Friday, May 7, 2004
Partner paying off for Feese
ARCA driver investment for NASCAR team
By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Blake Feese is a virtual no-name driver in the world of high-stakes auto racing, but a new relationship with a powerful NASCAR team has boosted his reputation this weekend at Kentucky Speedway.
At 22, Feese will drive in just his second ARCA RE/MAX Series race Saturday in the Channel 5-205, but already he's being asked when he might advance to NASCAR's Busch Series or even its Nextel Cup circuit.
Feese is part of a developing trend where NASCAR's elite teams sign up-and-coming drivers to race in lower-level series, with the intent of developing their skills to eventually race at the NASCAR level. The teams are looking for "the next superstar" as Hendrick Motorsports director of competition Ken Howes put it.
"Really, it's about having talent in place as circumstances change and drivers change teams," said Howes, whose organization has signed Feese through three ARCA races, Kentucky being the second. "If the talent is there, we'll see what we can do to keep them with us."
Hendrick Motorsports found plenty of talent last season when Kyle Busch won the Channel 5-205 at Kentucky while racing in a situation similar to Feese's this year. Busch began this season racing ARCA but since has moved up to the Busch Series for Hendrick Motorsports and is second in the standings. Hendrick didn't plan on having Busch racing NASCAR full-time so soon, but developments within the team allowed it to happen.
Two months ago, Feese had no assurances that he even would have an ARCA team. Now, not only does he have a team, but Busch has demonstrated what can be made of success in ARCA.
"Without Hendrick, I wouldn't have the opportunity to get in the ARCA series because it takes so much money," said Feese who will drive the No. 5 car. "I couldn't bring any money. I didn't have a sponsor behind me."
Groomed on sprint cars, Feese probably still would be racing them had his persistent communication with Hendrick not been rewarded in April with a three-race agreement.
"I couldn't buy myself a ride to get noticed," Feese said. "For two years or so, I couldn't sleep. I was trying to figure out how to get this chance. They say you've got to put yourself in the right place at the right time. How do you know where that is? When I talked to the people at Hendrick, they said 'We just aren't sure yet.' "
Then prior to the ARCA race at Nashville April 9, Hendrick decided to fully invest in its developmental program, signing Feese and Boston Reid to short-term ARCA deals. Feese proved right away he might be around for more than three races. He won at Nashville, expertly maneuvering a gearshift on a late-race restart to pass the leader.
"It's a lot of pressure," Feese said. "But if you make a mistake, then they're probably going to drop you. And then who else is going to give you a chance?"
Hendrick is committed to Feese through the Quaker Steak and Lube 100 in Charlotte, N.C., May 27. If Feese continues to race well, more ARCA races might pop onto his schedule. ARCA president Ron Drager sees that as a significant credibility factor if Feese races throughout the season in the series. Others have suggested it's unfair to ARCA veterans who race year after year without the financial backing of young drivers who are supported by big teams only to leave after a year or two.
"We look at it as, one of the most respected organizations in this business wants to race with us," Drager said. "It's a good, stout racecar and driver that will make for a better race event."
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