Shawn Szep First to Declare Intent to run for DJ Safety Rookie of The Year in 2011 !

Adventure defined: “A bold, usually risky, undertaking; participation in an exciting or very unusual experience; hazardous action of uncertain outcome”. The first few minutes you listen to Shawn Szep, he uses that phrase, “this adventure”, more than once in describing his life behind the wheel of a race car! But, dig a little deeper, and the first ARCA Truck Series competitor to declare his intent to run for the 2011 DJ Safety Rookie of the Year honor, paints an even more “exciting” portrait of life experiences that you certainly stop and listen to!

“I was in the Air Force for ten years and got to see the world — Europe, Japan, Korea — and, well the best way to describe my job there was, you remember the Bugs Bunny cartoon where they’re tapping the top of the bomb with the little hammer? Well, that was me,” laughs the Columbus, OH resident. “I could tell you more, but — how did Tom Cruise say it in the movie ‘Top Gun’? He could tell them more but then he’d have to kill them?”

After his discharge, Szep settled in Las Vegas at the infamous Las Vegas Motor Speedway “Bull Ring”, competing in Legends cars, graduating to them after, as, he explains it, “too many broken bones in California motocross races!” Part of the Szep adventure was witnessing the beginning of a now well-known career in current NASCAR star Kyle Busch. The 39-year-old explained, “(Kyle’s older brother) Kurt had just moved on to NASCAR with Jack Roush, but Kyle was just getting going. And he drove pretty much the same way — start at the back, running guys over, and pretty soon either is at the front, or crashed out. I feel when learns to calm down, he’ll be a NASCAR Cup champion”.                                            

It wasn’t long, though, and he soon heard his native Midwest calling, and returned to his roots in 2004, welcomed home by his three children Shane, Seth and Marissa. Explained Shawn, “no doubt the place to race is out west and it’s huge in Vegas, but the Midwest is the best and I missed my family so much, so I came back.” He then started competing at legendary Columbus Motor Speedway in among, all things, their modified division! Gathering a reputation as a tough competitor, Szep caught the eye of winning ARCA Truck crew chief Tom Cumbow when he and his partner/driver, former two-time champion Robbin Slaughter, was unable to continue their program due to lack of funds, which Szep could now offer.                             

“I leased  the truck but had never been in one before, so Tom wanted to see how I’d do, so we tested at Columbus, and after a few laps, Tom was satisfied we would be fine. So we headed for Toledo but got in a wreck at the start when everyone checked up in front of me, but we still finished 14th.” Szep and Cumbow then towed to Mansfield, but after a few hot laps, lost the brakes and spent the rest of the day rebuilding them, and even though they didn’t get a chance to qualify, they started in the back but again mechanical bugs bit and they again placed 14th. Iowa, however, was a different story!

“I had obviously never seen the place before. But the truck felt good and we started in the back and before long, we were sixth, then fifth and pretty soon I got to fourth but then the race was over. (Winner) Paul Hahn had us all covered, but I feel if we had more time, we might have got up to maybe third or second.” Now bolstered with a top five, Szep made plans to go to Salem, but Cumbow parked the truck and started making plans to become General Manager of the Phoenix Management Group and the ARCA Truck Series. Before the 2010 season Cumbow sold his truck to former two-time champion Bill Withers.  When Withers hung up his goggles in the middle of last season, Szep bought the truck and is now eyeing this campaign with two Trucks! And, of course, like others, is looking for dollars to be able to step up his efforts.

“I work for ADT Security as an operations manager at large companies and construction sites, places like that,” said Shawn. “It’s a good job but by no means can I do this on my own. I’ve got some guys looking and got some little programs put together here and there, and am open to other opportunities, but nothing is 100% yet. But, I do have all the guys from when I drove for Tom returning – I call them the ‘Three J’s’; Jeff, John and Jim Long. And also, Tim Devers. And, my former, I guess you could call him my teammate when I drove at Columbus, my crew chief Jerry Harlan.”

Also, Szep thinks he can run another truck, which of course, is dependent on dollars. “We’ve got the second truck and I’ve talked to a few people, and so far, nothing is solid, but we’ve got the word out there and had some bites. I have even offered it to Withers, in case, like I told him, ‘you get that urge to drive again’”.

What are his goals for 2011? “The DJ Safety Rookie of the Year Award – that’s it. We want to compete in all the races, make no mistakes and get top fives, and we think we can do that. I’m looking forward to it because I think we’ll run good.” However, ARCA has a rule stating a competitor can only claim one award that of being the championship or the rookie of the year, and Szep was asked if he was in the same position as current champion Chris Bailey was last season, which would he choose? “Of course I’d take the title. But I’ll tell you, I don’t like that rule at all. I think if you earn them both you should win them both! Look at the Bailey’s – they are a great family and they deserved everything they accomplished last year and I think he should have had them both. I mean, Chris is, what, 22 or something? And they said at the banquet he’s won almost 20 championships? I’m highly impressed. And I certainly hope I can be in position to win the title this year!”

Looking ahead to the ARCA Truck Series and Phoenix Management Group’s season, there is little doubt that, indeed, we may see Szep in that position to add to his tails of “unusual, exciting, bold, risky, adventures”!

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Kevin Schwarze

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