Elliott Protege Climbs Podium In His ARCA Debut
As Bill Elliott began to approach the later years of his NASCAR career, he started spending some of his time helping aspiring young drivers break into the sport.
His first understudy was his nephew Casey Elliott, who had tons of potential only to be lost to cancer before he could show the NASCAR world just how good he was.
Then when Elliott began driving Dodges for Ray Evernham, he mentored Casey Atwood and then Kasey Kahne.
Now there’s another Casey getting help from Elliott – 17-year-old Casey Roderick.
Two weeks ago at Rockingham, Roderick drove an old Kasey Kahne Dodge, jointly fielded by Elliott and long-time NASCAR car owner James Finch, to an impressive second-place finish in his ARCA debut.
“He did a really, really good job,” said Elliott, who oversaw the team’s preparation and helped call the race-day shots from atop the pit box.
Roderick’s race didn’t start out exactly like he’d planned. After qualifying third, he had driven just a few feet down pit road before he stopped to re-index his steering wheel. Series officials sent him to the rear for making the stop, a penalty his team protested unsuccessfully.
“It was my fault,” Roderick said by phone a couple days after the race as he worked on his car in Elliott’s shop in Dawsonville, cleaning it up and repairing some of the battle scars. “But I’m kind of glad it worked out the way it did because it gave me some experience passing in that type of car.”
And it gave him the distinction, he said, of being the only driver in the race to pass all of his competitors. He drove his way into the top five before the first caution flag flew, then a quick pit stop by Finch’s Nationwide Series squad gave Roderick the lead on Lap 120. He led a second time, from Lap 126 to 136, then finished second behind Parker Kligerman and ahead of series champion Justin Lofton, who went wheel to wheel with the youngster in the closing laps.
Once Roderick dispatched Lofton for the final time, he set out to catch Kligerman but ran out of laps.
“He had about a straightaway lead on me but I closed the gap by about half the distance,” Roderick said.
Roderick, who made his ARCA debut at the same track where Elliott made his first Cup start back in 1976, said he felt comfortable in the heavier car after running the past few seasons in Legends and Late Models. The radial tires posed the greatest challenge.
“They’re a lot more on edge and not as forgiving,” he said. “When you get loose, you snap loose.”
Passing other cars, he said, wasn’t as difficult as he feared.
“Once I passed a few cars, I got used to that pretty quickly,” he said.
And he loved the Rock, in spite of the bumps entering Turns One and Three and at the exit of Turn Four.
“It’s an honor to be able to race at Rockingham,” he said. “All the older guys I talked to said it was their favorite track.”
For now for Roderick, it’s on to Nashville in two weeks for a Late Model race and waiting for the break he needs, sponsor-wise, to resume his speedway career.
Elliott said now that his young driver has shown that he can handle the driving, it’s just a matter of securing the funding.
“Casey’s got a future if he can get the money,” Elliott said. “The way the economy is it’s making it tough, but he sure looked good up there (at Rockingham).”
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments