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Homecoming: NASCAR’s Stoddard, Jenkins Head To New Hampshire

- Justin St. Louis on 24 Jun 2010

Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty ImagesLOUDON, N.H. -- First-year NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team Latitude 43 Motorsports heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H., this weekend for the Lenox Industrial Tools 301. With significant ties to the New England region -- crew chief Frank Stoddard is a New Hampshire native and owners Bill and Sandy Jenkins live in Vermont -- the team carries with it the momentum of its first-ever top-ten finish and the feeling of a home-field advantage.

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A NEW ENGLAND FLAVOR

Frank Stoddard grew up in North Haverhill, N.H., a hotbed of stock car racing talent for more than half a century. The most famous name there belongs to the late Stanley “Stub” Fadden, a Hall of Famer who won races across New England and Canada. Another North Haverhill native, farmer Butch Elms, is a multi-time dirt track champion.

Stoddard split his youth between the Elms farm and the Fadden Automotive garage learning the racing trade. In 1995, NASCAR kingpin Jack Roush hired Stoddard to lead his #99 team as crew chief, and Stoddard eventually brought driver Jeff Burton to 14 Sprint Cup Series wins.

New York City native Bill Jenkins developed a passion for racing as a teenager. He moved his roots to southern Vermont twenty years ago, and after a successful career outside of racing, Jenkins and wife Sandy founded an organic boat soap company called Latitude 43 (named for the geographic location of their home).

When NASCAR rules forced Roush to downsize his five-car team prior to the 2010 season, Jenkins bought the #26 cars formerly driven by Jamie McMurray and gave the race team his soap company’s name. He hired Stoddard to guide his new venture, and the team scored its first top-ten finish last week.

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GRANITE STATE START

Stoddard was introduced to racing at a very early age.

“My dad used to bring me to Stubby’s garage when I was little, and I remember watching him win every race one year at Thunder Road [in Vermont],” he said. “We knew another guy in town, Butch Elms, and he had a dirt car that he built on his farm.”

It wasn’t long until a young Frankie Stoddard began showing signs of a strong northern New England work ethic.

“I started working on the farm when I was seven or eight years old, and then I’d help out in the shop cleaning wrenches or whatever. I was probably in the way more than anything,” Stoddard remembers. “When I was ten, my parents signed a waiver and let me go into the pits with Butch at Bear Ridge Speedway. I’d work all day on the farm making a dollar an hour, then I’d work on the cars at night.”

By age 14, he had moved from the Elms farm to working at the Fadden Automotive garage. At 18, Fadden hired him to open and manage his new auto parts store.

“In 1986 I got an offer to work for Dana Patten down in Enfield,” Stoddard says. “I’d work 40 hours a week at the store, then work on Dana’s cars until two in the morning. One time I fell asleep at a stop sign for about an hour on my way home.”

Patten moved south to pursue a NASCAR career four years later. Stoddard went with him, but the money soon ran out. Stoddard was working a Busch Series pick-up gig with Jeff Burton and owner Sam Ard when the tour came to Loudon. It was there that Stoddard’s career brought him back home.

“Stubby hadn’t won, and he was at the point where he was sick of racing. We talked at Loudon, and we basically agreed right there that I’d be his crew chief. We won four races together, and three of them were 200-lappers with a guy that was 59 or 60 years old at the time.”

When Roush hired Stoddard in November 1995, he reunited with Burton; they won their first Sprint Cup race at Texas in 1997 and another thirteen times through 2000. Stoddard co-owned a team with driver Boris Said before the pair joined Jenkins’ new effort in January.

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YANKEE UNDERDOGS

Latitude 43 Motorsports is a small fish in a big pond. With a limited budget and five full-time employees -- versus the Roush, Hendrick and Childress teams, each with hundreds of employees and hundreds of millions of dollars -- co-drivers Said and David Stremme keep the car in contention for a spot in the top-35 in point standings and a guaranteed starting position at every race.

Despite failing to qualify three times, Jenkins secured advertising dollars from the Air National Guard and GPS manufacturer GlobeTrack Wireless -- neither of which had previous ties to racing -- and the program has improved.

“We’re not a big team, but we don’t have our hand out, either,” Jenkins says. “We work hard, and every person on this team is a multi-tasker.”

True to that sentiment, Stoddard paused during the interview for this story to hold an impromptu team meeting.

“It’s been a struggle,” Stoddard laughed. “It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve got to hand it to Bill. He’s the only guy I’ve seen that’s been able to attract advertising from an outside company this year, and he’s gotten two of them. Somehow he gets us to the track every week, and it’s actually been a lot of fun working with these guys.”

Stremme has finished inside the top-30 in all but one of his starts, and Said used his road racing expertise to lead eight laps last week at Infineon Raceway. Said held the lead late when a shove from Brad Keselowski dropped him back, but he held on to finish eighth for the team’s first top-ten.

“I wish it was a win,” Stoddard said. “My goal was to become a [Sprint] Cup crew chief and win races. When you attain your goals, you want more. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some success, and generally I see eighth place as just another loser.”

The significance of the finish was not lost, though.

“I have to look at it in perspective. For the team, it was a huge run. It boosted morale and we made a big gain in points, but personally I was disappointed. I guess I’m the ultimate pessimist when it comes to that. We were in position to win and just didn’t catch the breaks.”

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GOING HOME

When the Latitude 43 Motorsports trailer pulls through into the infield at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, it’ll be a homecoming of sorts. Stoddard will be only 85 miles away from his hometown, and Jenkins has the option to drive two hours west to sleep in his own bed.

“I’m really looking forward to going to Loudon,” said Stoddard. “There are a lot of people in the area that have helped me get to where I am today. I love going to Loudon.”

And love it he should. Stoddard has won at NHMS four times including racing’s version of the perfect game, when Burton led all 300 laps in September 2000 en route to the most dominant victory in NASCAR’s modern era.

That success, along with a sense of feeling at home, has both Stoddard and Jenkins excited.

“This is our home turf,” said Jenkins. “We have a lot fan support from Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, and we appreciate every bit of it. We’re hoping to pick up the torch and run with it this weekend.”

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PHOTOS:
1. Frank Stoddard prepares for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series battle at Pocono Raceway earlier this month. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images For NASCAR)
2. Stub Fadden's final four victories came with Frank Stoddard as his crew chief. (Fadden Racing photo)
3. Frank Stoddard (top left) oversees the Latitude 43 Motorsports team in the NASCAR garage. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images For NASCAR)

MOTORMAG THIS WEEK:

Saturday, June 26:
New Hampshire Motor Speedway
NASCAR Nationwide Series New England 200 (3:30pm)

White Mountain Motorsports Park (5:00pm)
ACT Late Model Tour 150

Sunday, June 27:
New Hampshire Motor Speedway (1:00pm)
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Lenox Industrial Tools 301

Big Daddy's Speedbowl (4:00pm)
Gravco/Jasper Twin State Modified Series

Goss Dodge-ChryslerGTW GPSFast One MotorsportsBarre-Montpelier Times ArgusRPM Racing Engines

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