They'll be Cup's first NH owner-driver pair
New Hampshire native Mike Olsen, veteran of many lower circuit races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, will be making his Sprint Cup debut at the track driving for Stoddard, his lifelong friend. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)
Frank Stoddard, owner of FAS Lane Racing watches practice and qualifying during the Sprint Cup Series stop at NHMS in Loudon in July. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)
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Mike Olsen, who has competed in more races at the track than any other Sunday driver, will get his, too.
“I've probably raced here around 50 times,” Olsen said
But Sunday will be different. Far different.
Never before has Olsen raced on Sunday at the track.
He's one of the local guys, a veteran driver out of North Haverhill and the grandson of the late and legendary racer Stub Fadden, and he's always been in the support races, the warm-up stuff, on Fridays and Saturdays.
Not this time.
Olsen's in the Show. The Main Event.
But that's only one piece of the local-guys-make-good tale at the track.
Here's the rest: Olsen is driving for his lifelong buddy Frank Stoddard Jr., a longtime crew chief in the Cup series who is in his second year as a Sprint Cup car owner. And North Country Ford of Lancaster is along for the ride, too, as a sponsor of what becomes for one weekend Stoddard's No. 32 North Country Ford, a white car with blue lettering advertising the dealership.
Stoddard and Olsen, proud products of North Haverhill and Woodsville High School Class of 1986, are teaming up for the first time as crew chief and driver.
“It's a neat story,” Olsen said. “I always wanted to drive for Frank anyway, but I never had the opportunity.”
Stoddard, who hopes Olsen can finish somewhere around 30th, made it happen. The idea first got tossed around jokingly two winters ago when Olsen and Stoddard, heading into his first season as a car owner, were on one of their regular snowmobiling trips with friends and staying at cabins in Jackman, Maine.
This year, Stoddard, who has used half a dozen different drivers through the season, was able to pull it all together so Olsen could make his one-shot Sprint Cup stand this weekend in his home state.
“It's a neat thing to be able to do it, and I look forward to it,” Stoddard said. “I dreamed of being a Cup crew chief when I grew up. I don't know if Michael ever dreamed of racing at the Sprint Cup level, but if he dreamed big enough he would have. I think it's a nice way to cap his career. I just wish Stubby was around to see it.”
Stoddard and Olsen both followed Fadden around to races as kids and worked on his cars, and Stoddard spent years teamed with Fadden as crew chief between racing stints in the South.
In fact, his No. 32 in the Sprint Cup series, Stoddard said, is “16 for me, 16 for Stub.” Sixteen was Fadden's number.
Fadden was instrumental in Olsen's driving career, too, as was Olsen's father, Doug, who died last month of cancer at the age of 64.
“It would have been nice for me to (race in the Sprint Cup series) while he was still here, but he didn't quite make it,” Olsen said.
The Stoddard-Olsen pairing has racing folks excited in the North Country.
“It's generating some buzz,” Olsen said. “I've had a lot of people come in and say they haven't been to a race in a few years but they're definitely going this year.”
It's similar to the enthusiasm from several years ago when Fadden and Olsen were racing in the Busch North series events at the track and Stoddard was winning a string of Cup races at NHMS as crew chief for Jeff Burton.
“A week prior to the race, you'd see a caravan of campers leave town, and they were headed to the racetrack,” Olsen said. “That hasn't happened as much lately.”
Jerry Gappens, executive vice president and general manager at the speedway, said interest in tickets has been high from the North Country.
“I know we had an order for 54 tickets from up there the other day,” Gappens said. “I think it's a great story line with the New Hampshire connection and I also think it's a great story about the loyalty of childhood friends.”
Yeah, the North Country buzz is back, and Olsen, who has done limited racing the last couple of years, is excited about his Sunday drive.
“I don't know that I'll notice a difference once the race starts — probably not,” Olsen said. “But it's definitely going to be a lot different leading up to the race. Driver introductions will be a lot different, and everything will be different. I'm looking forward to it.”
Keith Kopp of North Country Ford is Olsen's brother-in-law. He estimated 25 members, four generations strong, of his family will be at the race. Olsen's grandmother, Charlotte, Stub Fadden's widow, will be in the group, and so will Ryan Olsen, 16, and Mathew Kopp, 12 — sons of Olsen and Kopp, and both of them racers.
“It will be as much a family reunion as anything else, and we thought it would be great if our family Ford dealership was on the car for this race,” said Kopp, explaining how North Country Ford got involved. “We thought it would be nice fit for a New Hampshire business.”
It's a nice fit for New Hampshire racing, too.
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