The Saturday Night Buildup...
The Saturday Night Buildup car is turning into a screamer. The new 406 engine provides a lot more torque and horsepower than we've had lately. Instead of running in the top seven, we're now running in the top three.
We were anxious to get the Saturday Night Buildup car back out on the track with the new 406 engine after finishing seventh in our first race with the new powerplant. That first race was a rough one, and we were confident that was at least one reason why our engine rpm was not as high as we wanted. The car had maxed out at about 5,600 in that first race.
Going into the second race with the new 406, we stayed with the same gearing but knew that we were switching to the new Goodyear track tires required by Perris Auto Speedway (PAS) in California, and they were a full 2 inches shorter than our tires. We guessed that the combination of smaller tires and a smoother track would get us about 500 more rpm. We were right-the car ran at just above 6,000 rpm while in, as well as coming out of, the turns. This made for a much better drive through the turns and out of the turns.
The evening started out rather unusual, as Circle Track had scheduled a photo shoot for us with master photographer Scott Killeen at the track to produce a cover for the magazine. Photo shoots are always a bit strange. Reality is twisted to get just the right look for a split second. We worked it out with the PAS officials to shoot on the track right after hot laps. We had about 10 laps on the course to get the job done. It was a pressure-packed situation, but the results were fantastic.
At Perris, drivers don't go through qualifying every night. They simply draw a number out of a hat to assemble the field for the heat races. Many of you will relate to a problem we've been having for quite a while-we suck at drawing numbers. Every week we pull a 62 or a 58 or a 39 out of the hat and start at the back of the heat race. That makes it all that much tougher to get up to the top four to transfer into the main. It's even harder to get into the top two, which guarantees a top-eight starting position for the main event. The top two from each heat race draw numbers again to see who starts where. Well, this night we had incredible luck and drew No. 3 for the heat race. After finishing second, we got to draw for the main and pulled out No. 1. Wow, it feels good to be lucky! But the action on the track is what's really important, so let's get back to that.
We started the heat race on the outside of the front row, and driver Bob Carpenter squirted into the lead right away. He ran very smooth and clean for several laps. A bobble in the middle of a turn allowed another car to come up on the inside, and the two ended up driving door-to-door for about three laps. This made for exciting racing; it's always impressive to see two cars battle it out cleanly, with no dirty tricks. Bob ended up finishing second, extremely pleased with the way the car was running.
As you already know, we drew No. 1 out of the hat, so we started the main event on the pole. This was one of those rare times where we got a break to start up front when we felt that the car was really ready to go. Many times in the past, we drew the front row when we knew we were not competitive. Other times, we started in the back when the car was ready to win. But this time, everything was right.
Bob jumped at the green flag and flew into the lead in an instant. A yellow flag before the first lap was completed negated the effort, so he did exactly the same thing again. Bob looked strong and led for about three laps. Then David Gilliland passed him down the front straight and took over the lead.
A series of cautions gave Bob numerous restarts and chances to find a chink in the armor of Gilliland (David had won six of the last seven main events). Bob went up high on the restarts, dove down low on the restarts, hung back and accelerated to time it just right, and even tried following the exact line Gilliland took. The result was some exciting racing. Bob managed to get door-to-door with Gilliland several times and almost pulled it off. This is about the closest anyone has come to passing Gilliland in months. Bob ran second for the remainder of the race until, with two laps to go, he bobbled after hitting a big hole in the middle of a turn. Steve Stewart had been dogging Bob for quite a few laps, and when Bob bobbled, Stewart was positioned perfectly to get under the car and take over Second Place. With a lap and a half to go, there was no way to get the position back. Still, it was a great race with a lot of action.
The crowd seemed to love it too. There was a real buzz in the air with lots of cheering each time a pass was made or almost made. After the races, the crowd filtered into the pits, but we were not expecting the huge number of people crowding around. Bob commented that when we finished seventh, there were about five people who came by to see us. Now that we finished third (and a lot of people didn't even notice the pass and thought we finished second) there were about 30 people milling around.
We really soaked in the moment. Bob must have signed 30-40 autographs. We had about 10 kids sit in the car; their parents were taking photos. It was a blast. I mean, that feeling is exactly why we do this. You too?