ARCA Young-Guns Set To Take Control In 2008

ARCA RE/MAX Series Logo
ARCA RE/MAX Series Logo
Of course, you would like to think that nine time ARCA RE/MAX Series champion Frank Kimmel has another shot to win the 2008 ARCA RE/MAX Series championship but if ARCA’s stout young-guns have anything to do with it, they’ll try to keep the legendary ARCA icon at bay.

Patrick Sheltra, Dexter Bean, Bryan Silas, Gabi DiCarlo, Scott Speed, Ken Butler III, Justin Allgaier, Ryan Fischer, Tom Hessert, Jr, Jacob Francis, John Wes Townley, Tayler Malsam, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr and Country Joe Racing. are just some of the young-guns and a young-gun operation that look to make their mark as ARCA steers toward’s their 56th year of competition beginning with the season opener at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, February 9, 2008.

Patrick Sheltra, the 21-year old native of Indiantown, Florida has taken the necessary measures to ensure his 2008 season is a memorable one. With the addition and return of several key Sheltra Motorsports members in addition to adding a new manufacturer to the team’s stable, everyone may be running from Sheltra Motorsports camouflage look in 2008. Not to mention the host of new marketing partners the Whitesville, Kentucky based team added to their machines for the season leaves no worries that the team is fully funded for the year. Keith Strunk, the team manager at Sheltra Motorsports is a former championship crew chief and he’s looking for another ring; along with trophies with Sheltra in 2008.

In addition to running the ARCA RE/MAX Series, Sheltra will also make the step up to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. The team has purchased some equipment from the race-winning Billy Ballew Motorsports team and Sheltra is stepping up to the plate with and ready to go to battle with the best of the best in the tough trucks. Oh, don’t forget that Sheltra can still be seen on the dirt in his No. 23 Late Model when not competing in ARCA or NASCAR.

Dexter Bean, the quiet 21-year old Westby, Wisconsin native wasn’t sure if he was going to compete in the ARCA RE/MAX Series in 2008, but thanks to an early Christmas gift from Spraker Racing Enterprises and Austria Gun Manufacturer GLOCK, Bean is set and ready to go. After roaring to a fantastic third place finish in the championship standings in 2007, Bean is still lacking a win. No need to worry though Dexter Bean fans, with the leadership and guidance of Jeff Spraker and his Spraker Racing Enterprises team, not to mention the support of one of the coolest sponsors on the ARCA RE/MAX Series tour, Dexter Bean will be a prime factor in 2008.

Answering many emails and questions, Bean and Spraker Racing Enterprises will be locked into the ARCA 200 at Daytona after transferring the points from the No. 6 in 2007 to the No. 37 this season. This guarantees Bean entry into his third start at Daytona while also giving Spraker Racing Enterprises sponsor GLOCK, the glory of attending the biggest ARCA race of the year.

Much like last season, Stuart, Florida’s Bryan Silas will have a busy year of competition in 2008. The biggest change for Silas though will be the voice heard over the radio on race day. Over the off-season, the team welcomed veteran ARCA crew chief Jeff McClure. In a tight battle with Sheltra Motorsports for the most “wanted crew chief” available, location played the deciding factor and Silas is thankful for that. The duo started off strong with a successful run in the preseason test at Daytona International Speedway and is looking to continue that trend this year. In addition to running the ARCA RE/MAX Series, Silas also has commitments in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and the USAR Hooter’s Pro Cup Series as well. Expect a turn-around season for Silas this year. Obstacles that the team faced last year will be a thing of the past.

Silas’s team owner Andy Hillenburg will have a busy year as well. In addition to serving as spotter and car owner to the likeable Silas, Hillenburg will also be plenty busy with Rockingham Speedway, the legendary track he purchased in October of last year. ARCA will invade the one-mile track in May of this setting a presence of running 500 kilometers on Sunday, May 4.

2007 proved to be a learning year for ARCA RE/MAX Series rookie Gabi DiCarlo. Now, the likable Phoenix, Arizona native is ready to throttle down and deliver some stunning results. With Great Clips returning as the primary sponsor and veteran crew chief Barry Dodson calling the shots, several top-10 finishes are not out of the norm for the NASCAR-bound DiCarlo.

Her contagious confidence and never give up attitude makes her a fan-favorite every week. DiCarlo’s biggest goal is to finish the year inside the top-10 and with a little luck, that is certainly not out of the question. The good news for DiCarlo is she is locked into the season opener at Daytona based on car owner Doug Stringer’s points from last year. After her strong drafting times in preseason testing at Daytona in December, there’s a good reason why DiCarlo is all smiles heading into the event.

With the departure of Michael McDowell to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Scott Speed has been tapped to take over for the impressive rookie in 2008. While Speed comes to ARCA with plenty of credentials and sponsorship from Red Bull, many will have eyes on the former Formula 1 ace seeing how well he will adapt to some of ARCA’s unique tracks. The good news for Speed is crew chief Patrick Donahue and car owner Eddie Sharp have the faith and confidence in him.

While it is unknown if Speed will be able to stand-up to McDowell’s superb performance in 2007, he’s going to give it a gallant effort. The biggest adaptation for Speed or for the ARCA RE/MAX Series garage for that matter will be the unique yet highly welcomed wardrobe that Speed sports in the garage.

Moving from a limited ARCA RE/MAX Series schedule to a full-time ARCA effort in 2008 is big news for Ken Butler III. After capturing the win in a controversial finish last season at Toledo, Butler’s finishes just didn’t glue together like everyone thought they would. But it’s a new year and a new season and Butler is ready for some action. The full-time switch to TOYOTA will be something new for the former USAR Hooter’s Pro Cup star, not to mention the new crew chief, but change is something that Butler has become familiar with and he vows not to let it stand in his way. Again, the leadership of Eddie Sharp is a huge plus for this young-gun and the thoughts of Butler being a sleeper for the ARCA RE/MAX Series championship is definitely realistic.

Sponsorship continues to plague Justin Allgaier and his Justin Allgaier Motorsports team, but kudos to this operation for continuing to pluck along and giving nothing less than 100 percent. A win at Salem Speedway last fall definitely lifted the spirits in this organization. Allgaier stormed to the front of the standings early in 2007 but faded throughout the season after a string of bad luck. A new season and some updated equipment but the same ole’ outlook that we’ve been accustomed to do from Justin Allgaier should keep them near the top again in ’08.

The No. 25 of Venturini Motorsports won’t be piloted by Billy Venturini at Daytona, but instead a name that’s already making some noise heading into the 2008 season. Ryan Fischer impressed many by capturing the crown at the ARCA test at Daytona in December, but it wasn’t exactly a surprise for the Venturini Motorsports team. This team has been around for decades and many could not imagine a season without them, even if a Venturini isn’t behind the wheel. Fischer, who made two starts for the organization last year is anticipating running all 21-races in 2008. Fischer has a lot to learn this year, but he is surrounded by some of the best and most knowledgeable people in the sport.

Welcome to the ARCA RE/MAX Series Tom Hessert, III This polite and professional young-gun has already made several people make him a fan-favorite before the season officially gets under way. Piloting the No. 1 for Andy Belmont Racing, many expect the turn-around performances of the Mooresville, North Carolina team to continue. Hessert has no prior experience in the ARCA RE/MAX Series but was able to get his feet wet during the ARCA test at Daytona in December. Continuing to test in January will have this rookie up to speed and revving to go in February.

Belmont has high hopes for the 2008 season and it’s easy to see why. No doubt the experience that Hessert notes on USAR Hooter’s Pro Cup will be beneficial. Everyone better get used to the No. 1 being upfront, because it’s very apparent that’s where it’s going to be in 2008.

Belmont continues to field two teams in ARCA RE/MAX Series competition and his other driver is just as impressive as the first. Jacob Francis will drive the No. 14 Ford for Andy Belmont Racing. Francis doesn’t have the experience that Hessert has but this up-and-comer tries to make it up with his fearless determination. Francis was easy on his equipment in 2007 and I expect the same this year.

When not in the seat, Francis will be doing everything he can to learn. From consulting with his teammate to learning new faces in the garage, the kid is eager to learn and that makes him someone to watch in 2008.

John Wes Townley, probably the very newest face to ARCA competition doesn’t have to be worried about coming into this series lost; he has Robby Benton and the entire RAB team behind him. Obviously, this team was the hottest one at the end of the season with an impressive eight-race top-10 streak. The duo started off their new relationship strong with a successful test at Daytona; now the test is complete and it’s time to get down to business.

While the team has not officially announced that Wes Townley will pilot the team’s entry in 2008, it is highly expected. Benton, a former racecar driver himself is no stranger to working with young-guns, just look at his success with Walt Brannen and more recently Justin Marks. Welcome home John, you’re in a good place. Did I mention that the team has switched from Dodge to Ford, a manufacturer that Benton is intelligently familiar with? You do the math.

When Mark Gibson sees talent, you better believe him. After working with drivers Johnny Leonard, Ryan Howard and Justin South from the 2006-2007 seasons, Gibson is literally gung-hoe on his newest prot�g� in Washington’s Tayler Malsam. Malsam, making the move from out west to Gibson’s operation in Georgia, the group is ready to go and put the No. 4 Dodge back in victory lane for the second consecutive season. With support from Dodge, Illmor and Fire-Down Graphics, Malsam has the chemistry to be the Cinderella story in 2008.

A strong showing in his ARCA RE/MAX Series debut at Toledo Speedway last October including an impressive eighth place qualifying effort Malsam has the real opportunity to shine with one of the most respected team owners in the garage. Definitely an operation to not to forget about this year.

Roush Fenway Racing announced late in 2007 that they would field a full-time ARCA schedule for USAC ace Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. At this point everyone is relying on Roush Fenway Racing’s analysis of Stenhouse, Jr. before making their own opinion this season. No doubt that thundering to the top of the charts in the drafting session at the open test at Daytona in December definitely has Stenhouse a factor for the race. With the championship in reach, the biggest goal however for Stenhouse, Jr is capturing the ARCA RE/MAX Series Rookie-of-the-Year honors by season’s end.

Stenhouse can turn to teammates Colin Braun and Erik Darnell who both whom drove Roush Fenway Racing cars to successful ARCA RE/MAX Series finishes in 2007. The only question that is left to be answered is the sponsor of the No. 99 Ford Fusion as the organization has yet to name a backer for Stenhouse, Jr’s inaugural bid.

Finally, Country Joe Racing who is expected to change their team name before the start of the season opener next month will host at least two different drivers in their No. 32 this season. Dominick Casola and James Buescher will co-drive the team’s primary entry in 2008.

Casola will take the nod at Daytona and hopes to repeat his career-best performance of third which he placed at Talladega Superspeedway with Andy Belmont Racing. Casola is expected to run a minimum of seven races for the Minnesota based team.

Additional, James Buescher who etched his name into the record books last season by becoming the youngest winner in ARCA RE/MAX Series history will run a majority of the events in the No. 32 and very likely could bring back the No. 9 in ARCA competition should Casola increase his schedule.

Buescher really put Country Joe Racing on the map in his seven starts with the team last year. In those starts, Buescher racked up one win, four top-fives and six top-10s only to fall victim to a mechanical failure while running second at The Milwaukee Mile. I don’t anticipate anything but the same type of performances from Buescher this season.

There’s a look at the some the full-time young-guns in 2008.

Don’t forget about the veterans though that will try and stomp on their parade including Frank Kimmel, Bobby Gerhart, Norm Benning, Mike Harmon, Darrell Basham, Tim Mitchell and Mike Koch who are expected to run a full effort this year.

It’s no secret that the 21-race schedule for the ARCA RE/MAX Series is shaping up to be ten times better than what we saw in 2007.

Author: Chris Knight

Chris Knight (@Knighter01) has served as senior staff writer, assistant news editor and director of driver communications for CATCHFENCE.com since 2001. In his 16 years with CATCHFENCE.com, Knight has covered NASCAR's top-three series often breaking news, exclusive at-track content, while also providing in-depth race weekend coverage. He also offers exceptional insider coverage of the ARCA Racing Series and NASCAR K&N Pro Series divisions and more. In addition to his active duties at CATCHFENCE.com and other racing endeavors, the 33-year-old is also a frequent contributor to SiriusXM Satellite Radio NASCAR channel 90. Before moving back to a media role full-time in 2011 Knight served as the Manager of Operations and Communications for Sheltra Motorsports and driver Patrick Sheltra in the ARCA Racing Series for four years, including their championship season in 2010. Follow him on Twitter @Knighter01