Optimism abounds for Columbus (Ohio) Motor Speedway Crazy Compact division driver Jeremy Menninger. He’s aiming to keep his 2014 campaign up front.
Menninger led the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division IV standings for most of last season. He also led the track point race until the final weeks.
“As close as we were last year, we know we’re capable of running up front. Our goal is to finish on top,” said Menninger, who has a win and five top fives in six starts this year.
Menninger, 26, of Pataskala, Ohio, was first or second in Division IV standings for the first 13 weeks of 2013. He slipped to third in week 14, and then fifth for the duration of the season. A cut tire and engine issues over several late-season race nights erased his point leads and cost him a trip to Charlotte, N.C., for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards.
Menninger finished with two wins and seven top fives in 19 starts, wound up second in the track point race behind champion Jeff Watkins II, who also finished first in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series for Division IV.
The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division II-V Championship program recognizes the top performers at NASCAR tracks’ support divisions. The four national champions will receive a trophy and a trip to the series national awards event. In addition, the top-three dirt and top-three asphalt drivers will be invited to the series awards event.
Dirt track driver Brad Derry leads Menninger by 18 points in this week’s Division IV standings. Derry competes in Pro Stocks at Adams County Speedway in Corning, Iowa, and I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Neb. Derry topped the Division III point standings in 2010-11.
The top five NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division II-V Championship leaders this week include:
· Division II: Spencer Davis, New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway; Keith Rocco, Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl, Thompson (Conn.) Speedway Motorsports Park; Brad May, New Smyrna; Garrett Jones, New Smyrna; Rich Lavallee, All-American Speedway, Roseville, Calif.
· Division III: Josh Sink, I-80 Speedway, Greenwood, Neb., Adams County Speedway, Corning, Iowa; Jerod Weston, Adams County, I-80; John Ketron, Kingsport (Tenn.) Speedway, Lonesome Pine Raceway, Coeburn, Va.; Blain Petersen, I-80, Adams County; Donald Sargent, The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
· Division IV: Derry, Adams County, I-80; Menninger, Columbus; Dave Trudeau, Waterford, Thompson; Corey Kyer, Columbus; Doug Curry, Waterford.
· Division V: Brian King, Anderson (S.C.) Motor Speedway, Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway; Chris Harvell, Greenville, Anderson; Donavan Beacham, Greenville, Anderson; Don Tavernia, Greenville, Anderson; Michael Cross, Greenville, Anderson.
“My dad and I ran partial schedules in 2010 and racing against him was one of the best experiences ever,” Menninger said. “We got to race side-by-side and I wanted to show him what he taught me. After that, we took a couple of years off. I think we finished 51st in 2012 Division IV points, but we were just learning and figuring out what we were doing with our race program. We didn’t have any experience in being in a point race until last year.”
He won his first career feature in April last year. There were reasons for the sudden front-running effort.
“We picked up some sponsorship that let us replace old parts,” Menninger said. “We gained some crewmen who know what they’re doing and jumped in to help. I didn’t have to go out to race worrying about the car breaking down. They gave me a lot of confidence and I could go out and just race.”
His team consists of Menninger’s dad and crew chief Frank, brother Brandon, Ben Stansbury and Roxanne Myers. His sponsors include carsourceauto.com, Ben’s Shop and Daley’s Mini Storage. The sponsorship helped him buy an occasional tire and replace bearings and basic parts before they failed.
“The crew had a big part in that. They know what part or piece is worn out before it goes wrong. Dad gets on me to replace stuff when parts are starting to wear out,” Menninger said.
“Last season we decided to run first three races and see where we stood,” said Menninger, operates J.D. Detailing, a car detailing service. “I’d never won a championship and we never thought about racing for a championship. It was a heart-breaker at the end. We knew we were fast enough. We had the budget to keep going and we didn’t tear the car up. We were up front until a few races to go. Then we had a tire problem and blew two engines. We were confident, but that’s racing. Sometimes you just need luck, and we didn’t have any. Hats off to Jeff for winning the championships.”
Columbus’ Crazy Compact division attracts about two dozen cars. Menninger’s ride started life as a 1998 Chevrolet Cavalier. It became a race car in 2005. He bought in 2010.
“Everybody there builds their own car,” Menninger said, “They’re stock and the only thing you do is put a roll cage in. We’ve got one of the oldest cars out there. We bought it and put our own touches into it. We’re building a back-up car now to have just in case we have a problem.
The division’s feature races are action-packed.
“We usually start 24 cars and we draw a pill for an inversion of 16, 18, or 20 cars and our features are 20 laps. You have to have some strategy and you have to finish races if you’re going to contend.”