Tuesday, November 26, 2013

ARCA Season Review - @arca_racing Is Stock Car Proving Ground

ARCA Veteran and fan favorite Frank Kimmel took his 10th season title in 2013
The ARCA racing series has become one of my favorites over the last few years, not just because I have had opportunities to work for the series directly. I love it for its schedule diversity and the fact that the future stars of American stock car racing almost always get their starts racing fendered cars in ARCA. I've written many times about the "young guns" of ARCA and the 2013 season had these younger drivers in abundance - some as young as 15 years of age winning races - see Kyle Benjamin at Salem for example. Many people don't know that ARCA has been around longer than NASCAR and is preparing for its 61st Championship Awards banquet in Indianapolis December 14th where 2013 season champion Frank Kimmel will collect his 10th title and awards. 

ARCA Rookie of the Year Justin Boston
The youth movement is the real attraction in ARCA in my opinion. Here are some names that you will surely hear more about in the upcoming years who have raced and starred in ARCA: Brennan Poole (two wins), Kyle Benjamin (two wins in 2013), Justin Boston (2013 Rookie of the Year), Mason Mingus (second to Kimmel in 2013 series points), Mason Mitchell, Erik Jones and Chris Buescher (one win and defending series champion). A couple of years ago at Salem Speedway, the pole winner and next two qualifiers were all still in their teens, so the opportunity to race full bodied stock cars on a variety of tracks is an attraction for the drivers as well. Just look at the NASCAR Nationwide Series or Camping World Truck Series rosters: they are full of former ARCA drivers. Ty Dillon, Justin Allgaier, Parker Kligerman, Ryan Blaney, Dakoda Armstrong, and Chase Elliott have all been winners in ARCA and moved up. In Sprint Cup, Michael McDowell, Scott Speed and Justin Marks have all come through ARCA and there are many more who cut their teeth in stock car racing in this series.

Series runner-up Mason Mingus at Michigan International in 2013
There is no other major nationwide racing series which visits so many different types of tracks. The series races on big, fast tracks like Daytona, Michigan and Talladega, plus an assortment of 1.5 mile tracks like Kansas and Chicagoland. They race on plenty of short tracks including the aging but storied high banks of Salem and Winchester in Indiana, the flatter tracks like Elko in Minnesota, Toledo (Ohio) and Mobile (Alabama). Add to this recipe the road course events at Road America and New Jersey Motorsports Park, then spice it further with mile dirt tracks at Springield and DuQuoin state fair tracks in Illinois, and you have a tasty mix that would satisfy the most diehard stock car fans.

Frank Kimmel congratulates Brennan Poole on his 2013 Michigan win
One side benefit of this schedule diversity is the number of different drivers the series attracts. While Frank Kimmel added to his ARCA legacy in 2013 with a 10th season championship and broke the all-time ARCA wins record formerly held by Iggy Katona, seemingly everyone seeking stock car experience races at some point during the season. As a training ground for drivers, there is no better series, but team owners and crew members also find their way to the big time by following the stock car ladder up through ARCA. If you want to see the youth movement and be able to tell your friends that "you knew them when...", then ARCA races are where you need to be. Evidence of the attarctiveness of the series is the fact that 141 drivers scored points in 2013. Granted many of these drivers were there for one-off appearances, but part of the excitement of any ARCA event is seeing who is entered. Anyone can win in ARCA - just look at want Corey Lajoie did this year: three wins out of five starts!

James Hylton
One of my favorite drivers has become James Harvey Hilton. Here is a man who has been around the sport seemingly forever and is finally calling it a day after 2013. He shows up at every race, enjoys a stogie or two and has a good time at the race track even though he doesn't have the pace anymore to challenge for race wins. He did, however, finish 11th in the season standings and clearly just loves to race. A few years ago, he showed up at Salem with dollar bills taped all over his car from fan donations, so while no one would ever confuse his operation with a Roush development team in terms of financial backing, few would argue with his passion for the sport. And he is not alone in ARCA as there are a number of drivers who may not be the fastest on any given weekend, but they are loyal to the series and might be called racer's racers. Darrell Basham is one such driver, and his story is unique in the sense that his race shop got blown away in the Hewnryville, Indiana tornado a couple of years ago but he carried on. ARCA fans know these stories and appreciate guys like James and Darrell trying their best to be competitive and put on a good show.

I have been very fortunate the last seven years to shoot more than two dozen ARCA races, including 15 straight at Salem Speedway. Next year it looks like I will add to that total as I have an opportunity to be the primary photographer for the series at a few of the summer 2014 races. I also have a project involving mathematics in racing that I hope to do with ARCA's support next summer which will tie in with my classroom teaching and involve students from the University of Northwestern Ohio's motorsports program. For me, the chance to support this series, which has a unique history in stock car racing, is quite gratifying and I am looking forward to the photography challenges I am likely to face next year. Until then, I hope you enjoy this photo gallery of my 2013 ARCA work. Look me up at the track next season!

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