The silly season vacuum leak left by the departure of Kevin Varnes from the Memphis Shades/Parts Unlimted/Drag Specialties team to the Corbin/Samson Suzuki team has already been plugged.Wisconsin rider J.R. Schnabel, 23, (pictured) has been signed to ride for the Babe Demay-run team in the 2003 AMA/Progressive Insurance U.S. Flat Track Championships series. Schnabel, who was the AMA Grand National Rookie of the Year in 1996, finished 12th in last year’s Progressive Insurance title race, but only after missing rounds while he actively pursued the Formula USA/Drag Specialties National Dirt Track Series championship, where he finished second.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for me, and I really couldn’t be happier,” Schnabel said. “From what I saw last year, Babe’s equipment was excellent. I’m already training hard for the 2003 season, and I look forward to representing Memphis Shades, Parts Unlimited, Drag Specialties and all our other great sponsors on and off the track.”
Demay tuned Varnes to fourth in the Progressive Insurance title chase, the team scoring one win at the Charlotte Half Mile. Demay said that he is confident that he has found a suitable replacement for Pennsylvanian. “J.R. has long been a fierce competitor, and now that he is on our team, we think we can give him the equipment and support to take him to the top,” Demay said. “I feel that we’ll be right in the hunt when you consider what he did last year, jumping from ride to ride. He always runs with the gas on. We’ll be starting from ground zero, but if we can get the chassis moved around for him, he’ll run right up front.”
Motorcycle windscreen manufacturer Memphis Shades enters its third year of primary sponsorship with the Demay team, and owner Allen Mueller said that he, too, is looking forward to the 2003 season.
“Both Babe and I think that our program won’t even skip a beat,” Mueller said. “We have a new guy in the stirrups, and the program will be better for it – not that we have anything against Kevin. We wish Kevin well, and we are still friends with him and his family. But as far as J.R. is concerned, he’s young, and I have never seen him when he isn’t charging. Babe told me that every time he was on equipment as good as ours, he beat us. I think he’s the right guy for the job.”