By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
Christopher Bell, Tanner Thorson, and Raphaël Lessard will each compete in select races for Venturini Motorsports in the 2017 ARCA Racing Series season, the team announced on Monday. The trio of Toyota-backed drivers is the latest addition to a lineup already stacked with young talent.
“Toyota Racing Development is proud of our relationship with Venturini Motorsports,” said Jack Irving, Director, Team & Support Services Toyota Racing Development. “Entering their 35th year of ARCA competition, Venturini has set a formidable driver roster across the board and is poised for another winning season. I’m excited to watch this young group develop and perform.”
Bell went to victory lane with Venturini in both races at the historic Salem Speedway last season and has yet to finish outside the top-10 in five series starts. Bell, who won the Chili Bowl Nationals in January, will get a shot at an ARCA race on the dirt at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in August. The 22-year-old driver will also compete at Chicagoland Speedway, where he finished third last season.
Thorson, the 2016 USAC National Midget Champion, made one ARCA start for the team last season at the Illinois State Fairgrounds Dirt Mile and this season will try his hand at the other dirt track on the ARCA schedule, at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds. Thorson will also make his first short-track start in the series at Madison.
A total of nine different drivers have been announced by the team to date, filling 51 of the 60 races in the team’s trio of Toyota Camrys.
Zane Smith will be the closest the team will have to a full-time driver, as the 17-year-old will compete in 18 of the 20 races on the schedule in the No. 55 Toyota with crew chief Billy Venturini. Due to ARCA age restrictions at Daytona and Talladega, Noah Gragson will compete in those two superspeedway races. Gragson, driving full-time for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this season, will also drive for the Venturini organization in the second Pocono race and at Chicagoland Speedway.
Christian Eckes, who competed in four races with the team in 2016, returns to compete in nine short track events. NASCAR Next member Spencer Davis will make his ARCA debut at Talladega in May in addition to six more starts scheduled with the team.
Adding to the list of drivers making their debut with the team, 15-year-old Lessard will make his first career start at Nashville. The 2016 CARS Tour champion will also compete at Salem and Winchester.
The season kicks off this weekend at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, where Gragson posted the fastest speed in pre-season testing and Davis was second. Gragson’s teammates for the race will be Tom Hessert and Leilani Munter.
Hessert, a 10-year ARCA Racing Series veteran, has decided to run a limited schedule this season and will compete in just five races. Activist Leilani Munter, making her ninth ARCA start, will put her vegan lifestyle front and center on her No. 15 Toyota.
The below chart will come in handy during the 2017 ARCA Racing Series season:
|No. 15||No. 25||No. 55|
|Illinois State Fairgrounds||Bell||Hessert||Smith|
|DuQuoin State Fairgrounds||Thorson||Hessert||Smith|