France Family; Just Sell It

The rumors have cycled for months now that the France family has been looking to sell the controlling interest of NASCAR. While many see this as the end of NASCAR and the last people getting off the ship before it sinks, I see it differently. This can be a blessing in disguise.

Since Brian France took over the reigns of NASCAR it has, undoubtedly, taken a step back. Between the constant changes to the points championship system to the unbelievably disastrous Generation 5 body, the low attendance numbers, and the alienation of the long time fans, NASCAR has miscued over and over. Television ratings are at an all time low and attendance doesn’t seem to be coming back, because NASCAR has lost its way.

Lets just start with the conflict of interests. Multiple members of the France family belong to ISC which owns 12 of the tracks NASCAR runs on. These tracks have long time contracts, so they don’t have to do anything. I mean, they are family, would you require your family to do their best if you could afford not to? Heck NO! They do not have to worry about their venues, they do not have to try to grow the sport. They have the contracts and just sit there happily, unwavering in their attempts to bring in fans. Such things as, walking around and asking why fans are not coming. believe it or not, you have to work at it a little bit.

Secondly, Brian France and NASCAR took the money away from the competition. It use to be that the television contracts were affordable enough that there were few commercial interruptions, you could watch a race on regular network television and follow the majority of the season. This meant fans had a vested interest in the season outcome. Now fans watch commercials with race interruption. A near 2 to 1 ratio of viewing time. For every two minutes spent watching the on tracks action, you can expect a minute of commercials. Networks had to pay through the nose for the television contracts so they have to cram every advertiser in. If NASCAR and the France family took less money, you would have less commercial interruption. This means the advertisers would again back the teams. There are cars on track and every one of them is a rolling billboard advertisement. Now teams can afford to race again! It is such a crazy idea, it might just work! Like it did circa 1998.

A new owner may bring fresh perspective to the sport. New ownership may realize that the world has changed and you cannot command everyone and everything under the sun. You need others, just like they need you. NASCAR just purchased ARCA and it shows how much NASCAR needs that lower series. If NASCAR had let ARCA go the way of the dinosaur, the writing was on the wall, it would signify that stock car racing in America was quickly coming to an end. NASCAR needs the little brother to push it to be better. NASCAR needs ARCA to help find new talent. rather than let ARCA fold, NASCAR in one of the few good moves, saved ARCA and bought the small series. But I wonder how long before ARCA just replaces the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck series.

One of the other benefits of possible new ownership is that maybe the new owner(s) might actually care about the sport! You see it in every industry. Someone builds a company from ground up. They love it and care for it and take care of it, nurture it so they can give it to their children. Then, the children having only seen it as work and a means to amass wealth, don’t really, truly care about it. So they run it until the company flounders and then they sell it for whatever they can get and glide away on their golden parachute. Sound familiar?

Motorsports, as a whole, need people who love it and understand it. Motorsports, especially NASCAR, are losing money and the only way to save it is to find people who want to love it, they want to live it. Make no mistake, racing is a lifestyle and not for the faint of heart. We need people who aren’t in it for the money, we need people who have dreamed of this for their entire life. From the top all the way down to the lowest team members in the shops have to love this more than they love money. Racing is a “Pay-to-Play” sport. The quickest way to make a million dollars in racing is to start with a billion dollars and hope for the best.

NASCAR has been trying to bring in a new generation of fans, to entertain millennials. Engage them. In all honesty, you never had to do this. You didn’t have to make the changes. But since you alienated your fan base, now you have to find a new one! If you maintain the fans you have and listen to them, give them what they want, they will bring others into the sport! IndyCar and F1 are great examples of this. Look at Formula E right now. It makes people curious. People are interested enough to tune in and say, “What have we got here? Sounds like remote control cars.” Maybe, hopefully, new ownership will understand that if you build a good product, people will come. They will tune in.

The worst thing NASCAR could have done is to make the Fan Council. Because they got a lot of casual fans, fans that would watch here and there. NASCAR gave more weight to them thinking that, “If we do what they want, they will watch more.” NO! That’s not how this works. Fans, for the most part, do not know what they want other than close racing that makes for a lot of crashes.

Then NASCAR wants to listen to the owners who want to save money. Then they want to listen to the drivers who want everything to be equal. None of this makes for good racing. If, as an owner, you don’t want to spend money… don’t. Drivers, you want everything to be equal, fine… the Mazda MX-5 Cup series is there for you and provides great spec racing. That is not NASCAR and should not be.

“There’s nothing stock about a stock car.” Yes, we all remember the line from, “Days of Thunder” and it is the harsh truth. This is the top form of motorsports in America, if you want to step up to this, be ready to test, be ready to spend some money, be ready to work, and you better love the sport. That is the way it was and that is what new ownership needs to say.

The France family shopping NASCAR around for a new owner is not the death of the sport, in fact, it is probably the salvation we need.

 

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…see you in the box…

4 Wide Nationals

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In a last minute decision I decided to attend the NHRA 4 Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway in Concord, NC. Arriving early I was treated to watch all the cars get unloaded. By far one of the coolest things. The cars come out and are either assembled or disassembled. Crews work on the motors and clutch plates. Some will strip the body off and attend to different parts of the chassis.

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The gates opened about 5 hours before the first qualifying session of the day for Pro Stock motorcycles & cars, Top Fuel Dragsters and Funny Cars. You can put on mile after mile just looking at all the cars. There are cars from junior dragsters all the way up to Top Fuel Funny Car. There are hundreds and hundreds of cars which most never see on TV. Most everyone is doing the same thing. All the while, There are cars on the track, you hear run after run, after run.

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While most of us only watch the “Big Boys” the NHRA hosts a variety of other classes, including Top Alcohol Dragsters and Funny Cars, as well as other stock mods. There are drivers like Leah Pritchett who will run in lower series too. There are also bracket races and target ET races. The long and short of it, unless you go to an NHRA event, you miss out on some amazing drag racing. Also, you miss one hell of a car show!

The lower series however, do not use all 4 lanes at the 4 Wide Nationals, usually. Most of the time, they use Lanes 1/2 or Lanes 3/4. While one set of lanes is in use they clean and prep the other set. The first chance to see true 4 wide is Pro Stock motorcycle.

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If you insist on experiencing the 4 Wide Nationals without earplugs, this is where you may start to question your decision. The high pitch whine doesn’t hurt your ears, but it does give you a warning about what is to come. The visual spectacle of 4 Wide is very pronounced in the motorcycles. There is a ton of color and flash, even some brilliant glitter. When the lights go green, the bikes stand on launch, then rocket down the strip. You can really appreciate the 60′ time with the bikes. They accelerate quickly, you start to notice that the 60′ line is just behind the “Christmas Tree.”

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The Pro Stock Cars are your first chance to start smelling the rubber. The burnouts kick up the noise a notch and the smoke, a lot. The tires spin, the smoke rolls out, and then they lunge forward. While we have all seen this on TV many times, it just can’t do it justice.

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When it comes time to race, the cars are lined up, the RPMs jump, then the line lock is released and it is like lightning. The cars squat, noses come up and next thing you know, you’re just looking for parachutes. you really begin to appreciate the distance as the cars cross the line and you can barely see anything but the ‘chute.

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With the 4 Wide Nationals, things go very quick. You get through the entire field in five passes and then it is on to the Top Fuel Dragsters. Just one of these doing a burn out literally assaults all your senses. The tires begin to spin, smoke rolls out, the stands vibrate under you, your ears pound with 10,000 horsepower, and the smell…

If you have ever shot a gun, multiply that by ten, add a hint of bleach, acrid smoke, and warm tire. It stays with you, it fills you and you will smell it all day long.

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When 4 Top Fuel vehicles leaves the line, it unleashes over 40,000 horsepower. The cars stage, you hear the RPMs climb and then for a hair fraction of a second, the world goes totally quiet as the exhaust breaks the sound barrier and your senses are attacked! Everything inside of you suddenly feels like liquid and it drops down into the pit of your stomach, vibrating and shaking. Then suddenly the world is all noise, the stands don’t vibrate, they bend and flex, the cars are gone and you can barely keep them focused as they blaze down the track. Suddenly one car looses traction and the sound fluctuates as they pedal to regain traction. Even in broad daylight you see the fire from the exhaust, maybe you’ll see a puff of smoke as one of the “candles” goes out. In less than 4 seconds, its all over. Car alarms are going off, people are looking around, some are standing and cheering, some in total shock.

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In pictures you can see how the tire deforms, it goes from a chubby roll to a tight, firm, tall wall off rubber. It is literally twisted out of one shape into another. The true tread that does the work is only about three quarters of the total width. The torque combined with the traction compound literally rips the tire into a new shape.

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Finally we come to Top Fuel Funny Car. It use to be the dragsters were the top class in NHRA, today it is Top Fuel Funny Car. It is quite possibly the most diverse group of drivers, and fans, that exist anywhere in motorsports today. Much like the dragsters, these cars come alive and bring everything within a mile to life. The smoke, the exhaust, the fire, the heat, it all comes together here.

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The cars bend and flex as they are launched. Fire belches from the side, and suddenly they are a quarter mile away and the parachute is in the wind. You look for a the “Elapsed Time” and notice that in a good run, all are within .05 seconds of each other.

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All in all, NHRA Drag Racing is amazing. It is a great day and as advertised, it does “Ignite Your Senses.” You’ll notice that different manufacturers do sounds different. The Toyota supercharger is a high pitch whine, the Mopar supercharger is a low pitch, while the Ford and Chevrolet superchargers you barely notice.

It is a day packed with speed and adventure. Fun and excitement. If you go alone or with friends, you will find something you like. You will certainly feel something not felt before. No matter how cranky you are to start the early morning, you end with a smile… and a sunburn.

All Access with Couch Crew Chief

 

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Dale Earnhardt Sr. chassis number 32.

My wife and I visited the team in Welcome, NC again this morning. On Tuesday we purchased tickets to do the RCR Museum “All Access Shop Tour.” Normally $45, it is well worth it. The morning started with a tour of the museum from “Chocolate” Myers. We had a small breakfast with drinks and biscuits and stories from the source. Truly a treasure of NASCAR. Seeing the old shop is amazing, from all the historic special scheme cars to many of the original, still dirty cars right from the track.

After the museum tour we walked outside, where chassis number 32 awaited us. This car had been in storage for years. They were cleaning out the building and this beauty fired up. The old SB2 motor sang. It was soon driven off to… who knows where. On the A-post you will see the “NASCAR 2000” decal. After 18 year, hidden away, she is still as beautiful as ever.

 

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Spring 2018 Talladega backup car for Ryan Newman.

 

As we entered the main shop, the 31 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet of Ryan Newman stared us down. The front profile of the ZL1 is very aggressive, and pictures cannot do the hood justice as it has major lines and contour. This mean machine will likely be backup at Talladega.

After we left the main shop we were brought through the body shop, where they hang bodies on chassis. While we were not allowed to take pictures, let me assure you that it is one of the most visually impressive areas. English wheels, sparks, welders, and an internal GPS system that is good down to the thousandth of an inch. This is what it takes to just be competitive in NASCAR today.

 

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“Shadows of Dale.” Cars being prepped. Photo edited to delete chassis parts. (Sensitive media.)

After a trip through the back alleys of RCR and a look inside the media room, we happened back out on the fan walk. There are cars being prepped for racing, the primer car with DOW hood decal is set to go to Michigan for tire test the week of April 23, 2018. The fan walk is open to public all the time and it is beautiful. We met Mike Dillon during the tour, and one can see drivers and crew members from here Monday through Thursday. Photos are welcomed, just don’t try to share chassis pictures, you would be surprised who can decipher what from a single picture.

 

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Texas Spring 2018 was not kind to this girl.

Also from the Fan Walk you will see cars that are staged for, “Rehab” like this poor girl from Texas. She had a rough race and shows it. There are several cars that will be staged here and they will go to the back, stripped down, rebuilt, and repaired. In this fashion a car may see several iterations in it’s life cycle.

After the Cup shop we visited the pit crew department where Will Goodnow from this weekend’s Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff #8 team took time to talk with the group about the new pit stops, the changing of strategies, and the new pit guns. As previously stated, the pit crew has taken the attitude of, “This is what we have to do, so let’s just rock it!” And, they do. The whole pit stop is a challenge in choreography now and is quite amazing.

After the pit crew department we visited the XFINITY shop which is a miniature version of the cup shop. While they worked, Cup practice was on TV so they could keep up with Daniel Hemric who is making his Cup series debut.

 

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ECR Engines ready for delivery.

 

Finally we visited quite possibly, the most anal retentive (I say that in a good way) department known to man. ECR Engines. Every part is checked and rechecked. From electron microscopes to testing what metal each piece is made of. These engines have small QR codes all over them which tell the team everything about it, right down to when the metal was smelted. After everything  is checked, it goes to preassembly, then to final assembly, to the dyno, and lastly, it goes to the engine tuners. The guys at the track put the final touches on and make sure it sings a beautiful 800 horsepower song. The goal of the shop is to have less than a 1% horsepower difference from motor to motor. That is a tight tolerance with very few failures. This same shop boasts many different wins in the IMSA series with the former Corvette DP & current Cadillac DPI chassis.

After over 3 hours you will find yourself back in the RCR Museum and team store where you receive 15% off and you can retour the museum with all the time in the world. Go tell the girls hi and tell them Couch Crew Chief sent you. Hey, they all told me to make sure I send you up there!

All in all, it was a fantastic day. We had breakfast, got to hear stories from the old days, got to see some amazing cars, and maybe even learned a little something. Even if you don’t do the full tour, the museum is well worth the visit. You will see things long lost to legend and you can always catch Chocolate before his show or after. He is the real deal and knows the best places to eat. He is also your one stop shop for local history.

Enjoy your trip.

 

JL
@lbrady85 on IG (left) & @couchcrewchief (right)

Who knows, like Logan, maybe I’ll see you… in the box.

 

One Day at RCR

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To start the day I was sent to speak with Oconomowoc, Wisconsin native, Paul Swan. He gave me a tour of the pit crew practice area and showed me video of the new pit stops. Speaking candidly I was told that all were a little afraid of the new 4 +1 crew roster. It wasn’t because it would be hard, these men are ready for the challenge. They all knew that some friends would soon be departing and that, that made this change hard.

I had to ask about the new pit guns, to get the real scoop. While the guys miss their old guns, which were faster, they are embracing the new. Ray Wright has told the guys not to worry about it or complain about it. They don’t have a choice so be the best with what you have. If you watch them practice, it is easy to see they have embraced this and are tackling it, head on. Day after day, hour after hour, they practice and aim to be the best.

It was a busy day in the Richard Childress Racing cup shop. I was able to see the primary car for Las Vegas Motor Speedway start to take shape. From high atop the catwalk you could see all of the shop crewmen working to get cars ready for load up, trucks are rolling tonight. So, let me share a little of the glamour I was able to see.

Getting the cars turned around and ready to race this week is no easy feat. The guys talked of 12 and 14 hour days. There will be some busted knuckles and kinks in the back to work out. No matter what anyone thinks, this is something you have to love to do. It’s a tough job and these guys are getting it done.

I was lucky enough to see the Atlanta “tear down” where they scaled and checked over the car, fresh from the hauler. This will give them a starting point for the next race in Atlanta but also give them information for next weekend. She had a little dust and dirt on her and probably a few hundred pounds of rubber under her from race build up.

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Car Chief, Greg Ebert, invited me to stop in. Undercar Tech, Kevin Gladman went a step further and invited me to cook for this fine group. I brought down brats and cheese curds, with plenty of sauerkraut to go around. At lunch the shop came out to eat and every single man was happy and kind and appreciative. Truth be known, I appreciate them more than they know. They make Sunday’s happen. I’ve spent many Sundays watching the 3 car turn laps and I was honored to spend time with all the guys that make it happen.

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After lunch I was given the opportunity of a lifetime, to go on the shop floor and get up close and personal. After a set of safety glasses I was able to talk my way into doing some work. Folding shop rags. Hey, it has to be done! I enjoyed every second of it. Talking with SJ Golembeski, tire specialist, who meticulously maintains the pit box and supplies. He makes sure that the team has everything at their disposal. Goes through his check list and then helps everywhere else needed. It’s a big job, on Sunday if something they need isn’t there, that could be the difference in winning and fighting for twentieth.

It was truly a state of awe for me. To be here, there… On the floor.

I left the shop around 3pm local time, not because I had to, but I knew they were busy. They were in the middle of a long day and an extra body wasn’t going to make life easier for them. I hope the food helped make their long day a little better.

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The Las Vegas back-up, who should stay in the hauler.

I left Appleton, Wi on Saturday, February 25 to come to North Carolina. There are some goals. I look to move down here. I look to get on a race team. Eventually I will make it to the RCR shop floor. Failing that, I will be the best damn writer there is and I will provide the best social media I can. It’s what I do. It’s why I am here. It’s my dream.

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In the end I can only say, “Thank you.” The good Lord gave me something special today. Also, big thanks to the Wisconsin boys, Paul Swan and Greg Ebert, for taking a little extra time with me. Thanks also to Kevin Gladman and Adam Brown, Josh Sisco and Clay Alexander, SJ and Freddy. Thank you to the entire team at RCR. As Andy Houston said before I left, “See you down the road.”

Love Wins Daytona

February 15, 1998 I woke up in Army Basic Training barracks. I went to chow, church, and came back to clean the room. Nothing more would happen that day. No television, no radio, there wasn’t even email allowed back then. It would take two weeks before one of my roommates would tell me that in a letter from his wife, he was told that Dale Earnhardt Sr. won THE Daytona 500. When first I heard I thought, “No way, Dale doesn’t win the 500. EVER!” It would be months before I even saw a picture and years before I would see that race.

February 18, 2018 I woke up and readied myself for this year’s Daytona 500. Through a morning of coffee and complaints, laughs, and ribbing my friend via text, we got excited for the race. I watched so much pre-race I thought the race might not live up to the hype, to all the hoopla that surrounded it. Interview after interview and prediction after prediction I waited for something that would make me cheer.

Finally, the ceremony began. The prayer, the national anthem, the command to start engines. Crews, wives, girlfriends put their drivers in their cars. Belts were tightened and the pace car began to roll. The starting lineup would be shuffled from incidents in the Twin 150’s and this would find Austin Dillon starting from the rear of the pack.

“Austin, have a good day out there. Guys have a good day in the pits. Let’s be there at the end and we can win.” The familiar voice of Richard Childress came across the radio. Every race Richard says something similar and this signals the start of the race.

“First stage here is 60 laps, total of 200. Gonna be a good day here and I’ll see you in Victory Lane.” Andy Houston always breaks the race down to segments and always tells Austin he will see him after. Sometimes he will just say see you, but today it was Victory Lane.

All of Speedweeks the 3 team had shown speed in the new Dow livery. Austin charged from the back up through the field before being hung out. Austin could see the competition getting wild and backed out, content to let others fight for stage points. Dealing with a tight race car, the team waited for pit stops to put tires on, fuel in, and get some adjustments made to help. Throughout the middle of the race, Austin hung back, dodging wrecks, avoiding debris, and keeping the car clean.

“I have t even really pushed to be totally honest.” Austin told Justin well into the final segment. Nobody had really taken tires throughout the day. Austin saved his tires for when he needed them. With the new 4+1 pit crew roster and slower air guns, teams couldn’t afford to give up time, so it was left to the driver to take care of his equipment.

“The Fords are all coming, the Fords are coming, we will come too.” Late in the final stage the 3 team would be snookered by the #17 team into pitting at the wrong time. When the 3 car steamed out of the pits with only 4 injured cars with, the race looked like it could be over. Falling into the clutches of the leaders, Austin awaited a caution to get back on cycle. The leaders would pit and allow Austin to cycle around, 7 seconds behind first place. “We need a caution.” Andy Houston knew if they wanted a shot, they had to have help.

CAUTION CAUTION CAUTION

Andy called out, “Yeah man, that’s what we needed.”

“Are we gonna get four here?” Austin knew what he needed to keep the car charging forward.

“Hell yeah we are getting four!” The excitement in Andy’s voice could be felt through the radio, he was energized.

This, was not the last caution. With each new accident the 3 car cut through the field.

“He’s gonna have to go top/bottom/top like the rest of them. He’s not gonna be able to ride one lane, Andy.” Richard is one of the most observant men in the garage. As a former driver, he can see the lanes move and the cars change position. You can hear his desire to get in the pack, to compete, to race.

Finally Austin saw himself in P4, outside of the second row coming to restart. I am trying to balance watching the race and update in-car radio on Twitter. I’m not part of the team but people surely want to know what’s happening inside the car. Twitter is slow and I can’t update fast enough. The radio is 40 seconds ahead of TV and Andy calls him to green. The entire time I am looking at the black and red nose of this car and it is covered in speedy-dry. White dust. This will look amazing in the museum if he can pull it off.

This overtime restart, if we make it to the white flag, the next flag ends it. Andy calls Austin through the field.

“43 on your bumper. Stay with this 10 for now. Big push coming from the 43. 43 two back, one back, bumper.”

*silence*

I look up to the TV. Twitter isn’t fast enough for me to update, I have to watch. A lap is 45 seconds, radio is 40 seconds ahead.

*heart beats faster and faster*

“Keep coming, keep coming, all the way to the line… Daytona 500 WINNER!”

I am glued to the TV, over half a lap left and Andy just told Austin on the radio he is the winner.

“YES! WE WON THE DAYTONA 500!”

“Way to go guys!”

The TV shows Austin get into the back of the 10. The 10 turns and collects the wall. The 3 car streaks off of turn 4, through the dogleg, across the finish line.

I’ve been pulling on my hair, eyes as big as silver dollars. Austin won the Daytona 500. We won the Daytona 500!

I sit back, lost for words. Emotions welling up but this time, I am left speechless. After almost 30 years of cheering on RCR, I get to see the 3 enter Daytona 500 Victory Lane.

Austin pitches the 3 sideways in the grass and proceeds to burn it down. The biggest victory of any stock car driver has become a reality. The smoke rolls and pours out of every part of the 3 car.

And then the dab.

The belly flop slide in the infield.

Victory Lane ceremony is done in a heartbeat. The confetti has been dropped. Champagne corks popped. Pop-Pop has been sprayed the team and he’s praised the team.

This is Daytona.

And in Daytona, the winner always takes home the girl. Mrs. Whitney Dillon called this win. Tonight, she will help Austin take that trophy home. A new home made together. If love conquers all, it conquered this track today.

The competition better be ready to see a lot more of the 3.

Conquering at the Clash

Welcome back NASCAR fans!

Today we got our racing back and boy, was it interesting. Some of the new things you saw, no mandatory ride heights, no NASCAR issue springs. This is something I’ve wanted to see for awhile. By adding a half inch to the spoiler to keep the speeds under 200mph, this is a big win. This means teams have control over their car. They can do some research and development. You can squat the rear end down, increases speeds but makes the driver actually drive the car. This little change puts control back in a team’s hands and allows them to set things up a little different than others. This allow allows for better drafting by reducing turbulent air that comes from under the car ahead. Now you’ll see cars “suck up” better in a draft and will reduce the dreaded “aero-push.” The slingshot, is back.

The Camaro ZL1 made its stock car debut and looked strong. With a body reminiscent of the car on the street, not only does this car look good, it drives good. The Camaro looks to have more front downforce, which will allow better turning, but it also appears to have improved side force which will increase stability in the turns.

Something else you may have heard about is standard issue splitters. Why is this important? Simple, it’s one of the few things teams would manipulate for a higher downforce advantage. Angles, edges, curves, and even bending corners up all played a factor. By standardizing this, it will reduce teams from spending thousands of dollars on this one piece. I am all for getting rid of the splitter, to me this is the next best thing.

There are more subtle changes, but we will get into those later, today, these three things made for a better race.

What did we see today? A race where the drivers really mattered. The cars could move and pick up the draft easily. Higher closing rates that allowed drivers to get a real run. Plus a saw cars that appeared more stable.

Austin Dillon started on the pole, he was shuffled back but was able to change lanes and move at will. Pitting just as the caution flag came out for the competition caution, the 3 team executed a solid stop. Back on track Austin held position and moved forward. In just a few laps he was able to move up before getting shuffled back again.

The field strung out into a single file on top and when someone would try to pull down they would get hung out. This is a product of the drivers, not the cars or rules. The drivers were afraid to lose a position, all day long. For a non-points event, I’ve never seen drivers so worried about a “good finish.”

It was Austin that wanted to go, lap after lap. Austin asked Andy Houston to find someone to go with him. In the final lap when Austin pulled out, he made up ground, drivers eventually went with him. He was closing on the leaders when the wreck happened which would end the race. After the race, Dillon told Houston & crew chief, Justin Alexander, “I want to be the one leading the charge at the end, I think we could have made it.” In deed they could have made it. Had they gone a lap earlier, I believe the 3 car would’ve challenged for the lead.

Thursday I think you can expect to see more from the 3 team, if they can find someone in their Duel, I believe the 3 car will return to Thursday’s victory lane. The hardest part will be finding other drivers who want to win and are willing to risk a few positions to move forward, rather than playing it safe for the “good finish.”

A “good finish” will never be great. If these drivers want to win, if they want to be great, they will have to “Get Like 3” as Mrs. Whitney Dillon puts it. Austin wants to be great and it’s his time to shine. Now, who else wants to be great?

 

Fairytale in Racing: Not Just Another Princess

When Caitlin Siem set out for Michigan Speedway that June morning, she only knew that she was going to go meet Nathalie Bijeau with BJ McLeod Motorsports. Riding a tornado for the next two months was not on her list of “to dos” for the summer. As with all great adventures, the main character never knows what is in store.

Her next race would come at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the most historic of tracks in this great nation. A complicated weekend with XFINITY and Cup series competition challenges the most seasoned of all NASCAR veterans. Through the hustle and bustle Caitlin found calm and serenity that enabled her to do her job, to put her nose to the grindstone and learn all she could.

“I definitely bonded with some of my team members right away. They didn’t make me feel unwelcome in any way and I felt like a part of the team even though, at that point, I thought this was a temporary endeavor. In a way, I felt comfortable. The race weekend was so unbearably hot (Honestly, Indianapolis in July does not play well with others) and you have to walk what feels like hundreds of miles to get anywhere inside that speedway (I’m being a little dramatic). But none of that seemed to matter. I mean, it did on some scale because there was never a moment I wasn’t sweating, but I was with the team and it felt so right. When the team left after the race Saturday (I was sticking around for the Cup race Sunday), I felt like a piece of me was missing. I’m pretty good about not feeling lonely, but I did that night.”

As quickly as the IMS weekend ended, Iowa Speedway began. With just two days to do laundry, reload, and prepare she was tested. She let up from her home in Michigan to continue chasing her dream. Pinching pennies and working on borrowed time, determination pushed her forward through a great weekend at the stand alone event in Iowa.

“Time. My time was so limited. Between work starting back up in August and only being allowed to go to so many races on credentials, my time was running out and it’s all I could think about, it seemed. I’d known this was what I wanted to do for ages, but within one weekend working with the team, I knew they were the crew I wanted to be with. It was like love at first sight, but with a race team I wanted to work with. When I left Iowa, there was only one more race left for me if I wasn’t hired in. Imagine reaching your dream, something you’ve wanted since you were a kid, but knowing there was a deadline to it. It was like looking into a black hole where my future was.”

Caitlin had a clock ticking. August 21 was coming quick, the date meant she would have to return to her life in a school library. Though she is a writer and loves books and loves the library, it was far from her dream. A dream 15 years in the making was at grasp and she knew she had to make things happen.

“I loved working at the library, I loved the staff and the students there. Writing and books are a huge part of my life. But it wasn’t racing, it wasn’t NASCAR, it wasn’t my dream. It wasn’t so much my feelings toward going back to the library as it was the thought of losing my dream. I honestly think I would have been completely miserable. I would’ve bounced back at some point, I wouldn’t have given up on my dream if I had to walk away from BJMM after four races with them. The recovery time would have been a long one though. My dad half-joked that I would have been impossible to deal with if I had to go back to the library. And he was probably right. I think I wouldn’t have been all there come August 21.”

Her first objective was finding a caterer for Watkin’s Glen International. This combined with preparing sample paperwork and all while she had just 3 days to get home and back on the road.

Life on the road quickly became a series of stops to do work, make calls, visit friends. As the days ticked down she learned she had to get a “Yes” from two different people if she was to join a team, join the crew, and live the dream she had been chasing.

I was lucky enough to be on the phone when the first of the two “Yes” answers came. An explosion of happiness and excitement. Emotions raced and overwhelmed us both. While I am easily moved, I’ve not seen this from Caitlin, not like this. This was something special. Then came the realization, that was only the first answer needed.

“I mean, I technically knew I needed more than one yes to get in. But sometimes the mind plays tricks on you and that part slipped my mind briefly. I half blame you, Couch, for that one. It sucked for a minute but I eventually pulled back together and focused on the next yes. In racing, you always need to be looking forward. Then again, that works in most aspects of life.”

Watkin’s Glen came quickly and so did her second “Yes” that she needed. Friday afternoon she called. Hiding between tire stacks, fuel cans, and a truck those words she spoke will be forever memorable to me, “I made it!” Three simple words held the weight to move the world, change the stars.

As the weekend flew by, Caitlin would have just 3 days to prepare to move from Michigan to North Carolina. We talked through the night as she drove for home, making tracks and setting plans as she drove through the dark to a destiny she had been chasing.

It is only fitting that she chased the stars through the night to make it home Sunday morning. Having chased those stars of destiny, she now ran them down on the horizon to give herself the time it would take to prepare. The days clicked off as she visited with friends, with family, visited those places that meant the most before she said her final “good byes” to that which she’s known for her lifetime.

Wednesday came as quickly as the last weekend had left. With her family, friends, work, and former life in the rear view mirror, Caitlin turned her wheels to Mid Ohio. With one last deep breath and asking tears not to fall, she left Michigan for the last time of the summer. As darkness fell she once again chased her stars onto the next horizon.

Having hopes, having dreams, that is something we all possess. The willingness to chase those is what truly epic stories are made from. Caitlin’s story is just beginning and only a few weekends have passed. The sky is the limit for those who give it all for that which they want. I believe we all have the ability to chase our own stars, but sometimes you have to work to change those stars for yourself.

“It kind of feels like I was at sea, enjoying life but I knew I was missing something. Then the fog up ahead clears and right there was the land I was searching for. It’s still my life, I don’t feel like a different person, but I stepped off my ship and onto land and it feels right.”

We can all learn to live more in the moment, to fight for that which we want. Only by doing that, can one achieve greatness.

“You need to learn to be invaluable. Don’t put yourself in a box. The more you have to offer a team, the better off you are. You have to be passionate about this sport or it’ll eat you alive, but if you’re a fan, you have to contain it. When you’re at the track, you’re at work. You can’t be freaking out about seeing a driver if you’re there to work. Don’t bad mouth anyone. The sport might be big but it’s tightknit. And because of that, the key to getting in, is knowing someone. It’s all on who you know in this sport. At the end of the day, just don’t give up. It took me years to get in, but I never stopped reaching for my dream. And here I am living it. Pursuing your dreams takes persistence. Never forget that.”

By doing this, one day… maybe…

I’ll see you in the box.