Monday, April 30, 2018

Talladega Nets Closest Ever ARCA Finish; James Hylton Lost En Route Home

Zane Smith grabbed his second win of 2018
It has been said that fate is a cruel mistress. The ARCA family got an unwelcome close up view of both her good and bad sides this past weekend. Friday at Talladega Superspeedway was a gorgeous day and the 76 lap race produced the closest finish in ARCA history with Zane Smith inching ahead of Joe Graf, Jr. The finish was so close that the official order of finish showed the margin of victory at 0.000. Smith and Graf traded paint the entire last lap after the race went 11 laps longer than the scheduled distance due to wrecks, red flags and multiple green-white-checker attempts. It was an exhilarating evening and we finished our photo editing after the race in record time so I was all pumped up leaving the track that night for our hotel in Irondale.

The hard work of James Hylton's team does not go unnoticed
The next day brought the bad news which I learned upon arriving back home in Indianapolis once I had the chance to check my social media accounts. One of ARCA's team owners, James Harvey Hylton, had been involved in a highway crash earlier Saturday morning which claimed his life and the life of his son, James Jr. Mr. Hylton was 84 years young and a mainstay of the ARCA series the last several years, first as a driver who begrudgingly stepped out of the drivers seat in 2013 and as a car owner, fielding the #48 entry for Brad Smith and others. His crew chief Terry Strange was seriously injured but survived and judging by the reaction on social media since Saturday, the ARCA community has clearly been reeling since the news came out about the accident. It is really going to be odd not seeing Mr. Hylton and the 48 team in the ARCA garage area and I hope someone can pick up the pieces and allow the team to carry on. I can only imagine how tough that is going to be. I will miss his smile and the fact that he always called me "young man". As a man and racer, he will be sorely missed by everyone in ARCA and I am glad I got to talk to him Friday morning at Talladega as the team arrived and hear him call me young man one last time.

The Hall of Fame Museum has a wall featuring ARCA champions like Austin Theriault
I got to Talladega Thursday when there was no track activity but all the teams were going through tech inspection since our first practice session was going to be at 8:30 Friday morning. Even though it rained virtually all day Thursday, I was glad I was there since last year's ARCA champion, Austin Theriault, was being formally added to the ARCA Wall of Fame in Talladega's International Motorsports Hall of Fame which is located just outside the track's main gate. I got to talk with Austin again and get photos of the brief ceremony which was very cool. I also got the chance to check out the museum exhibits which are heavy on stock car history, but also included Indycar and sports car memorabilia. I have been going to Dega since 2011 and that was my first visit to the museum so I was happy to finally check it out. Now if someone can just give Austin a good ride in the Cup series (which I think he deserves), then a lot of other people will be happy too.

Mike Helton joined Ron Drager to talk about  NASCAR's acquisition of ARCA
After going out to dinner that evening with several other ARCA officials, I made sure I got a good night's rest since we had to be at the track for a 6:30 a.m. officials meeting the next morning and I knew it would be a long day with lots of walking. Little did I know what was in store for us at that meeting but we found out quickly that there was big news ready for release later that morning. We heard that NASCAR would be acquiring ARCA and effective with the 2020 season, ARCA would become a NASCAR property, albeit operating independently similar to the way IMSA operates the WeatherTech Sports Car championship (also owned by NASCAR). In the process of ARCA principal Ron Drager breaking the news to us, NASCAR bigwig Mike Helton walked out and joined Mr. Drager to make a few comments.  When the news conference occurred after the ARCA practice session was over, Ron had the best quote of the day when he said he "...wanted to be on a bigger boat..." after using an analogy of paddling a small boat on the ocean as larger ships passed by and stirred up the surf.

ARCA's Ron Drager and NASCAR's Jim France broke the news of the deal
I have often wondered why something like this hadn't happened sooner since NASCAR is the 900 pound gorilla of motorsports and ARCA has been a family owned business for more than 65 years. I was really excited to hear the news in person and can see how this deal will help ensure the longevity of the ARCA series and increase its marketing reach so that more people will find out what a great series it is. The hardest part of the morning was keeping the news quiet but everyone did a great job of that. The best part for me was that I got to be a part of stock car racing history by photographing the news conference later Friday morning when Jim France and Ron Drager announced the deal to the world.

So this Talladega ARCA weekend was historical from beginning to end and I was thrilled to be a part of it, and to have the chance to help document the moments in pictures. For more photos, be sure to visit the ARCA Racing Series website and you can click here for a brief photo gallery of my work. Thanks for reading. I will see you next at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for Indycar racing.

Zane Smith (41) barely edged out Joe Graf, Jr. for the win
I started the race in the flagstand where the view is spectacular
Michael Self put his  good looking Sinclair machine on the pole
There's really no place like Talladega in my experience
They say rubbing is racing, and Zane Smith's right side tires had all the lettering rubbed off after the last lap battle

No comments: