Driver/Crew Chief Swaps Kick Off Late Model Silly Season
New Faces in New Places Already Taking Shape for 2012
Silly season. It’s what the last few weeks of the racing year and first few weeks of winter have become known as in racing circles. Drivers and crew chiefs swap teams. Sponsorship is gained or lost. Twitter goes berserk over the changes. Silly season is an industry all to itself.
But while “silly season” moniker was born in the NASCAR ranks, it has trickled down to the Super Late Model world in the span of about one week. Just like so many dominoes fell after the Homestead NASCAR Sprint Cup finale, the checkered flag at the December 4th Snowball Derby seemed to kick off a silly season on the short tracks for several teams that all won races or championships in 2011.
The first domino that started the Late Model silly season this year was the Kenzie Ruston camp taking their efforts out of the Jeff Fultz Racing stable and opening up their own shop for the 2012 season. In doing so, Kenzie Ruston Racing also hired their crew chief from JFR, Nick Easton, to be the full-time head wrench on their 2012 CRA Super Series efforts at a new shop in Mooresville, NC. Ruston and Easton won the CRA event together at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis earlier this season.
The second piece to the silly season puzzle was created when one of, if not the youngest driver/crew chief pairings in the Late Model world parted ways. Nineteen-year-old Ben “Butch” VanDoorn had served as the crew chief for the Erik Jones in the team’s JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour Championship season in 2011, but will not serve in that capacity in 2012.
Instead, VanDoorn has been hired away by one of their JEGS Tour rivals, Cody Coughlin’s Team JEGS operation, to replace Rich Lushes as the crew chief on the #1 cars. Team JEGS and its 16-year-old driver Coughlin will now have the crew chief that led Jones to the JEGS Tour title and a surprising win in the Governor’s Cup 200 at New Smyrna in November. Lushes has taken a position with ThorSport Racing as a part of their ARCA and NASCAR Camping World Truck efforts.
VanDoorn leaving Jones’ team leaves an opening at the Paragon Racing Team in 2012. Speed51.com spoke David Jones, Erik’s father and team owner, on Tuesday and while the team has spoken with several potential crew chiefs for 2012, there has not been one named at this point. Jones did confirm that they will have one by the time their season begins at SPEEDFEST 2012 at Lanier (GA) next month.
The most recent domino in the driver/crew chief silly season came with the announcement that Ross Kenseth’s Super Late Model efforts would be crew chiefed by Jamie Rouleau in 2012. Kenseth’s operation will be based in Mooresville, North Carolina now that he is attending Clemson University in South Carolina, just a short drive from Race City USA. Rouleau guided Ryan Blaney to the PASS South championship after taking over the crew chief title at the season’s halfway point. Shortly after Kenseth finished third in the Snowball Derby, the team relocated to Mooresville and tapped Rouleau to lead the team in 2012.
Meanwhile, Blaney told 51 on Tuesday that the team is currently looking to sell its entire fleet of Late Models. Blaney is focusing on his NASCAR K&N Pro Series efforts and some opportunities in the top-three National Series of NASCAR in 2012. Because Blaney’s DB Racing team is getting out of the Late Model scene, Rouleau was free to pursue the opportunity that he received from the Kenseth operation.
More dominoes are likely to fall in the Late Model silly season. There are still good crew chiefs and good drivers looking for the right matchup. With a shorter and shorter off-season each year, don’t be surprised to see more changes coming about before the season gets kick-started in January.
Ryan Blaney maybe done in Late Models, but his crew cheif will head over to the 25 shop to work with Ross Kenseth.
Butch VanDoorn (left) has come on board with JEGS to oversee Cody Coughlin. He will also work with his brother Johnny in ARCA CRA.
Kenzie Ruston will have Nick Easton back, but it will not be under the Jeff Fultz Racing banner.