It was only a matter of time before Steve Park and the Orleans Racing team found their way to Victory Lane and that time came following Friday night’s American Racing Wheels 200 at California Speedway.
Sporting the bright yellow colors of Jasper Engines & Transmissions for the Craftsman Truck Series’ second race of the season, Park started 25th and hung tough through the first half of the race as the caution flags seemed to come out in synch with Park's race strategy.
A multi-truck crash brought out the final yellow flag of the evening with less than 20 laps to go, Park was riding comfortably in second behind Mike Bliss. The move of the race came with less than six laps to go when Bliss’ truck suddenly ran out of fuel. Park saw the opening and roared to the point in the Jasper Engines and Transmissions Dodge.
From there Park easily held off Daytona winner Bobby Hamilton going on to record his first career victory in the Truck Series. The victory put Jasper colors into Victory Lane for the first time since the company’s involvement in NASCAR began in 1988.
“The credit goes to the Orleans/Jasper team,” said Park. “These guys didn’t quit. It’s nice to go to work in the morning knowing you have the confidence of an owner and a sponsor and people around you that know you can get the job done and win races. I haven’t had that feeling the last couple of years and now I do. It’s not going to be our last time in Victory Lane.”
Park joined an elite list of ten drivers who have won at least one race in each of NASCAR’s top three touring divisions: Craftsman Truck Series, Busch Series and Nextel Cup Series. His most recent NASCAR victory came back in February 2001 at North Carolina Speedway when he won in a Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Cup car one week after the death of car owner and seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt.
“To win in Busch, to win in Cup and now in Trucks, it means a lot,” said Park. “Not only to me but to this whole team.”
It was Orleans Racing’s first victory since Brendan Gaughan recorded six victories during the 2003 season.
“We thought we'd win some races last year but we got shut out of the winner's circle," Park said. "We really put forth a lot of effort this year. We’re building his team where it needs to be. We’ve got confidence in the Orleans team and Jasper team where we can not only win races with our race team but with Brendan’s, too.”
Team driver Brendan Gaughan could not have been happier following the conclusion of the American Racing Wheels 200, even though he finished 21st after being black-flagged by NASCAR on the final restart as he tried to avoid the car in front of him that had missed a shift.
“I wanted to get Doug Bawel his first win in NASCAR,” Gaughan said excitedly, “but I wanted to do it as driver. But for Steve to get Jasper that first win means so much to me and the whole Orleans Racing team --- well it’s just a fitting next chapter to the Orleans Racing story. I still can claim the win with my car owner’s cap on and that’s OK with me.”
Gaughan glowed as he relayed his phone conversation he held from Fontana’s victory lane with the Jasper president, Doug Bawel. “Doug couldn’t be here in California, but you could hear the excitement in his voice. It was a special moment for me --- one that I’ll carry with me for a life time.”