Good guy finishes first. Why Jason Statler's championship season is one to remember.
By Chris W. Lovett
This is one that should have been delivered a long time ago. The significance of Jason Statler winning the Golden State Challenge Championship is so great to me, and resonates on so many different levels, that the content of what you are reading has been in my head for far too long. With the Awards Banquet just one week away and the yard work finally done it is time to distill the raw ingredients into something that hopefully at least makes sense. If it comes out like I hope it will those of us who have been following the career of Bob and Carolyn Statler's only son will have a longer list of reasons to celebrate next Saturday.
There is an immeasurably long list of people who have aligned their goals and aspirations with the Statlers over the past 15 years contributing enough along the way to make each victory their own as well. Heading the list would have to be Statler's parents whose love for their son is apparent to all who have eyes and can see. Their love for their son is on the order of saying, at any opportunity and without reservation, I love you son, without any strings attached. Their support goes way beyond financial and set the tone for how many of the others who chose to support their son made the decision to do so. Included on the list are people like Mark Bristow, Brad Scadden, and Tony Iacobitti which have been constants in Statlers racing endeavors since the beginning. I clearly remember a Scadden lead conversation where he felt they should all aspire to perform at the level of the world famous Hogs that have been the foundation of so many of Brent Kaeding's championship efforts. Bristow has always made his contribution as that of pit crew member while Scadden and Iacobitti started out that way only to pursue different endeavors of their own but are always quick to contribute anything they can to Statler's racing effort.
Statler is on the methanol at Watsonville during his 2004 championship season (John's Racing Photos)
The year that I finally got serious about racing photography is the year Jason stepped up into the sprintcar ranks. Hell, if I had played my cards differently, I would have graduated from the same high school in the same class (Class of `89) as Jason. I, like Jason, am also an only child but for reasons that are abundantly apparent that is about all that I have in common with him. That doesn't change the fact that I have always admired the guy. It's not hard to make a list of reasons to admire or put your support behind Jason Statler. One of the biggest reasons is that for all of the progress he has made on the racetrack the Jason Statler we all knew in the beginning is the same one everybody knows today. It wouldn't surprise me if Statler disliked being called the big guy as much as Jimmy Sills dislikes being called Buckwheat but "the big guy" fits as well and sounds better than the gentle giant. Cliche as "Gentle Giant" it really does fit though.
I still have a clear memory that proves that assertion as far as it can be proven. Years ago when having your car in the World of Motorsports Show was somewhat of a big deal Statler's car made the show. My good buddy Earl, all 5'4"of him, tagged along with me to the show. Earl also tagged along with me to the post show parties one night and at some point we ended up hanging out with Statler and crew. The big wrestling fan that Earl was he participated in what became a competition to knock "the big guy" off his feet. I will never forget Earl lunging for Statler only to end up being pressed up against the ceiling of the hotel room before being returned to Earth without even a scratch on him. Over the past fifteen years there have been plenty of opportunities for Statler to use what is a considerable physical presence to settle a score off of the race track and there is no documented instance of this taking place that I am aware of. Someone the size of Statler could have very easily created a persona off the track that gained him different advantages on the track. Can you imagine if Jason Statler had decided to develop a reputation as someone who was intimidating?
Statler, and Mark Bristow pay attention at the drivers meeting in Santa Maria, CA. (John's Racing Photos)
There are different ways to play the game and different levels at which you can play it with many examples that anyone can point to as 'how the game ought to be played'. You are welcome to your opinion but one of the most significant things about Statler winning the GSC championship is the way that he did it. At the same time the way that he won the GSC championship is not unlike how he has done everything else he has accomplished in the sport of sprintcar racing. Statler's driving career, taken as a whole, including his march towards the `04 GSC Championship is something that many people can take infinite satisfaction in. If someone wanted to they could place a lot of significance on the fact that Kaeding chose not to pursue a GSC Championship in `04. It's an easy point to make, few would be foolish to debate it, that Statler's march toward the championship would have been significantly more challenging if Kaeding had also stated it as one of his goals. Kaeding had other fish to fry, however, and ended up having a stellar season of his own. A season that history will likely view as one that contributed more to the Kaeding legend than an umpteenth GSC championship would have. In my mind emphasis of this point was made during a heat race at the Mini Gold Cup at the start of the '04 season. In a battle for the last transfer position in a heat race Statler held off a fierce challenge by Kaeding. Statler denied Kaeding the spot by racing him cleanly and, in my opinion, made it clear that the GSC championship was his and all others who wanted it were going to have to go through him to get it.
A Golden State Challenge Championship is something that so many have aspired to and fallen short that it might not be hard to see where someone could give up just due to a sense of futility alone. No one who has won a GSC Title has gotten one without earning it. The dedication and determination necessary to get the job done is a big part of why there are still people who want to win the title. Statler can confidently include himself among those who have EARNED their place on the list of GSC titlists. The championship is simply the culmination of a steady, determined, and unwavering pursuit of a goal that just a select few have been able to accomplish. By winning the `04 GSC championship, I believe, Statler dispels the long held belief that nice guys finish last' and affirms that hard honest work towards a goal without compromising who you are in the process can yield results.
Those who chose to disagree are welcome to do so but do so knowing that I expect your numbers to be small :-). There is another name that is reserved for the GSC Champion. The GSC Champion has been, throughout its history, referred to as the "King of California" Congratulations Jason.
Long Live the King!