- Mark Ashenfelter, NASCAR
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Boris Said, 43 going on 14 if judged by his enthusiasm, was the man of the weekend at Daytona International Speedway. Sure, Said didn't win the Pepsi 400, but he undoubtedly won the hearts of fans.
Now if those fans go out and buy SoBe No Fear, who knows, maybe Said will one day become a regular on the Nextel Cup circuit. To say he'd be a breath of fresh air would be an understatement.
Said's not afraid to say what he thinks, and that fits with his sponsor's image. Trying to get a jump on the competition, he hopes winning the pole and finishing fourth at Daytona will help turn the tide in his favor.
"I just want all these fans to stop buying Red Bull," he said after qualifying. "Buy SoBe No Fear beverage. If we sell a few more cases, we can do more races. I've got to throw that pitch in there."
It'll take awhile to determine whether Said's on-track success increased sales, but if not, it won't be from a lack of effort on the driver's part. He owns his start-up team along with crew chief Frank Stoddard and Mark and Brian Simo of No Fear, a clothing company.
The team bought its cars from Roush Racing and its engines from Roush-Yates. In return, Said works with Roush's drivers as they prepare for the year's two road-course races.
Said has a pair of top-10 finishes in his two starts with the team and is gearing up to attempt to qualify for races at Indianapolis and Watkins Glen, the only two events currently left on his schedule.
If that's how it ends this season, Said will always have Daytona. And he'll always credit those who helped make it possible.
"It feels damn good," Said said of winning the pole. "I've been trying to do this for so long, break into NASCAR from road racing. I was getting a lot of, 'You're too old. You're too tall. You're too poor.' A lot of those things, so I don't feel like I had a lot to do with driving on the pole, but what it had to do with was putting a deal together with Jack Roush three months ago and making a deal to buy cars from him and engines.
"I always say it's like the commercial. Jack said, 'Cars, $150,000. Motors $75,000,' but the fact that he offered me his little black book with all the setups in it, that's priceless."
Still, it was up to Said to make those setups pay off. Stoddard's decision not to pit late in the race put Said in a position to win, but he couldn't hold off Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch or brother Kurt Busch during the last few laps.
Fourth, though, was nearly as good as a win since he'd said before the race that finishing in the top 15 would seem like a victory.
One of the country's best road racers, Said didn't start racing until he was 25. At 43, he may be considered old, but he doesn't feel that way. And he doesn't regret the path he chose, even if he's trying to make it in Cup fairly late in the game.
"Kids nowadays, they've got jets and motor homes and they're winning Cup races before they're even 25," Said said. "I still feel like a young guy and I've got a lot of years left. Yeah, it would have been nice to start earlier, but I've had a great career in sports cars. I've gotten to race all over the world, in China and Australia and Asia and Germany. I wouldn't trade it for anything. If it all stopped right now, I'd be pretty happy."
Stopping, though, isn't an option -- at least not if Said has anything to say about it. And he takes inspiration out of overcoming odds in the past.
He points to how No Fear was built from scratch and doesn't see any reason a race team can't follow. He's been told something couldn't be done more often than he cares to remember in the past, and isn't about to listen to the naysayers now.
"My whole life people have been telling me, 'No, no, no, no,' and I've figured it out and proven them wrong and that's our intention," Said said. "We intend to build a team that's on par with [the best in the sport]. You're probably sitting out there saying, 'Yeah, you're crazy,' but Mark Simo has built a big business in No Fear from nothing when people told him he was crazy.
"I think we're a couple of idiots that learn from our mistakes and we have a lot of determination and we're going to figure it out and in five or six years, hopefully, we're going to be one of those teams."
That still seems like a long shot, despite what was accomplished at Daytona. And Said's not afraid to admit what he did was rather monumental, all things considered.
"It's like a win. It's the biggest thing I've ever accomplished in racing," Said said.
Roush was impressed with Said's effort and hopes NASCAR's ever-changing rules don't keep him from helping the driver going forward.
"NASCAR's got some new words in their rulebook that I don't understand yet called an affiliation, so we're affiliated with Boris and the No Fear guys. I hope it's OK with NASCAR," Roush said. "We helped them with the engineering. We put an engineer with them. We helped them with the car.
"Boris helped us with our road-race stuff, which was a benefit to us at Sears Point, and I see the prospect of helping one another as we go down the road. There are strengths in our program and strengths in Boris that will make everything we do together stronger."
Anyone doubting Said's drive needs only to hear him tell of his first trip to a driving school to realize he's not easily deterred.
"After the school was over, I went up to the instructor just completely wound up like, 'OK, man, how do I do this and become a real race car driver? I want to quit my job and do this,'" Said said. "He looked me in the eye and he goes, 'OSB.' And I'm like, 'What is that? Is that a tape? Is it a book? What? Where do I get that?' And he goes, 'Other Sports Beckon.'
"He goes, 'You suck. Don't give up your day job.' That's been my whole life and I said, 'You know what, I'll prove you wrong,' and I still see that same guy around about every year and it feels pretty good to look at him. He's still an instructor."
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at NASCAR Scene magazine, which has a Web site at www.scenedaily.com
10dBob Pockrass and John Oreovicz