PORTLAND – Jeremie Whorff nearly made history again at the TD Banknorth 250, even before this year’s race started.
And this time, it wouldn’t have been the good kind.
Whorff, last year’s champion, was going to sit out the race.
“As of last Thursday, I wasn’t running the 250,” Whorff said. “I didn’t have a car to drive.”
The shift from Pro Stock to Late Model cars this year left Whorff, who races Pro Stock cars in the PASS tour, without a legal ride.
“With all of the work we’d put into the cars for Pro Stock, there just wasn’t the time to do it,” Whorff said.
Enter Scott Fern, a Massachusetts builder who has a stable of Late Model cars in Vermont.
“I originally called (OPS owner) Bill (Ryan) and asked if he knew of anybody that needed a car,” Fern said. “Originally, I was thinking one of the Nextel Cup guys or something.”
Ryan told Fern he had someone in mind, but that he could also post the offer on the track’s Web site.
“I didn’t want that,” Fern said, “because I didn’t want so many people calling me up wanting a car for the race.”
Whorff called Fern himself days later, having spoken to Ryan.
“Out of the blue, Jeremie called and said he was interested,” Fern said.
By Tuesday, the two hooked up and were testing at the three-eighths of a mile oval.
“They gave me a really good car (Tuesday) to test and see what I had,” Whorff said.
At Wednesday’s media day, Whorff let slip just how good his day was in an exchange with track owner Bill Ryan.
“You were blisteringly fast in qualifying (Tuesday), I heard,” Ryan said, “or was I not supposed to say that?”
“That was supposed to be on the (down low),” Whorff said with a laugh.
The trip back to the Oxford oval will bring back some sweet memories for the young champion, who launched the second half of his season with the big win in last year’s big event.
“It was a huge momentum builder for me and for the crew,” Whorff said. “That’s pretty much all we talked about for a long time.”
Without the victory, Whorff might have been done for the season.
“Financially, I was done after the 250 if I hadn’t won,” Whorff said. “That relieved a lot of stress so that we could think about racing the rest of the season, and we ended up winning three or four more races after that.”
One of the biggest thrills of last year’s victory, Whorff said, was holding off one of the best drivers in the country – Nextel Cup star Kyle Busch.
“I had a really big sigh of relief when I heard that motor pop next to me,” Whorff admitted. “We raced for quite a few laps next to each other. It was great racing. As soon as he blew his motor, I was on the radio, hollering and screaming. I felt bad for him, but at the same time I didn’t.”
And then there was his father, Bill Whorff Jr.
“I could see my father in my mirror, and he really wasn’t gaining on me,” Whorff said. “You could see a couple times he really stressed his car out and really tried to get up there on me. It was really funny to watch, because usually that’s me in the rearview mirror.”
Defending a title
This time around, Whorff will hardly be an unknown, which in itself will add some pressure.
“The expectations are high, being a past champion,” Whorff said. “I haven’t had a whole lot of experience in a Late Model. I think I’ve run 150 laps in a Late Model, and (Tuesday) was probably 100 of it testing.”
Whorff admitted the cars are taking some getting used to.
“My first lap, I went out there and tried to drive it into a corner like a Pro Stock and ended up looping it. I finally got the hang of it toward the end of the day, and I think anybody can adjust to a race car, no matter what you’re driving. You just have to take what the car can give you.”