Wednesday, June 19, 2019

ARCA Menards Racing Kids Converge on Madison: Gateway is Next

Chandler Smith likes Victory Lane!
Sixteen year old stock car racing phenom Chandler Smith took all the honors at Madison International Speedway this past Friday night, starting on the pole and then outlasting Michael Self and Ty Gibbs to take his fourth ARCA series win on short tracks in only 14 starts! Self and Gibbs both took turns in the lead in the second half of the Short Lunch 200 but two red flag delays created opportunities for different pit strategies that ended up favoring Smith in the end. The race was rolling along at a fast pace for more than 100 green flag laps at the start but was interrupted by a red flag delay for rain with about 35 laps to go and another red flag for an accident with less than 10 laps to go. Fans on hand and looking in on MAV TV were treated to an exciting finish under green after the second red flag and Chandler was probably the happiest person in the place. He asked me before the race during the driver autograph session if it was going to rain and I told him no so I'm glad he didn't pay any attention and just went out and raced!

The Madison track reminded me of Winchester
I had never been to Madison International Speedway before so it was a very interesting road trip and entertaining race. The track is actually in Oregon, Wisconsin and I never physically made it into Madison since we stayed at a hotel in Stoughton, Wisconsin. The track itself is a neat little half mile with 18 degree banking in the corners where the cars enter the track through an opening on the outside of Turn 2. It was extremely windy on Saturday but it was comfortable with high clouds and lots of sun. The six hour drive to Wisconsin Thursday was pretty uneventful except for the recycling truck which was losing metals out of the top of its trailer right in my path! But no harm was done and I actually got to the hotel at a reasonable hour rather than making a banzai trip in about midnight. So I felt good going into Saturday's event and was looking forward to seeing several of the youth army at ARCA go at it again.

Michael Self and Corey Heim was one of many battles at Madison
These ARCA kids are real racers though so when I call them kids I am doing so somewhat sarcastically. At an age where most teenagers are just trying to get their driver's licenses, ARCA has youngsters like Chandler Smith, Sam Mayer, Ty Gibbs, Carson Hocevar, Corey Heims and Hailie Deegan who make recent winner Michael Self seem like a grizzled veteran! It's a great situation for these young drivers to gain heavy bodied stock car experience and learn how to race. For anyone not familiar with ARCA racing, most races are 200 laps or 200 miles or less so they will involve at least one pit stop and strategy on when to take two or four tires is definitely a factor at every race. Track position in this race worked out in favor of Chandler Smith  but when all was said and done, he clearly had the fastest car the whole race. One thing I noticed was that a lot of the other front runners consistently had their front brake rotors glowing a fire red entering Turn 1 but Chandler seemed to be much easier on the brakes than everyone else so I didn't see that glow as much with him as the others. For someone so young to have such racecraft is quite impressive and he is being recognized with rides in the Gander Truck series at Iowa and will race both series at Gateway this coming weekend.

Ty Gibbs continues to run up front and a win is in his future
The Madison race marked the halfway point of the 2019 ARCA Menards Series season and the first 10 races seems to have gone by in a hurry - perhaps because I've been running non-stop since the end of April working my teaching job and working races every weekend since then. I turned 62 at the end of May but I have no desire to start slowing down my pace and I know I can still compete against people much younger than I. At least in my mind it feels like a competition but since I've been an athlete my entire life, that really shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who knows me. I constantly measure where I am against other people and situations. Now that it's been 4 months since my lobectomy surgery, I am starting to feel like I'm close to being 100 per cent again. That's a blessing in itself. That self-evaluation process also means that I am constantly setting new goals and looking ahead. Next year at this time, I plan to be with my friends in France shooting the 24 Hours of Le Mans again as I did in 2017 and I couldn't help but think about that event all last week as my social media memories pelted me with photos and reminders from that June 2017 trip. I couldn't escape the irony this past weekend comparing events.

Three wide on a short track!
I couldn't be happier to be doing what I'm doing and I am looking forward to a great fight for the ARCA championship over the next four months. Next up is another racetrack I've never been to - the World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway Park near St. Louis. Since the school where I teach is on our summer break, I am grateful for the chance to have another more leisurely drive than I often do in getting to these races. If you get a chance, come on out and see ARCA race. As legendary rock band the Who sang back in the '60s, "The Kids Are Alright" and you won't be disappointed.

Here's something you rarely see these days - a racecar on an open trailer
Chandler Smith is the latest talented teenager to come into ARCA before he could legally drive on the streets
Hard clean racing has become a hallmark of ARCA competition
Chandler Smith has finished in the Top 10 14 out of 14 ARCA races he's entered

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