It started with a statistical oddity – the final race of the season, being held without the driver who won the championship – and culminated with one of the most exciting finishes in ARCA Racing history.
The 29-year-old Tim Steele had already clinched the 1997 title – including winning the spring race at Atlanta Motor Speedway – when the Reese’s 400 rolled around on Saturday, November 15, 1997. It was the culmination of an incredible ascension for the Coopersville, Michigan, driver.
Steele won his first ARCA title in 1992. His back-to-back championship runs in 1996-97 produced 23 wins in 46 races, and pushed him to the brink of the NASCAR Cup Series.
A hard wreck, though, during a Cup test session at the newly reconfigured Atlanta sidelined Steele from the series’ finale.
Despite the withdrawal, Steele had accumulated enough points to clinch the then-ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series title over Frank Kimmel. Kimmel, who was also runner-up in 1994, was on the verge of matching his best series championship finish to date.
When weather cancelled qualifying, the field was set by the rule book.
With Steele’s absence, that left Frank Kimmel and Mark Thompson to start on the front row.
"The Winston Cup drivers would love to see these guys race side by side for the entire distance because … to ensure a great race tomorrow, a competitive race, we need to get this outside groove worked out," said ESPN broadcaster Benny Parsons during the pre-race warm-up laps, as they noted the difference between the Cup cars running Goodyear and the ARCA cars on Hoosiers.
"With that limited amount of practice, they just don’t know how long these tires are going to last on this new race track," added pit reporter Ray Dunlap.