Who wants a kiss from "Big Bill"?... you'd be surprised

Who wants a kiss from "Big Bill"?... you'd be surprised

TOLEDO, Ohio (Sept. 16, 2017) -- Wait for it…wait for it……smack! That's what Christopher Bell got from Bill Venturini in Victory Lane Thursday night at Chicagoland Speedway for winning the SCOTT 150. It wasn't just a smack…it was a big kiss from "Big Bill", a tradition awaiting each driver who climbs out a winner from a Venturini Motorsports (VMS) machine.

The "kiss" from Venturini is actually a tradition that goes back to fellow Chicagoan Andy Granatelli when he planted one on his driver -- 1969 Indy 500 winner Mario Andretti.

"The way it started was when Billy (Venturini) won at Salem," said Venturini. "Being my son, I didn't do it because he was a driver…I did it because he was my son. Someone made a comment…'Didn't Andy Granatelli do that when Mario Andretti won?' Well, when Joey Logano won -- he was the first driver to win that wasn't my son -- I got so excited in Victory Lane that I hugged and kissed him, so it became tradition…but it goes back to Andy Granatelli, definitely."

Both Granatelli and Venturini grew up in Chicago.

"My dad (Tony Venturini) drove for Andy Granatelli at Soldiers Field back when my dad raced in the Hurricane Hot Rod Association. Andy Granatelli was the Ron Drager (ARCA President)…he was the promoter. That's how we knew him. Andy had a speed shop in Chicago called Grancor…my dad had one of his motors. My dad knew him personally."

Bell and Venturini joked about the kiss right before the race.

"I'm waiting to get kissed today," said Bell while Venturini grinned ear-to-ear.

"Natalie Decker's family can't wait till I kiss her," Venturini added.

We feel safe in saying that there would be a lot of people who can't wait for that kiss, considering that in 65 consecutive years of ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards competition, no female driver has ever gone to Victory Lane. Shawna Robinson (2nd at Daytona) and Erin Crocker (2nd at Kentucky and Kansas) have come the closest.

VMS only 3-time winner at Chicagoland
Bell, in the No. 25 Musselman's BIG CUP Apple Sauce-JBL Toyota, became the 17th different Chicagoland ARCA winner in 17 consecutive races. While there have been no repeat ARCA winners in the driver column at Chicagoland, only Eddie Sharp Racing (ESR) and Venturini Motorsports are repeat team winners at Chicagoland; although Venturini is the only team to win three at Chicagoland -- with Bell in 2017, Scott Lagasse, Jr. in 2008 and Kevin Swindell in 2012. ESR won with Michael McDowell in 2007 and Justin Lofton in 2009.

Suffice it to say that winning at home is extra special.

"Any win is special but to do it in Chicago is extra special," Venturini said. "We probably had an entourage of 50 people there…family and friends. We've been struggling this year so we needed it."

In fact, VMS was winless in 2017 before Bell's victory. The last time VMS went winless in any single season was 2007.

"I got a couple hundred tweets and congrats. One guy said that there is 'only one man in the world I would want to get kissed by, and that's Bill Venturini.' "

Bell's win 44th career for VMS
Bell's win was the 44th career ARCA victory for VMS dating back to 1983 at Flat Rock Speedway where Bill Venturini earned his career-first ARCA win. Since the inaugural win, 19 different drivers have won for VMS. Get ready…it's an impressive list: Bill Venturini, Billy Venturini, Joey Logano, Scott Lagasse, Jr., Sean Caisse, Steve Arpin, Mikey Kile, Brennan Poole, Alex Bowman, Kyle Benjamin, Kevin Swindell, John Wes Townley, Erik Jones, Justin Boston, Austin Theriault, Todd Gilliland, Dalton Sargeant, Tom Hessert and Christopher Bell.

Theriault continues to 'wow' the competition
Austin Theriault continues to impress no matter the track. Coming off three consecutive wins at Road America, DuQuoin and Salem, Theriault, in Ken Schrader's Ford, finished second at Chicagoland. Theriault was leading off turn two on the green-white-checker finish before Bell scooted underneath the current championship leader headed down the backstretch. Theriault, who has never finished outside the top-10 in 20 career starts, and only outside the top five three times, improved his average finish to 3.1. Theriault's average finish over the last six races is even more incredible at 1.66. After having already sewed up the 2017 Bill France 4 Crown and Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge championships, the Fort Kent, Maine driver and the Ken Schrader Racing team is leading the General Tire Superspeedway Challenge championship standings with just two events left -- the Crosley 150 next Friday, Sept. 22 at Kentucky Speedway and the season finale at Kansas Speedway Oct. 20.

Jones first repeat GT Pole winner
Brandon Jones, who finished third at Chicagoland in the No. 8 Australian Gold Toyota for MDM Motorsports, is now the only repeat General Tire Pole winner in 2017. Jones, who drives full-time for Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, added his fourth career General Tire Pole Award Thursday at Chicagoland.

Another T-5 for Finley
Chad Finley, in just his fifth ARCA Racing Series start of the season, added his fourth top-five finish in 2017. The St. Johns, Mich. second-generation driver finished fifth at Chicagoland after finishes of first at Nashville, and a pair of third-place finishes at Toledo and Lucas Oil. He also finished 12th at Michigan.

“I'm really proud of Bruce Cook (crew chief) and this entire CFR team,” said Finley. “We worked really hard from Michigan on our intermediate stuff and made our cars better. 

“During practice, we worked on our car to try and anticipate the balance we would need for the night race transitioning from day time practice. We tried a different approach from what we had been doing and it really paid off. 

“Our car was really fast all night long we but we just needed a little bit of track position. We ran in the top-5 all night and had a car capable of winning with the strategy we were on. We got stuck down there on the bottom on the final restart and couldn't make the moves we needed to for the win. “If we could have restarted on the top like the 25 did there's no doubt in my mind that we would have won the race. All in all, a solid day.”

Valvoline Lap Leader Majeski mighty at Chicagoland
Valvoline Lap Leader of the Race Ty Majeski was impressive in the No. 99 Cunningham Motorsports-Treeo's Ford, leading the most laps with 50. Majeski was leading at the onset of the green-white-checker finish before he got shuffled back in overtime.

“We definitely had a bullet on Thursday and to be able to lead 50 laps in such a competitive field of cars is a great sign for what this team is capable of," said Majeski. "The last restart was unfortunate…we were running on hot, old tires and just couldn’t keep up. Not getting the win was pretty tough to swallow, but I’m very confident in this team’s ability to compete with the best. I can’t thank Cunningham, Ken Schrader Racing and Roush Fenway Racing enough for the support they’ve given me. It was really awesome to have Treeo’s at the race…to be able to have a hometown, long-standing late model sponsor move up to the next level and support me through everything is special. Looking ahead to next week, Kentucky and Chicago have some similarities so I’m really looking forward to build on this momentum and get another competitive run there.”

Majeski also turned in the fastest lap of the race at 175.610 mph.

Bell's win is Self's heartbreak
Christopher Bell's jubilation turned out to be Michael Self's heartbreak. Self, in the Sinclair Lubricants Chevrolet for Mason Mitchell Motorsports, led 29 laps and was three seconds out in front with 10 laps to go before the Salt Lake City, Utah driver cut down a right-front tire.

“That was pretty depressing,” said a dejected Self. “We had the field covered. I was riding and taking it really easy on the tires. Every time we race with MMM we’ve been so fast. They build great cars and deserve to win. I am overwhelmed by everyone’s support. I can’t thank Sinclair Oil enough for believing in me. We will get one of these checkered flags, I promise.”

Braden impressive for RFMS Racing
Travis Braden, subbing for AJ Fike in Don Fike's No. 27 Ford, also looked sharp, leading 12 laps toward the end of the race.

“Although the stats sheet won’t show it, I am very proud of what these RFMS Racing guys pulled off in Chicagoland," said Braden. "We were up against some Cup Series caliber teams and drivers, using a short track car, and we managed to race near the front of the pack and even lead laps on older tires. With a little bit of luck at the end of the race, we’d have likely been battling for the win, but knowing that we were at least in the hunt is very promising. I’ve been overwhelmed this morning by the literally hundreds of fans, friends, family and competitors who have reached out to me and expressed how impressed they were by our performance. And I must emphasize how much it was “our” performance, because it took the cooperation and effort of every person on the RFMS Racing team to get us in that position and give me a chance to go for the win. Thank you to the sponsors, the Fike family, and all of our family, friends, and fans for making it possible and making it a blast.”

Open test at Kentucky next; Crosley 150 Friday
It's not known at this time who will get the call to drive the 27 car at Kentucky Speedway Friday night (Sept. 22) in the Crosley 150 on General Tire Super Weekend. The Crosley 150 at Kentucky is Live on FS1 at 8 p.m. Eastern. Follow Live Timing, Scoring and Chat at arcaracing.com of all on-track activities.

Friday's race at Kentucky will be preceded by an open test this Tuesday, Sept. 19. Follow Live Timing and Scoring at arcaracing.com.

Don Radebaugh

Doug  P.

"Natalie Decker's family can't wait till I kiss her," Venturini added. Not only her family, Bill, but 10's of thousands of her fans!! Great win Thursday night! So happy for you and your family! Watched you race at Grundy and Illiana years ago! Great to see the "Local" family win here!!! It's like the Wizard of Oz...There's no place like home! Maybe this is good luck for Natalie for Kansas! Best of luck in the last 2 races! 


Suzette M.

WTG Austin Theriault!! You drove an awesome race! You were flying! I'm so very proud of you & your KSR team! One step closer to your Big Day!! #OurFutureChampion #AT52Fan4Life