The NASCAR Igloo Sportsman Challenge, often known as the Sportsman Series/Division, was a NASCAR series created by Humpy Wheeler in 1989 that ran from 1989-1996.

The series was known for the massive inexperience of its drivers, most of whom were short track drivers in divisions such as the Whelen All-American Series. The series was created to give short track drivers experience on large speedways, mostly Charlotte Motor Speedway. The result was terrible. What would normally be one car spinning in the cup, or a two car crash in ARCA, would often be a 6 car pile-up in the Sportsman Series.

It was also known for how inexpensive it was. Drivers in the NASCAR Sportsman Division could run the series for just about the cost for a weekly short track. The drivers often used former Winston Cup (now Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series) and Busch Series (now NASCAR Xfinity Series) cars with reduced horsepower, which made the cars very slow. At Pocono International Raceway, the average qualifying speeds were about 164 for the cup, 158 for ARCA, and 142 for the Sportsman.

History Edit

In 1989, Humpy Wheeler announced the creation of the Sportsman Division, and the first race was held after qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600, and was won by former snowmobile champion Tim Bender.

The series had its first fatality in 1990. During practice, driver David Gaines along with 2 other drivers spun coming off turn 4. Driver Steve McEachern was unable to avoid Gaines, and struck Gaines' car, killing him. McEachern flipped several times before landing in the grass.

1991 brought more trouble. During a race at Charlotte that year in May, driver Ed Gartner Jr. was T-boned by Tom D'Eath. Gartuner cracked his sternum and fractured his leg, and D'Eath broke his neck. Another severe crash that month took place at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, when Philip Ross spun and slammed into the wall, bursting into flames. Ross got out of the car himself, but not without suffering second-degree burns over 30% of his body. Because of that crash, the series stopped racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and instead began going to Pocono Raceway.

In 1992, the series was renamed the Igloo Sportsman Challenge and began awarding a championship. 1992 would still bring tragedy however. In the qualifying race for the Winston 100, a few cars spun in front of Neil Connell, Gary Batson, and several others. Neil Connell collided with Batson, pinning him against the wall. The 2 cars caught fire and Connell was able to get out. Batson, however, was stuck against the wall and was unable to get out. Batson suffered burns over more than 80% of his body, and died the next morning. Meanwhile, the Winston 100 was aired live just before the running of what is now known as "One Hot Night", the 1992 All-Star Race. Robbie Faggart would go on to become the champion.

1993 was not subject to any injuries or major wrecks, but it was the subject to many rule changes. The series stopped doing the typical 2-wide restarts, and began starting races single file to improve safety.

In a race in 1994, driver Red Everette was t-boned by Ronnie Sewell. Everette's car burst into flames, and Everette suffered minor face burns. Later that same race, the axle of a wrecked car flew into the pits, injuring 2 pit crew members.

End of the series Edit

Until October, 1995 seemed like it would be a repeat of the 1993 season. However, On October 6, 1995, the rain-postponed Winston 100 was run, with 26 year old Russell Phillips on the pole. On lap 37 of the 67 laps scheduled, Phillips was decapitated in what is now remembered as the most horrifying crash in stock car racing history. The series could no longer fight against safety crusaders. After the race held the next day, Humpy Wheeler announced that the series wouldn't be run at Charlotte in 1996, replacing Sportsman events with ARCA events. The other tracks, which hadn't had any major crashes, followed suit.

The series ran occasional races on short tracks in 1996, but now that there were no big tracks to run on, the series had become pointless, and soon enough the series was gone for good and forgotten.

Known Tracks Edit

Known drivers Edit

Driver Car # Known Sponsors Known Years Run
Kirk Shelmerdine 3 Goodwrench, RJS 1992- c.1993
Dennis Setzer 4 c. 1991-1994
Ronnie Sewell 20 c. 1991-1996
Tim Bender 36/76 1992-1994
Mickey Hudspeth 40 c. 1990-1995
Jeff Ninneman 44/16 c. 1991-1995
Jimmy Sharpe 44 1992
Russell Phillips 57 Hendrix Office Machines Inc. 1990, 1993-1995
Red Everette 60 c. 1990-1994
Shari Minter 61 KERR Drugstores 1992-1996
Larry Caudill 62 1989-1992
Danny Sikes 72 1992
Joe Gaita 83 1993-1994
Craig Butts 87 1993-1994
Neil Connell 88 1992
Robbie Faggart 89 1992-1995
Morris Bice 91 1995
Peter Gibbons 92 1992-1996
Gary Batson 96 1992
Marty Ward 97 Hooters 1993-1996
Steven Howard 99 Midway Auto Parts 1995
Lee Tissot 99 1989-1992
David Gaines ? 1990
Steve McEachern ? 1990