AUTO RACING

Ellsworth man’s racing future uncertain as he launches daughter’s stock car career

Posted June 07, 2012, at 7:36 p.m.

HERMON, Maine — When Andy Saunders decided to park his Pro Stock car after the 2004 season, he had just won his second consecutive points championship in that class at Speedway 95.

He left racing because his crew members were departing to start families and new jobs and he wanted to launch his daughter Whitney’s drag racing career.

She began in the Junior Dragster Class at Winterport Dragway two years later at age 8. Whitney also wound up racing at Oxford Plains Dragway and spent three years at New England Dragway in Epping, N.H.

After a five-year absence, Andy Saunders climbed back into a race car in 2010 and promptly won the Long John 100 Late Model feature at Unity Raceway. It was the third of four races he ran that season.

But an interesting thing happened in 2010.

His daughter became interested in stock car racing.

“When I had raced before, she was so young that it didn’t [register] with her,” said the Ellsworth resident. “But that year I had a dominant car in all four races I went to and she thought it was pretty cool. She said she wanted to do it.”

So, on July Fourth, 14-year-old Whitney Saunders will make her debut in the Stars of Tomorrow (teenagers) division on Wacky Wednesday at Speedway 95.

Whitney Saunders, who just completed her freshman year at Bangor’s John Bapst High School, won three class championships at Winterport Dragway, won several races at Oxford Plains and was a Rookie of the Year at New England Dragway.

Halfway through last season at New England Dragway, Whitney decided to stop racing and set her sights on stock cars.

Her dad competed in 15 Late Model races at Speedway 95 last season and took a pair of checkered flags.

He hasn’t won yet this season but he is leading the Late Model points.

But Andy Saunders has a dilemma. How many races will he run this season?

He hadn’t intended to run for points because he wants to mentor Whitney as she takes her 1999 Volkswagen Beetle to Speedway 95.

“She wanted to be different [by choosing the Beetle]. I thought it was a real neat idea until I was halfway through building it. That’s when I realized Volkswagen parts are three times more expensive than any other car part,” quipped Saunders.

He also noted that it is a front-wheel-drive car with radial tires.

“I didn’t know anything about them. I had never done anything like this before. It was a huge learning curve for the both of us,” Saunders said.

He rented the track for his daughter a few weeks ago so she could try out her Beetle, “and she loved it. We need to do it one more time [before July Fourth]. And she did pretty well.”

When it comes to his race schedule, Saunders said he is going to “play it by ear.”

“At this point, I can’t say what I’m going to do. I’d like to race every weekend but I’m afraid I’ll have to make a choice at some time. And when that time comes, it’ll probably be in her favor. It wouldn’t be fair to put her on the back burner,” he said.

“I can’t tell you that money isn’t an issue because it is. But it really boils down to time,” said the 40-year-old Saunders. “I like to race as much as anyone but I’ve outgrown being in the garage [working on race cars] until midnight four nights a week.”

Even though he is leading the points, he hasn’t won a race yet. He has three seconds and a third in six races. He has high expectations and doesn’t feel he has met them yet.

“Most people would be happy [leading the points] but I’m a little disappointed because we haven’t won,” said Saunders. “We’ve been struggling with the car [2011 Chevy Impala]. We haven’t straightened it out yet. But we have been running decent and I‘ve been able to bring it home every week without it being torn up.”

Although Saunders’ schedule is up in the air, there is one certainty.

“I will be at Spud Speedway for the Spud 150 [on Sept. 9],” he said. “We had the car to beat the last two years and we finished second two years in a row.”

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