With the conclusion of the 2011 NASCAR season, the short-term future for Georgia-born racers is shrouded in uncertainty.
Unadilla's David Ragan is all but certainly out of his Sprint Cup ride after Jack Roush's remarks earlier this week in which he referred to the 26-year-old as "a frustration and a disappointment." Atlanta-based UPS is moving to championship runner-up Carl Edwards' No. 99 machine, and Roush's flagship No. 6 Ford - the car that began it all for his team in 1988 with Mark Martin at the wheel - is likely to be mothballed at least for 2012. Ragan appears to have no prospects at least on the immediate horizon, and the winner of this past July's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona could be on the sidelines.
Peachtree City's Reed Sorenson was in contention for the Nationwide Series title for the first two-thirds of the season, but he was curiously and unceremoniously dumped by Turner Motorsports in early October. He finished the year driving for Randy McDonald and was able to remain in the top-five in the final point standings, but his status for 2012 is unknown despite his victory at Road America and impressive overall performance while driving Turner's Chevrolets.
With the very real possibility that Ragan or Sorenson - or both - could be relegated to back-marker or start-and-park teams, if not out of NASCAR altogether for the 2012 season, Peachstate race fans could have little to look forward to in terms of homegrown talent for the upcoming year.
In short, November 28, 2013 - Chase Elliott's 18th birthday - can't get here soon enough.
That's right. Chase Elliott.
The son of Bill Elliott, Georgia's greatest sporting legend in my humble opinion, is just over two years away from meeting NASCAR's minimum age for its top-three divisions and becoming eligible to race in the Camping World Truck Series, Nationwide Series, and Sprint Cup Series.
In the meantime, he is racing in NASCAR's K&N Pro East divison under a driver-development contract he signed with Rick Hendrick this past February. Just yesterday, November 22, he was named the most popular driver for that circuit, following in the footsteps of his father. Bill Elliott won the Sprint Cup Series Most Popular Driver Award a record 16 times before withdrawing his name from the ballot permanently after 2002.
Hendrick signed Chase following a 2010 season that saw him win five races and three championships across four divisions. Then, on January 31 of this year, he swept both ends of a double-header at Brasleton's Lanier Speedway, beating a field of some of the nation's top late model drivers - and David Ragan - in the process. In his first full season of NASCAR racing, he recorded three top-five and six top-10 finishes in 12 K&N Pro East starts, finishing ninth in the final standings.
He also secured perhaps his biggest victory yet on May 14, as he won the USAR ProCup Series Carolina 200 at the legendary Rockingham Speedway.
With his bloodlines and an already solid relationship with one of the sport's powerhouses, it seems the last remaining obstacle for Chase to clear in his leap to NASCAR superstardom is simply time. While we all await the dawn of the 2014 season, when he will almost certainly be a rookie in either the Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series, there is no doubt the next two years will prove valuable as he polishes his talents.
There is certainly reason to hope that Georgia racing fans won't have to wait that long for a driver to cheer for in NASCAR's top divisions. Both Ragan and Sorenson have proven capable of running up front and winning races, and either could concievably land on their feet with strong organizations and have career years.
In the event that they aren't, however, Chase Elliott's coming-out party will only be that much more anticipated.