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Reprinted from the Lebanon Daily Record February 16, 2010

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Daytona Winner Former I-44 Champ
Jamie McMurray's racing career started at I-44


From LDR Staff

Former I-44 Speedway track champion Jamie McMurray's Daytona 500 win on Sunday was a special occassion for the local racing community.

McMurray, a native of Joplin, grew up at I-44 Speedway, where he was track champion in 1998. Current I-44 Speedway track manager Brennon Willard said he was on hand to witness McMurray's win as he attended the race with local race car driver Tony Jackson Jr.

"I don't think I could even put it into words," Willard said today. "The prestige of the race was big, but for us as a family, it meant more to us because Jamie was from here and we all watched him grow up and mature. "I'm sure for the fans it was important, a really big deal to have a local guy that everybody just saw a few years back (at I-44) and now he's on David Letterman."

McMurray began racing at I-44 Speedway in the early 1990s in both the Modified and Late Model divisions at the ripe old age of 16. McMurray was always very smooth on the wheel and very easy on his equipment, two great qyualities that quickly caught the eye of track owner Bill Willard, grandfather of Brennon Willard, according to information from I-44 Speedway. Bill Willard became so impressed with McMurray that he convinced his son, David Willard, to put him into his car for the 1997 season.

McMurray wouldn't disappoint and quickly started battling door handle to door handle with local racing legend Larry Phillips every week. McMurray quickly became a crowd favorite as everyone was either rooting for "The Black Rooster" (McMurray) or "Mr. Fast" (Phillips) each week.

The points battle would go down to the wire with McMurray's consistency paying off as he held off the five-time and defending NASCAR Weekly Racing Series National Champion to win the track championship and finish fourth in the NASCAR Region. "Dale Earnhardt Jr. in your mirror coming off of turn 4 wouldn't seem that bad if you were used to Larry Phillips in your mirror," Willard said today. "I really think about the old battles that McMurray had with Phillips it seemed like every week and how much thar prepared him for the battle he had down the stretch on Sunday night."

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McMurray would step up to the NASCAR RE/MAX Challenge Series (formally ARTGO) the following two seasons, having consistent runs, but not breaking into victory lane. The conflicting races with the touring series kept McMurray from defending his local track championship in 1998, but that didn't keep him out of victory lane at I-44.

He made several return visits to the track, as his schedule would allow. McMurray's driving ability also caught the eye of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team owner Mike Mittler, who put him in his truck for several starts and the reat was history. "For me on a personal level, it was my first cup race so it was pretty cool to be down there for all of it," Willard said. "And it was a really good race, that was the cool part of it."

McMurray's resume also includes a World Karting Championship, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series poles, NASCAR Nationwide Series wins, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Daytona and Talladega, along with the 2003 Raybestos Rookie of the Year title in the Sprint Cup Series. There have been several I-44 track champions go on to become NASCAR stars, including Mike Wallace, Carl Edwards and the late Tony Roper. Lebanon's Tony Jackson Jr. has won multiple track championships at I-44 Speedway and will make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut in Martinville in March.

"There have been a lot of them that have raced here, but when they were here, they were nobodies." Willard said. With I-44 returning to pavement this year, it could open up the door for others to follow in the previous track champion's footsteps. Track renovation is still ongoing at the Speedway with opening night scheduled for May 1, with another practice scheduled for May 8.

For rules and other information, go to www.i44speedway.net, or call the track at 532-2060.

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