Sunday, June 16, 2013

Michigan Road Trip Done: ARCA Victory to Brennan Poole

Brennan Poole takes ARCA win at Michigan
Michigan International Speedway has changed a lot since I was last here in 2007. Gone are the majority of the grandstands that used to wrap around the outside of Turns 3 and 4. In their place is a new motorhome area and part corral sponsored by Budweiser where fans can get within about 10 feet of the outside wall. Gone is the old media center building behind pit lane, replaced with new facilities that are quite ample, lined with full height glass windows, and topped by pit area suites which have access to roof level viewing platforms. The one thing that hasn't changed is the access. US 12 remains a two lane highway on the south end of the track where the main entrance is located, and getting out of here after a full NASCAR weekend is probably still a bear. But I didn't have to worry about that this year since I headed back to Akron once my duties with ARCA were complete.

Ryan Blaney was quickest in ARCA practice and took pole position
Thirty cars were on the ARCA entry list for this 200 mile, 100 lap race. Once again the younger generation showed the way in Thursday's practice, and Friday's qualifying and the race itself.  Races of this length in ARCA typically involve two pit stops as teams were allotted two additional sets of Hoosier Tires in addition to the ones they started. My favorites going into the race was Frank Kimmel who is one win shy of tying the all time wins record in ARCA, but he would start from the third position and while he ran in the top five all day, he never really had the speed to match the Venturini Motorsports tandem of Justin Boston and race winner Brennan Poole. Pole winner Ryan Blaney, the son of NASCAR veteran Dave Blaney, led early but an out of sequence pit stop pushed him down the order. ARCA vet Tom Hessert blew a tire and hit the wall late in the race while another ARCA regular Grant Enfinger was strong but could not match the leader's pace.

Justin Boston's zloop ride
I felt badly for Justin Boston who spun out of the lead under pressure by Poole with about 10 laps to go, but Boston will have to be reckoned with as the season unfolds. Poole won in his first ARCA start of 2013 and since this race was being televised live on SPEED, teams desperate for television air time to showcase their results and attract sponsor attention were there to run Michigan. The resulting field was a mixed bag of competitive cars in the top 10, a couple of start-and-parks, and mid-pack runners who were just happy to finish without tearing up their equipment. My role this weekend as chief photographer for ARCA for the first time meant I had a lot to do for two days, and it was strange being at the track on Thursday when ARCA had the facility to itself and the public did not have access.

Godspeed Jason Leffler
Friday was a different story as NASCAR's Nationwide and Sprint Cup teams had most of the track time and fans were there all day. My day was spent covering qualifying, wrapping up ARCA driver head shots, documenting safety and driver/spotter meetings, shooting a driver autograph session, and then shooting the race itself for the series. Safety was on everyone's mind with the recent death of Jason Leffler in a sprint car accident, the second such racing death in the last two weeks. Honoring Leffler was a frequent topic and some NASCAR drivers had Jason's traditional "LEFturn" logo above the driver's door in his memory. I think ARCA does an excellent job with its safety initiatives. The use of Mallory ignition boxes is a good tool for governing the engines, both for longevity and managing speeds. The latest in technology is required for driver seats, seat belt restraint systems and head and neck restraints. As a training ground for drivers, crew members and even team owners, ARCA has done a great job of providing a level playing field in a safety conscious environment. Having a series-issued radio and listening to the ARCA officials for two days really brought that home for me and I left Michigan Friday evening with a greater appreciation of all the things a series must do to put on a good safe show for all concerned.

Leaving Friday night was the strangest part of the weekend, as there were still two more days of track activity and two races for NASCAR on the MIS schedule. I don't recall another race weekend where I left a track with more racing on the docket, but I needed to get back to Akron and had no other responsibilities at the track. But the weekend got stranger on the way home as I got pulled over for speeding near Litchfield, Ohio, although I only got a warning after talking with the officer. When I finally pulled into my Mom's driveway after midnight, I was grateful to get there safely, especially after the way the road trip started. Thursday morning on my way to MIS, I drove past a serious accident on Ohio State Road 18 involving a head-on collision where one car was on fire and other drivers were tending to an injured person in the middle of the road just before dawn. So my ARCA Michigan weekend ended well, all things considered, and my photo journey concluded safely with more lessons learned both from the road and through my lenses. In two weeks, I will be helping ARCA again at Winchester Speedway, and am excited to get another opportunity to work with my growing group of ARCA friends. Until then, here are a few pictures from the event; more can be seen and purchased from ARCA's website.

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