TOLEDO, Ohio (February 5, 2016) – In the mid-1980’s, NASCAR veteran Ken Schrader was one of the first open-wheel drivers to successfully make the transition to big-time stock car racing. From USAC Silver Crown and Sprint Car championships in ’82 and ’83 respectively, to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the Fenton, Missouri racer opened the flood gates for future stock car stars rooted in the open-wheel leagues of America…drivers such as Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne, who would all follow in Schrader’s footsteps.
Open-wheel dirt track ace Chase Briscoe is the next such example hoping to turn his open wheel experience into a full-time stock car career. Briscoe, from Mitchell, Ind., has signed with longtime ARCA team Cunningham Motorsports for the 2016 season, and it starts at Daytona Int’l Speedway in the 53rd running of the Lucas Oil 200 at the “World Center of Racing”.
“The test last month was my first time on a superspeedway,” Briscoe said. “I’ve only been on pavement five times, so this is going to be quite the jump. I’m excited and a little nervous. I’ve watched Daytona enough to know that sometimes it’s completely out of your hands; but I’m ready to get to Daytona and get the season started.”
Briscoe, who won his first sprint car race at Paragon (Ind.) Speedway at age 13, made his ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards debut with Cunningham Motorsports in 2015 at Lucas Oil Raceway, finishing 10th. The 21-year-old third-generation racer followed that up with an even better fifth-place finish at Salem Speedway last September.
“Salem’s about 15 minutes from our house, so that one felt really good. I was happy with that with what experience I have, but I thought we could have won it.”
Briscoe’s opportunity with Cunningham Motorsports started with a phone call last spring.
“I got a call from Cunningham Motorsports saying that they wanted me to go down to the shop and check it out, and see what I thought. I met with Paul (Andrews/team manager and crew chief) and offered to volunteer at the shop. I had never been around stock cars in my life and had no clue, but I started hanging around the shop, and then they tested me at Nashville. That went very well, and things started snowballing from there. It’ll be nice to move down for good and settle in. I’ve been sleeping on couches for too long.”
Cunningham Motorsports, a co-ownership between Briggs Cunningham and Kerry Scherer, is renowned for driver development in the ARCA ranks, earning the SCOTT Rookie of the Year honors in five of the last seven seasons reaching back to Parker Kligerman in 2009. Kligerman wowed his fellow ARCA racers in his rookie season, winning nine races and finishing runner-up in championship standings, just five points away from first. Cunningham repeated in the Rookie of the Year category with Dakoda Armstrong in 2010, Alex Bowman in 2012, Austin Wayne Self in 2014 and Kyle Weatherman in 2015.
Briscoe acknowledges that he’s got much to learn about the bigger, heavier ARCA machines.
“A sprint car only weighs 1400 pounds and the ARCA car is 3400. There are some things that correlate between the two, but not much, really. The hardest thing for me was how much longer it takes for the ARCA car to respond compared to a sprint car. Sprint cars are always sideways but I found out it’s so hard to save a stock car if you get sideways. That, and it took some time to get used to working with spotters, and working with mirrors. But once I got comfortable with trusting my spotter, I started to get in a groove, a rhythm.”
Briscoe will be working with two-time Cometic Crew Chief of the Year Chad Bryant in the team’s 77 car.
“Love Chad. We get along really well. He took me under his wing and we just took off. I’m excited to work with him this year.”
Briscoe’s career advanced from quarter midgets to mini-sprints by the time he was 11, winning in both classes.
“My grandpa owned sprint cars since the mid-70’s and my dad raced for 22 years, with over 200 wins. When I was 13, I made the jump to full sprint cars when my dad got out of it. I won in my first year at Paragon. It beat Jeff Gordon’s record as the youngest driver to ever win a 410 (cubic inch) sprint car race. I was 13 and he (Gordon) was 14 when he won.”
Briscoe remains realistic, yet confident about his chances at Daytona in his first attempt.
“I know it’s all about seat-time and finishing the race and that’s definitely a goal. But, we’re going to Daytona to win. Cunningham is giving me that shot. It’s my job to win it for them. I know it’s my first time but they expect to win and so do I. Besides, you have to think you can win before you win, so I have to go with that mindset. We already know the team can win…the rest is up to me.”
Don Radebaugh, firstname.lastname@example.org