Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Drivers Learn in `Triple-A' Busch Is a `Proving Ground'

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Drivers Learn in `Triple-A' Busch Is a `Proving Ground'

Article excerpt

DAYTONA BEACH -- Jimmy Spencer figures the list explains everything about the recent growth of the series once known only as Winston Cup's "Triple-A."

The list: Dale Earnhardt. Jeff Gordon. Darrell Waltrip.

They're the biggest names in Winston Cup, young and aging, and what they have in common is that they began on the Busch Grand National Series, the premier race of which will be held today at Daytona International Speedway -- the NAPA 300 at noon.

"The best proving ground there is," said Spencer, who drove in the series in the late 1980s and early 1990s and now owns a car in the series that is driven by veteran driver Dick Trickle.

A proving ground.

The Busch Grand National Series is that and has been for years. But now, Spencer and other drivers believe, it is more. Something much, much more.

It is big. Not Winston Cup big, but big enough to be a viable series on its own. Big enough to attract major sponsors, sponsors wealthy enough to support a $2-3 million a year budget.

Prize money has gotten bigger, too. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won a record $1.3 million on the circuit last season and the 10 highest-grossing seasons for drivers have come in the last two years.

"It's a good steppingstone, but it's also a good place to stay," BGN driver Jeff Purvis said. "It's becoming more and more attractive, because of the money."

The result, drivers and officials say, is that the series has moved from the shadow of Winston Cup. BGN is, and always will be, a feeding ground, but it also is an example of the growth of stock car racing, because being No. 2 in stock cars now means being close to the No. 2 series in motorsports.

"In many ways, it is the second-biggest circuit in North America, trailing only Winston Cup," Winston Cup director of competition Kevin Triplett said.

One way is measured by Goodyear, which monitors attendance for all major racing circuits. Because most series attendance figures -- including NASCAR -- are estimated because of infieldparking situations, figures are sketchy, but the estimated 2,020,000 who attended BGN races last season made it the fourth-most attended series behind Winston Cup, CART and NHRA. …

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