Our Late Model stock car project has been an opportunity to apply much of the technology that we preach in the pages of Circle Track to a real race car. The culmination of that effort is to actually race the car. So we put together a plan to travel to North Carolina and race the car to see if all of our hard work has paid off. The results were amazing.
We had been planning our trip since we tested the car in Orlando at the SpeedWorld track. My idea had always been to have Dalton Zehr drive the car at tracks around Mooresville, North Carolina, and also to find a local driver from that neighborhood to drive it, too. I had been talking to my longtime friend Brian Wheeler, who is from the Daytona Beach area and now a part of the Evernham Motorsports Nextel Cup group. He hooked us up with Willy Evernham Jr. The pairing of these two young drivers was perfect.
To start out, Dalton and Willy are both young, up-and-coming drivers who are about the same age and identical in size, which helps a lot when switching back and forth in testing and between races. Neither one had a lot of experience in these cars. Dalton had never raced one nor even been to the racetrack where he would race.
The two teams hit it off from the very start. Both crews worked together on the car at the Late Model shop run by Evernham Motorsports. We had to remove about a hundred pounds of weight from the car and then set the ride heights and weight distribution on the surface plate. Willy and crew had all of the necessary equipment and the operation went very smoothly. Willy's crew chief, Sebastian "Ski" Skierski, took charge and made short work of preparing the car to our specs.
Dalton jokes with Willy about...
Dalton jokes with Willy about the two fresh tire donuts he found on the car after the Hickory race. Both drivers ran extremely well given their lack of experience in this car.
Willy and crew prepare to...
Willy and crew prepare to weigh the car. We were fortunate to combine our team with theirs. We arrived the day before so we could go over the car, adjust ride heights, and so forth in preparation for a Friday night race at Tri-County Motor Speedway.
The crew works to remove 100...
The crew works to remove 100 pounds of lead and re-weigh the car in Willy's Mooresville, North Carolina, race shop. The level Cup-style surface plate made the job quick and accurate. I was happy about the work habits exhibited by the Evernham crew. Ski had a routine for every part of the setup and was very meticulous.
The two tracks we chose were Tri-County Motor Speedway in Hudson, North Carolina, just outside Hickory, and Hickory Speedway in Hickory. Both provide great racing action and the competition level is very high. We had a NASCAR-legal Late Model stock car that is indigenous to the mid-Atlantic region, which draws drivers from North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, and Tennessee.
These two tracks are legendary in their history of operation. Hickory is a very early NASCAR track where the legends who helped make NASCAR such a success competed. We were thrilled to be in this neighborhood to say the least. We found, to our liking, that outside teams are readily accepted.
Tim Southers runs the program at Tri-County while Sherry Clifton operates Hickory. Both were very hospitable in welcoming the CT crews to their tracks. We have to say that you will definitely find straight-up tech and mostly caution-free racing at these tracks because the tech officials uphold the rules and the drivers respect one another. It was somewhat different from the racing we usually see in some other parts of the country, where a 50-lap race can take over an hour due to numerous cautions for overzealous driving. Anyway, here's how it went.
TRI-COUNTY MOTOR SPEEDWAY
We all decided it was probably best to let Dalton run the car Friday night at Tri-County, which was offering twin 50-lap races, and let Willy run Saturday night at Hickory, where he has a lot of past experience. The Tri-County track offers an early practice session from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the day of the race and then a regular practice at around 6 p.m.
Both drivers ran the car in the early session and liked what they felt. The track was obviously hot and slick, a common occurrence in the summer there, and we had to drop the Panhard bar half an inch to reduce wheelspin off the corners. We would raise it back up for the later practice and the race.
The cars that would eventually qualify first and second for the races were there at the early practice. So we could compare our times to theirs. We were within less than half a second in lap times on old tires, so we felt good about our chances of running well once Dalton had a chance to settle in and get some practice laps under his belt.