Over the past couple of weeks in the NASCAR world, many surprises and unexpected names have been making some noise. Sprint Cup drivers David Ragan and Kurt Busch both found their way to victory lane over the past two weeks. Ragan, the most recent winner, won his very first race in NASCAR’s top division, much to the surprise of NASCAR nation, and Kurt Busch dominated at a track (Sonoma) which has not been very kind to him in the past. The Nationwide Series, similarly, has failed to disappoint. Two weeks ago in Road America, Reed Sorenson somehow found a way to win after drivers Jacques Villeneuve, Michael McDowell, Justin Allgaier and Ron Fellows all seemed to have the race won at various stages in the race. This past week at Daytona, driver Joey Logano came out of nowhere to win his first race of 2011. These past few races have given NASCAR plenty to talk about. There is, however, one story that the media has glossed over. This is the silent, yet stunning success of Canadian Champ Car turned Stock Car star Andrew Ranger.
The very first time I saw Ranger take to the track was during the 2005 Champ Car World Series. The race was held in Mexico and Ranger, an unknown Canadian to me up until that point, finished second at only 18 years of age. From this point forward there was no doubt in my mind that the kid could drive. As time went on, his career in open-wheel came to an unexpected end following the 2006 season when sponsorship ran out, despite two fairly successful seasons with Conquest Racing.
Ranger, still burning with passion, wanted to race. His next career step found him in the seat of a Stock Car for the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series for the 2007 season. This Canadian-based series saw Ranger, a rookie, all but dominate the whole year and take his first championship. This success earned him a ride in the 2008 Napa Auto Parts 200 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, where he finished a disappointing 28th after looking strong in the number 22 car for Fitz Motorsports. After running a few more races for Fitz finishing no higher than 19th, Ranger was released and found himself in the 2009 season with a chance to win his second NASCAR Canadian Tire Series Championship.
His performance was not disappointing. He not only won his second championship, he did so in a more dominating fashion than his first. The highlight of the year, however, did not come from this series. Looking to erase his disappointing finish of 28thin 2008, Ranger returned to the Napa Auto Parts 200 with a new team: CJM Racing. This team was known to bring a good piece of equipment to every race it entered until it folded at the end of the 2009 season. The race in Montreal was no exception. Ranger battled all day with Carl Edwards, one of the best drivers to emerge within the past decade. This drew very high compliments from Edwards, the 2007 Nationwide Series Champ, as he noted Ranger’s incredible talent.
Since 2009, Ranger has been fairly quiet in the top three series. He has, however, been making a lot of noise in the K&N Pro Series’ (both West and East) winning in both divisions, and in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series where he added a win. Ranger became the only driver ever to win in all three touring series in the same year. He returned to racing in all three regional touring series this year, but has added a few more races to his resume. Along with his team NDS Motorsports, Ranger won the pole in his first ever ARCA start and ended up winning the race, even though he had to start from the rear of the field.
Many may now ask why I am writing this article. The truth is, despite all the success and the seeming lack of media attention, I would not have written this tribute to a great racer if it were not for the race at Road America. NDS and Andrew Ranger entered in Bucyrus 200 at the historic circuit with only one car and sponsorship from Waste Management. With practically no experience at Road America and with an inexperienced team and unproven equipment, a strong running, although not out of the question, was unlikely. However, Ranger did not disappoint. The little team took on the big guns and finished an incredible 6th at the tricky track. Many may look at the finish and claim that the sour luck many drivers ran into may have been the result of this surprising finish. For someone who actually watched the race, however, it was clear that Ranger was a contender from start to finish. The only errors that occurred for his team all day were slow pit stops, but that can be attributed to the inexperience of the crew in general.
More astonishing than the finish itself has been the lack of media coverage for this run. Very few articles have been posted about his climb through the stock-car ranks, his first ARCA win in his first start (not to mention a top five the very next race), and the 6th place finish at Road America. Throughout the race coverage, the commentators at time alluded to Edwards’ remarks about the talent of the kid, but not much more. My hope is that this kid would not only get more media coverage, but more time behind the wheel in any of NASCAR’s top three divisions. He has more than deserved it and as Road America (and hopefully the next race in Montreal), Andrew Ranger is a smart, talented and most importantly, fast driver.