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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bill Rodgers won the closest NASCAR Pro Series division point race in the 63-year history of Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in 2011. The margin of a single point gained Rogers, 47, of Old Orchard Beach, Maine, his first NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track championship. He also won the 2011 NASCAR state championship.
Rodgers’ season got a big assist when he was joined by the crew that helped the late Bub Bilodeau win three track championships and two state titles. Bilodeau passed away from an apparent heart attack at the track on June 5, 2010.
“Bub’s crew chief Tom Nason and I got together last winter,” Rodgers said. “His guys didn’t have a team to race with, and I never had a full-time crew like theirs before. Having the same crew consistently brought more consistency out of the car. That’s what put us in the position to compete for the championship.”
Rodgers entered the final race night with a one-point lead over Trevor Sandborn, 22, of East Parsonsfield, Maine, and two ahead of Aaron Ricker, 21, of Tamworth, N.H. All three were competing for their first Beech Ridge championship.
Ricker placed third in the season’s final 40-lap feature while Rodgers placed fifth.
The finishes allowed Rodgers to win the championship by one point over Ricker and six points over Sanborn who placed seventh. Defending track champion Dan McKeage won the race.
“I was anxious and nervous about what would happen when I got to the track that last day," Rodgers said. "Tom pulled me aside and told me to have fun and take what the race gives us. We’d be happy with what we did in the season no matter what. We practiced fast and right before the heat race Tommy again told me to have fun. All of a sudden I got very calm in the car.”
Despite a cut tire, Rodgers finished second in the heat race ahead of Sandborn and Ricker, giving him a five point lead entering the feature event.
“After the feature, my spotter came on the radio and said ‘you are the champion.’” Rodgers said. “The other drivers were giving me the thumbs up and rubbing our fenders. When I stopped on the front straightaway, I didn’t realize I had that many fans. I stayed there more than an hour celebrating with them."
His crew also celebrated with Rodgers when he got back to the pits.
"The crew was very happy," Rodgers added. "When I drove back to the pits I got a face full and a car full of champagne. We were there until midnight or 1 a.m.”
Rodgers finished the season with two wins, nine top-fives and 12 top-10s in 12 starts.
Rodgers wasn’t prepared for the celebration he would be part of during December’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series awards weekend in Charlotte.
“We met up with (Beech Ridge promoter) Andy Cusack and went to the Champions Dinner at Hendrick Motorsports Thursday night,” Rodgers said. “We sat with Mike Joy and Dick Berggren. Dick said he tried and tried to win a championship at Beech Ridge and couldn’t do it. That made me appreciate our championship even more.”
Joy and Berggren are part of the NASCAR on FOX broadcast team and co-host the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series banquet. Berggren raced Sprint Cars and Supermodifieds at Beech Ridge into the 1970s.
“The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series banquet itself was a lot bigger than I expected,” Rodgers said. “I was dumbfounded by what NASCAR does for its champions.”
Rodgers started his racing career at Beech Ridge in the Wildcat division in 1996 and has been racing in the track’s top Pro Series division for 15 years.
“We raced for six seasons before getting to victory lane,” Rodgers said. “We’ve been knocking on the door in the track point race for seven or eight years. Thanks to Tommy and the crew, we finally got it done.”
Rodgers said he learned a lot from the late Bilodeau over the years.
“I raced with Bub for 10 or 15 years, and I think he helped me got to this title,” Rodgers said. “I learned a lot just by racing with him, and he always gave me good advice.”