The 70th season of Bowman Gray Racing is set to start this weekend, and there is still plenty left to do for the reigning champions.
Burt Myers won his eighth title in the Modified Division last year, Derek Stoltz won in Sportsman, Jacob Creed was the champion in Street Stock and Wesley Thompson finished atop the standings in Stadium Stock.
“There’s always that excitement of that first week,” Myers said. “There’s anxiety that comes with it because you know that it’s hard to avoid the drama sometimes. But you know that’s the nature of the beast over there.
“It’s Bowman Gray Stadium, so that’s part of the package.”
Not only is Myers defending his title, he’s the two-time defending champion. He will qualify today with the rest of the Modified drivers for the season-opening 200-lap race.
“I actually love the 200-lapper,” Myers said. “It’s one of my favorite races. It puts a little of the driver and a little bit of the handling all in one package to be successful, and a little bit of luck on top of that.
“But it’s about taking care of your car and being there at the end. And I feel like I’ve made a pretty good career out of doing that.”
Myers races year-round in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, and he also won five races in the Southern Modified Racing Series Tour, finishing second in the standings after missing the first race. So Myers is well-seasoned for the start of the season.
“Our goal is to win this first 200-lapper,” he said. “And then we just kind of take it one week at a time. You don’t really start thinking about points at all until you get down to the end of the year and kind of stack everything up and see what kind of situation you’ve got yourself into.
“But our goal is to start 2018 with a win in the Hayes (Jewelers) 200.”
For Stoltz, last season was magical.
Stoltz won three races, all before May 20, and added six second-place finishes. It wasn’t Stoltz’s first championship at Bowman Gray — he won the Sportsman title in 2012.
“This winter went by so fast, I hadn’t really had time to (enjoy) it,” Stoltz said.
Despite winning the title for the first time in five years, he wasn’t satisfied.
“I wasn’t impressed with myself last year,” Stoltz said. “As far as racing, I like to win races. I’m not a championship type of person. It really was one of them deals that I put my helmet up for the year and got the trophies and put them up.
“It’s kind of one of them things where I forgot about it. That’s just the way I am. I’m not a real set here and blow it up in your face, go and ride it out person. That’s how I had pretty good success.”
Creed had to wait till the last night of the season to win the points championship in the Street Stock Division.
He came into the season finale tied for first place with Jeremy Warren, but Creed finished second and Warren finished sixth, giving Creed a 16-point win.
“We enjoyed it on the banquet night,” Creed said. “We built a brand new car this winter, so we worked all winter. But we enjoyed it.
“Every day we walk into work we get to see the championship poster. That’s pretty cool.”
Will that new car lead to another championship this season?
“I ain’t been able to sleep the last two weeks just thinking about it,” Creed said.
He didn’t even get a chance to practice last week at Bowman Gray with all the racers. His reason was more than good.
“I got married (April 7), and I was in Aruba,” he said.
Thompson started the final race last season 18 points behind Chase Hunt and 14 points behind 2016 champion A.J. Sanders. However, Thompson won the race and the championship. He defeated Sanders by four points.
“Honestly, it’s really the same guys, year in, year out,” Thompson said. “I know Chase is going to be fast. He probably deserved the championship last year. He led it from week one until the last week, and pretty much the last lap until (he) had some bad luck go his way. But it was good luck for us. But that’s Bowman Gray.”