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Stott perseveres in NASCAR's big shadow

FOR THE LOVE OF RACING

- dpoole@charlotteobserver.com
Tuesday, Mar. 17, 2009

DENVER, N.C. -- The hand-lettered sign on the door at Corrie Stott Racing instructs deliverymen to leave packages across the street if the building is empty.

“Extra bills?” it continues. “Across street. Extr (sic) $, money trees or golden pots?? Bury out back.”

Inside the door there's a small lobby with racing pictures on the walls. In one photo is a a man wearing a pair of striped bell-bottom pants that quite frankly most people wouldn't be caught dead in.

“Yeah,” Corrie Stott says. “That's my dad.”

Ramo Stott is approaching his 75th birthday. He spends most of the year in south Texas, but during the summer he goes back to his hometown of Keokuk, Iowa, from which he spent his life going racing.

Ramo ran 35 races in NASCAR's top series between 1967 and 1977, finishing in the top 10 in 17. Ten starts came in the Daytona 500. His moment in the sun came in 1976 when A.J. Foyt, Darrell Waltrip and Dave Marcis all had their qualifying times disallowed by Bill France Sr., leaving Stott on the pole in the No. 83 Chevrolet.

Yes, there's a picture of that on Corrie Stott's wall, too.

On the day Corrie was born 47 years ago, Ramo was racing at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. He won, too, so all in all that was a good day.

And by all indications, plenty of Ramo's racing blood wound up in Corrie's veins.

Corrie Stott Racing is not one of NASCAR's big-time operations. It hasn't had sponsorship to speak of since sometime back in 2007. There are a couple of cars beyond the No.02 Chevrolet Andy Ponstein drives – a couple of Automobile Racing Club of America cars, one Cup car of tomorrow and a “new” used Nationwide car bought off one of the big teams for a nice discount – but there's only one motor.

And it's had it.

“It is like a germ,” Corrie Stott says. “I guess racing is my addiction. It gets me in trouble sometimes because I don't make the smartest business decisions, I make the racer call. Just like in Las Vegas.”

Ah, Las Vegas.

That's where the motor that sits under a canvas cover finally gave up. It had been used during seven Nationwide Series outings last year, none lasting more than 41 laps. That netted just over $113,000 – barely enough “start-and-park” money for Corrie Stott Racing to have life for another season.

Stott split expenses with a Truck team owner to take his car and his tired old motor to California for this season's second race, but it didn't make the show.

Stott decided as long as he was that far from home he'd stay and try to make the next race in Vegas. With what his wife Alison calls their “no budget team,” Stott worked on the car in a parking lot and prayed the motor had one more race in it.

“We laid everything we had out there when it came time to qualify and Andy did what he needed to do,” Stott said. Ponstein made the cut, qualifying 27th fastest.

Stott knew his engine would never last for another race. So instead of parking, he'd let Ponstein go as long as the motor and the tires he could afford would last.

There was one issue. It takes seven men to do pit stops, and you also have to have a spotter. Corrie Stott Racing's at-track roster consisted of six people, including the driver.

Corrie, officially the crew chief, missed the driver's meeting trying without success to round up help. That meant Ponstein had to start at the rear of the field. It also meant pit stops would have to be improvised.

Dennis Duchene served as spotter, his debut. Andy Alonzo was the jack man the first time Ponstein stopped each time under yellow, then the gas man the second time around. Stott was the tire carrier and tire changer on the front tires. Mica Horton did the rear tires. Grant Enfinger, coming off recent shoulder surgery, did the catch can.

“We'd get done with the stops and we were sweating and coughing and panting,” Stott says. “We had so much fun.”

When it came time for the final pit stop, Ponstein had a shot at a top-20. Stott had bought a set of 10-lap scuffed tires on pit road, paying $300 instead of the $2,000 they'd cost new, and he and Horton bolted those babies on..

“And,” Stott says, “then I got greedy.”

Stott slapped a piece of tape on the nose of the Chevrolet, hoping to give Ponstein just enough downforce to let him pass the two cars on the same lap and finish 18th. But the engine had no more to give. It died after 189 of the 209 laps and Ponstein finished 23rd.

Still, the check for $23,375 was the biggest yet for Corrie Stott Racing in its eight series starts. When Corrie called home, Alison says it sounded like the car had won.

Corrie says Alison's salary as a second-grade teacher has been “carrying him” for several months, but she's been married to him for nearly 30 years and clearly knows what this team means to him. They moved from Iowa to North Carolina more than 20 years ago so Corrie could do what he was born to do – race.

Corrie worked for Skoal Racing for six years before becoming part of Jeff Gordon's team at Hendrick Motorsports when it began. He also worked for the Truck Series team at Hendrick before trying to make it as a crew chief.

“One day I realized I was into this thing 20 years deep and had worked a ton at it,” Stott says. “I had never got to the big plateau of the big money. I decided that if I was going to keep working 14 to 16 hours seven days a week I needed to be building something for us.”

So he started Stott Classic Racing. The name, which is on the building, confused people. They thought he was running vintage cars or something. He's not going to spend money on a new sign, but the team's Web site has the new name of Corrie Stott Racing.

He had a sponsor for a partial ARCA schedule in 2007, but that went away after the season. To keep the team going he made seven start-and-park Nationwide runs last year.

“The first time we did I almost cried,” Corrie says. Ramo hates the idea. But Ramo also believes the gear and spring settings he raced on back in the early '70s will make Corrie's car go faster today. Reality can be harsh.

Without a sponsor, Corrie knows he's not going to get rich. “We just talk about trying to pay the light bill,” he says.

But he also knows when he comes in each day before daylight, he's worked hard for everything he sees when the lights come on.

“We're not fancy, but we try to earn respect in the garage and be as presentable as we can,” Corrie says. “I would like to have nice equipment because I know what that's like. But you have to have a budget for that.”

Corrie wants to run for first place, like any racer.

But that's not the race that's run on his end of the sport's economic scale. He's racing the bottom line, trying to go just a little bit faster than his checkbook reasonably should allow the car to go.

Since getting home from Las Vegas, Corrie Stott Racing has been preparing for Bristol, Tenn., this weekend. Stott has found another motor he hopes has some life in it.

He'll show up, hope Ponstein can make the show and take it from there.

The phone rang and the e-mail box had life in it after Vegas, Stott says. No sponsor has appeared to give him the money he needs, but what happened in Las Vegas fanned his hope.

“I have been on the edge of racing myself out of business,” Stott says. “Maybe I am wrong, but if we're not at the race track we'll get written off. People say they splashed in and splashed out and they're not here any more. I don't want to do that.

“We just want to carve out our little niche.”

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