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NOTEBOOK: Turning Wrenches Pays Off

Brooks Celebrates National Title As Volunteer Crew Chief
By Travis Barrett, Special To NASCAR Home Tracks
December 7, 2012 - 6:20pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Winston Brooks doesn't have time to let a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship sink in. He's already thinking about the next race on the schedule.

“Man, I just want to go race right now. I'll just tell you that – I'm ready to go,” said Brooks, who was named the Lunati Crew Chief of the Year during the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards on Friday night at the Charlotte Convention Center's Crown Ballroom inside the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Brooks led Lee Pulliam to 22 wins in 36 starts en route to the 2012 national title.

“I love this,” Brooks said. “It's something I never dreamed. I was a little guy on the outside of the fence looking in, and I went to these races and I never – never! – thought I'd be here like this.”

Brooks, of Oxford, N.C., joined Pulliam in 2011 after the two struck up a friendship at the track. He's the volunteer signal-caller on an all-volunteer crew, the same crew that led the national championship standings for the final 10 weeks of the season.

“Winston is awesome,” Pulliam said. “Sometimes, I don't agree with calls he makes, and sometimes he doesn't agree with calls I want to make. But we always find that happy medium. We can sit down and talk about it and not argue about it. We can sit down, and each guy can tell his side of the story. I think that's what makes the team successful. He comes up with good ideas, and I do, too.

“We don't always agree, but we always work it out and find what works.”

Brooks and Pulliam teamed to win races at four different tracks this season, including three major events during the Fourth of July week, to help their national championship chase. They also set fast time for the prestigious 300-lap Late Model race at Martinsville Speedway in October, after the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series schedule was complete, and finished second in the race they won in 2012.

The job is made easier, Brooks said, by working with a driver as talented as the 24-year-old Pulliam.

“Dale Earnhardt was the best race car driver that ever lived, and the guy that's second is a guy that never got noticed, and I hope he hears this,” Brooks said. “He doesn't even know me. His name is David Blankenship. I watched him from outside the fence, and Lee reminds me a lot of David Blankenship. He can wear a race car – when you can wear something, you can put it where you want to put it. And Lee can wear a race car, he really can.”

Blankenship is a Virginia native who ran short tracks across the region in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Like earlier short-track 'weekend warriors,' Pulliam and Brooks compete on a tight budget while making the most of what they do have.

“Not taking the money part out of it, but when you can go against the (teams with) money and succeed, it's sweet, isn't it? I swear it is,” Brooks said. “There's a little bit (of motivation) there, too. There really is.”

PODIUM FINISH: For the fourth consecutive year, Keith Rocco of Wallingford, Conn., finished in the Top-2 in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national standings. Rocco competed in SK Modifieds at Stafford Motor Speedway and Waterford Speedbowl this season.

Rocco won 14 races in 2012, despite missing several race dates with a broken left wrist suffered in a practice crash at Thompson International Speedway in the summer.

“It's still important, but it's kind of in the back of your mind,” said Rocco, the 2010 national champion. “Every race I run – whether it's an SK (Modified), a Late Model, a midget, a Street Stock, it doesn't matter. I'm going out to win the race. Bottom line.”

Rocco bought his former Thompson International Speedway Modified this year and will run weekly there full-time in 2013, in addition to the other two Connecticut tracks.

“I live to race,” Rocco said. “This year, the way I race, the way I work, there's nothing I could do differently change to change the outcome (of the standings). I go out to win. There's nothing possibly I could do – other than drive farther and find somewhere to race on a Monday, a Tuesday and a Wednesday.

“I work hard. I race to win. That's all there is to it.”

ONE BETTER: After finishing fourth in the 2011 national standings, Virginia's C.E. Falk posted his best career NASCAR Whelen All-American Series finish with a third-place showing this year.

The three-time Langley Speedway champion, who won 16 races with 25 Top-5 finishes in 30 starts this season, is looking forward to next year.

“Growing up and going for this national title, it's not a job. It's a passion,” Falk said. “I really enjoy going after it and racing every week. Chasing that national championship is big – you can ask Lee (Pulliam). He's a good guy and he really deserves it.”

Falk knows firsthand just how good Pulliam is, racing head-to-head with him more often than not each season.

“There's one thing I can do to win the national championship, and that's beat the (No. 1) car of Pulliam every week. And that's a lot harder to do than most,” Falk said. “A lot of these guys, you race against them on the computer, and it's Modified versus Late Model guys or whatever. But to race a guy every week and know what he's made of, we go back and forth all the time. He's a great competitor. To run third to him, that's OK.”

As he continues to inch closer to the national title each season, Falk said it only serves as more motivation.

He knows he has a good team behind him, and he feels like the experience he's gained as a driver – through maturation and understanding in-race dynamics – will only serve to produce better results.

“I think I have the best guys in the business,” Falk said. “But their driver just keeps getting a little better. I grow up a little more every year. I get a little more methodical about how to do things, and be a little calmer and learn the pace of the races. It just comes with experience. Hopefully, 2013 they get their best driver yet.”