In 1983, Flat Rock Speedway celebrated its 30th anniversary with a 100-lap feature event for the ARCA Menards Series as the main event on the night’s card. The winner that night, for the first time in his career, was Chicagoan Bill Venturini. Victory lane was a family affair, as he was joined by his wife, Cathy, who was also his car owner and crew chief, as well as their children Wendy and Billy.
Bill Venturini would go on to win two ARCA Menards Series championships in 1987 and 1991, seasons that would etch has name as one of the greatest drivers in series history. They also laid the groundwork for the family race team, Venturini Motorsports, to become the most powerful team in the series three decades later.
The team has celebrated championships – both driver titles and owner titles – and has become the winningest team in series history with 8X wins. Bill and Cathy, the founders of the team, are still heavily involved, but day to day operations of the team now fall in the lap of one of the youngsters who celebrated that first win in victory lane with his parents, Billy Venturini.
Himself a former driver, with a win at Salem Speedway in 2006, the younger Venturini stepped out of the seat to focus on developing young drivers, something he’s been extremely successful at. Venturini Motorsports has helped launch the careers of numerous young drivers, including the likes of two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano, LEGACY AUTO CLUB’s Erik Jones, and recent NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series winner Christian Eckes to name a few.
Now, some 40 years after that first victory, the ARCA Menards Series East will visit the quarter-mile affectionately known as The Level Pebble, and for the first time in 17 years Billy Venturini will climb back aboard one of his family’s race cars to cross off one of his “bucket list” items.
“I don’t know if I am ready to call it my ‘big return’, but it’s gotten a lot of momentum and there are a lot of people who are excited about it,” Venturini said. “I am not putting any pressure on myself. There are no expectations. If I run fifth, that’s great. If I run tenth, so be it.”
Venturini, known for his prowess developing young drivers, doesn’t want anyone to be confused where his focus is.
“I am not coming out of retirement,” he reiterated with a laugh. “I never got to race at Flat Rock when I was racing full time. I don’t have a desire to be a racecar driver again, I’ve been there and done that. But I do have a desire to do this.”
Although it won’t mark a full-time return to the driver’s seat, Venturini reminds his young competition he’s still got the competitive fires burning inside.
“I am going to go out and give it my very best,” he said. “I’ve been going to the Toyota fitness center and working out in the heat room. It’s doing cardio at 130 degrees, and some of the younger guys don’t get to the end of a workout. They measure a driver’s fitness there, but they don’t measure what I call ‘old man tough.’ I don’t quit.”
So what are his expectations?
“I know I am going to be a little rusty,” he said. “We’ll go test somewhere just to knock the rust off. It’s been 17 years. After that we’ll have a more realistic view of what our expectations will be. I’ll tell you this though, I wouldn’t recommend one of these kids lay a fender on me if they can help it.”
He will have plenty of support in his corner, as former East Series championship-winning crew chief Shannon Rursch will be calling the shots on the pit box and former VMS driver and current NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Brennan Poole will be his spotter.
“Shannon said ‘I don’t care what else we have going on, I want to be your crew chief for that race,’ and Brennan could be a Cup spotter if he wasn’t busy as a racecar driver,” Venturini said. “I have some really good people in my corner and Toyota has been very supportive throughout the whole process too.
“We’ll be in the No. 20 JBL Toyota. JBL is really excited about it, and I am excited to get behind the wheel of the 20 car. A lot of people expected it to be the No. 25, and my family certainly had a lot of success and history with that number, but the No. 20 has always been my car. We won an owner’s championship with that car, so I thought it was just natural that it was the number is used for my return to the cockpit.”
The ARCA Menards Series East race at Flat Rock Speedway is set for Saturday, May 20, 2023 and will be streamed live on FloRacing. A one-hour rebroadcast will be shown on CNBC on Sunday, May 27 at 11 am ET. Advance general admission tickets can be purchased at FlatRockSpeedway.com or by calling (419) 727-1100. For compete event information, including live timing & scoring of all on-track activities, please visit ARCARacing.com. For up-to-the-minute updates, please follow @ARCA_Racing on Twitter.