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Papini Goes From Underdog To Top Dog

Papini Goes From Underdog To Top Dog

by June 11, 2013 0 comments
From left, the NASCAR Late Model team of driver Alex Papini (kneeling) with team members Tommy Pinkston, crew chief Dana Czach, Ted Papini and Dave Duncan. The team leads the current NASCAR Late Model division and state point races at Rockford (Ill.) Speedway. Courtesy Alex Motorsports

From left, the NASCAR Late Model team of driver Alex Papini (kneeling) with team members Tommy Pinkston, crew chief Dana Czach, Ted Papini and Dave Duncan. The team leads the current NASCAR Late Model division and state point races at Rockford (Ill.) Speedway. Courtesy Alex Motorsports

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Alex Papini advanced from underdog to top dog at Rockford (Ill.) Speedway this spring. Papini leads Rockford’s NASCAR Late Model points and the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series’ state standings.

It’s a whole new world for a driver who won his first Rockford Late Model feature this year. He topped 37 entries to win the pre-season 108-lap Spring Classic Big 8 Series event on April 14. Less than a week later he won his first career NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model feature during the track’s 66th weekly season opener April 20.

Papini’s NASCAR record at the quarter-mile banked paved oval this week stands at four wins and seven top-fives in seven starts. He placed second to Jon Reynolds Jr. in Saturday night’s 30-lap feature.

“We’ve always been a top-five car and I never stopped believing our first win was right around the corner,” Papini said. “The Spring Classic is the second-biggest race you can win at Rockford behind the National Short Track Championships.

“We had almost 40 of the best Late Models there. We were the underdog. The win was a surprise to us and everyone else. It showed us all the hard work paid off.

“It took a week to sink in that we won, and then we won the regular season opening night. I’m not going to let winning sink in again. We’ll just be working to be ready every week. Hopefully we’ll still be in the point race at the end of the season.”

Papini leads the track’s Stanley Steemer NASCAR Late Model division standings by 21 over defending track champ Jerry Gille, 400-379. Gille is a three-time Rockford champion and two-time NASCAR state champion.

The top six in this week’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national standings have not changed. Southern pavement Late Model drivers continue to lead. Three of the six leaders gained points.

Track schedules and weather prevented the top three in national points from making any starts over the weekend. Defending national champion Lee Pulliam of Semora, N.C., continues to lead the standings by 35 over Deac McCaskill of Raleigh, N.C., 674-649. Tommy Lemons Jr. of Troy, N.C., is in third place with 571 points, 78 behind McCaskill. Pulliam’s 20-race record so far this year includes 12 wins, 18 top-fives and 18 top 10s.

Fourth-place Anthony Anders of Easley, S.C., closed the gap behind Lemons by 12 points with a second-place finish at Greenville Pickens Speedway in Greenville, S.C., Saturday night. Anders now has 524 points, 47 behind Lemons, but fifth place C.E. Falk III is closing on him.

Falk, of Virginia Beach, Va., was the weekend’s big point gainer. He picked up 66 points for a total of 521, just three behind Anders. Falk won two 63-lap features at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Va. The events commemorated the track’s 63rd anniversary season. Falk finished third behind Pulliam and Keith Rocco in the 2012 national point race.

Sixth-place Rocco, an SK Modified driver from Wallingford, Conn., picked up four points in his pursuit of Falk with feature wins at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway on Thursday and Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl on Saturday. The series’ 2010 national champion closed to within 37 points of cracking the top-five.

It took years for Papini to break through to Rockford’s Late Model Victory Lane. He had only one win in the division prior to this season, and it came in 2010 at Jefferson Speedway in Wisconsin. He also won a post-season feature of unorthodox format driving a dinosaur of a race car at Rockford last October.

Papini and crew threw together a Late Model-type car to race in Rockford’s season-ending Bahama Bracket Nationals. Cars in the event are grouped in six speed brackets regardless of division or car type. The prize is $1,500 to win, or a trip for two to the Bahamas. Papini and crew built his car for the event on an ancient chassis, won his 50-lap feature and took the cash option.

“It’s Lefthander chassis No. 32,” he said the car. “It was built 11 months before I was born,” said Papini, 23, of Machesney Park, Ill. “I paid $250 for it. I’d never won $500 before let alone $1,500,” he said of his prize selection. “We put that car together in 10 days.”

The car is set aside in the shop awaiting this year’s Bahama Bracket Nationals on Oct. 12-13.

Papini’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model was completely refurbished during the off season. The car was stripped to the bare 2005 Lefthander chassis. Papini and longtime crew chief/spotter Dana Czach then got a couple of sets of new eyes for the rebuild. Matt Berger, who finished second in NASCAR state points last year, and 2010 track champion Tim Sargent each contributed their suggestions on how to improve the car’s performance.

“The car needed a lot of TLC,” Papini said. “Those guys have a lot of knowledge and helped us. Not one bolt went on this car without a lot of thought. Dana and my guys blended together with Matt and Tim and their attitude as a crew was ‘whatever it takes.’ That’s very cool.”

The rest of the crew members include Tommy Pinkston, Mike Swanson, Dave Duncan from Berger’s former team, and the driver’s uncle, Ted Papini.

Papini’s success attracted new primary sponsor Stateline Staffing Services of South Beloit, Ill. The company is a longtime track sponsor. Neighbor’s Bar & Grill in Loves Park, Ill., operated by the driver’s uncle, Kelly Evink, has supported the team for years. The car uses a Powersource Racing Engine.

Driver and crew chief each lost their namesake fathers at Rockford – Czach in a 1990 accident and Papini of a heart attack in 2001. Czach’s uncle is Bill Venturini of ARCA Racing Series driving and now car ownership fame.

“Dana and I have an unbreakable bond,” Papini said. “He hasn’t raced in two years. He was underfunded but he had a lot of success.”

Papini worked on Berger’s race cars for three years before he began his own racing career in the Road Runner (a V-8 powered Street Stock) division in 2006. He moved to Late Models where he won the track’s rookie-of-the-year award in 2008. He returned to Road Runners in 2011 and won the track championship with a record of four wins, 15 top-fives and 16 top-10s in 17 starts. He rejoined the Late Model ranks in 2012 and ran a partial schedule.

“After my dad passed away, Matt became a mentor and kind of a father-figure to me,” Papini said. “If it wasn’t for him I’d have never raced a Late Model.”

Papini’s grandfather, Harold “Snooks” Evink, was a race engine builder. Before he was 10, Papini was spending his summer days learning and helping build engines and evenings helping work on his dad Al’s race car.

“I had the best of both worlds,” Papini said. “All I ever wanted to do was drive race cars. I was nine months old when I was taken to my first race.”

Papini works for A-Plus Heating and Air Conditioning. He is engaged to Jamie Hagerman.

Now in its 32nd season, the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series is NASCAR’s national championship program for weekly short track auto racing. There are 55 sanctioned tracks throughout the United States and Canada that participate.

A NASCAR Division I driver’s best 18 results through the Sept. 15 closing date count toward their state and national point totals and the champions are decided on overall point total. Once a driver reaches 18 starts, their point total increases incrementally as they replace some poorer runs with better results.

Under the point structure for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, a race winner receives two points for every car in the event up to 20 cars. Second place receives two fewer points and so on through the field. Race winners receive an additional five points. For example, if 20 cars are in the field, the winner receives 45 points, second place 38 and third 36. If there are 15 cars, the winner receives 35 points, second 28 and third, 26.

Track operators also designate support classes as NASCAR Divisions II-V and drivers in those divisions compete for points in the NASCAR Finalist program. The program brings added recognition to support division drivers. Points are kept separately for asphalt and dirt tracks.

More information on the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series is available at www.nascarhometracks.com.

By Paul Schaefer, NASCAR

Christopher Neal
Christopher is a happily married father of 3 very active boys. He is a full time law enforcement officer and part time web designer. Chris is currently the chief editor of TheFourthTurn.com as well as has personal blog TheDadsPlace.com

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