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Ron Fellows Still Road Course Spiffy As He Approaches 50

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, August 26 2009
Ron Fellows is always ready to lend his skills for a NASCAR team, no matter the weather.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Ron Fellows is always ready to lend his skills for a NASCAR team, no matter the weather. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

When veteran road racer Ron Fellows first sought a full-time ride in the Sprint Cup, he learned that team owners were looking for younger drivers. A decade later, the Canadian who is one month shy of his 50th birthday is still winning NASCAR events.

“There’s a reason why Mark Martin and I share the No. 5,” said Fellows, who will defend last year’s victory in the Nationwide Series race at Montreal on Sunday. “We’re in our fifth decade. But right now Mark is proving that to be very fashionable. So, hey, let me at it.”

The native of Windsor who now lives outside Toronto will rely on experience in Montreal – from three weeks ago at Watkins Glen.

“I think the prospects to repeat our victory of last year are very good,” said Fellows of the JR Motorsports team of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Rick Hendrick. “I’m glad we did Watkins Glen first. What we were able to learn there will help. We learned that the competition is a lot tougher this year. The Toyotas are stout in a straight line and you’ve got some talented guys driving Toyotas.  We know what we’ve got and we have a plan in place.”

Part of the plan is to save the brakes on his Chevy on the 2.7-mile island course, but not just for the double-file restarts and the inevitable out-braking bids at Turn 1’s big bend. “The nice thing about this particular track with long straights (and) slow corners, there’s lots of places to pass,” said Fellows.

It was the late Benny Parsons who counseled Fellows about the uphill battle he faced in landing a Sprint Cup deal, despite victories in the Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series at Watkins Glen in addition to a runner-up finish to Jeff Gordon in the Sprint Cup race at the Glen in 1999. In his first oval test at Daytona, Fellows set the fastest lap in the winter session for what was then the Busch Series, proving he could also drive on the high banks.

But Gordon’s rise to prominence had turned the heads of NASCAR team owners towards youth and away from experience. “I made the commitment to do the long-distance races,” said Fellows. After signing a longterm contract with Corvette Racing, he co-drove to victory at Daytona’s Rolex 24 and the Le Mans 24-hour events in 2001 and then won again at Le Mans in 2002.

As for enthusiasm, Fellows still has the desire to race full-time in NASCAR. “Would I like to do it? Absolutely.”

He’s been close to winning a Sprint Cup event at Watkins Glen twice, finishing second behind Tony Stewart in 2004 after starting 43rd in a DEI Chevy due to rained out qualifying. He led the race at Infineon in the Pennzoil Chevy of DEI in 2003 for 11 laps before a pit-strategy snafu relegated him to seventh.

Having stepped out of the cockpit and become an ambassador for Corvette Racing following three championships in the American Le Mans Series, Fellows continues the role he’s had in NASCAR since his truck series victory in 1997 brought him the first of six NASCAR trophies.

That role: Have helmet, will travel to Watkins Glen, the Infineon Raceway and now to Montreal.

It was through Corvette Racing that Fellows first established the current relationship with Dale Earnhardt Jr. After the over-all victory by the No. 4 Corvette at Daytona in 2001, Fellows met with Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who co-drove the No. 3 Corvette to fourth place that year, to discuss a variety of topics, including some coaching of the younger driver on road circuits.

Eventually, Fellows drove in five Sprint Cup races for Dale Earnhardt Inc. and then last year begin driving for JR Motorsports, where he has “an absolutely cool” relationship with Earnhardt Jr. “It has evolved since that meeting back in 2001,” said Fellows.

There may be no time line in place for how long Fellows will continue racing. But he’s already making longterm plans in NASCAR. Next season, he anticipates launching a team in the Canadian Tire Series. “It’s a terrific series,” said Fellows. “I’m planning on having a team next year. We’ve been working on it for seven or eight months now.”

Will Fellows be looking for a younger driver or one with experience for his new team?

Time will tell on that score. But more than likely whoever gets behind the wheel of a NASCAR team owned by Fellows will have an eye on eventually getting to the Sprint Cup.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, August 26 2009
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