In the early 2000s, the Busch North Series (now ARCA Menards Series East) was dominated by one driver: Andy Santerre. The Maine driver won 13 of his 23 career Busch North races in a four year stretch from 2002-2005, winning the series championship all four years. His four consecutive titles are a record for both most consecutive and most all-time in the series, records that will likely never be broken in today’s landscape.
Today, Santerre works for himself as a truck driver in the Pine Tree State, keeping busy while having time to raise his family.
“We stayed for six years and we both decided we were tired of what we were doing so I went out and bought a new Peterbilt truck and I have my own trucking company,” Santerre told Speed51. “I’m my own employee, it’s called Andy Santerre Transport. I’m leased on to a company in Bangor, Maine. I haul liquid asphalt in the summer and I haul home heating oil in the winter. I stay busy doing that and my wife has a great job. We’re raising our family here in Maine and enjoying the quiet life.”
Santerre had a decision to make before the 2002 season whether to continue chasing after the NASCAR Busch Series or to go back to his stomping grounds in Busch North. He spent the late 1990’s and the first two years of the 2000’s competing primarily in the Busch Series, winning a race at Pikes Peak International Raceway in 1999 but otherwise having trouble finding success in the series.
After returning to Busch North, he tackled the 2002 season with limited resources and a group of volunteers from back home. Santerre won three races and beat Matt Kobyluck by just nine points to win his first title.
“It was pretty cool because in 2002, I had to make a decision as to whether to continue chasing the Busch Series dream. I didn’t have a great sponsor, I had a few opportunities and I was living there but there was nothing that excited me that I felt like I could go out and win, it wasn’t a Richard Childress car or a Hendrick or anybody.
“I decided I wanted to win, and I figured my best chance was I could come back to the North Series and finish out my career. If I could find a sponsor I would be able to do that. I left the Busch Series dream and decided to go back to the North Series, but do it from Charlotte.”
With limited resources and an all-volunteer team, Santerre claimed the Busch North title that year.
“I went out and bought a new Chevy dually and I didn’t really have any equipment to speak of. I bought a single car enclosed trailer and I hauled to all the races with a Chevy dually and a one-car trailer and I ended up winning the championship. A lot of people thought that was pretty neat. I had an all-volunteer team that year.
“I was basically my one and only employee and it was Andy Santerre Motorsports. I worked on the car all week and took care of it, then I had an all-volunteer team meet me at the racetrack. Most of those guys were out of Connecticut and they worked for Teddy Marsh’s Marsh Racing team. They wanted to help me so a lot of those guys came on the weekend and helped.”
Santerre found himself at another crossroads after that first championship season, needing a way to continue his career behind the wheel. He found help in former Busch North regular and fellow Maine racer Joe Bessey, who had been fielding cars for Geoff Bodine with Dick Trickle and Rich Bickle filling in at times.
The two found unparalleled success together in their two-year run. Santerre won eight races in 2003-2004 and finished in the top ten in all but four races, winning the championship by over 200 points in both years.
“At the end of that season I was like man, there’s no way I can keep doing this. I was driving my own truck, working on my own cars alone. I didn’t have the financial backing to hire somebody. Along came Joe Bessey, who was a fellow Maine native and racer. Joe had pretty much gotten out of the seat himself but he had owned a Cup team. He wanted to know if I wanted to pair up and do something.
“Joe and Nancy Bessey were my car owners, they bought all my equipment and bought some other stuff and for the next two years, 2003 and 2004, I drove for Joe and Nancy and we won the championship two years in a row. That was probably the best two years of my career performance-wise. We had two great seasons in a row, we were the car to beat every week.”
Bessey dropped out of the sport after the 2004 season, leaving Santerre at another crossroads going into the 2005 season. It was a chance meeting at the NASCAR Awards Banquet in late 2004 that led to an opportunity to take part in the 2005 Busch North Season.
“At the end of 2004 Joe decided he wasn’t going to do anymore racing. He had other plans up here in Maine, he was trying to build a business. I searched for someone who could buy Joe out so I could keep driving or managing or whatever.
“That’s when Steve and Peggy Griswold came into the picture. We were at the NASCAR Awards Banquet at Mohegan Sun and Steve put his arm around me and says hey bud, what are we going to do. We need to get together so I can win another championship. I said you’re in luck because Joe wants to sell out and I need a job. I made a deal to run his team for the 2005 season.”
Santerre had no plans to get behind the wheel for the 2005 campaign, having opted to field cars for two Northeast legends instead. An appearance made at the shop by the Griswolds just before the season opener at Stafford Motor Speedway changed those plans, which led to two more wins and a fourth straight Busch North title.
“Initially I wasn’t going to drive, I was just going to manage it and Mike Stefanik and Brad Leighton were going to be my drivers and I was going to build their cars, crew chief for them and manage the weekly operation out of North Carolina. In March Steve and Peggy showed up to the shop in North Carolina and we were showing them all the equipment and everything.
“She said where’s your car? I told her I don’t have a car, I have a car from last year that I saved but I’m not going to drive. She said oh no Steven, he’s driving. Peggy Griswold made the decision that day that I better get a car built because we were going to have three teams.”
He is particularly proud of what he had accomplished in the 2005 season, and it wasn’t just for winning a record fourth straight Busch North title. It proved to be a resurgence year for the late Mike Stefanik, who had only won one NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race in each of the two previous years. The next year, Stefanik would win his seventh and final Modified title.
“Mike Stefanik ran the whole season and he hadn’t won for a few years. He ended up getting two victories that year and I won two races and we finished first and second in points. It could’ve gone either way, Mike had a couple bad races where something went wrong. I beat him by 42 points for the championship, so we were successful, the both of us. It put a spark back in Mike’s career and it made me feel good because he was a great teammate.”
The 2005 Busch North finale at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park would be the final race he would compete with the series. He moved back to Maine in 2012 to work with his car owners from his final season at their businesses.
“I moved back to Maine where I grew up, I live in Southern Maine. I moved back here in 2012. I came home to work with a good friend of mine. He called me and my wife and he wanted us to work for him. We were both working in racing at the time and I had retired from racing but I was managing Hattori Racing down in Mooresville and Steve (Griswold) called me and told me he didn’t know how much time he had and he wanted to know if Sue and I could come up and help run some of the family businesses.
“We have two kids and it was time to do something that didn’t take up quite as much time, so we moved back up to Maine in the fall of 2012 to go to work for Steve and Peggy Griswold.”
Santerre would field cars in what became the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East for Sean Caisse, Jeffrey Earnhardt, and Austin Dillon for a few years while also acting as a crew chief for other drivers for several years. Aside from three Legends starts made back in 2014, he is no longer involved in the sport due to his work commitments, but admits he still watches NASCAR races on TV to see drivers he competed with in the Busch Series. Just like in his Busch North days, he went out of the sport entirely as a winner.
“I don’t do a whole lot with racing. When I first came back to Maine, I stayed a little bit involved. My last race as crew chief I went to Dover, Delaware with Austin Hill in the K&N Series in 2013. We ended up winning the race. That was my last crew chiefing job so I figured as a driver I went out winning a championship and I figured that was a good way to call it quits, winning the last race as a crew chief.
“I’ve shied away from it, I watch it on TV when I can and keep track of some of the guys that I got to race with in the Busch Series days. Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, a few of those guys are still around. The younger crowd I don’t really know that well. I don’t really have a favorite, per se, but I do follow it. It’s hard to get that out of your system.”
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51 National Correspondent – Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo Credit: Rick Cashol