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ROOKIE ROESCH'S INVESTMENT IN STRICTLY STOCKS TURNS INTO A DREAM

Darien's George Roesch decided to become a race car driver last winter. He pursued sponsors, solicited help from many people, built a car and took to the track.

At first, it was the fulfillment of a dream just to be on the track at Lancaster Motorsports Park. Now Roesch is enjoying a much larger prize after culminating his rookie campaign with the LMP Strictly Stock season points championship.

Roesch will compete this weekend in LMP's 11th annual NAPA U.S. Open Weekend.

"I never drove a stock car before this year," the 26-year-old said. "I used to go to the races with my father when I was about five years old. For many years, we went to Lancaster every Saturday night. My dad always wanted to drive but could never afford it."

Roesch says it took nearly three months to get his racing operation together. Sponsorship was first. Roesch would eventually secure 10 sponsors, including Six Flags Darien Lake and Firestone.

"I bothered them (Six Flags Darien Lake) for a while and at first they said no," Roesch said. "I believe if someone first says no, it doesn't (always) mean no. To me, it means try again. I pestered them some more and they finally agreed. They're happy with their decision.

"Firestone has never sponsored any team in this area but I was able to convince them to come on board and the ball was rolling."

Roesch received input from cousins Ray and Paul Pionessa, a driver and engine builder respectively. Paul Pionessa built the engines used by the top three Strictly Stocks finishers this season at LMP -- Roesch, Terry Weldy and Ray Pionessa.

Roesch also credited veteran driver and builder Trey Hoddick with much assistance.

"My first goal going into the season was to win a race. We did that in the third week. So my next goal was to finish in the top five in points.

"I then traded the points lead on a few occasions with both Terry Weldy and Frank Green and my goal got real big then: to win the championship. I got the points lead for good, by about 50 points, with three weeks left, and held the margin from there."

Roesch's crew chief is Keith Zimmerman, assisted by Tony Santucci and brothers Matt, Don and Dan Roesch. They changed his car set-up last week to venture to the Friday night competition at Wyoming County International Speedway and it resulted in a victory in his first race there. He then traveled to LMP's U.S. Open practice day last Saturday.

"After Wyoming County on Friday, we spent the day last Saturday at Lancaster trying to get our original Lancaster set-up back into the car. I think we're close. It should be just a matter of fine tuning it."

Looking back on the season, Roesch says support divisions at local tracks are just as important as in the big classes.

"We had 45 to 50 guys who came out at different points this season to race with the Strictly Stocks at Lancaster," he said. "We had 30 to 35 cars a night and the competition was tough. Nobody ran away from anybody."

The U.S. Open begins Saturday with practice at 1 p.m. and racing at 6:30. All classes except the Modifieds will run heat qualifying races. The Strictly Stocks and MBNA Cup Lite Racing Series will run their feature races Saturday night.

The New York State Modified Championship Series joins the program Sunday. Practice is at 10:30 a.m. Modified heats and consolation races start at noon. The Lancaster-type Late Models (75 laps) the NYS Modifieds (50), NASCAR Late Models (35); the Sportsman (30); the Street Stocks (30) and the TQ Midgets (25) all will run afternoon features.

LMP also features drag racing Friday at 7:15 p.m.

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