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In the fast lane

Eric Corbett , a 31-year-old Hagerstown driver, is a rising star in the USAR circuit.

Eric Corbett , a 31-year-old Hagerstown driver, is a rising star in the USAR circuit.

November 27, 2002|by BOB FLEENOR

Even though he's accustomed to racing at speeds up to 140 miles per hour, things are moving pretty fast for Eric Corbett these days.

The 31-year-old Hagerstown driver is a rising star in the USAR (United Speed Alliance Racing) Hooters Pro Cup Series, having won more than $31,000 during a stronger-than-expected rookie season.

And thanks to exposure on cable television's Speed Channel, which televises the Pro Cup series, Corbett's name, face and No. 75 Larry & Sons Ford Taurus are now known to a wider audience of racing fans.

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"We've made kind of like a splash, so to speak, People know us," said Corbett, who has six top-five finishes in 10 races this year. "People come up to me, and say they've seen me on TV. I don't know if I should be flattered, or kind of scared."

Corbett will wrap up his rookie season Saturday in Lakeland, Fla., at the Four Champions Memorial Hooters 300 at USA International Speedway.

In Saturday's race, the circuit's year-ending event, 42 drivers will be vying for $1 million in purse and points money.

Despite running a limited schedule, Corbett qualified for this fall's Four Champions Championship Series by placing 10th in the Pro Cup Series Northern Division standings.

He finished in the top five in five of his seven regular-season races - including a second-place showing at Illiana Motor Speedway in Indiana in only his second outing of the year.

"Before our first race in April, we just wanted to make the field, get some laps in," Corbett said. "We finished fourth, and that raised the bar.

"We've done exceptionally well. We've got good equipment, but not much (money) to spend on it on a weekly basis."

In fact, Corbett chose to skip the first race of the Four Champions Series, in Winchester, Ind., in late September, because the rough track surface there would create too much wear and tear on the car. "New shocks are expensive," he said.

In the second race, at Jennerstown (Pa.) Speedway, Corbett was late for the drivers' meeting and had to start at the rear of the 42-car field. Driving hard, he charged to a 14th-place finish in the 250-lap (125-mile) event.

Since then, a fifth-place finish at Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Oct. 22 and a 10th-place showing at Peach State Speedway in Jefferson, Ga., on Nov. 2 pulled Corbett up to 33rd in the Four Champions standings entering Saturday's finale.

The race will be televised at 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, on the Speed Channel and repeated two more times on Friday, Dec. 5.

Although the $250,000 top prize is out of reach, Corbett has a chance to move up significantly in the final standings with a strong showing.

For Corbett, who began his racing career driving quarter-midgets at age 8, his family and the E&L Enterprises racing team are intertwined.

His crew chief is his father, Larry Corbett, owner of Larry & Sons, Inc. Eric Corbett is director of mechanical design and operation for the Hagerstown-based plumbing, heating and air conditioning company.

Amy Corbett, Eric's wife of four years, is also his scorer. In the season-opening race at Jennerstown in early April, she was on the job despite being nine months pregnant with their second child. Daughter Shelby Corbett was born just days later. Big brother Bryce is 2 1/2.

The rest of Corbett's crew includes team manager/jackman Jerry W. Blough, spotter/tire specialist Randy Bussard, tire changers Dewey Sheaffer and Douglas Thomas, tire carriers Jason Blough and Jeremy Blough, and gas man Jason Waugh.

Most of the crew members hail from western Pennsylvania and get together on racing weekends. The core of the crew has been together for six years, Corbett said.

"One of the big learning curves for us is we had never done pit stops," said Corbett, who was racing on a regional NASCAR late models circuit before moving up to the Pro Cup series this year.

"Before, in the (NASCAR) weekly series, you ran 200 laps and had to run the entire race on the same set of tires. On this circuit, you have to change at least two tires. We usually change four. It doesn't look that difficult, but try to do it in under 40 seconds. These guys can do it in 14 or 15 seconds."

The crew is "100 percent volunteer, although we do pay their expenses door-to-door," Corbett said.

"These guys really want to be there. They take vacation, make sacrifices. They're a very special bunch of guys."

Hagerstown Trust Co. recently joined Larry & Sons, Magnolia Square Design and F&M Bank as sponsors of Corbett's Taurus. "Also, D&L Sports and Carrier Air Conditioning helped us in the beginning of the year," Corbett said.

It costs from $7,000 to $8,000 each week to race the car "and do it right," Corbett estimated. With limited funding, it's important to finish each race - a tough task considering the volume of traffic on the tight half-mile tracks - to conserve equipment and finish higher in the points standings.

"You run out of straightaway in a hurry," he said. "And those walls are pretty hard, too."

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