Bobby Hamilton Jr. returns to racing, gets full-time ARCA ride for 2014

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Bobby Hamilton Jr. will make his return to racing this season, driving full-time in the ARCA series for Carter 2 Motorsports, the team announced late Thursday.

Hamilton, 36, will make his first start for the team on March 22 at the Mobile ARCA 200 at Mobile (Ala.) International Speedway.

A native of suburban Nashville, Hamilton will drive the No. 40 Carter 2 Motorsports Dodge Charger.

“I’ve always liked running in ARCA,” Hamilton said. “Plus, I love the old school car that’s run in the series. I’m also thrilled to be going back to some of the historic short-tracks that ARCA runs on.”

The son of 2004 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Bobby Hamilton Sr., the younger Hamilton last raced in NASCAR in the Trucks Series in 2011 in a one-off entry. He previously raced last in the Nationwide Series in 2009 and the Sprint Cup Series in 2005.

During his career, Hamilton Jr. made 64 starts in the Sprint Cup Series, 253 in the Nationwide Series events – including five victories – and 37 in the Camping World Truck Series.

“I’m pretty happy to be going back to the tracks that I’ve scored a win at,” said Hamilton, whose NNS wins came at Phoenix, Memphis, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Chicago. “Plus, I’m excited to get back to tracks like Salem Speedway. I ran there at the start of my career. It’s going to be like being a kid again when I go back to that place.”

Hamilton began his racing career in ARCA in 1998 and 1999, acquiring five top-five finishes in eight total starts while driving for Sadler Brothers Racing, of which Carter was a part of at the time.

“It’s a great series with a bunch of competitive teams,” Hamilton said. “I would love to finish in the top-10 in driver points for 2014. I want to run the series until I retire and hopefully score a bunch of victories along the way. ARCA brings my career full-circle. It’s sort of like going back home.”

Hamilton’s father, Bobby Sr., captured the 2004 Camping World Truck Series championship before passing away following a year-long battle with cancer in 2007.

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Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”