Derrike Cope: History Relived in Darlington

If you’re around anything long enough, history will always repeat itself. This weekend in Darlington will be no exception. When NASCAR moved the track, “Too Tough To Tame” back to Labor Day weekend, the competitor’s embraced it with open arms, like parents whose children had come home from too long of an absence.

This weekend when the NASCAR Xfinity and Sprint Cup series take to the track there will be many cars with “throwback” paint schemes. Jeremy Clements will bring back his family paint scheme, “The Black Widow.” Austin Dillon & Ryan Newman will bring back the Piedmont Airlines scheme that Ricky Rudd won the first race for RCR in.

Of all these there will be only one driver throwing back to a scheme he ran. You have to be around a long time to be able to throwback to something you ran. In the world of NASCAR, it is practically impossible to be around the tracks and series that long. Competition is so great and the competitors so fierce, you have to love to race and be willing to put in long hours, sleep in the garage with the car, turn the wrenches yourself. Not many drivers still do that.

This special throwback paint scheme ran 25 years ago. It was such an iconic paint scheme that when toys came out for the movie, “Days of Thunder” this paint scheme was included. I know this because at 11 years old, I got that toy from Hardee’s restaurant. That was back when kid’s meals still had a toy worth playing with!

On the morning of February 18, 1990 at the age of 32, Derrike Cope likely never imagined he would be able to beat some of the best drivers in NASCAR history and win the Daytona 500.

“Here comes Derrike Cope down on the inside of Dale Earnhardt!”

Ned Jarrett’s first reaction was of total surprise after talking just seconds before about everyone wanting to improve position. That brief moment in time, less than 30 seconds, completely changed everything. Dale Earnhardt had a flat left rear tire. Few recall that Cope also had picked up a piece of debris and his tire would go flat a short time later, but not until he sealed his first win. The Daytona 500.

That race lives on whenever someone watches, “Days of Thunder.” Derrike’s day was truly that, a clap of thunder. The man from Spanaway, Washington went from young driver of the number 10 Purolator sponsored Whitcomb racing Chevy Lumina, to an instant star and people the world over heard the name, Derrike Cope, thunder through their television sets.

June 3, 1990 Derrike would again see Victory Lane in the Budweiser 500 at Dover Downs, Delaware. These wins forever cemented that red front, white back, checkered center and blue numbers paint scheme in pop culture.

September 3, 2016 at 3:30pm ET Derrike Cope will once again bring back this iconic paint scheme that he ran in 1990. The VFW SportsClips Help a Hero 200 will introduce new fans to a timeless paint scheme as one of the last of the gentlemen drivers takes to the track.

One of only 2 drivers to be entered into the 1990 Southern 500 who still race full time today, Derrike is the only man who can claim to throwback to his own former paint scheme.

Monday night, while working on the #70 Camaro for Darlington, Derrike took just a few moments from race preparations to reflect on this.

“I loved the color scheme that ran for those years! To be able to bring it back and drive it one more time is truly special for me. My wife encouraged me to do it and I am looking forward to sharing this throwback to a period in time that was so instrumental in my life with her. It is remarkable how recognizable it continues to be and we cannot wait to share it with a lot of race fans that never were able to see it run. My wife and I are excited to bring it back to Darlington this weekend.

To win in this sport is a goal, to win the “Daytona 500″ starts out as a dream, for some an unreachable one. That very special day, combined with enormous passion for this racing has provided longevity for me in this sport. Being one of only two left really is difficult to believe. I have been blessed to have raced alongside some of the greatest to have ever raced in this sport and who have made it what it is today! To still be a stable fixture in the sport and continue to drive is something that pleases me each and every day of my life.

Time goes by so fast, especially in this sport! 1990 feels like yesterday, I guess because of the magnitude of that life changing moment.

The reason I am still here is because I love this…
and I probably always will…
till the end.”

A man of action, a man who bridges the gap between so many years and so many fans, will once again sport the colors made famous by the last lap pass that put him in the history books as a Daytona 500 champion.

Derrike Cope drives The Derrike Cope Racing #70 Chevrolet Camaro in the NASCAR Xfinity Series sponsored by; To The Point Apparel, E-Hydrate, Ice-Frost, and Sammi’s Best.

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Road America, in the rear view

Silence fell over the track as the last hauler turned it’s wheels to home. Watching from atop the hill over the garage area I stood there with my father and a friend. The day was done, the race had been won. Drivers long gone, crews setting off to catch a plane to Michigan. Looking on, cigar held in his fingers my friend smiled and said, “My favorite time of the weekend…” All the hustle and bustle and work is done. Now, a few moments of relaxation.

I think my father, Mike, summed it up best when he told me early Sunday morning, “I should have known when that lady looked at you and said that you looked like ‘Couch Crew Chief’ that this wasn’t going to be a normal weekend.” That lady was none other than Nathalie from Ice-Frost, a friend I met through Derrike Cope Racing, a sponsor and all around amazing person. Attached to DCR, I call her the “James Brown of NASCAR” hardest working woman in the garage. She does everything and still has time for fans and friends and her business and the race team.

Thursday was setup for us and we somehow blew the brake line to the van, the one over the pumpkin. Friends had offered help and would have taken care of us, my father and I both worried still set out to get it repaired. We found B&D auto and truck body in Plymouth. They made time for us and got it replaced the same day without extra charge for emergency service like many would have charged. We will be eternally grateful to those guys for that.

Friday we met up with the amazing people of DCR and Nathalie early in the day. It was a meeting a long time coming and did not disappoint. We continued on, camera gear in one hand and Twitter-machine in the other. We worked through the garage and watched as the mechanics attended their machines as they came off the haulers. Continuing through the garage we were set to cook dinner for the gentlemen on the Richard Childress Racing Xfinity 3 team. As the hours clicked by we watched from turn 5 and the pits. We logged mile after mile back and forth.

That afternoon we set to cook a dinner of bratwurst on the grill for the team. The guys so busy barely had a chance to stop. While we got to meet Ty and Mike Dillon, I wished I had a chance to meet every member of the team. It’s not just owners and drivers and crew chiefs that make a team function, it is every individual. To those men working on the car, pushing it through tech inspection who only had a chance to “throw one down” while they worked, I applaud and thank you. Fans may not know how often this happens, but I bet it’s more often than you like.

While waitining by the grill I texted friends and tweeted. This resulted in a unique exchange where Brendan Gaughan on Twitter had told me I better come introduce myself. I’ve seen Brendan on occasion, he’s a great dude, so when I saw him just moments later I did just that and he had his big grin and trademark laugh.

After dinner there was NASCAR qualifying, a departure from the normal schedule, dad and I watched from the end of pit road as cars took the track. The day would be won by Alex Tagliani, but Michael McDowell took outside pole with Ty Dillon and Brendan Gaughan not far behind. The crews had only a few minutes to cover the cars before NASCAR closed the garage.

On the way out I saw Brendan again, I did have some words for him and said, “When you win this thing tomorrow, you owe turn 12 a burnout because you didn’t last time.” He laughed and explained he had felt bad but was so excited to win he had to get to Victory Lane! I was obviously joking and Brendan laughed and promised that when he won, he would give us fans in Turn 12 a burnout.

Cribbage was in full swing when I received a message and was asked if we would like to sit on a pit box. With rain impending I left the choice up to my dad. We had planned on sitting in Turn 12, Canada Corner, all year long. We had planned and packed for it. An offer to get dry, to be as close to the action as possible without going over the wall ourselves. My dad thought for a few short minutes and nodded his approval. Spirits lifted, we filled with anticipation.

Then the skies opened. Rain on race day. As I woke up I could only tweet, “Today’s race will be run in the rain…” The forecast was as sure as could be with 80% chance. Huddled under our E-Z up awning the choice was made for us, we would go to Plymouth for the third time this weekend to pick up coffee and breakfast. We stopped and picked up ponchos for the rain. We were set to weather the storm.

As we returned to the track and received word that garages didn’t open to 11am, we found ourselves watching SCCA Pro Trans Am from Turn 3. The van sheltered us as the rains kept coming, water streaked the windshield and then, at 10am the good Lord determined that the ground had seen enough water for the day. As the garages opened I set out in search of the 2 team, my guys.

At the beginning of the year I continued to tweet the team, but I had started to encourage the pit crew that services the 2 in Xfinity and the 3 in Cup. Having talked to Tyler Rader I knew they’d be there, the first one I picked out… Rader. A really big dude with a perfect beard tends to stand out! I watched for a moment, not wanting to interrupt the guys from their duties (which are many) I finally walked over and decided to introduce myself.

The guys were probably the best group of dudes I’ve met since I was in the Army, that level of camaraderie exists only amongst people who have lived together and worked together and fought together. You could see it was a brotherhood, like no other and for this day, I was welcomed in by them. Jason Pulver, Brian Bottlemy, Josh Shipplett, Sam Abney, Tyler Rader, and Doug who was substituting in for Justin Voss, injured at the last race.

The stories and the laughing continued the entire time my dad and I looked on as the team tended to the tires for the days event. Wet and dry slicks, all needed their lug nuts mounted and glued. As the team set out to their other duties we set out to locate the box we would be on.

After locating all of our favorite boxes (I have several favorite teams) I scouted each location. The box we would be on looked to be full already, not wanting to interfere I began to plead my case for my ideal location. Dad and I debated back and forth, finally I asked Pulver if he would mind if we took up residence in the empty box beside the 2 pit. He smiled and welcomed us aboard.

The team set up the box and set to stretching and practicing. Jason Pulver concentrated on hitting every lug nut, 5 on, 5 off. He practiced several times in an amazing display of timing and discipline. First without running the gun, them while running the gun. If you’ve never seen this close up and you get a chance, just watch. The men that do this are a special breed.

As we prepared for prerace ceremonies I saw someone I had not expected to see, the man who gives of himself without asking for reward or recognition. He started Pitstops for Hope, a charity to help underprivileged youth who may not have food. It has grown and grown. I have talked to Ray Wright for several years, so to meet him after all of this was a trip. He is the pit crew coach for RCR, his latest role in the organization and reviews stops with each crew after.

Shortly before the green flag, Jason Pulver looked at me and asked, “You’re going to Victory Lane with us, right?” My goofy ass with a crooked grin could only say, “If you’ll let us!” I then had to explain that Victory Lane was no longer across the track, it was in the center of the paddock. While I hoped to see Victory Lane the reality check came, Alex Tagliani was still on the pole.

As the race started and got underway the 2 was almost a half second slower than the 22. The guys on the wall were obviously anxious to see this improve. Before the race when I had told the guys we were going to win I was met with the quick response, “We need to!” The race developed slowly and saw the 2 team pull ahead after contact with the 22. The guys were intense, the excitement wasn’t just electric, it was infectious.

Each man has his own thing at these times. Some don’t want to jinx it by talking about winning, some only want to talk about winning, some just sit nervously, some look on intensely. To the man, the each do their thing. Looking on I was nervous, excited, heart broken when late race cautions came out. When guys said, “This doesn’t look good.” I replied, “Hey, we’re good!” I don’t know how often I said it, but it was multiple times. I don’t know if I was convincing them or convincing myself.

As the last lap ended I watched the pit crew, Austin’s crew… my crew… Celebrate. They jumped off the wall in excitement as Michael McDowell finally crested the hill the last time to the checkers. Tyler Rader had given him enough fuel. The tires had held up a late last lap charge from Brendan Gaughan.

As I headed to Victory Lane they shouted and asked for directions for where to celebrate. As soon as they saw it they took off, I marched on in tow. As I stepped up toward Victory Lane a NASCAR official stopped me. I watched with pride as Michael McDowell pulled the number 2 Rheem Chevy into Victory Lane. The crew shouted and cheered as he emerged from the car. Showered with Coke products and water, McDowell beamed, this win was a long time coming for a man described as, “the nicest guy in the garage.”

As celebration continued my dad asked what I wanted to do next, all I wanted to do was enjoy this moment as long as it lasted. As the celebration wound down and the guys walked back to pack up the pit box I started walking back in. I received the remainder of a bottle of Victory Lane champagne and given a Road America hat from the Victory Lane hat dance. I watched as they took down the box and then I turned to head down the garage. I congratulated Brendan on his race and watched as trucks were loaded.

On turning away I saw the number 70 of Derrike Cope racing, Nathalie and Elyshia there with the car. DCR had made all this possible. They had other VIPs and dad and I had entertained ourselves all weekend but I needed to know how they finished. Nathalie informed me they had finished 23rd, a season high for the small team that works day in and day out to compete. Before parting Nathalie and I got a few pictures together and I was reminded not to block the logos! I’m still a rookie!

Nathalie hooked us up with some Ice-Frost for our coolers, I received a message and was asked to join a friend atop the hill. After half an hour my father joined us. It’s moments like these that make it all worth it.

Now, the crew was focused on Michigan. It is obvious why, getting Austin Dillon locked in the Chase is priority. While the organization values Sunday’s over Saturday’s (and rightly so) I want the crew to know, to me… That day, those few hours in the pits, were the most important in NASCAR history. In those hours, I like to think I was with the team, part of the team. While I hope all you guys see many more wins on Saturday and Sunday, that was my first win. You only get one first win, that’s the most important win.

I know some may get tired of hearing it, but I don’t get tired of saying it…

 

Thank You.

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Road America: the Xfinity setup

Welcome to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Nestled in the Kettle Moraine State Forest and home of Road America. This 4.05 mile, 14 turn facility sees a total elevation change of 176 feet from the crest of turn one to the depth of turn twelve, also known as Canada Corner. Opened in 1955, NASCAR’s first race at the historic facility was held in 1956 which saw Tim Flock win the day. While the track hosted many SCCA events, Grand Am, ALMS, IMSA, IRL, CART, AMA Superbikes, and many other series events it did not see NASCAR return to the circuit until 2010 for the Bucyrus 200. Originally hosted in June, the event has been moved to August and shortened from 200 miles to 180 miles.

Turner Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing have each won the event twice, both back to back while Roush-Fenway and Penske have each prevailed once. Last year saw Wisconsin native, Paul Menard, win while the prior year it was Las Vegas’ Brendan Gaughan. Three of the six years the race has been extended into overtime and the track often sees a combination of strategies, including fuel mileage, which has bit competitors multiple times.

A typical trip around the track will start on the Road America straight, over a half mile (3,025′) uphill to turn 1, a near 90 degree right hand turn onto the short chute through the gentle right of turn 2 over the Briggs & Straton bridge. After a small downhill turn 3 is another right hand turn, tighter than 90 degrees and launches you down the third longest straight into the bends of turn 4. The Moraine Sweep is a gentle downhill bend to driver’s right that comes back on itself down into a fan favorite turn 5, a slow speed 90 degree left under heavy braking which often sees cars in the gravel and a prime passing opportunity. After making the hard left drivers charge uphill a short distance into turn 6, another heavy braking left 90 degree turn. Drivers work their way up through the gears through the 45 degree right of turn 7 into the “Hurry Downs” a near quarter mile downhill run into turn 8, yet another 90 degree left under heavy braking. Another fan favorite passing zone characterized by a large asphalt runoff and a pea gravel pit. Following the hard left drivers see a short run into the sweeping right turns 9 & 10, also known as the carousel. The Carousel features a 30′ drop, under throttle, and directs the cars into the Kink and Kettle Bottoms (the second longest “straight”), turns 11, 11A, and 11B… this section features a medium right turn, into a right-left-left-right bend into the famous turn 12, Canada Corner and into the eyes of MRN’s Tony Rizzuti. This 90 degree turn will see cars under heavy breaking from 180 mph to 60 mph and into one of the last and possibly the best passing zone with multiple lines through the turn. As drivers up shift and run into turn 13, Bill Mitchell bend, they will climb 35′ and take a short sweeping right-left hook and into the final 90 degree right of turn 14. Then it’s up the 100′ hill and back under the flag stand.

Pit Road starts to driver’s right on the uphill and runs three quarters of the distance of the front stretch. Wednesday night I had the pleasure to sit down with Tyler Rader, gasman for Austin Dillon in the Sprint Cup Series number 3 Dow Chemical Chevrolet SS and the Xfinity number 2 Rheem Chevrolet Camaro to talk about Road America’s unique pits.

CCC: What are the unique challenges of Road America’s pit road and how does it compare to others on the circuit?

Rader: The challenges are its the only week where Xfinity is doing backwards pit stops and we gotta go to Michigan and do straight up normal pit stops. As far as that goes we don’t focus too much on the Xfinity backwards stops because Michigan is such a pit friendly race track that there are gonna be some awesome times laid down by pit crews so you know we try to get ready and go for it at the Michigan Cup race and we kind of rely on our experiences and from 3 weeks ago when we were at Watkins Glen to make this stop happen.

CCC: At Road America you can’t see much, if any, of the race from the pits. Does this affect you & the team in any way?

Rader: It kinda sucks because it’s such an awesome racetrack and you know it’s really racey and they get after it. It’s high speeds but like you said, the only thing we see is them coming down the straightaway. As far as where you’re pitted, when they crest that hill you can’t see much at all there either. I wish you could see more of the racetrack from the pits; it would be a lot cooler.

CCC: Yeah, least year when I was in the pits I noticed everyone was watching the big board in turn 1...

Rader: Yeah, we rely a lot on spotters as far as cars on track and all of that.

CCC: I can only imagine in the headset it’s pretty crazy at Road America…

Rader: It was really cool when Brendan Gaughan won a few years ago on the rain tires & everything, that was a real exciting one to listen to.

CCC: I know the teams practice stops for road courses, with the car being “backwards” in the box, does this throw crews off anymore or is it really just a formality these days?

Rader: I think nowadays with the amount of veterans that are on pit road it’s kind of normal. Like I said we didn’t focus too much on it, we talked about it, in practices certain teams wanted to do a stop or two, they could if they wanted to but we’re trying to go to Michigan, trying to get in the Chase. That has to be our main focus.

CCC: Is there anything special you look forward to on the Wisconsin trip?

Rader: Man we always stop off at this beef jerky place and we get beef jerky and cheese curds, that’s the thing. The hauler drivers always have to get cheese curds. I’m from West Virginia, I’m new to them but they are good, I like them.

CCC: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Rader: As far as pit stops go, pit stops are slower at road courses, you’re waiting on fuel anyway… Road America you can make it on one stop? I’m not sure, but a lot of the road courses we go to you can make it on one stop in the Xfinity race, if you play your fuel strategy right. So a lot of times they might bust off a 13 second stop but you’re waiting on fuel for 14. So you just tell those guys lets get 5 lugs tight and wheels and race it out on the racetrack.

CCC: So it’s on your shoulders then to make sure fuel gets in as quick as possible?

Rader: Yeah, me and the jackman [Sam Abney] have to check off on each other.

CCC: Cause then typically the driver leaves on the jack, correct?

Rader: Yep. With the veterans we are going with, like Michael McDowell, a lot of these guys know that they can make it up on the track, anything we lose in the pit. We aren’t going in there to lose any time in the pits but they know that tank has to be full of fuel and lugs have to be tight.

(I want to take just a moment and say one last time, thank you to Ray Wright for setting this interview up and thank you to Tyler Rader for taking the time and allowing me this amazing interview. I would feel bad if I didn’t mention the charity these guys are so invested with, Pitstops For Hope. Check them out at http://www.pitstopsforhope.org  which is by far, my favorite charity. I look forward to meeting the crews this weekend. They really are amazing guys.)

On pit road the over the wall guys shine and there’s so many good crews that can gain positions in the pits and help their driver make up valuable seconds on the track.

Some notable drivers to watch for this weekend are the one-off road course racers, Alex Tagliani (22), Alon Day(13), and Owen Kelly(18). With backgrounds rooted in technical road courses these drivers look to upset the field as Tagliani nearly did (coming in second by only 0.82 seconds after marching forward from 25th) in 2014 when Brendan Gaughan won on rain tires.

Ty Dillon enters the race 4th overall in the points and looks to cement his place in the Xfinity series Chase with a win. With a 15th position average at Road America and 11th position career average at road courses I think Ty could easily come home top 10 given the history of RCR at Road America and the experience he has gained every week.

Michael McDowell will pilot the number 2 Rheem Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing and will be the only driver doing double duty at Michigan and Road America this weekend. McDowell nearly had the race won years ago until running out of fuel. With his background in road racing, McDowell could easily pilot the number 2 into Victory Lane with the help of his pit crew that also has to “do the double” at Michigan as Tyler Rader spoke about.

Ryan Sieg and Justin Marks both have had solid finishes at the 4 mile circuit and Marks comes off his win at Mid-Ohio just a few weeks ago. These drivers look to make their presence known and will likely be near the front sometime during the race.

Another of the young independents to watch for at Road America this year will be Jeremy Clements, driver of the number 51 Repairable Vehicles Chevrolet Camaro. Coming off a 6th place finish at Bristol, Jeremy holds a 23rd place average in all his starts at Road America and a 17th place average over the last 2 years. With his history of finishing races, Jeremy could easily see another top 20 this weekend, if he manages to stay out of trouble he could achieve a top 15 with the attrition wars throughout the race.

Finally, Wisconsin’s own, Paige Decker is entered in the 97 Vroom Brands Obaika Racing Chevy Camaro. Having finished 31st at Iowa, she looks to post a new career best this weekend. Having made a start in the Mid-American Stock Car Series in 2010 at Road America she has experience at the track. Decker could easily see top 30 or better if she is able to avoid incidents.

I will be in attendance with Derrike Cope Racing throughout the weekend, I look forward to the experience as Timmy Hill will pilot the number 70. I will try to update from the track, if there is anything you wish to see or know, feel free to send me a tweet @couchcrewchief and I will try to help! My father and I have camped at the track since NASCAR started visiting, we will be down in the carousel for camping and in Turn 12, Canada Corner, for the races. Also running this weekend is the SCCA Trans Am Pro series which always results in an amazing series of races. Ty Dillon has driven in the series in a Camaro and savvy Twitter followers may have noticed Brendan Gaughan talking about the possibility of competing this year.

Best place for food will be “The Gear Box” in the paddock and St. John the Baptist located by the pedestrian tunnel in the garage area, they have the biggest and best ice cream cones. Turn 8/carousel has a great stand with full food and also has the best showers around.

The forecast for the weekend has looked good, however recent developments are showing possible rain (20% chance as of the writing of this article) on Saturday for the race. We could see another deluge like Mid-Ohio or a light mist like a few years ago or even a downpour of sunshine. One thing is for sure, we will race on Saturday. I will be cheering on Ty Dillon, Brendan Gaughan, Michael McDowell, Brandon Jones, and Timmy Hill in hopes that one can bring home the checkers.

I hope to see you there in the box!

 

Michigan II setup

After an extended stay in Bristol, Tn that saw Austin win on Friday and finish a career best of 4th on Sunday evening we will be heading to Brooklyn, Michigan. Home of the super fast 2 mile speedway. It’s wide surface and sweeping turns allow for multiple groove racing.

In trucks Austin has a 13th place average, a 15th place average in Xfinity, and a 17th average in Cup. With a career average of 15th you might not think this is a track the team is looking forward to. You would be wrong. They have this thing double circled in red. After a great Pocono race and new equipment being majorly upgraded out of the shop, Austin looks to have possibly his best finish ever.

2016 has seen Austin take home 4 top 5’s, 10 top 10’s, a pole, and 7 laps lead already. With the team excited for Michigan, I think we have something to look forward to.  I am forced to use my standard algorithm and project an 11th place finish. This isn’t far off given that Austin is averaging a start of 14th and an average of 15th for a finish throughout the year. Given his 4 position above career average overall, the math says what it says… 11th.

Slugger after Pocono was excited for this race. Coming off an amazing Bristol weekend the team should be crazy excited. While we are on Bristol, I want to give another shoutout to the families of the crew who sacrificed time with their loved ones so we race fans can enjoy the race. The crew guys give up so many hours and miss so much at home, we have to remember to keep saying thank you. If not for them, Austin cannot wheel his car. The first win, which could come this week… Is for them. They deserve it. It’ll be great for everyone, once Austin gets his first win I expect him to rattle off several. When Slugger is excited for a track, that means we can look for a great run.

Freddy and Marty and all the people on their teams in the shop are cranking out hot rods and you can see it throughout the organization. So let’s get ready for some trophies!

Finally, a big “Thank You” to Brad Robison who filled in after Justin Voss went down with a leg injury. We wish Voss a fast recovery and hope to see him return soon. Look for my special home track preview this week, “Road America: the Xfinity setup”. I will be in attendance there and in the garage Friday, turn 12 Saturday. Make sure you follow @DCopeRacing as I help them with some on site updates and watch right here for some special photos of the RCR teams as they tackle the 4 mile monster.

See you in the box!

Bristol Nights Setup

ITS BRISTOL BABY!

Welcome back to the high speed blender that thinks it is a racetrack. After a week off following a rough and rugged Watkins Glen, Austin Dillon looks to find Victory Lane and seal his place in the Chase. Quick math gives him a career average of 16th here and with 4 positions averaged above his usual finish I am projecting 12th place… But…

Take that and throw it all out the window! Like your iPhone, Bristol has another update! Wooooo! Version 2.3 is in place. They have polished the bottom lane and run a tire machine through it to grind rubber deep into the surface. Will it be a top groove track like in past years? Will it be the bottom groove like years gone by?

We don’t know. Nobody knows for sure. Will it return to the multiple groove racing? Let’s just say, the 3 team is ready. The car and driver and crew are rested, relaxed, unwound, and it is time to ROCK!

The off week, eventful at Mid-Ohio, but even more eventful for Austin and Whitney who are now engaged.  The closer Austin gets to Whitney, the closer he gets to Victory Lane. Whitney just had a birthday so the stars are all lined up and ready. If there’s a weekend to shine, it is this weekend.

However, it all comes down to Austin in the car. This is a track that you cannot take any crap from anyone. Watkins Glen was a track like that, Bristol, even more so. It’s time to get mean, mad dog mean. If Austin wants to win, he’s going to have to ruffle some feathers. It’s that time, time to dig in, so go get it!

See you in the box.

 

P.S. Congratulations again to the happy couple and Happy Birthday, Whitney. It’s these days that make it all worth it.

In Passing

Friends, I’ll be honest, I don’t know exactly where to start. If you are hurting or mad or upset or confused in your feelings today, this article is not for you, not now. Words do not make this easier or better. Only time and mourning and love can do that. This is a harsh reality article and if you bow out, I applaud you and take no offense.

Let me start by saying that though I did not know Bryan Clauson, my prayers are with his family, his friends, and all those that did know him. It is hard to see one of our heroes pass in such a tragic way, yet… I’m positive he lived a good life and his passing was while doing what he loved, may we all be so lucky.

Motorsports will never be safe, only safer than it was before. For every tragedy the sport learns something. The window net, the Earnhardt bar, the roof flaps, the HANS device, the SAFER barrier. All of these innovations come from tragedies. Crumple zones on your passenger car, come from these tragedies. Though I wish we did not need tragedies for these advancements, necessity is the mother of innovation. My great hope is that from his passing, Bryan saves many lives.

It was only two weeks ago that Brad Keselowski posted on Twitter that as a race car driver he knows, understands, and accepts the associated risks. I believe that all drivers echo this sentiment. If they do not, they probably should not be on the track. Racing is a passion, and with passion comes many things which include the acceptance of the good… and the bad. You accept the accolades and consequences of doing what you love.

Other sports may be considered safe, others not as much. Our sport, is not and never will be so we have to learn from our missteps and misfortunes and hope that they lead to a safer and better sport. If we allow ourselves to become scared or afraid, Motorsports will not survive. If we become callous and ignorant of these events, Motorsports will not survive. We walk a fine line; drivers, crews, sponsors, owners, promoters, and fans.

As we walk this fine line it is important that all involved learn the most they can and do the best we can as a community to get through these tough days. While I have no answers today for those affected and I have no answers on how to make the sport better and safer and less tragic, I do have an answer for myself and I believe it is time to share that with everyone. That’s why I write this today.

I tell you all something I have told my family and friends, something personal, something that isn’t easy to talk about. In passing, in the event that I pass while I am at the track, do not mourn for me too long. I was following my passion. If I pass at the track because of some crazy event that involves a car, know that I was happy. I want to be close to the action. I want to see it and feel it and smell it and taste it. It is my choice to go, it is my choice to get as close as I can, it is my choice to follow my passion as far as event staff will let me. My simple rule at a race is to keep going forward until I’m finally told I can go no further.

My first race at Road America I found a place behind the carousel that was not fenced off, I was able to walk right up to the wall and take pictures, I did it again and again. Finally my brother-in-law told me, “You were so close you could touch those cars.” It wasn’t until I checked the pictures that I realized there had been a Porsche right next to the wall, in the grass, as I had my body craned over the wall for pictures, I was oblivious looking through the camera lense. I tell you this because I accept the fact that I pushed the boundaries of safety. I did it because I wanted to and I tell you because if something should happen to me, I don’t want anyone to fault the sport or drivers, no lawsuits. I accept the responsibility. I accept the consequences. My love for this sport trumps common sense sometimes, that’s my fault.

My point in all of this, as we go forward, as we go to the next race in whichever role, we all have to be willing to accept these facts, we all are responsible for our choices. Drivers drive and accept the harsh reality, as fans we have to accept harsh reality too. Hold your families tight and mourn passing a in your own way, but in the end, I hope we can all be so lucky to pass doing what we love, in whatever form.

 

I’ll see you in the box.

 

P.S. That spot at Road America is fenced off now, I like to think its not because of me, but there’s a chance it is. I’m ok with that, I have other places to take photos.

So, what’d you think of that race…

Those who have read most of my writing will likely know about my grandfather. My grandfather was a good man and the reason I watch racing. Anytime you went over to visit and talk as conversation would go you’d eventually wind up talking about stuff that either he didn’t know about or didn’t want to talk about, for whatever the reason. These times he would lol and smile and with a glint in his eye he would say, “So Jonathan, what a- what’d you think of that race?”

Its been a few years since my grandpa Lester passed and I miss those talks… So, grandpa, here is one for you…

Today’s race, well she was a road course race and I know you don’t care for them, it’s not really NASCAR racing. Today’s race, she was a good one though. A good finish though it wasn’t our RCR team and it wasn’t our 3 team, but let me tell you grandpa, that 3 team… Man it’s good.

We got wrecked early and I was afraid our day was done, but those guys put her back together. Now, it wasn’t fast as could be but Austin was able to limp her around for a good points day. Now, I know that don’t always mean much but we both know all you gotta do is make the Chase, grandpa. We aren’t locked in yet and that 3 team got some work to do but let me tell you about these guys…

Grandpa you wouldn’t believe it. A car that most would’ve given up on and packed up, they pieced her together! Slugger had them cutting and welding and pulling and rebuilding. These guys had everything ready, man… They could’ve quit and we all would’ve said, “Not much you can do with that.” These guys, they only lost 4 laps. Four laps!!!

Grandpa, I think they’re gonna win soon, this old 3 team that we cheered on for years, it’s back. Austin may not be Dale Earnhardt but he has something Dale didn’t, Austin has patience and Austin knows you gotta find ways to finish the race. I miss Dale and sometimes I wish Austin was a little more aggressive like Dale, but Austin doesn’t get DNFs and that is amazing itself. The team refuses to fail, they refuse to not finish, they refuse to say, “Good enough for today.”

Grandpa, remember when Dale got paired with Mike Skinner and they always found ways to get in each other’s way? Well, ain’t much changed. Haha! But the teammates are better and they are running good and we both know that’s good for Richard and what’s good for Richard is good for Austin cause they all get better together. Today they didn’t get in each other’s way, but they have this year. That just means every part of the team is good. We are gonna win soon I think, least ways, one of the teams is.

Oh and Grandpa, that crazy ass kid from Mississippi that we watched for years, the one he always threw interceptions… Well, he’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame finally. Just thought you’d wanna know… and Richard, well he’s in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It’s been a great year so far. The Packers play tonight and I know you’ll be watching that just like you watched the race today….

What’d you think of the race?