Tuesday, February 21st, 2012
By Mike Ernst
Charlson elated after runner-up finish at Daytona
  One year after failing to qualify for the 200-mile Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) event at Daytona International Speedway, Drew Charlson returned to the legendary two and one-half mile tri-oval and nearly etched his name into the track's record books.
The 18-year old youngster from New Bremen used a late, frantic charge during a green-white-checker finish to move from sixth-place to a runner-up finish behind Bobby Gerhart in the ARCA event that preceded the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bud Shootout this past Saturday night.
"Bobby's spotter (Jason Jarrett) came on and he just said, 'Stick with him, stick with him,'" said Charlson. "I stuck to his bumper and came out of the fourth turn to give him a shove. It's just amazing."
As Gerhart and Charlson charged to the outside of turn four on the final lap, race leader Brandon McReynolds, son of former NASCAR crew chief Larry McReynolds, ran out of gas and slowed. Gerhart and Charlson charged around with Gerhart winning the event for the eighth time while Charlson won a side-by-side dual with Will Kimmel for the runner-up spot."
"This is just my second ARCA start," Charlson said. "We're just a small team working out of a two-car garage, and I can't thank everyone - Aluma Aluminum Trailers, AgriGold, and Heitkamp Crop Insurance - enough. It was just awesome."
Charlson, driving the car his family-owned team bought from Richard Childress Racing and that defending series champion Ty Dillon drove on the superspeedways a year ago, qualified seventh and ran in the top five when the caution flag flew on lap 15.
"We knew going into the race, that if a caution came out around lap 15 or 20 we could pit and make it the rest of the way," Charlson said. "But a lot of guys pitted on a caution on lap eight and when we came out of the pits we were way back in the pack."
Charlson restarted 31st and then methodically worked his way back to the front. He hooked up with pole-sitter Sean Corr and veterans Tom Hessert and Steve Blackburn. But that four-car draft began to break up as the races laps wound down.
"They hung me out to dry a couple of times so I started working with some other guys and we went by them and I think then they figured out I had a good car," Charlson said.
Charlson was into the top 10 when the final caution flag flew with just a couple of laps remaining. ARCA rules call for a green-white-checkered run to the checkered flag, so the 80-lap event was extended three extra laps and several teams ran short on fuel.
"I knew we had plenty of fuel and were good to go to the finish but wasn't sure about anyone else," Charlson said.
"My spotter told me that Bobby was going to lay back and was going to make a charge up high as we got into turn three and that if I stuck with him we could make a run off of turn four, and that is what
we did," Charlson said.
Since the second-place run, Charlson's facebook page and cell phone have
been busy.
"The first person there when I got out of the car was Mike Dillon, who is the president at Richard Childress Racing, and he told me that I drove a helluva race, which really made me feel good, and the I can't begin to tell you how many people have called or contacted me through Facebook. It has been overwhelming."
Charlson quickly adapted to the big track which he gained a little experience by turning just a minimal number of laps a year ago in a very under-financed team. Daytona International Speedway is nearly five times as big as most tracks he competes on with his outlaw super late model.
"I feel like I adjusted to drafting and everything just fine," Charlson said. "It really doesn't matter if you are going 200
mph at Daytona or running a short track, you just run as hard as you can and do what the car lets you do. But it seemed like the fastest race I ever ran.
"Everyone told me it was 80 laps and 200 miles and that it would take a while
but it seemed like it really went fast."
Charlson had planned to run only two more ARCA events this season, at
Talladega Superspeedway and Iowa Speedway, but now hopes the
impressive finish in the season opener will open some additional doors.
As the team returned home on Monday they stopped in the Charlotte area and enjoyed dinner with a prospective sponsor.
"You never know how these things will work out but we are hoping it will open some doors," said Andy Charlson, the car owner and father of Drew. "We would like to do some more of the ARCA schedule but we
need some more sponsorship for that to happen."
For now the team will focus on preparing the outlaw super late model Drew
normally competes in and get the stock car ready for the Talladega race, which is part of the huge NASCAR Sprint Cup weekend at the track in early May.
"I feel like we will go down there and have real shot at winning," Charlson said. "I think the other drivers know we have a real fast car and that they can trust running with me. And hopefully someone will push me across in front the next time."
Additional online stories for this date
Print edition only stories for this date
• St. Henry students ready to blast off
• Local contingent ready for state
• Former Buckeyes to appear at Fieldhouse
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