By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
KANSAS CITY, Kans. – The checkered flag dropped on the 2016 ARCA Racing Series season on Friday night at Kansas Speedway as Chase Briscoe earned his sixth victory of the 20-race season and was crowned as the national champion. The championship was the first for Cunningham Motorsports, who has been competing in the ARCA Series since 1996.
“I was more concerned with winning the race than the championship to be completely honest. I just want to win as many races as possible. If you win the most races, you tend to win a championship,” Briscoe said.
At this time last year, the driver out of Mitchell, Indiana was helping the Cunningham Motorsports crew and just hoping for an opportunity to prove himself behind the wheel of a stock car on a full-time basis. So how did the 22-year-old Briscoe get from racing sprint cars in Indiana to earning the first ARCA championship for Cunningham Motorsports?
Briscoe started racing quarter midgets in 2001 and at the age of 13, stepped into a 410 sprint car and broke Jeff Gordon’s record of the youngest driver to win a 410 sprint car race. Due to a lack of funding, Briscoe would always run a limited scheduled and in older equipment than his competitors.
Briscoe got his first taste of stock cars in the Michael Waltrip PEAK Antifeeze Stock Car Dream Challenge and ran three NASCAR K&N Pro Series West races for Bill McAnally Racing.
How did Cunningham Motorsports co-owners Kerry Scherer and Briggs Cunningham discover Briscoe?
“He was just at the shop. We didn’t know who he was. Just kidding,” joked Cunningham Motorsports co-owner Kerry Scherer.
“Chris Bibey, a marketing guy I had worked with, had called me and asked if I’d take a look at this kid. I said I would but I wouldn’t make any promises. I’ll certainly keep it in mind. And then two weeks later, Eric Peterson from Roush Fenway and I were discussing some drivers and he mentioned ‘Chase Briscoe.’ So I said, that’s twice in two weeks so I need to take a look. So I called Chase up and asked ‘do you want to test a stock car’ and that’s how we got started.”
The break for Briscoe came in a mini sprint race in DuQuoin, Ill. that paid just $500 to win.
“I’m really good friends with Christopher Bell and he had an offer on the table from Roush and I knew he wasn’t going to take it. I had lived in North Carolina for two years and had nothing going on. So I met with Eric Peterson and said I’d love to be that guy if the opportunity ever came up. He didn’t know me and probably didn’t care but I told him that I was going to be teammates with Bell and had never been in that kind of equipment before so just see what happens. I won the race and Bell finished second.”
Briscoe had just moved back to Indiana and was going to go to school and race sprint cars when he got the call from Scherer about testing an ARCA car for the team.
“I remember thinking ‘yeah, right, I don’t have any money. They’re not going to let me test an ARCA car.’ So I traveled down there and toured the shop and said I didn’t know a thing about stock cars but I was willing to work in the shop to learn. I guess that got back to Kerry and they saw something in me and here we are.
“So Tom (Hessert) was driving for them and (crew chief) Chad (Bryant) had taken me under his wing and I had been there for three weeks. He said if you go to Mobile with us I won’t promise you anything, but I’ll try to get you in the car for 10 laps. So we went to Mobile and it happened and it was the worst driving I had ever done in my life. It was so bad that I called my dad and was like ‘there is no way these people will ever give me another opportunity.’ I was awful. I was overdriving so hard. But the actual first test was at Nashville.”
The test at Nashville resulted in Briscoe getting a two-race opportunity last season where he finished 10th in his ARCA debut at Lucas Oil Raceway and followed that up with a fifth-place result at Salem Speewday.
With six victories and six poles this season, Briscoe emphasized time and again in interviews that he was “blessed” and credited his success to the chance that Scherer and Cunningham took on him.
“It’s a huge honor to get Cunningham Motorsports its first championship and at the same time it’s huge to go out this way, as real champions, by winning the final race. They’ve been in this sport a long time and to finally get them their first one that’s a big deal.
“I’m just excited for my guys who put a lot of time, sweat and tears into this thing. It’s all because of them that we’re able to do it.”
Briscoe joins the likes of Justin Allgaier, Ty Dillon and Chris Buescher as ARCA Racing Series champions, but it’s unclear exactly what the future holds for Briscoe.
“I’m excited to see what may come. Hopefully I can get something lined up for next year.”