Friday, August 19, 2016

Berlin to Springfield: ARCA Versatility on Display

2015 Series Champion Grant Enfinger (23)  led at the start last year
It's been a couple weeks since I worked the ARCA race at the Berlin Raceway short track in Michigan, and I have not written anything about that trip yet. Today I break that silence as I look ahead to this weekend's road trip to Springfield, Illinois for Sunday's 100 lapper on the Illinois State Fair mile dirt track. The weekend also includes the USAC Silver Crown series with its own 100 lapper Saturday. With Bryan Clauson's recent death, it will be good to be with my racing friends on a dirt track this weekend and I will have two races to shoot and much more to write about.  I know I will see lots of photographers and racers this weekend who are still grieving for Bryan so it will be good therapy to be together and share stories with one another.

AJ Fike taking the checkered flag in 2015
This will be my second consecutive trip to Springfield as my brother and I did the weekend together last year. That was great as it was our first opportunity to spend time together after our mother's funeral the previous month. He can't make it this year so this will be another solo trip for me, albeit a relatively short one of only a couple hundred miles from Indy. Prior to last year, I had never seen ARCA race on dirt and of course the guys with dirt track experience were at the front. AJ Fike got the win after also racing the previous day in the Silver Crown event. AJ is doing the double again this year and should have a chance to be a repeat winner for ARCA and maybe even win both races. That would be quite a story. He'll have some stout competition in current ARCA points leader Chase Briscoe whose main experience before this year was in USAC dirt sprint cars! I can't wait to see that. There will also be a few other dirt track "ringers" entered so it should be highly competitive!

Corn dogs and crispy fries are on the menu this weekend
Springfield is one of two dirt tracks that ARCA runs each year and they are both in Illinois. We go to DuQuoin Labor Day weekend to run the mile dirt track there under the lights so that should be quite a spectacle. One of the big selling points of the ARCA series is the variety of tracks on the schedule. No other major national stock car series can match ARCA in that regard and ARCA has been doing it for over 60 years. Daytona and Talladega superspeedways are early season stops. Flat paved short tracks such as Berlin are  mixed in with the high banked asphalt bullrings like Winchester and Salem. We race on two mile dirt tracks this month and then the season winds down with races at intermediate tracks Chicagoland, Kentucky and the season finale at Kansas.

Ageless dirt track veteran Kenny Schrader will be back with ARCA this weekend
The ARCA series loves to boast about staying connected to its roots by continuing to race on dirt which is understandable. In NASCAR, only the truck series has taken the plunge with a single one-off race at Tony Stewart's Eldora Speedway in Ohio. I like the fact that these dirt tracks take me back to my roots as well, since my love of racing got started on a little dirt track in Warsaw, Indiana at the Kosciusko County Fair that my Grandpa Jay helped get built. All over the Midwest there are fairgrounds with dirt tracks which were originally horse tracks that sometimes host auto or motorcycle races. Someone had a template for the State Fair tracks way back when too as the mile dirt tracks at Springfield and DuQuoin are carbon copies of the one in Indianapolis at the Indiana State Fair. In my early days as a motorsports photographer, we went to DuQuoin on a regular basis for the Silver Crown race and I've shot the Hoosier 100 numerous times at Indy, not to mention shooting at lots of other smaller dirt track races at places like Kokomo and Putnamville through the years. So going to Springfield almost feels like coming home, and it's a double header weekend so I get to have twice the fun. It couldn't get much better than that!

Dalton Sargeant got a kiss from Big Bill at Berlin after his first win
While my focus in this post has been on this coming weekend, I would be remiss if I didn't say something about the Berlin race as it turned out to be quite a thriller. The ARCA series points leader Chase Briscoe was going after his fifth straight win and it came down to a dogfight between him and Josh Williams. Josh had already won twice this season and was the only other driver besides Chase with more than one win and you know he wanted another to help close the gap in the points race. Josh was leading inside 20 laps to go and Chase was driving the wheels off his #77 Cunningham entry trying to catch Josh, bouncing it off the wall on the front stretch once that I saw, and finally making a pass stick. But it lasted all of two corners as Josh fought back on the inside going into Turn 3 and they made contact with both going off track. Josh got the worst of the contact and was unable to finish the race. Chase had damage on the front of his car and dropped back so rookie Dalton Sargeant ended up getting a gift wrapped victory for Venturini Motorsports, becoming another first time ARCA Series winner in the process.

Chase Briscoe (77) and Josh Williams went after each other at Berlin
So that's where we stand going into this weekend. You really should come out and see all the young talented drivers that race in ARCA now since many of them won't be here for long as they move up the ladder in the racing world. I know I sound like a broken record when I say that, but now's the time to get to meet these kids and help them on their way by being a part of their fan base from the early days. And you have to love how excited they are when they win! See you at Springfield! 

In the meantime here's a link to a photo gallery from my work for ARCA at Berlin:

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