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Tops Friendly Markets will sponsor Team Manko Motorsports this season, it was announced Friday at the HSBC Arena.

Team Manko Motorsports, based in Lancaster and featuring 16-year-old driver Joey Manko, will compete on the NASCAR Busch North Series and the United Speed Alliance Racing Hooters Pro Cup North Series. He will drive the Tops No. 95 Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

"We will run a limited schedule of six races on the Busch North Series and another six with the Hooters Cup," Team Manko owner Tom Manko, Joey's father, said. "This way Joey can learn but not lose his rookie status for 2002."

A new driver in either series can run up to six races without losing his rookie status. "Sponsoring Team Manko is a wonderful opportunity for Tops to bring the excitement of professional auto racing directly to our customers," Tops director of category management Dan Fulham said. "We are proud to show our support for a very talented young Western New Yorker who is one of auto racing's rising stars."

The team has purchased two used cars from fellow Busch North Series competitor Greg Schaeffer. A third car will be a brand new creation. Engines for the team will be built by Jan-Cen Automotive in Elma.

Included in the team's schedule will be a pair of races at Holland Speedway, when the BNS visits June 3 and when the USAR group competes June 30. "We started working on this deal months ago," Tom Manko said. "We purchased our first car five months ago and the team has been up and running with three full-time employees. We're proud our efforts in racing haven't gone unnoticed and that a fine company like Tops has signed on with us."

Joey Manko began racing Go-Karts at age 7 and earned two World Karting Association national championships.

The Lancaster High School junior moved up to the Lancaster Motorsports Park TQ Midgets, where he won a feature event at 14. Manko moved to the Sportsman class at LMP in 1999 where he finished second in points and was named the division's rookie of the year. He was injured at LMP midway through last season. Kevin Peters, 23, will serve as crew chief.

"This is a great opportunity," Joey said. "I've been waiting for this moment to come along ever since I started racing. It's going to be hard but I find I race better when I'm up against better competition. In fact, a lot of the Hooters Cup drivers are guys who I ran against in Go-Karts."

Manko will make personal appearances for Tops. Team Manko Motorsports apparel will be available within days at all Top stores.

The team will continue to be involved in local charity work and has chosen the Center for Handicapped Children in Cheektowaga as its official affiliated charity.

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