As Busch North evolves into Busch East this season, Cherryfield’s Andy Santerre, the defending four-time Busch North points champion, will step out of his ride and assume two new roles this season: team owner and crew chief.
Santerre is confident his driver, 20-year-old Sean Caisse, can contend for the title beginning with the season-opening American Revolution 150 at the Greenville-Pickens Speedway (S.C.) Saturday night.
He isn’t as confident about the future of Busch East.
The tour has been reduced to an 11-race schedule, two fewer than the previous two seasons. The series had averaged 18 races per season in the six seasons before that.
The payouts don’t come close to covering the expense of running a Busch East car, according to Santerre.
Last season, only four of the 13 races paid $10,000 or more to win. The top payout was the $17,000 Ted Christopher pocketed for winning the Sylvania 125 at New Hampshire International Speedway on Sept. 16, 2005.
The winners in the other nine races took home anywhere from $6,500 to $8,893.
“In 1993, it cost $150,000 to run a Busch North program for a season. Now it costs half a million. And the payouts are the same as they were in ’93,” said Santerre. “You used to be able to break even. Now you’ll lose $300,000. You have to have at least $400,000 from a sponsor to break even.”
Santerre said the tour is having trouble scheduling races at large facilities because track owners are reluctant to pay the purses needed to make it worthwhile for the owners. The track needs to come up with $60,000 to $65,000 to pay NASCAR to hold a race there and NASCAR distributes the money to the owners based on finish, according to Santerre.
“The New England season is short and you have to contend with the weather. Many of the track owners can’t afford to bring the Busch East cars there. They would need to fill the stands to pay the purse and a lot of track owners aren’t willing to gamble,” said Santerre.
Santerre and Mike Stefanik were the full-time drivers for the Grizco Racing team last year, finishing one-two in points, and Brad Leighton drove six races. Santerre, who was also the team manager, said they spent $35,000 in diesel fuel alone just to transport the teams to the races.
Busch East is trying to cut costs.
The cars can run a cheaper composite body as opposed to the custom-fabricated sheet metal body on the same chassis. Santerre said a spec body and other incidentals cost $8,500 while the current sheet metal bodies cost approximately $13,000.
“It’s a one-piece fiberglass body, which is supposed to be cost effective,” said Santerre. “The maintenance costs a lot less.”
He also said the spec bodies are “all the same so there’s no way to cheat it up.”
And there will be cheaper “spec” engines this season.
“It’s around $20,000 for a spec engine and you can run twice as long without rebuilding it,” said Santerre, who added that the other engines are $40,000.
Santerre, who is also the crew chief for 15-year-old Joey Logano on the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Southern Division series, feels Caisse has a good shot to win Saturday’s race.
“We’ve got a fast car. He’s got as good a chance as anybody else,” said Santerre who expects Matt Kobyluck, Mike Olsen and Scarborough’s Ryan Moore to challenge Caisse for the points title.
Moore is going to try to run the Sam’s Town 400 Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway Friday night before heading to South Carolina for Saturday’s Busch East race.
Caisse was the Rookie of the Year last season and finished seventh overall in points.
“There aren’t many people picking us because Sean hasn’t proven himself yet. But if he wins that first race, that might change their tune,” said Santerre, who owns Andy Santerre Motorsports.
He said a points championship would give Caisse a lot of recognition which could lead to a NASCAR Craftsman Truck or Busch ride in the near future.
Crawford recovery going well
Fairfield’s John Crawford, who was seriously injured when a race car landed on him while he was filming at Unity Raceway on April 30, was released from Bangor’s Eastern Maine Medical Center earlier this week and is recuperating privately.
Virginia Metivier, Crawford’s mother, said her son is doing a “lot better.
“He still has his jaw wired and there is a little trauma to his head. But he is doing very well. His memory is really good. He is improving all the time and his spirits are high,” said Metivier.
He is talking and eating although his food has to be pureed.
Crawford is the host of the weekly cable show “Mainely Motorsports” and Metivier said he is eager to get back to work.
He doesn’t have any injuries below the neck, she said.
Crawford has been involved in motorsports for most of his life including a three-year stint leasing Unity Raceway from 2002 to 2004.