60th ANNIVERSARY SEASON: Having just completed its 60th Anniversary Season, the success of the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards, however one may measure it, can be attributed, in part, to its longevity. It has managed to survive and thrive despite an up and down economy over decades. While the country's latest economic downturn has done its share of damage, the tour continues to plow ahead with a respectable level of stability. It was a yearlong celebration in 2012 during which past champions were honored at all the race events, ARCAracing.com featured several stories regarding the history of the tour, while SPEED aired a series of 10 vignettes that captured ARCA's incredible history. The stories from ARCA's past are always worth telling and it was quite rewarding to bring them all to light. The 2012 championship awards banquet also carried a really nice 60th theme throughout the entire production that helped serve as a reminder to those who know the ARCA story well, and to tell the story to those not yet familiar with the company's enduring legacies. With a very diverse schedule in place for the New Year, there are encouraging signs ahead. Congratulations to all who have played a part in ARCA's success over 60 years of competition.
MILDRED MARCUM: The passing of 98-year-old ARCA co-founder Mildred Marcum deserves its place in history. Her life's journey was as interesting as it was meaningful. From scrapbook to Facebook, she lived through both World Wars, Prohibition, the Great Depression, and saw America go from Henry Ford's Model-T to man on the moon. She and her husband John Marcum weathered so many storms over the decades and kept the company alive despite obstacle after obstacle, including the passing of John Marcum in 1981. Marcum's death came during a serious economic downturn creating the perfect storm. ARCA was down to just 8 races for the entire year - the company's hopes of survival, fast fading. Still grieving, there were two immediate options - sell the company, or let it fail. She chose neither. Determined to save the legacy she and her husband worked so hard to build, Mildred sized up the situation, dug in, appointed, delegated and ultimately endured. She wore a working credential to the very end, and worked in the ARCA home office four days a week till her final days. Sharp to the very end, we lost Mildred just days after her 98th birthday, a birthday she said was one of her best. After working a half day on Friday, her birthday, she celebrated the big day with family and friends that Saturday, and slipped away the following Monday morning, a fitting departure for a true American pioneer. Lest we forget, there would have been no 60th anniversary celebration in 2012 without her in the line-up from start to finish. She always was, and always will be, the crown jewel of the company. In her own words, "Happy Trails".
ROULO BROTHERS/CHRIS BUESCHER: The championship story was as good as it gets in 2012. Not only was the championship torch handed off to a very talented and fine young man, ARCA had the honor of celebrating a team that, for nearly 30 years and counting, has given so much to the cause. The combination of the Roulo Brothers and Chris Buescher was the perfect connection between a time-honored team and a young up and coming driver with a very bright future ahead. You have to feel good for the Roulo Brothers, who first marched through the ARCA gates in 1986 where in only their fifth start, went to victory lane with fellow Chicagoan Bob Strait at the helm. It was the birth of an incredible track record during which the Roulos won 31 times, and with some high-profile shoes - drivers like David Green, Joe Ruttman, Dave Weltmeyer and Ken Schrader to name a few. After all that, they now have a well-deserved championship to add to their mantle. It's also worth noting how they did it. With no more than five fulltime people at any given time, including Buescher who spent way more hours working on the 17 car than he ever did driving it, the team fielded championship cars despite the odds. They worked very hard for that championship, which made it all the more worth it. Bravo.
FRANK KIMMEL: After going nearly four years without a win, Frank Kimmel shook off the critics, not with words, but in performance. Kimmel's turnaround in 2012 was immediate. After solid runs at Daytona and Mobile, he came into full view at his hometown Salem Speedway when he drove to a second place finish, trailing Alex Bowman at the final stripe by just a few lengths. His imminent victory at Lucas Oil Raceway was a feel-good moment for many, certainly for Kimmel who notched his 75th career victory by doing so. His victory on the Springfield mile dirt was equally gratifying, especially for Kimmel who earned a record eighth win on the historic fairgrounds mile dirt. In the end, just 75 points separated him from yet another title. With his well-oiled team returning in 2013, it would not be a stretch to consider Kimmel a serious championship threat, despite the onslaught of incoming young talent and quality equipment he'll be up against. While it's unlikely anyone will ever surpass his record nine titles, Kimmel is still shooting for more records, including the all-time series victory mark held by Iggy Katona, who leads Kimmel in that category 79 to 76. Kimmel also continues to increase his all-time lap-leader total, currently resting at 10,624 laps-led.
VENTURINI MOTORSPORTS: Talk about keeping the economy moving. The quality packages that Venturini Motorsports keep bringing to the table are very noteworthy. In addition to several fortunate fulltime employees who feed their families via the organization, Venturini Motorsports brings quality contenders to every ARCA Racing Series field, no matter the venue. No less than four cars in every race, and sometimes more, helps the big picture all the way around. In addition to earning the Hoosier Tire Superspeedway Challenge championship with Brennan Poole, the team did something in 2012 that no other team has accomplished in 60 years of ARCA competition - that being having four cars finish in the top-10 car owner points in the same season. The team accomplished this with the 25 (third), the 55 (fifth), the 15 (seventh) and the 66 (ninth). It's also worth noting that their 35 car finished 14th in car owner points. All this in the team's 25th Anniversary Season, which the team celebrated throughout the year. They have become a true powerhouse in terms of driver development. Their season of course included participating in all the open tests in addition to the full schedule. Their cars led the charts in all the tests, as they did in the recent Daytona test in mid-December. While leading the charts in open testing doesn't guarantee victories, it certainly offers up valuable seat-time for their fleet of rookie drivers. That said, it's probably safe to say the team is getting very hungry for a series title, which has eluded the team since the Patriarch - Bill Venturini - earned championships in 1987 and 1991. Further, as fast as they are on all track types, big and small, dirt and pavement, or otherwise, there is yet another prize that eludes the team - that being a restrictor plate win at Daytona or Talladega.
CUNNINGHAM MOTORSPORTS: This longtime ARCA team continues to impress and amaze. Regardless of who's doing the driving, Cunningham Motorsports always finds a way to win. From Parker Kligerman, to Tom Hessert, to Dakoda Armstrong, to Alex Bowman, you can count on victories from this well-run organization. With car owners Kerry Scherer and Briggs Cunningham still partnered-up, and NASCAR Champion Crew Chief Paul Andrews steering the ship, their drivers most definitely benefit from all the experience and knowledge. But come race time, it still takes a sharp driver to get the job done. If not for the bad luck at the onset of the season, the championship picture could have played out much differently. Once the team gained full traction, Bowman was impressive as anyone on tour, matching Chris Buescher's victory mark with four of his own, not to mention the Messina Rookie of the Year title. Looking ahead, and after testing a Cunningham entry at Daytona, Tom Hessert could be returning to the Cunningham stable in 2013. Keep in mind, Hessert left Cunningham after the 2010 season. His potential return is telling.
DARRELL BASHAM, PERSEVERENCE: With little to no budget outside of what comes out of his back pocket, 63-year-old Darrell Basham continues to persevere. The popular Henryville, Indiana veteran, despite a killer tornado that wiped out his downtown Henryville race shop in March of this year, on top of a devastating shop fire that destroyed two race cars and all his accessories two years ago, made his 300th career start at Lucas Oil Raceway in July. The perseverance that is so abundantly a part of Basham's character, has been ARCA's gain for more than four decades, reaching back to his series debut in 1972 at Daytona. Fortunately, that nasty twister did not get his engine shop - that would be the basement/slash laundry room in the basement of his southern Indiana home. He finished seventh in national championship points in 1976. 35 years later, and more than a few gray hairs, he finished 10th in points in 2011. This year, he missed the top-10 by just one position. All that said, his story is compelling, and one always worth telling. He and his right-hand lady Sandy Sparrow recently auditioned to be contestants on CBS's big hit reality show "The Amazing Race". They certainly have been part of ARCA's ‘amazing race' for years. Best of luck.
BOBBY GERHART, MR. DAYTONA: Although it's only one race a year, it's the crown jewel of the tour and the one victory that everyone wants on their mantles and resumes above and beyond all the rest. With so many variables in play, it's one of the most difficult races to win. Just ask 76-time ARCA winner and nine-time champ Frank Kimmel, who has never won at Daytona, or the Venturinis. Bobby Gerhart's eighth victory at Daytona puts the Lebanon, Pennsylvania driver in a league all his own. To win the race once is an incredible thing. To win it eight times is off the charts. While records are made to be broken, it's unlikely anyone will ever break this one. Typically, drivers just don't hang around long enough anymore to get there. Keep in mind, the 2013 Daytona ARCA 200 will make Gerhart's 26th consecutive start at Daytona. This means that he's won nearly one-third of the races he's entered at Daytona. Regardless of the situation, Gerhart finds a way to win at the "World Center of Racing". Even after starting 42nd in the 2012 Daytona race, he found a way to get there. His quote right before the race was poignant and telling. Can you still win from the back end? "Absolutely," Gerhart said. "Let me tell you; this is not over." His attention to detail in preparation for Daytona is certainly part of his success, as is his determination and confidence. And he's won the race in a wide variety of ways and strategies. He's led nearly every lap and kept his car out front in clean air where it likes to be. He's been out front when it rained. He's been out front when the caution came out (back when the race could finish under caution), he's held on through the current days of bump drafting when he took a beating from Chris Buescher in 2011 and managed to hold on. He's been the beneficiary of others' last lap misfortune (leaders running out of gas in 2012). He's already the only driver to win three consecutive at Daytona. If he wins in 2013, it would be a record fourth consecutive.
SPEED: SPEED TV's commitment to the ARCA Racing Series is always noteworthy. The ARCA sanction continues to rank as the second highest rated property on the network behind only the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Year-over-year broadcast ratings spiked in 2012, highlighted by substantial improvements in key demographics. The full season of the ARCA Racing Series finished up +22 percent with households (0.44 vs. 0.36), one tenth or +31 percent with males 35-54 (0.42 vs. 0.32), and +50 percent with males 18-49 (0.24 vs. 0.16) from 2011. Sweetening the solid story with males 18-49, nine out of 10 races were up year-to-year during the season. Additionally, this was the second most-watched season of ARCA in terms of total viewers since SPEED began subscribing to ratings in 2002 (P2+ impressions), averaging 464,000 viewers for the season; the most-watched season was in 2010 with 608,000 viewers, featuring Danica Patrick's stock car debut). Excluding the February Daytona race, which was down year-over-year, it was the most-watched season of ARCA on SPEED since the network began subscribing to ratings in 2002 with 363,000 total viewers. ARCA's relationship with SPEED reaches back to April 20, 1997, when the network (then Speedvision) covered the ARCA Racing Series race at Indiana's Salem Speedway. Since then, SPEED has aired 198 ARCA Racing Series events. The upcoming event at Daytona will mark the 199th.
MISCELLANEOUS: There were so many stories that made 2012 worth talking about that it's hard to hit them all, but we should mention Chad Hackenbracht's well-deserved victory at Pocono. He had been so close to victory in the past; it was gratifying to see the family-run team finally get there. Spencer Gallagher also continued to impress with improving performance all the way through. Now that he's experienced the ARCA tour fulltime, a championship contending team would not be out of the question in 2013. The same would be true of Matt Lofton, who was also fortunate enough to experience the tour fulltime in 2012. Lofton would be another championship contender if he can find a way back. Great to see Tom Hessert get back to victory lane - winning at Salem is no easy thing. Brennan Poole proved to be an amazing talent and all-around great addition to the tour. Hope he gets more opportunity down the road. Like Alex Bowman, Poole is certainly talented enough to perform at the next level. The family-run operation of Josh Williams Motorsports was sharp all season. With the right funding, this team could do big things. Andrew Ranger's second consecutive win at New Jersey Motorsports Park, out-dueling Chase Elliott on the final lap, is worth mentioning, and so is the track itself. Never saw a bad race at NJMP. That place continues to churn out phenomenal finishes. Hope Coulter Motorsports can ink a deal with some lucky driver - another championship team in the wings. The mere fact that James Hylton, who turned 78 in August, is still climbing through the window, is also worth a mention. The 1966 Cup Rookie of Year was turning left well before most who make up an ARCA starting grid were even born. The father/son combo of Bill and Will Kimmel is worth rooting on. Will has already proven he can perform and win at this level, and with the experience of his father calling the shots, it would be great to see the team get some badly-needed financing to show that they are also championship contenders. Mason Mingus and the Win-Tron team were impressive all season. With Win-Tron already a proven winner on tour with a variety of drivers, we've got another championship contending team in the works with Mingus at the helm fulltime in 2013. Milka Duno really hung in there all year and showed marked improvement. Very nice work.
Congratulations to all the 2012 ARCA Racing Series teams that traveled up and down America's highways and byways chasing the ARCA tour. Your dedication and hard work never goes unnoticed. A Happy and Safe New Year to all.......