Scott Geoffrion, one of the most promising young talents in drag racing, was named Wednesday to replace pro stock champion Darrell Alderman in the class-dominating Wayne County Speed Shops Dodge Daytona.
Geoffrion, 26, of Huntington Beach, will make his debut at the Pomona Fairplex when the National Hot Rod Assn. opens its 32nd drag racing season in three weeks with the Winternationals.
Alderman, a two-time pro stock champion from Morehead, Ky., was suspended indefinitely by the NHRA last Friday after pleading guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine. Alderman had admitted to being a user between 1988 and '91, but denied he had ever sold drugs.
"We have watched Scott and saw he had what it takes to become a good driver. He has all the tools," said Dave Hutchens, crew chief of the Wayne County team, from its headquarters in Fairfield, Ill.
"We are looking forward to defending our championship, and Mopar (the Chrysler division sponsor) will be with us. We were fortunate Scott was available. The action taken by the NHRA caught us by surprise. We never dreamed anything like that would happen. We felt the way they handled it was rather harsh, especially the way they acted so quickly before sentencing."
Alderman is scheduled for sentencing in Lexington, Ky., on March 6.
Geoffrion, who flew to Illinois Tuesday night to work out contract details and be fitted into the Dodge, said: "I'm very fortunate to land what I believe is the best ride in racing. I can't wait to get started. Darrell and I are about the same size, so there isn't much problem with fitting in the car."
Last year, Alderman and his 500-cubic inch Dodge won a record 11 of 14 national events after starting the season with 15 consecutive round victories in sweeping through the Winternationals, the Arizona Nationals and the Fram Nationals in Houston. He closed the season by winning the Winston Finals at Pomona.
Geoffrion drove an Olds Cutlass last year for Warren Johnson's AC Delco team and finished fourth in the Winston standings. It was his first year as a full-time campaigner. He was runner-up in two events and a top qualifier three times, including the Winston Finals. He was also part of the quickest side-by-side pro stock race in history when he ran 7.194 seconds in losing to Alderman's 7.128 in the final round of the Mile High Nationals at Denver.
Geoffrion's other final round race came against his boss and teammate, Johnson, in which Geoffrion lost despite running 192.84 m.p.h., the fastest of his career and third-fastest ever.
"I was holding back on a couple of options before making a final decision for this year, and I'm sure glad now that I waited," Geoffrion said.
Johnson, who had replaced Geoffrion with the veteran Don Beverley as his teammate for the 1992 season, said he expected the Wayne County car to be at or near the top again. Johnson finished second last year.
"At this point, I expect them to be every bit as competitive, as far as the car is concerned," Johnson said from his shop in Duluth, Ga., before Geoffrion had been selected to replace Alderman. "Whoever's driving the car will have an awful big pair of shoes to fill, though."
Larry Morgan of Newark, Ohio, who finished third last year in another Cutlass, also expects the Wayne County Dodge to be the car to beat.
"It's not likely they'll dominate again the way they did last year, but I still have a lot of respect for Hutchens and his Wayne County gang," Morgan said. "I know Darrell was a very good driver because every time he raced me, it seemed like he drove perfect. And that's hard to do.
"When I heard he pleaded guilty, that really surprised me because Darrell had been telling me he was innocent. I think the NHRA acted very well, better than I'd expected, because only the week before Darrell said he was guilty, the NHRA Today show on TV was making him out like he was still the good guy."
Motor Racing Notes
OFF-ROAD--The High Desert Racing Assn. will open the desert racing season Saturday with the Southern Cal 250 in Lucerne Valley. Larry Ragland, driving Jon Nelson's two-wheel-drive Chevy pickup, is the favorite after coming off an overall victory in the Baja 1,000 last November. Saturday's race is a new event and the first major one held since the HDRA and SCORE announced a split of their organizations.
MOTOCROSS--The stadium Supercross season will open Saturday night in Orlando, Fla., with Jean Michel Bayle of France the defending champion on a factory-backed Honda. The series will continue on Jan. 18 at Houston and Jan. 25 at Anaheim Stadium. Jeff Ward, Kawasaki's seven-time national champion from San Juan Capistrano, has announced that this will be his final season.