Last month, Bob Bolles detailed a special test session of our Project Drit Late Model at Charlotte County Motorsports Park in Punta Gorda, Florida. The test, running our DLM on the paved 3/8 mile track, was in preparation for a special event on the United Drit Late Model Challenge Series schedule. This 15-race touring series visits nine tracks in three states (FL, AL, GA), tracks like Golden Isles Speedway, East Alabama Speedway and North Florida Speedway. But in mid-August the traveling show made a trek to South Florida for something a little different.

It's not unheard of to race Drit Late Models on pavement, and there have been a number of other series who have successfully done so. However, running a Drit Late Model on pavement takes a whole different approach to setting up the car. We spent the better part of that early July-afternoon test getting our setup correct, so we could come back to Charlotte County needing to do minimal work. It's a good thing, too, because we ran into a few hiccups along the way. Here's how the weekend went.

Bobby Clark and crew ran a local Friday night show at Ocala Speedway two weeks prior and had put our dirt setup in the car for that race. So, before heading to Charlotte County on Friday, we put the asphalt setup that we tested with back in the car. This was the same setup that appeared in the December issue of Circle Track. With the car scaled and freshly wrapped, thanks to the guys at Firestorm Graphix, we got to the track on Friday afternoon and pulled in next to Johnny Collins. That would turn out to be a good thing since Johnny's engine builder is George Pils from Southern Style Racing Engine, the same George Pils who freshened our engine up prior to the start of the season. We'll get to that in a minute.

The race was scheduled for Saturday night, but track owner Bobby Diehl runs an open practice every Friday night for his regulars and we took advantage. The car performed almost identically to our test. During our first test, we consistently ran 15.6 around CCMP, and that's what the stopwatch was showing again. There's something to be said for Bob's setup. The only problem was that Johnny Collins was clicking laps off in the 15.2 to 15.3 category. You could tell by looking that Collins had a good asphalt setup in his car. He was well balanced and could carry speed all the way around the track. There were other racers there who were hiking the left front and smoking the right rear. Predictably those dirt setups were slower than the asphalt setups. By the end of the practice session, we shaved off a few tenths and felt pretty good about our chances the following day.

With 22 Late Models, the day would consist of a morning practice session, then hot laps followed by a tire scuffing session. All of that preceded qualifying, two laps per car, to set the field and finally the 50-lap feature. The typical heat races were not going to be run. We had purchased two sets of tires for the testing and the race and mounted them on our 12 inch Aero wheels. The tires were old Hooters Pro Cup rubber from Goodyear, when that company supplied the series. Designed for 100- to 250-lap races, the hard compound meant that the tires could stand up well to our shorter event. We used one set for all of the testing (July and the night before the race). We planned to scuff the other set during hot laps.

Because of the previous night's practice, we only ran a handful of laps in the morning practice to give Bobby additional laps on CCMP's asphalt, a surface that he had never driven on, other than to get to the dirt tracks he has run in the past.

One thing that we learned during practice was that the car was fastest with about 3 inches (or 5 gallons) of fuel in the tank. If it had more fuel in the tank, it would be a little tight in the center of the corner. We calculated that we'd burn about 10-12 gallons over the course of the race. With that information in hand, our strategy had us starting the race heavy on fuel and the car would be just a tick tight. As the laps wound down and we burned off our Sunoco 112, the car would loosen up and be perfect with about 10-15 to go. So, we gassed up to nine inches before the green flag.

Another thing we learned in practice was that we were running hot, about 240 degrees. We you're done reading this article turn to page 64 to learn how we solved that problem.

After hot laps, Bobby came in with the tires scuffed and we were ready to go, at least that's what we thought. We popped open some water bottles and sat down to take a break, that's about the time we noticed oil leaking out of the transmission at an alarming rate. The drain plug on the side of the trans had backed its way out and was lost somewhere on the track. Naturally it's pretty hard to race without fluid in your trans and we had a problem. Bobby's dad hopped on a borrowed four-wheeler and scanned the track for the missing plug, to no avail. The track's parts shop didn't have the right size either. Just when we thought we were going to be sidelined by a $2.00 part, George Pils and Johnny Collins appeared with a spare plug (see why we were glad they parked next door?).

With that problem fixed, another one cropped up. When crew member Anthony Griffith did his pressure check on the tires after hot laps he found that the right rear had 9 pounds in it. That's not an unheard of number when racing on dirt, but on asphalt and considering that we started with 26, totally different story. It took all of about 45 seconds to find the cut once we took the tire off the car. Now comes decision time.

We had just seven usable tires; three scuffs and a complete matched set with about 125 laps on them. The older set still had plenty of tread depth on them so we elected to qualify and race on the older set. This decision actually turned out to be easy since in all of our tests and practices the car got consistently faster the more laps we put on the tires. Bob's balanced setup and Bobby's driving style turned out to be really easy on the rubber.

We figured that with 22 Drit Late Models on a 3/8 mile track, there were bound to be some caution flags, especially since many of these guys had never driven on asphalt before, our own Bobby Clark included. So, for qualifying we wanted to either be right at the front of the pack (so that the impending pileup would be behind us) or toward the back (so that we could see the wreck happen and drive through it). Luck of the draw, we would end up going out second to last and knew we had our work cut out for us. Collins went out and laid down a 15.22 second lap, with Dusty Cone setting fast time a couple of hundreths quicker.

Unfortunately, our qualifying run didn't go so well. "I did what very few drivers could ever do," explained Bobby. "I missed every one of my marks." Kidding aside, Bobby's 15.54 second lap was pretty good despite the missed marks. In fact, all but two of the drivers cracked the 16 second barrier. Even though we were only three tenths off of Collins' time, we would start 13th, smack in the middle of the pack. Oh well we thought, if we can avoid the wreck, our strategy should put us in a good position.

Charlotte County Motorsports Park owner/promoter Bobby Diehl and United Drit Late Model Challenge Series promoter Ken Kinney had the drivers pull their Late Models onto the front stretch for a special autograph session where the fans could walk down the front stretch and meet the drivers prior to the race. It was an odd scene to have a full field of Drit Late Models parked on pavement, but the fans loved it. After numerous autographs were signed and pictures taken, the fans were ushered back to their seats and the drivers prepared for battle.

With a roll of the dice, the first six qualifiers were inverted for the green flag. That put Collins on the inside of row two with Mark Whitener on the pole and Mike Bresnahan to the outside. When the green flag dropped, the field screamed off into Turn 1 in front of packed grandstands. The race would be over just 13 minutes and 28 seconds later with Collins in Victory Lane. Johnny Collins was so fast he had the lead well before the midpoint of the race, lapped everybody but the Top 5 cars and won by more than a quarter of a lap.

How'd we do? Eleventh, but the car did exactly what our strategy said it would do. Bobby started the race slightly tight and as the fuel burned off, the car came to him, getting faster and faster. Veteran asphalt driver Billy Bigley was at the race, timing us as well as others. He told us later that over the last 10 laps, Bobby was consistently faster than Collins. Unfortunately for our strategy, the race went off without a single caution. That's right. There wasn't a single yellow flag to keep the field bunched up, and Collins was able to walk away with the victory.

Had there been some cautions, the outcome of the race might have been different, but our qualifying spot and the lack of cautions kept the Circle Track Project DLM mired mid-pack.

After the race, the consensus through the pits and the grandstands was one of excitement and surprise.

"I would never have expected that many green-flag laps," Collins said later. "But I was glad to see it go green that long."

Collins' sentiments were echoed by Bobby. "That was a lot of fun, but if you told me before the race that we'd go caution free, I would have told you that you're crazy."

Runner-up Mike Bresnahan wanted to see a caution for one simple reason: "I'd have liked to see yellow to see if I had anything for him, but Johnny was awesome."

Bresnahan wasn't the only one hoping for a caution, Third- and Fourth-Place finishers Dusty Cone and Mark Whitener also desperately wanted one. But in the end, it never came.

We made a calculated gamble on our race strategy basing much of it on a combination of the inevitable cautions and the car getting faster as the race wore on. Well, we were 50 percent right.

We all still agree that it was the right thing to do and would do it again given the same situation. After all, no one, from Bobby Diehl down to the youngest kid in the grandstands, could have predicted that the race would go caution free.

Aside from the education of racing on asphalt which should help us in the upcoming races at Ocala Speedway (Bobby is going to explain that one in an article next month), the UDLMCS asphalt race at Charlotte County Motorsports Park proved one very valuable lesson: A good show will pack the grandstands.

"It was a great success without a doubt," says Diehl. "Let's face it, the first one you're going to have to please is the guy who pays the bills, which is your fan.

That philosophy is a big reason why the Drit Late Models wound up at CCMP (see the sidebar, page 24).

And Diehl's fans made it clear that they'll support Drit Late Models running at Charlotte County. "I'll tell you what, my fans have bugged me to death as to when the next one was going to be," says Diehl. "They want them back, they want them back now. There were fans coming up to me telling me how great the race was the moment the checkered flag flew. So, naturally, I started bugging Ken from the moment he walked out of the track that night."

The grandstands were full and the grassy hill between Turns 3 and 4 were stuffed with people, blankets and chairs. With that kind of success, Diehl and Kinney would be crazy not to have the series make a return trip.

"Obviously you've already got a schedule and you can't add a second asphalt race mid-year," explains Diehl. "But I said, 'Let's look at doing an off-season program, maybe over the winter. Nobody really races then anyway.' We're definitely going to run one next year. Right now, we're working on a winter show.

"Heck, if I had enough guys who wanted to do it on a monthly basis I'd have those races on a monthly basis and I'm not all so sure that I wouldn't have the roofs off of them. I thought watching that guy get up on the wheel of that 17 (Shan Smith) was just incredible." Smith showed up without his roof a la the Topless 100 racers up in Arkansas. He was the only one who did but was easily the fan favorite by the end of the night.

For the Circle Track Dirt Late Model Race Team, we learned a lot from racing on the asphalt. We learned that a good, well run show will put people in the stands even with gas at $4.00 per gallon. Bobby learned some new skills that he'll be applying to his dirt racing, which he'll tell you about in an upcoming article. The fans got to learn a little bit about Drit Late Models. And everybody on the team learned that the best planned strategy is still at the mercy of things you can't control; caution flags ... or the lack thereof.

Through the years, there have been a number of Drit Late Model races run on asphalt and the race at CCMP proved why. But just how did a racetrack, which only three years ago was completely flattened by Hurricane Charley, end up hosting a Drit Late Model race that made the cover of the largest motorsports magazine in the U.S.? By two guys helping each other out.

"I had a relationship with Ken (Kinney, United Dirt Late Model Challenge Series promoter) from when he ran FastTrucks," explains Bobby Deihl, Charlotte County Motorsports Park owner/promoter. "He had a race over at Clewiston last year and what happened was he got rained out. It rained hard there and he had his heart and soul put into that race. He called me that Saturday night asking if we had gotten rained out too."

As is typical in Florida in the summer, Diehl didn't see a drop of rain that night even though he is only about an hour and change away. "We were kind of just talking and Ken asked if there was any way we could help get some of our people in the grandstands over there for his makeup race."

Working together, they put a last minute deal out to the fans: any one who brought their CCMP ticket to Clewiston for the make-up race would get $5 off at the front gate. "It's like hello, tracks working with tracks," says Diehl. "He ended up having quite a few people coming over with that little promotion and he was somewhat successful despite the rainout."

Fast forward to a conversation later in the year. Diehl had a Dirt Sprint Series, the USA Dirt Sprints, that he actually ran on the asphalt at CCMP. "I said to Ken, 'What we do is run the Sprint Cars on dirt and on asphalt and I'd like to do the same thing with the late models.' Ken said, 'On your track? Would you put dirt on it?' I said no, you run them on asphalt like we do the Sprint Cars."

Diehl admits that his idea for the Late Models wasn't original at all. "They did it up in Georgia, I was there at South GA Motorsports Park when they were testing Drit Late Models on asphalt and it was just wild. I thought, 'How in the world are you supposed to jump in a Super Late Model in an asphalt environment and not kill yourself?'"

Intrigued by the prospect of racing his series on asphalt, Kinney told Diehl they would put the race on the schedule for 2008 and see how it worked.

"At that point, it was born, it was just that simple, one guy helping another guy," says Diehl.

SOURCE
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