Monday, September 21, 2015

Grant Enfinger Does It Again! Wins Salem Federated 200

Grant receives his winner's trophy from Salem Speedway owner
The GMS Racing team somehow managed to put Grant Enfinger and the #23 back in Victory Lane again Saturday night at Salem Speedway and left everyone scratching their heads on how he did it. It was Grant's sixth win of the 2015 season and bumped his overall points lead up over Josh Williams with two races left to run. The series races this Friday at Kentucky Speedway and then October 16th at Kansas Speedway so there's not much time for competitors to catch "The Finger" but Lord knows they will give it their best shot. Williams, Tom Hessert and Austin Wayne Self are in a tight battle for positions two through four in the season standings, and rookie leader David Levine is not far behind in fifth. With the final two races of 2015 both slated for live television coverage, you can bet the fields will be strong and Enfinger will have his work cut out for him to seal the series title.

It was a beautiful night for ARCA racing; Ken Schrader set fast time
With only two races left, it's hard to believe how fast this season has gone by, as I have worked twelve races for the ARCA series this year as their photographer. The travel has been fun and the races quite entertaining so this past weekend at Salem was somewhat nostalgic for me. I couldn't help but think of my friend, the late Don Hamilton, a racing writer and former owner/editor of the American Motor Journal publication. It was Don who gave me the chance to get back into racing photography in a big way in 2006 after I had gone through a divorce and was exploring a variety of career options. I started going to the Salem ARCA races that fall and have only missed one since then, when I had to be at Mid Ohio for the Rolex Grand Am race. Don had many great friends in racing and had a special connection with Salem  due to close friends working on the track safety team. I've been going there long enough now to see those friends raise their boys up seemingly at the track, as they have taken roles with the track crew as well. Don and I collaborated on several articles through the years and I know he would have enjoyed the racing at Salem this past weekend. God rest your soul Don.

Richard Hauck got it wrong coming off of Turn 2 on his first hot lap
If you've never been to a race at Salem, it is one of those tracks that you really should check out. It's a half mile, high banked soup bowl with bumps galore, some aging and worn out asphalt, and two distinctly different lines through the corners. Both ends of the track are essentially hairpins which look the same but drive completely differently. The Turn 1 and 2 end can accommodate three- and sometimes four-wide racing where drivers will dive down to the bottom on entry. The other end of the track seems to be just a single line, right up against the wall, and the transitions to the straightaways at both ends are brutal, spitting unsuspecting drivers out toward the wall or into lurid loose spins if they don't unwind the wheel soon enough. And the roar of more than 30 ARCA machines inside that bowl is deafening, with vibrations that envelope you as long as the green flag flies. I love it, and I've been there more often than any other track that isn't named the Indiana Motor Speedway.

Josh Williams rim rides in Turn 3; he is 2nd in the season standings
Salem hasn't changed much through the years but it seems like the ARCA series definitely has since I started covering it regularly at Salem in 2006. The last few years have seen much cleaner racing at Salem, whereas it used to seem like you could count on seeing lots of torn up equipment at the end of every race there. Then the teams would get out the 200 mph tape, bang on the fenders and send guys back out with cars that often ended up looking like modifieds.

That seems to have changed over the last few years. Last year for instance, there was only a single caution, which is almost unheard of at Salem! I think there are several reasons for the cleaner action at Salem, not the least of which is the rise in driver talent, especially among the young guns that all seem to have driver development deals with established Sprint Cup teams. These kids are just flat good, and they know how to go fast and keep the equipment clean. I think the quality of the equipment has also improved along with the expertise of mechanics and crews, many of whom are preparing themselves for future Sprint Cup roles. This Salem race there were 12 brand new composite bodied cars with the new Ilmor 396 engines, and tires were in short supply, so everyone really had to conserve their gear to make it the full 200 laps. But it didn't effect the quality of the racing and in fact may have put a premium on race strategy this year, so from that standpoint, it should not be surprising that Grant Enfinger and his GMS racing team came out with another win.

Bo LeMastus (42) had his best short track finish of 2015 with a ninth
There's an old saying that old age and treachery wins out over youth and exuberance, but that has not been the case most of this year - with the notable exception of Grant Enfinger, and he is by no means old. He has really come into his own this year as a driver and GMS is the hot team to beat as the season winds down. I will be heading to Kentucky Thursday evening to work Friday's 150 miler and then only the finale at Kansas remains. These will be the 13th and 14th ARCA events I have photographed this year and it has really been fun to be on the inside of the action as a full season title fight has unfolded. Maybe when the last race is run, I will have more time to reflect on highlights of my personal season on the road, but right now I just have to focus on getting my gear ready and prepping to shoot race 19 of the ARCA season. What a year it has been. Hope you can make it out to Kentucky or Kansas and see for yourself how the future stars of stock car racing conduct their business. Look me up if you're at the track!

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