Each February, Speedweeks invades central Florida. Many major touring series' seasons start during this time, including NASCAR's three top series. The prestige of running the Big Track has historically been reserved for NASCAR's Camping World, Nationwide, and Sprint Cup series, with the pinnacle event, the Daytona 500 capping off the week. This year, NASCAR made a major change, giving local racers from all over the country a chance to race on the famed superspeedway. Although these racers didn't get the chance to drive the full 2.5-mile track, they did get to tear up a specially designed 0.4-mile paperclip-style oval on the Super Stretch in the first ever UNOH Battle At The Beach.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Circle Track magazine. Coming into this milestone, the CT staff has thought hard to come up with many diverse ways to pay homage to the magazine that has become the bible for so many racers and crewmen all over the world. What better way to kick off a year of celebrating than by racing a project car at Daytona?
When the rules for the first ever UNOH Battle At The Beach started to trickle out, we started to piece together a plan for our car. At first we planned on using an older project that has been lying dormant. We thought this perimeter chassis from Hess Race Cars would be the perfect candidate for the Late Model race, until we found out that straight rail (offset) cars were going to be allowed in the race. With that bit of information, we turned to Marty and Dalton Zehr who you know from the Project G.R.E.E.N. Camaro project as well as other projects. They happened to have a Pathfinder chassis sitting in the shop, which one NASCAR official would call a Gene Coleman R&D car (Ed. note: It's not...really it's not...OK, maybe a little). After a few brief conversations, the ball was set into motion and the build was underway.
Over the last few months, you've read about the engine from KT Engines and the body from AR Bodies. As the race grew closer, we fought to get the car finished in time. With the race just days away, we turned our attention to a few loose ends, the biggest being brakes. The car already had brakes on it, but being the track was essentially two dragstrips and two tight u-turns, we needed brake pads that would not only survive, but give us tons of stopping power, even when heated past the point of failure for most braking systems. Wilwood Engineering came through in a huge way and supplied us with it's A-compound brake pads. These are what most Cup teams use at Martinsville, so we knew they would hold up for the 150-lap race.
Joining us in competition would be Adam Royle and his Royle Racing team, NASCAR's Minnesota State Champion. We lent them an engine for the race and they were kind enough to put Circle Track on the quarter-panels for the contest. So, we had two cars carrying the colors at this race.
Circle Track Magazine celebrates its 30th anniversary with a project car at Daytona. What
For Dalton, practice went well. The car felt strong, and we were consistently in the top 10 for speed, being as high as second on the board. When qualifying time came, our time checked in in the middle of the field. We qualified in the 19th spot, which meant we started the first heat race in the 10th position. After being involved in a first turn caution, we were put to the rear of the field and had to fight our way back. We finished the heat in 10th spot, which meant we started in 20th. As the race played out, we took some body damage in an early wreck, but the car was good all night. Dalton kept the wheels on it, avoided a lot of wrecks, and drove a smart race, slowly working his way into the top 10. With less than 10 laps to go, fuel mileage became as issue. Dalton's driving became very conservative in order to finish the race. In the end we crossed the stripe in Eighth place. The entire Circle Track team was very excited about our top 10 finish, but we couldn't have done it without the help of all the great companies involved (check them out in the source box at the end of the story).Adam, unfortunately, didn't fair as well, as you will read shortly.
Hopefully, this will become a tradition that NASCAR will continue for years to come. And if they do, Circle Track will be a part of it in the future. With a few tweaks, this could very well become one of the premier short track events in the country. Naturally, we have our opinions on what those tweaks need to be, so here they are.