Long Time Coming

It took 29 visits, but Kurt Shelmerdine has finally found the seat he wanted for the Daytona 500 – behind the wheel of his own race car.

He’s been here as a mechanic, crew chief and driver in the ARCA 200. He’s unsuccessfully attempted to qualify for the Daytona 500 “three or four” times.

This year, though, the Welcome, North Carolina, driver finally beat the long odds facing an independent car owner/driver. Sunday, Shelmerdine will line up 42nd in his No. 27 Apex Electric Chevrolet.

“Qualifying for the 500 has really taken a big load off,” Sheldmerdine said. ‘There’s some pressure to perform tomorrow, but our pressure’s over for the weekend. This was a goal we’ve had for a long time here. Here we are, now. We’re going to try to do our best.”

Shelmerdine has enjoyed success at Daytona. He was crew chief for the late Dale Earnhardt, with his best finish in that capacity second place. In ARCA, he captured pole positions in 2000 and 2001, and finished third in 1993, among four top-five finishes in the ARCA 200.

However, the move to the NASCAR Cup Series was a huge step, competing on a modest budget against teams with multi-million dollar sponsorships.

“This will get me back even after last year,” Shelmerdine said.

The 2005 season was one he would rather forget. He failed to qualify for 12 races – 10 as a driver – with a 42nd-place finish at Pocono his only start of the campaign.

After he made the race, rumors swirled that he might opt to sell the seat to a non-qualified driver. But, that offer never came. Instead of a big sponsor coming aboard, he’s still doing it the way he got here.

“I’ve had a lot of friends who’ve helped us with contributions, small business – some local, some not so local,” Shelmerdine said. “People have helped us to make coming here possible. But as far as a major corporate sponsorship, no, we don’t have anybody on the line.”

Not long ago, independent drivers and owners made up the bulk of the lineup for the Daytona 500 and other events on the Winston Cup Grand National schedule – names such as Ed Negre, Dave Marcis, Coo Coo Marlin, J.D. McDuffie, Cecil Gordon, D.K. Ulrich, Walter Ballard, Bobby Wawak, Frank Warren, Bill Champion, Soapy Castles, Jimmy Means and Joe Frasson. Sunday, Shelmerdine will continue that tradition.

“They all got old,” Shelmerdine said. “Everybody that remembers how to do that stuff are getting fewer and fewer.

“Unfortunately, I’m still one of those old guys who remembers how it was done.”

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