The view from my couch
Jeff Agnew - Virginia is For Racers!
by Cheryl Lauer
June 7, 2006
The first time I noticed driver Jeff Agnew and the Team 7 Motorsports car was at a South Boston race in 2000. After buying our first pit passes to a USAR race and wandering the pits all morning, we chose to sit in lawn chairs coming out of turn four to watch the race. Even though the view coming off of turn four at any track is my favorite place to sit, we quickly found that taking advantage of the unique up close and personal view from that particular spot was not a good idea. Not only was the sound of the cars accelerating coming out of the turn nearly deafening (even with noise reducing headphones), but Lou collected a souvenir from the 73 car. A lugnut came flying off Agnew’s tire, through the fencing, and hit him in the arm. After determining he was not hurt, I quickly said “pick it up,” only to discover the lugnut laying on the ground was still smoking hot. Everyone on the 73 team has probably heard this story from us more than once, but I still thought it was a good way to explain how we first “noticed” Jeff Agnew and the 73 team.
The next time we saw Jeff race live was at Jennerstown Speedway in July 2001. We’d already realized what a talented driver he was from watching him race on TV over the previous year. But during this particular race, we watched as he and a 16-year-old Brian Vickers raced side by side for much of the race. In the end, Agnew edged Vickers for the win, with a daring pass in turn three on the last lap. His skill in a race car impressed me a lot, so I began watching him even closer after that.
Over the years, I’d heard on TV broadcasts that Agnew won both Rookie of the Year and the Championship during USAR’s 1998 season. This made me curious about his background and what he did before he started racing in USAR. At the recent Jennerstown race, Jeff and long-time crew chief, Doug Weddle, were kind enough to give me some of their time so I could ask some questions about them and the 73 team.
Jeff sheepishly told me he was a “late bloomer,” not getting into a stock car until the ripe old age of nineteen. Before that, he’d driven motorcycles a bit when he was younger. His father owned a junkyard in his hometown of Floyd, Virginia, and Jeff says he “threw together” an old junked car to enter in the Family Division at Franklin County Speedway in Callaway, Virginia. He explained it was pretty easy as all you had to do was put some roll bars in the car and then race. He said they had a lot of fun doing this and, after just two years, he moved up to the Late Model Division at Franklin County, and later began racing at Pulaski County Speedway (the site of today’s Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, VA).
Jeff met Doug when he was racing the Family Division and the two have been together most of the time since then. The only time they haven’t worked together was in 1998 and 1999 when Doug quit his regular job as a police officer and went to work full time for the Wood Brothers’ Winston Cup team. Ironically, Doug was not with Jeff the year he entered USAR and won the championship, but they have been together since 2000.
Jeff was very modest when discussing his sixteen or so years running Late Models, saying, “we had some success there.” After checking some old NASCAR Preview and Press Guides, I found some very impressive statistics concerning Jeff’s success in Late Models and the Winston Racing Series. He finished 10th in points in 1989 at Pulaski and 50th in the Mid-Atlantic Region of the Winston Racing Series. Every year from that point on, Jeff improved significantly. In 1990, he finished 2nd in the Late Model points at Pulaski, and 19th in the Region, and went on to win the Late Model Track Championship at Pulaski and Lonesome Pine Raceway, in Coeburn, VA, in 1991. These accomplishments placed him 9th in the Winston Racing Mid-Atlantic Region for that year.
In 1992, Pulaski County was renamed New River Valley Speedway and Jeff won the track championship there again, along with capturing the championship at Lonesome Pine again that year. He also moved up to 6th in Winston Regional standings. Agnew’s success continued every year, with him placing 4th in the Winston Region standings in 1993 and 1994. After having conquered the local tracks, Jeff and his team decided to try their luck at the Kingsport, Tennessee track and won the championship there in both 1996 and 1997. Jeff finished a career-best 2nd in Winston Regional points in 1997, gathering 20 wins, 32 top fives and 34 top 10s in 38 starts along the way. I’d say that’s more than a little success!
During his late model years, Jeff told me he drove his own car some of the time and also drove for car owner, Clarence Pickrell, and others. In 1998, Jeff met Eddie Asbury, his current car owner and the two made plans to enter USAR that year. While Jeff did not win a race in 1998, he ran consistently enough to win the championship, with a season-best finish of 2nd place in a race that year. Surprisingly, Agnew’s first win in USAR did not occur until the Greenville-Pickens Race in 2000.
The 73 team has been a strong contender every year since I’ve been following the series, finishing in the top ten in overall points for many years and top five in points every season since 2003. After that first win, Jeff and the team have put together at least two wins every season, including Cayuga Speedway in Ontario, Canada and Jennerstown in 2001; Holland, New York and Jennerstown in 2002; sweeping Xenia, Ohio and Illiana, Indiana in both 2003 and 2004; and winning at Indianapolis Raceway Park and Illiana, Indiana in 2005. Jeff capture the Northern Division championship in USAR in 2003.
To put a punctuation mark on his success in USAR, Jeff and his team finally found victory lane in their home state of Virginia, winning at Lonesome Pine Raceway in April of this year. Jeff and Doug feel the team has gotten off to a very strong start this season with that early win and they currently sit second in the Northern Division points behind Benny Gordon, the 2005 USAR Series Champion.
After following the 73 team’s success since 2000, I was fortunate enough to meet some of the members of the crew a few years ago. You won’t find friendlier or harder working guys than Team 7 Motorsports; many who have been with Doug and Jeff for a long time. Over the years, I’ve become friends with Jeff “Bodean” Tramel who serves as jackman, and his wife, Paulette, who serves as the team manager and scorer. Also, Ebby Price, the team’s transporter driver and who mans the pit board, as well as Kenton Sandifer, who shares transporter driving duties and is the team gasman. Crew chief, Doug Weddle doubles as rear tire changer on race day along with Tracy “Tater” Thompson who changes front tires. Ricky Vance and Jody Harris are the team tire carriers. Bobby “Bubba” Martin and Jeff’s dad, Jim, serve as spotters for the team. Rita Money is the team secretary and Andy Fry handles Public Relations for Team 7. Long time racing veteran crew chief, Elvin Rector, joined the team as a consultant in 2005 and his experience has only added to the strength of the team.
Jeff Agnew has been making a living as a full-time racer since he started working for Eddie Asbury nine years ago. His family owns a garage back in Floyd, where he says they “sell some cars and do a little mechanic work”. Jeff recently completed building and moving into a new home with his wife Susan, daughter Ariana, and son Ashton.
When I asked Jeff about his aspirations to move up to the NASCAR truck or the Busch Series, he explained that has been “a lifetime dream” of his, but he’s realistic enough to know that it’s harder to move up once you hit 40. Money is also an issue if you try to do your own team, so Agnew is happy for the success that running and winning in the USAR series has brought him. It’s a shame that in today’s youth-oriented NASCAR world, an aggressive and successful driver with Jeff’s background probably doesn’t stand a chance and getting a shot at the ‘bigtime’.
I’ve also never met a more laidback or friendly bunch of guys than Jeff’s crew. While they may give the impression they aren’t working as hard as some of the teams around them, the truth is Team 7 Motorsports does a lot of the work on their cars before they get to the track. Unlike a lot of other teams who are thrashing on their cars from the time they unload until race time, the 73 team comes prepared and has their act together before they get to the track. Doug Weddle, back to police work when he’s not racing, comes across very serious in the garage area, but that intensity helps to bring out the best in his crew. When you take the time to get to know Doug, you’ll find him to be a very friendly and helpful guy. But when it comes time to be serious and get ready to race, he and the team are all business and it shows with the results they’ve achieved over the years.
If it hadn’t been for fluke mechanical failures or getting collected in other people’s accidents, the 73 team would surely have 3-4 more wins in each of the last few years. With the exception of a rear-end failure at the recent Jennerstown race, Agnew and the 73 team have been extremely consistent in every race this season. Jeff finished 4th at the season-opener at South Boston, won at Lonesome Pine, finished 2nd at the inaugural race at Shenandoah Speedway, and posted a 3rd place finish at Kil-Kare Speedway. With this fast start to the 2006 season, the 73 team looks to be off to their best start in a very long time. Now if they could just decide if they’re running a Pontiac, Chevrolet or Ford!
Whenever we go to the tracks near Jeff hometown, Motor Mile and Lonesome Pine, you’ll be sure to see a lot of fans wearing Jeff Agnew #73 shirts! He and the team have earned their respect over the years. When he won at Lonesome Pine back in April, it was so much fun to be sitting among a partisan crowd cheering him on as he raced from the last starting position to take the lead, and then back to the front from 13th position after pitting.
As always, I wish Jeff Agnew and his team continued success and good luck at the Mansfield race this week and throughout the 2006 USAR season! I’ve never met a nicer bunch of guys who deserve another championship. They are living proof that Virginia IS for Racers!
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