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ARCA: Recovery Complete as Steele Stomps Pocono Field

21 June 1998

By Don Radebaugh

If there were any remaining questions over Tim Steele's recovery, let them be put to rest. Driving his first race since a 1997 Atlanta Motor Speedway accident sidelined the three-time ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series champion, the "man of steel" answered the question with a convincing victory here Saturday at Pocono International Raceway in the ARCA Mountain Dew 400k.

The crowd went wild when Steele danced on the roof of his father's familiar #16 HS Die & Engineering Ford Thunderbird in victory lane. It was as though the Coopersville, Michigan driver had never missed a beat. "I can't tell you how good it feels to be back," said Steele in the winner's circle. "I've been miserable since the accident. I went through six doctors before I found one that didn't tell me to get another career. This is the best medicine I could ask for. This is my hobby, my job, my life. It's like coming home for me. Other than the kidney stones, I feel great."

Steele beat series point leader Frank Kimmel to the checkered flag by just over eight seconds to earn his 31st career ARCA victory in his 88th attempt. Steele led 75 of the 100 laps bringing his superspeedway lap-leader total to 1,796, and superspeedway win total to 18, more than any other driver in both categories. The victory also gives Steele 6 wins at Pocono tying him with veteran Bob Schacht as the all-time ARCA Pocono winner. Kirk Shelmerdine, aboard the Hurley Limo Chevrolet, and Jeff Finley charged from the 26th and 27th positions respectively to finish third and fourth. Bobby Hamilton, Jr., making his first career ARCA start in a #43 Pontiac purchased from the Richard Petty stable, impressed all with a fifth place finish.

Six cautions for 26 laps, all for minor incidents, would help mix the race complexion enough to exchange the lead 10 times among seven drivers. Even though Mike Ciochetti, Mark Gibson, Schacht, Shelmerdine, Andy Hillenburg and Rich Woodland all took their turns on the point, it was Steele who held the top spot for the majority of the race.

Ciochetti started from the pole after setting a new ARCA Pocono track record with a speed of 163.845 mph but it was Steele who roared into the lead from his outside front row starting position at the onset ahead of Gary Laton, Blaise Alexander, Gibson, Kimmel and Ciochetti who faded after getting off to a slow start. Steele led the first 27 circuits before green flag pitstops brought most of the leaders down pitroad for fuel and tires handing the lead to Ciochetti, who had not yet pitted. Gibson also stayed out and took over when Ciochetti came in for service on lap 33. One lap later, Gibson pitted giving the lead to Schacht for two rounds before Shelmerdine took his turn up front while Schacht pitted. Stretching the fuel mileage as far as he could, Shelmerdine finally pitted on lap 40 just before the second caution appeared when Blaise Alexander got turned around off turn three. Hillenburg then led a lap until Woodland raced his Amtrak Chevrolet to the front for eight laps before Steele drove by on lap 50 to lead the next 20 circuits. Although Steele relinquished the lead one more time for one final service stop, the determined racer quickly worked his way back to the point and drove away from the field.

Steele, who earned $19,020 for the effort, also won the Auto Value Parts Stores Halfway Leader Award. Shelmerdine was the BSR 2nd Round Fast Qualifier and Hoosier Tire Midwest Hard Charger Award winner for advancing the most positions. Bill Baird was the STP-Prestone Highest Finishing Rookie for the second week in a row and Finley picked up the Thermo-Tec Cool Drive Award.

Series Point Leaders: Frank Kimmel 1825, Mark Gibson 1705, Jeff Finley 1580, Bob Strait 1555, Andy Belmont 1330, Bill Baird 1295, Josh Baltes 1220, Norm Benning 1100, Kirk Shelmerdine 1085, David Boggs 1060.