Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Bring on the Dirt!

Joe Graf, Jr. got super aggressive to win at Berlin
Since I got back from Berlin Raceway outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan this past Sunday from the weather postponed ARCA race, I've had some time to think about the events of the past month. The Berlin race was originally scheduled for 200 laps on July 21st, and as I drove through pouring rain in Indiana this past Saturday to go back to Berlin, I was a little concerned that we might have more weather delays. But the weather Gods smiled upon us and we got the whole race in at last! As it turned out, Berlin became the second race of a five week stretch of races that will represent the homestretch for the 2018 ARCA season. And the Primera Plastics 200 had one helluva finish as rookie Joe Graf, Jr. barged through traffic on two late restarts to get his first ARCA win after finishing second in a couple of photo finishes earlier this season. He really pissed off some of the other teams and drivers with his driving tactics at the finish and it kicked off a firestorm on social media that only seemed to die down after everyone saw what happened in the trucks race at Canada the next day. The term "bump and run" took on a new meaning last weekend and I hope everyone will be calmed down for our next race.

Joe Graf, Jr. beat Zane Smith in controversial style
The crazy thing about life on the road sometimes is how fast things can hit you from back home while you're away. That first Berlin weekend was supposed to be a one day show with practice, qualifying and the race all on the same day, and then an easy drive home on Sunday morning. That all would have worked out great except for Saturday's weather was godawful with loads of rain surrounding the one practice session we were able to get in. Then as I'm driving home to Indy Sunday morning, I got a call from my fiance who tells me "we don't have any water." Since our house is on a private well, I knew that was not good and I still had about three hours to drive to get home after her call to think about what to do. If you've always been on city water, then perhaps being without water is something you've never experienced. Trust me, you should be thankful for that as repairs for wells are potentially quite expensive and there's no guarantee of a permanent fix. The well problem eventually got fixed but we had to endure a week without running water which made getting ready for work and doing simple things like washing dishes a challenge.

Christian Eckes looked strong in the #15 Venturini Toyota to win at Springfield
Almost a month after that Berlin rainout, I finally headed over to Springfield, Illinois August 18th to work for ARCA again at the Allen Crowe 100 on the mile dirt track at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. It was good to get back to a racetrack and that weekend my brother joined me as we try to get together for at least one ARCA race per season. He loves that dirt track event as much as I do so we had fun together and the weekend came off without a hitch. Christian Eckes was the surprising winner as he has almost no dirt track experience and held off several other drivers like Sheldon Creed who could rightfully be called dirt track specialists. That set the stage for the actual running of Berlin August 25th (finally) and now we are looking at another dirt track race on Labor Day. This time it's the "Magic Mile" in southern Illinois at the DuQuoin State Fair. I am looking forward to this weekend for a couple of reasons. First, to see if there are any leftover hard feelings from the Berlin finish, and second, because I will go over early to shoot the Silver Crown race on Sunday night. I haven't done that event in years so it will be fun to see all the guys who regularly shoot USAC to catch up on what they've been doing. I expect two great 100 lap events at DuQuoin and hope you can make it over there too.

My view of the field approaching the green flag at Berlin 
One of the most fun things I've done in awhile at a race occurred at Berlin last weekend: I got to ride in the back of the pace truck and shoot photos of the pace laps! I've been asking about doing that at seemingly every ARCA race the last couple of years and thanks to the pace truck driver running the traps for me, I got the approval to do it. The pace lap speed was only 23 miles per hour so I wasn't doing it for the sense of speed; I wanted to get those rows of two lined up right on the truck's bumper with the full grandstands and the night sky in the frame which I was able to do. It's been over 10 years since I've had the chance to do that so there are a couple of things I would do differently next time. I hope there is a next time and I hope it's soon! It would have been nice if the rising full moon had been up during those laps but it came out later so I did eventually get some photos with the moon in the frame. Maybe that full moon was the cause of the craziness at the end of the race!

There's something unique about stock cars on dirt
After DuQuoin on Labor Day, the turnaround is short as we race at Lucas Oil Raceway the following Friday and then we go to Salem the Saturday after that to wrap up five straight weekends of racing. The Salem weekend leaves only Kansas to follow in October and it will be time to start making plans for next season! It's an exciting and fun time of year with ARCA visiting tracks like Springfield, DuQuoin and Salem which have a lot of history with the series and a championship battle at stake. Until then I would encourage everyone to check the ARCA website for more news and our photos. Until next time, I leave you with a few photos from Berlin and Springfield. Or follow me on Twitter for regular updates and more racing photos!

Joe Graf, Jr. didn't make many new friends at Berlin last weekend
Travis Braden has been on a roll lately with Top 5 finishes for RFMS Racing
The pace truck ride was awesome; so was the photo opportunity
Not necessarily the view you want on a dirt track
Carson Hocevar had to wait almost a month to race from his pole position at Berlin
Gus Dean won the pole at Springfield