ARCA Rookie Chase Mattioli gets sideways while battling for the lead with fellow rookie Ri
They say home is where the heart is. I found this saying to be undoubtedly true in early August when I went home to race at my family's track, Pocono International Raceway.
Growing up at the track, I made many wonderful memories. It was at Pocono that I had my first job, (picking up cigarette butts by hand after a Winston Cup race.) It was there that I started my racing career on the dirt at the Lehigh Valley Quarter Midget Club, which rests right outside Turn 3 of the raceway.
My greatest and most early memory of Pocono has to be my first laps around the track at 5 years old, sitting on my grandfather's lap as he rounded the turns in his old Chevy Astro van. Little did I know then that I would one day grow up to take those same turns about 150 mph faster.
By the way, he saved it. Nice piece of driving. Photo by Chris Gardner
Now I'm an eighteen-year-old rookie in the ARCA RE/MAX Series and the NASCAR Camping World Series. I'm trying to balance a racing career with an academic one, starting my freshmen year of college at Fordham University in New York City by the time you read this. I'm also getting a chance to write for the premiere motorsports magazine in the country.
While I enjoy my life away from the track, there is nothing better than strapping in for practice Friday morning, and that's where I'm headed with this story. ARCA made its return trip to Pocono in early August, and Circle Track asked me to chronicle my weekend in the hopes that you may learn something from my experience.
As I stated earlier, there is nothing better than strapping in for practice. Practice is everything to a rookie driver like myself, and something my team and I don't waste. Regardless of the track, I always begin my first practice session the same way. First I go out on the track with a tight setup on scuff tires for three shakedown laps. The scuff tires are usually tires that are worn in from a few laps at a previous race. Since these tires have less grip then a set of new ones, they give me a better idea of how the car will handle during the race. These tires as well as a tight setup help me to drive a track under the worst handling conditions. Experiencing the bad makes it easier for me to drive the car under good handling conditions.
Mattioli uses a set of scuffs like this one during practice to get a better idea of how th
During my shakedown laps, I make sure everything is hooked up and fully functional on the car while going about three-quarter speed. I do this to get a better view of the line and condition of the track (which helps since this season I am seeing all of these tracks for the first time.)
After the shakedown laps, Team Liquid Fence and I go to work on perfecting our car for the race. We don't spend a lot of time on qualifying, other than doing a mock run at the end our session. That may sound a bit odd, but being a rookie team, our focus is on getting the car as good as possible for the race. Qualifying on the pole isn't as important as getting into the race and focusing all of our practice time on race setup.
Even so, as a new driver, qualifying continues to be something that I learn more about every time I get to do it. What I've learned is that to get on the pole you have to drive like a kamikaze, literally. You have to drive the car to the brink of wrecking it-but not. As fun as this might seem (or crazy to some), qualifying on the pole is something that young drivers needn't focus on. As my car owner and mentor Andy Hillenburg would say, "It's more important to race for two hundred laps than to wreck it on one."