WATKINS GLEN – It was only a few years ago that Chaffee's Troy Williams was busy assessing the driving talents of Daniel Suarez to see if he "had it or not" as far as becoming a successful driver in the big leagues of NASCAR.
As the on-track evidence suggest, Suarez clearly has it. Now with Suarez graduated to the NASCAR Cup Series ranks, Williams was back at The Glen Friday, this time heavily involved in the development of his newest driver Enrique Baca.
Williams, 45, has enjoyed a long association as a car owner involved in NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program. Baca raced Williams' No. 5 Nextgen Motorsports Chevrolet to a disappointing last place finish after qualifying 18th in the 20 car field in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Finger Lakes Wine Country 100 here Friday. Baca, who had never been to The Glen before Friday, advanced to the 13th position until his day ended with problems on lap 9 of 41.
"We lost second gear in the transmission," Williams said. "It's a shame, I believe we had a top ten car."
Friday's race was won by Will Rodgers.
Baca, a rookie on the K&N, circuit hails from Monterrey, Mexico. He is the latest driver to get behind the wheel of Williams' car and try to get a foothold on a driving career in NASCAR's upper ranks.
"I've fielded a car in NASCAR's diversity program for about fifteen years now," Williams said. "Enrique Baca is another developmental driver who has come to us from Jimmy Morales Racing and the same group that Daniel Suarez has been brought up with. We've had numerous drivers that have come up and we trained them right up through the ranks just like Daniel.
"Enrique is Daniel's roommate back in Charlotte and is one of his best friends from Mexico."
While Baca is still very much in the development stage, Suarez's career has blossomed in the NASCAR world. Suarez was placed in the Drive for Diversity program in 2013 while competing in both the K&N East and NASCAR Toyota Series. In 2014, he joined Joe Gibbs Racing and his career progressed rapidly, eventually winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series title a year ago. In doing so, Suarez became the first foreign born driver to win a NASCAR national series championship.
When NASCAR Cup Series driver Carl Edwards retired earlier this year, Suarez was tabbed by Gibbs to drive the No. 19 Toyota Camry full-time in the Cup Series. Williams is understandably proud of Suarez.
"I worked with Daniel for four years as he was developing and he's" Suarez "doing phenomenal right now," Williams said. "When I saw Daniel race for the very first time I knew instantly that he had it. I'm very proud and ecstatic of what we've done with this NASCAR diversity program."
Williams team started the current K&N season with a two car team but trimmed it down to a single car effort early in the season. The team has attended most of the races this season with Baca's best finish to date a 9th place run in Berlin, Mich.
"What I'm passing on to Enrique right now is that this is the steppingstone and the foundation and you're learning and either you have it or you don't," Williams said. "This is where everything is built."
In a related local racing matter, Williams says that locally he will be fielding an asphalt Sportsman car beginning in late August at the area's asphalt tracks with a driver to be named within days.
WELLSVILLE NATIVE CULBERT BUSY
When it comes to helping plan this weekend's activity here at The Glen, Wellsville native Kurt Culbert is a key figure who is very involved in the process. Culbert, 39, has been employed by NASCAR for nearly six years, currently serving as the Managing Director of Racing Communications.
"I've been in the NASCAR sport in different capacities, this is my nineteenth season," Culbert said. "I was with the entitlement partner when Nextel hired me and then worked with Sprint. I also worked at a couple different public relations agencies. I started my motorsports career as a writer. I was a beat reporter covering NASCAR for the newspaper in Lynchburg, Va., the Lynchburg News and Advance.
"Hopefully this is my last stop in the sport at NASCAR because I guess when you make it to the sanctioning body there probably is no other ground to cover. It's fun to get to work in my favorite sport."
Culbert graduated from Wellsville High School in 1995 and went to Rochester and graduated from St. John Fisher in 1999.
"I oversee pretty much all of the racing communications or public relations that is associated with our on-track activities. So anything that has to do with racing specifically. There typically is a group in public relations in our integrated marketing communications team that touches it in some way. So we have a group that deals specifically with the race tracks, with the race teams and with the drivers. We call it stakeholder communications. That's one of the groups I oversee.
"I oversee the communications that are related to it. We have racing operations, we have the competition group that deals specifically just with the competition with all the statistics that happen during a race weekend and making sure that all the media that cover our events are getting all of the resources that they need to do their jobs effectively.
"We have different groups that are at different races. We have a team of roughly a dozen people that travel quite regularly. Tradionally there is anywhere from five to seven people that are at a race track on any given weekend. That's often predicated on what is actually happening at a race track on the weekend."
Culbert says that he and his team have a specific game plan for the activity here this weekend.
"It's a little bit different this weekend because we're having what we call our enhanced weekend schedule and it's a triple header so it's a cool weekend at Watkins Glen because we have the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, our NASCAR Xfinity Series and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series all here," Culbert said.
"It's a full schedule of activities so with that, comes working with the race track to develop the race schedule but also all of the different engagements that are going to happen for the fans from autograph sessions, hospitality appearances, live entertainment and all the things that Michael Printup (WGI president) and his team are putting together.
"We're in concert and in communication and have been for the last several months to build a schedule that has one goal in mind and it's this simple, to make sure that when fans are coming for the full weekend they're going to see so much action and they're going to have so much opportunity to embrace and engage with NASCAR. I have zero doubt that Watkins Glen is going to put on one of the greatest weekends that we've had all season. Watkins Glen is also special for me because it's my home track."
Saturday's schedule will include two Cup Series practices, at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. The Xfinity Series qualifies at 11:05 a.m. and the Zippo 200 goes green at 2 p.m.