at the Columbus (Ohio) Speedway as the American Speed Association/AC-Delco Challenge Series kicks off its 1995 season with a 300-lap race on the half-mile oval.
There is no live television coverage of this race. TV coverage of the series begins May 7 at Toledo.
While Rogers says there’s no official “5-year plan” or anything comparable, the jump to one of the top “minor leagues” in stock car racing comes with a timetable of sorts attached.
“We plan to race ASA for two or so years and then hopefully get a Busch (Grand National) deal,” Rogers said. And after that, on the Winston Cup, perhaps. ASA graduates include a pair of former Winston Cup champions, Rusty Wallace and the late Allan Kulwicki.
Rogers’ move breaks ties with his longtime crew and sponsor Gene Monaco. The team’s inventory of cars and parts have been sold. Rogers’ former crew chief, Kevin Richards, is said to be jumping into the driver’s seat in the Northwest LateModel series.
“Everybody was burnt out,” Rogers said of the decision to pursue the next plateau. “We’d done pretty much what we could do here.
“The (NASCAR Northwest) Tour is a tough class.”
Rogers, the 1993 NASCAR Northwest Tour champion, went looking for an ASA ride last fall when he visited with a variety of racing teams in Toledo. “We weeded out a few and then pursued those who would do us justice.”
Besides 20 years of driving experience, Rogers also brought a lucrative tire deal with Goodyear and involvement with Penske Shocks.
“It’s definitely a move up… . a big step,” Rogers said. “My toughest challenge will come when we race on the road courses (at Brainerd, Minn., and Topeka, Kan). We’re definitely going to have to go to school on road courses.”
While the cars on the ASA circuit closely resemble any other late-model division, the thing that sets ASA apart from the others, is that “these guys do this (race) for a living,” Rogers said. “Also, it’s a lot more professional. There’s not so much crashing and banging.”
Rogers will remain based in Spokane and run his machine shop business, flying to races on weekends. The ASA schedule will take Rogers as far away as Jennerstown, Penn. Denver’s Colorado National Speedway is the closest western race. All but two 1995 races will be televised live on either the Prime Network or TNN: The Nashville Network.”One thing’s for sure,” he said. “”We’ll rack up a lot of frequent flyer miles.”
Stateline Speedway continues with its early-season move to night racing on Saturday with a program featuring the newly reorganized open-wheel division, known at the Stateline CROW cars. CROW is the acronym for the Columbia River Open Wheel, based out of Ephrata and raced here on a test basis last year. Also on the program are the Stateline Streetstocks, Sleds and Hobby Cars. Time trials are at 6 p.m.
Northport International Raceway will kick off its 1995 racing season with the Carey’s Auto Body/ D & P Restaurant “Ice Breaker 150” Sunday beginning with time trials at 1 p.m. on the three-eighths mile dirt track located just across the Columbia River bridge in Northport. NIR Superstocks, open-wheel modifieds and VW’s will be part of the program.
Tom Hindley debuts Sunday in Fred Leland’s U-99.9 unlimited hydroplane at Phoenix’s Firebird Lake… . The Spokane Kart Racing Association kicks off its season Saturday at the ORV Park. The race will give SKRA officials a week’s practice before the club hosts the region’s first Gold Cup next weekend… . Boise’s Firebird Raceway continues to be an unkind place to race for local drag competitors. James Arsenault and Todd Hoerner went out in round one, while Rod Hoerner, Brian Tibesar and Jody Peterson were sent home after round two on the NHRA Division Six series opener last weekend.
Bikes, mini-sprints, quads and dwarf cars take to the newly opened quartermile dirt track at Empire Speedway, (adjacent to Stateline Speedway) on Sunday beginning at 1 p.m… . Spokane Raceway Park has stocks and drag Sunday, with gates opening at 10:30.
You can contact Paul Delaney at (509) 928-6998.
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