INDIANAPOLIS – Paul White of Temple, Texas captured the 2001 USAC Coors Light Silver Bullet Series championship on the strength of three wins during the year.
He scored victories in the season opener at Phoenix Int’l Raceway and at both one-mile dirt fairgrounds ovals in Illinois at Springfield and DuQuoin.
White’s victory in the Copper World Classic at Phoenix came in a race offering a then-largest purse in series history – $110,000-plus.
His subsequent wins on the dirt miles in Illinois allowed him to lead the standings through the final four events and beat runner-up Russ Gamester by 78 points.
In White’s third season of USAC Coors Light Silver Bullet Series racing, he knew that he had a team and a car that was competitive, but admitted he knew it would be difficult.
“These guys from Texas aren’t supposed to be fast,” White said. “We were outsiders, so that made it feel pretty special to win the championship.”
Although White may have considered himself an outsider in the sport, he was certainly not a newcomer. White began racing at the age of twelve when his father put him in a super modified.
Twelve is pretty young to be driving a race car, but White said he was driving streetcars long before that.
“When I drove to school before I got my license, they wouldn’t let me on the property, so I parked across the street in the ditch. My dad always told me if I ever got stopped by the police, to remember to tell them that I didn’t have permission to drive.”
White inherited his racing enthusiasm from his father. Coming up through the ranks of stock cars, late models and super modifieds in Texas, he soon found his way to the NASCAR-sanctioned Winston Racing Series.
White quickly mastered his craft and came away with a championship in the series in 1995.
A short time later, he met his car owner, Paul Cook, a former competitor in the Winston Racing Series.
“We hooked up when we wanted to run a $50,000 to win modified show in Amarillo,” White recalled.
This proved to be the start of a long and prosperous relationship, when White won the opener and came in a very close second in the big show.
White said, “After that, he just kept hiring me to run the big races.”
Seven years later, the team was still together and remained as close knit as ever.
“I think that being together for so many years was the most important part of our success,” White remarked.
White knows that the greatest attribute to his team was Cook.
“Sometimes I looked at changes we needed to make for the car to go faster from the wrong perspective, but Paul (Cook) talked me into changing other things to make the car do what I want it to. He’s really good at seeing what the car is doing, especially on the bigger tracks.” he said of Cook. “He is probably one of the most intelligent people you’ll meet, about everything. If you could hang around him and see the ideas he has and some of the things he does, it’s really amazing.”
White felt lucky not only to have Cook around, but also the rest of his team.
“My main guys are the ones I really had to thank, Tom Morkin, George White, Robert Cantrell and of course, Cleo Cook, Paul’s wife. The sponsors also played a huge part in the team and they’re the ones that kept them running.
If you though White was just a racer, you are mistaken. He is a man of many talents.
Racing and roping, the man is a jack of all trades. Oh yes, roping. He’s a true Texan through and through. But White admitted he had to cut down on his cowboy endeavors.
“Team roping is a deal where if you do it long enough, like driving a race car, you’re going to get on your head. You’re finally going to drop a loop on your finger. It seems like everybody’s either all skinned up and hides tore off ’em or they’ve yanked their thumbs plum off.”
Because it’s hard to grip the wheel of a race car with no thumbs, White backed off the roping duties a little, but will never give up the cowboy life.
“We always had horses when I was growing up and it’s just something I always did, kind of like racing.”
He enjoys riding his horses and being with his kids and also helping other children in the area through trail rides that raise money for children’s programs.
White admits he’ll always “mess around with the roping a little bit and it would be a great thing to bring my little boy up around.”
Russ Gamester was the only other driver to lead the standings, following his victory at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway in March and subsequent win at Nazareth (Pa.) Speedway in May.
At Irwindale, Gamester came from 20th starting spot and at Nazareth, he caught leader Kasey Kahne on the white flag lap for the win.
Dave Steele’s series record qualifying effort of 143 mph-plus at Gateway Int’l Raceway in Madison, Ill., and victories at Gateway and Colorado’s Pikes Peak Int’l Raceway, enabled him to land third in the final points ahead of J.J. Yeley and Jerry Coons Jr.
Yeley led the final 30 laps to win at Knoxville Raceway in Iowa and dodged several incidents to win the 4-Crown Nationals at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway.
Coons who had three second place finishes in the final five races, earned his first series pole at the DuQuoin (Ill.) State Fairgrounds and ended up as the season’s Most Improved Driver.
Aaron Fike, who became the youngest winner in series history with his victory at Richmond (Va.) Int’l Raceway, was named Rookie of the Year.
Other series winners in 2001 included Mike Bliss and Kasey Kahne at Indianapolis Raceway Park and Tony Elliott in a repeat victory at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
The series was stunned by the untimely death of chief starter Wally Scherer and was unable to compete at the new Nashville Superspeedway in Tennessee due to excessive testing speeds, but witnessed the debut of A.J. Foyt IV, son of the legendary USAC champion in two dirt track events late in the season.