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.

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.

From The People Who Lived It

By Rob Fisher

I've been coming to Daytona International Speedway for a long time. It all started in 1976, I was 7 years old and during a summer trip to Disney World, my dad got tickets to the Firecracker 400. Needless to say, I was hooked. For that 7-year-old kid, who had spent many Saturday nights at Wall Stadium our local short track back home in New Jersey, that 2.5-mile monster was a whole new level. Three years later he got tickets to the Daytona 500 and my first Speedweeks was punctuated by the now famous fight between the Allisons and Cale Yarbrough. We've been going to Speedweeks ever since. So when NASCAR announced that it was going to run short track cars on the backstretch I couldn't wait to dust off one of our project cars and tow up the road to the “World Center of Racing.”

I think I can safely say that a lot of asphalt racers dream of running at Daytona and while we didn't race on the big track—this event was still at Daytona and it was still on that same asphalt that Petty, Lund, Earnhardt, and others raced. With that said all of Team Circle Track was anxious and excited to be involved in the event.

Over the years, both CT teams have raced a lot and experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly. And like most multi-day events this one had a little bit of everything.

The Good

The idea was fantastic…get a variety of asphalt race cars to convene on one of the most storied tracks in America for two solid days of racing! It was sheer promotional brilliance…had the track been a little shorter (I'll get to that in a minute) I think you would have had an unbelievable and much cleaner show.

At least with the Super Late Model race there were so many cars from so many different areas of the country that creating a uniform rules package seemed to be a bit of a challenge. That said, I thought NASCAR handled it extremely well. I don't think anybody felt particularly outclassed by any other group.

The Bad

I would have liked to have seen more local promotion to get more people into the grandstands for the races. The track had/has a gem in the making here but I don't recall seeing a lot of local ads or incentives to come out an see the event. As a Florida residents, I think I would have seen the advertising if it were there.

The best crowd was by far the Modified race. No offense to the K&N Series, but make the Mods the marquee division next year.

The Ugly

In our heat race in the first turn on the first lap, car No. 30 driver Dalton Zehr got put to the back of the pack for stopping on the track to avoid a crash. Fast forward to the finish of the race when Kyle Larson intentionally dumps C.E.Faulk to take the win, destroying his car in the process, however, he is allowed to keep the win and the money. I'm not whining, but come on...how about a little consistency in the officiating department?

Speaking of destroying cars there were a lot of torn up race cars by the end of the Battle at the Beach. And while some of the drivers, like Larson, who can afford to wreck cars, others like Danny Bonn, the Modified driver who ended up on his roof, have only one engine and one car. Leaving Daytona, Bonn's entire season was in jeopardy and he had nothing to show for it except for some cool highlight reels. Not to be redundant if anybody else makes this observation, but the track was a little too long. Maybe shortening it by 200 feet or so will cut down on all of the wrecks. The cars, even the Super Late Models, were running into the corners so fast that the only way to really pass was to dive to the inside of somebody and punt them out of the way. Shortening the track would bring down that corner entry speed and make it potentially easier to pass.

By Bob Bolles

When I first heard about the UNOH Battle at the Beach races being planned for the backstretch at Daytona Int. Speedway, I immediately went to Google Earth to see if there was enough room to really create a race track in that area. I found that there was less than 150 feet of width from the outside to the inside wall. That would make the turns very tight.

To get the length, the track had to make fairly long straights, so I envisioned two dragstrips with a tight turn-around at each end. This was not a very good scenario and would require a somewhat different setup in many areas of the car.

All in all, I think once the racers got used to the track, their instincts took over and most adapted well. I can truly say that these were indeed exciting races for what they were and the fans who came out got their money's worth.

The finishes were not the prettiest I've ever seen and a few of the winners should have been disqualified for the way they accomplished their last lap passes, especially in the Late Model race where the leader was hit, loosened up and then driven through in order for the second place car to get the win.

I would have thrown the checkered and black flag at the same time on the “winning” car. That's just my opinion. I'm not thrilled with that kind of enthusiasm. NASCAR should have taken the high road and made a quick determination that would have saved the crowd all of that booing. That being said, all of the races were more than I would have expected with lots of passing and racing throughout the field in all of the races.

Should they do it again? I'm not sure. As for the track and the exposure they get, yes. As for NASCAR putting on a short track race during Speedweeks, maybe it should be moved to New Smyrna Speedway that is now a NASCAR sanctioned track, so that the teams already running there do not have to make the move north to DIS.

By Pete Epple

I didn't really know what to expect when I heard NASCAR was making a short track on the back straight at Daytona. The thought of Late Models and Modifieds on such a grand stage (the most elite drivers, TV coverage, big fields) was extremely exciting. When I found out that Circle Track was going to field a car, the excitement level went through the roof.

I started reading as much about the track and rules (or lack there of) as soon the decision to build a car was made. We had to follow the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model rules, and a small addendum (about 20 rule changes) was released for crate engines, carburetors, spoiler heights, and more. This and the on-the-fly rules changes during tech inspection were my biggest gripes with the event. Rules were not made readily available to non-NASCAR regulars and we had to ask a lot of simple questions for what was allowed or disallowed. Some parts on cars were considered “not legal” and they had to add weight before being allowed on track.

I'm not completely bashing the NASCAR officials. Bringing different types of cars together for one race is difficult enough. Figuring out how to tech them so everyone is equal is near impossible. But NASCAR seemed to make it work.

In the end, the action on track was as exciting as I expected. Beside the large amount of cautions, there was passing, rubbing, bumping, and a finish that would certainly have people talking. It was exciting, yet disappointing at the same time. The cars up front ran a clean hard race. That's not to say people weren't getting pushed around, but Kyle Larson's blatant dump of C.E. Falk coming to the stripe was not the way the first ever short track race at Daytona International Speedway should have been won. Larson should have been given the black flag and put to the back of the lead lap car for the finishing order. Especially considering the race was live on television. In my opinion, NASCAR screwed up.

All in all, it was a great way to kick off the racing season. Short track racing got some of the recognition it deserved, and a lot of Saturday night racers can now say they've raced at Daytona. If NASCAR decided to have this race again, I hope they learn from this year and give racers a more clear set of rules well before the race. I also hope they do the right thing in the event of another “exciting” finish like we had this year.

By Dalton Zehr

I had a good time running the UNOH Battle at the Beach races. It was a new experience in more ways then one. Running with NASCAR, a new track that no one has ever seen before, being televised, and to top it all off we were part of Daytona Speedweeks.

The car was a lot of fun to drive, although we caught some bad luck early in the qualifier race. Later in the main event, all the hard work that we had put into the car over the last two months was starting to pay off. We defiantly had a strong car, but unfortunately that is not always enough. I got tangled up in an early race caution that caused a lot of body damage. It slowed us down a bit, but did not take us out. We were able to continue battling our way toward the front to finish a respectable Eighth spot. All-in-all, I had a good time on Daytona's newest racing surface, and I look forward to getting the opportunity to do it again.

Special thanks to all the sponsors involved in making this possible—Circle Track magazine, Coleman Racing Products, AR Bodies, KT Engines, Wilwood Engineering, my dad Marty Zehr, Kenny Hellyer, Tim Elliot, Pete Epple, Bob Bolles, Rob Fisher, and Mandi Reiswitz. Thanks everyone!

By Adam Royle

The first time I thought about making the 1500-mile journey to Daytona was when I heard I made top 10 in the Whelen All-American Series season standings. The top 10 drivers were guaranteed a starting spot, so I figured why the hell not go and run at a track I only dreamed about racing at. The dream turned into reality when Mike Lemke helped spread the word that I could be a potential contender with my winning record in 2012. He got several sponsors lined up that made the change over from an Elko Speedway Super Late Model to a legal car for the UNOH Battle At The Beach. Circle Track and Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords magazines supplied the Ford crate motor, which made the motor building a lot less stressful. Another obstacle was adding the additional 360 pounds and making the percentages come out right. With all the other challenges we came across, we managed to get everything setup as perfect as we could without any practice until we made it to Daytona.

Daytona was a big disappointment because of my performance. This was due to all the problems that went mechanically wrong from the moment we hit the track. We tried everything we could to fix the problems, but never solved the mysteries that haunted us all weekend.

The track's oversized paperclip configuration led to caution after caution. This was due to straight-aways that were too long, which lead to dive-bombing into the corners and wrecked racecars. If I were to reconfigure the track for next year, I would just shorten the straight-aways for a better overall exciting race for fans and drivers.

On a positive note, my engine trouble may have been a blessing, because I believe I was the only car to leave Daytona with all the fenders still on. I have never seen so many tore up race cars in a single event. It could have been because of all the anticipation building up to the inaugural Battle at the Beach at Daytona.

After it all, the dream ended up being a nightmare. I just wish I could have been able to show my talent on the biggest stage for short track drivers in the nation. I hope they continue this new tradition because I want revenge!

Conclusion

If there is one thing that everybody involved was able to agree on is that if Daytona and NASCAR choose to hold the Battle at the Beach again next year, we will all be back. There is something about racing in February in Florida. Add the lure of Daytona into the mix and it becomes down right addictive. Plus, we think we know just what we need to get to the very front...and we're not telling.

SOURCE
Wilwood Engineering
4700 Calle Bolero
Camarillo
CA  93012
805-388-1188
http://www.wilwood.com
Coleman Racing Products
800-221-1851
http://www.colemanracing.com
KT Engine Development
384 Industrial CT
Concord
NC  28025
704-784-2610
www.ktenginedev.com
Al Kul Performance Radiators
1601 East 4th Street
Marshfield
WI  54449
715-387-4002
http://www.al-kul.com
ATL Racing Fuel Cells
45 Spear Road Industrial Park
Ramsey
NJ  07446
201-825-1400
http://www.atlfuelcells.com
Ultra Cool Brake Fans
720-690-7878
http://www.ultracoolbrakefans.co
m
AR Bodies
888-245-1468
http://www.arbodies.com
Zehr Racing
386-322-9734
http://www.daltonzehr.com/
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