Huffman has been a consistent...
Huffman has been a consistent winner in Hooters Pro Cup, earning the series title in 2003. Penny Holder main photo; Don Hamilton photo on right
What is it that allows one driver to get a break and move into the upper echelons of NASCAR while another never moves up from his local track or one of the small traveling series? Is it talent? Is it luck? Or is it money?
It's difficult to pinpoint a single reason for each individual racer. Sometimes it's the combination of all these things and perhaps more.
Take Shane Huffman. At the age of 32, he has done all of the things that should have car owners lined up outside his door waiting to sign him. He won the Limited Late Model Stock championship at the prestigious Hickory (North Carolina) Motor Speedway 10 years ago. Three years later, in 1999, he won the Late Model division title, joining legends such as Bob Pressley, Jack Ingram, and Harry Gant as Hickory track champions.
That wasn't all of the hardware that Huffman collected in 1999, as he also was the Blue Ridge Regional champion in the Winston Racing Series and was edged out of the National Championship by a few points by Illinois' Jeff Leak.
After losing the Roush Racing "Gong Show" in the final shootout and having a deal for an Andy Petree ride in Cup fall apart when Petree had some sponsor issues, Huffman turned his attention to USAR Hooters Pro Cup competition. He admits that at the end of the '99 season, he made one of the biggest mistakes of his young career.
"I should have done more to put myself and my name out there in front of the NASCAR owners," Huffman says. "But I was shy. I had plenty of confidence on the racetrack, but I had no confidence in telling people about myself. So, in early 2001, I took some public speaking classes, and it has made all the difference in the world."
The '01 season also brought Huffman back to the winner's circle as he notched four wins, a Fifth-Place finish in the Pro Cup Championship Series, and his first start in a Busch Series race as he started 40th and finished 24th in the fall race at Richmond.
After a dismal '02 season, Huffman hit his stride the next season. After winning the Hooters Pro Cup Southern Division, garnering five wins along the way, Huffman grabbed three more victories on his way to winning the National Championship series combining the best Hooters drivers from its two divisions, Northern and Southern, at the end of the season.
Over the last couple of seasons, Huffman has still been tearing up Hooters Pro Cup with 12 wins and the 2005 Southern Division title.
This season, Huffman teamed up with one of the top names in NASCAR to chase the Hooters Pro Cup title. He's driving the No. 88 Champion Spark Plugs Monte Carlo for JR Motorsports, whose owner is Dale Earnhardt Jr. Huffman is back to winning races on a regular basis.
While he's been competing in Hooters Pro Cup, other drivers have been moving into the upper levels of NASCAR. Drivers such as Brian Vickers, Carl Edwards, David Stremme, and others have moved to the Nextel Cup level. There are at least 21 drivers who have moved into Cup competition since the deal with Petree fell through in 2000.
Huffman says his shyness held...
Huffman says his shyness held him back early in his career. He credits public speaking classes with helping him overcome his reluctance to promote himself. Don Hamilton
So what does Huffman think about all of these people moving up to race on Sundays while he is still on a Saturday night regional circuit?
"It used to really bother me," he says. "But now, I just sit back, look at it, and shrug. There's nothing I can really do about it. I know that it's all about the position that you put yourself in. You have to put yourself in the right positions in order to get the attention of the NASCAR car owners. I'm working on that. But, in reality, my time in Pro Cup has been good for me. I've learned a lot of things here. Pro Cup racing has taught me patience, it's taught me about pit stops, and it's taught me how to adapt to different tracks, since we're at a completely different type of track every two weeks."
Huffman gets his chance this year with JR Motorsports. The team will be entering selected Busch Series races with an eye on a possible full schedule in 2007. Huffman says he's ready.
"Working with Junior this year has helped me a lot," he says. "He's a very hands-on type of owner. He's around the shop a lot and is always answering my questions and offering his advice. Everything that I'm doing this year is to prove that I can be a competitive driver in the Busch Series, and I'm a better driver now than I was five years ago. I'm smarter in the car than ever.