Need for speed |

Need for speed

Nevada County NASCAR fans feeling the “need for speed” can visit a professional race team with Nextel Cup connections just down the hill in the city of Antelope.

Bill McAnally Racing (BMR), located at 8636 Antelope Road North, is more than a local stock car racing shop. The NASCAR Grand National West Series race team shares a building with a NAPA AutoCare Center (NAPA is one of BMR’s sponsors).

In the AutoCare Center, customers can tour the race shop while their vehicles are repaired by high-quality, NASCAR-certified technicians and mechanics – the same people that work on BMR’s racing machines. On the racing side, visitors can step into a working race shop, complete with cars, suspensions, roll cages and a fan-friendly environment.

Owner Bill McAnally has been a familiar face in Grass Valley since the 1990s. McAnally raced in what was formerly known as the Winston West Series – now the Grand National Division West Series – a NASCAR “minor league’ series that competes in the western part of the U.S. about twelve times a year. As a driver whose successful career includes winning Rookie of the Year in the 1987 NASCAR Winston Racing Series and consecutive Late-Model championships in 1990-91, McAnally made personal appearances on behalf of NAPA Auto Parts, his primary Winston West sponsor, at the Riebe’s Auto Parts store in Grass Valley. He raced part-time in the Winston West Series from 1992-93 and full-time until mid-1998, when he switched from driver to team owner. McAnally quit his “other” job in 1999 to devote all of his time and attention to his passion, auto racing.

After hiring Sean Woodside to drive his car, BMR won the Winston West championship in 1999, McAnally’s first full season as a team owner. In 2000, McAnally partnered with Michael Gaughan, owner of The Orleans Casino, and the team relocated to Las Vegas to form Orleans Racing. Gaughan’s son, Brendan, drove McAnally’s No. 16 NAPA Chevrolet to victory many times and won back-to-back championships for BMR in 2000 and 2001. In 2002, Orleans Racing decided to field a Dodge Craftsman truck with Brendan behind the wheel and BMR’s Chevrolets returned to Roseville.

Since then, BMR has been home to a number of other well-known racecar drivers, including Austin Cameron, Jim Englebright, Clint Bowyer, Kerry Earnhardt and former Indy Racing League (IRL) favorite Sarah Fisher. BMR’s drivers have qualified for Nextel Cup races at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma and participated in NASCAR exhibition races held at Twin Rings Montegi in Japan.

McAnally says his race shop has become a ‘college’ for NASCAR drivers and team members through a variety of opportunities that include a driver development program with Richard Childress Racing (BMR/RCR) and the Drive for Diversity program. He is extremely proud of his relationship with RCR.

Childress, whose drivers include the late Dale Earnhardt, current Nextel Cup driver Kevin Harvick (twice a Winston West champion), Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer (the first development driver with BMR/RCR and a NASCAR Busch Series regular moving up into Nextel Cup), has been a friend to McAnally since 1994, when McAnally’s truck and trailer were stolen in Sacramento on the eve of the Winston West season opener. Childress offered McAnally a trailer full of parts and equipment; NAPA Auto Parts donated tools, WinstonCup team owner Gary Bechtel loaned Bill a racecar and a local track took up a collection to get McAnally back on four wheels. Childress and McAnally continued to work together and partnered in the driver development program in 2003.

That relationship with Childress has given BMR access to top-of-the-line research and development and created a program that develops drivers and crewmembers into potential NASCAR stars of tomorrow, according to McAnally. “We’re able to get tutored from them (RCR) on pit stop techniques and shock-building and different things and it’s a great relationship. I’m proud to be helping him develop the future of RCR out here.”

The Drive for Diversity program is an outcome of NASCAR’s desire to include women and minorities in all areas of auto racing and is handled by a company called Access Communications. As participants in that program, McAnally and Childress joined forces last year to field a Late-Model team with driver Allison Duncan in the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series (NDWS), racing at the Stockton 99 Speedway in Stockton, CA. Duncan became the first female AND Drive for Diversity driver to win a feature race at the Stockton 99 Speedway; she placed second in the 2005 Championship and won Rookie of the Year honors.

Sarah Fisher is also a participant in the Drive for Diversity program and drove a stock car for BMR last year in the Grand National Division West Series. Fisher’s previous experience behind the wheel of an Indy car made her transition to stockcars more difficult than most drivers switching series. “This was a whole different experience for her,” McAnally said. “She was used to having engineers tell her what her car was doing because they all have data acquisition. Here they don’t allow computers, they don’t allow data acquisition during races, so she would actually have to tell us if the car was tight or loose or what she was feeling in the car and it took her awhile to do that.” Fisher finished 12th in the 2005 Championship points standing.

This year McAnally has hired 35-year old Chicagoan Peter Hernandez, another Drive for Diversity participant, to race at Stockton 99 Speedway. Selected from a field of 18 drivers (more than 400 drivers applied), Hernandez will replace Duncan on BMR’s Late-Model team. “Peter has a great history in stock cars,” McAnally said. “He’s going to work on preparing his Late-Model equipment and work on our Grand National cars. The future is bright for Peter, he has his foot in the door.”

Peyton Sellers, the 2005 NDWS champion, will pilot BMR’s #16 NAPA Chevrolet this season in the Grand National Division West Series. Sellers, at 22, is the youngest national champion in NDWS history and hopes to follow in the footsteps of BMR graduate/driver Clint Bowyer. McAnally said Sellers is already a team player; Peyton helped set up the cars for the 18 Drive for Diversity drivers at the South Boston (VA) Speedway, where Hernandez impressed BMR/RCR representatives before being hired.

Other ‘graduates’ of BMR’s race program include Shane Wilson, crew chief for the #21 RCR Busch car and Scott Meesters, an engine tuner for the #9 Evernham Motorsports Dodge in the Nextel Cup series. ‘Professor McAnally’ says it’s rewarding to walk through the garage area at racetracks and see his ‘graduates’ hard at work with top teams. His future plans include more of the same.

“I’m going to continue to run the Grand National Series here on the West coast,” McAnally said, “and maybe, if we get a driver who’s looking to step up and we want to run other races, we will. We’re a little college here for somebody to learn what they’re doing and build a resume and I’m happy doing that right now.”

BMR and the new NAPA AutoCare Center are open Monday through Friday from 7am-6pm and Saturdays from 7am-12pm. Race fans looking for a NASCAR fix can visit the race shop anytime, where trophies, photos, race films and race cars are on display. It’s a good idea to call ahead for tours (916-676-0010); appointments for auto care can be scheduled at any time.

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