Wednesday, April 25, 2018

These Kids Are Alright in ARCA 200 at Salem

Youngster Christian Eckes got his first ARCA Racing Series win at historic Salem
Legendary rock band the Who sang "The Kids are Alright" and that statement was never more true that at Salem Speedway this past weekend where the ARCA racing series raced for the 103rd time! Chandler Smith won his second straight ARCA pole position at the ripe old age of 15 and led the most laps before crashing on the last lap when a tire went down as he attempted a last gasp pass from second place. Christian Eckes came home the winner as another stellar teenager who isn't even old enough to run on the superspeedways yet! Both of these young men were piloting machines for the  Venturini team and Eckes snagged the team's second win of the season in the #15 car following Michael Self's survival of Daytona in February.

Nice weather made the weekend enjoyable for everyone attending
The ARCA series usually races twice per season at Salem Speedway and the two races are often quite different. The spring race is usually held on a Sunday afternoon with practice and qualifying conducted on Saturday. That makes for a much more leisurely pace around the garage area and gives me more time to edit and select images than a typical one day show offers. The Fall ARCA race is one of those one day events with practice, qualifying and the race all the same day, and it's a night race so visually it is much different than the Spring race. Everyone was happy with the weather at Salem this weekend after we all froze our butts off at Nashville two weeks earlier! I think this was my 23rd ARCA race at Salem since 2006 so I've been here more often than any other track besides the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I can't help but feel like Salem is a second "home" track for me and I have made a lot of good friends there that I look forward to seeing every year. The racing has changed a lot since that Fall 2006 race when I first started going back to Salem and it's for the better in my opinion.

Rookie Natalie Decker was again impressive in another Venturini car
Looking at the finishing order, I know Smith had to have been disappointed to be scored in 10th place after a fairly dominant race, but he took a hard lick on the Turn 1 wall in his last lap crash so I'm also sure he will leave Salem with some great memories as well as some bumps and bruises. These Salem races used to be wreckfests just a few years ago but the level of talent coming into the ARCA series has escalated year after year over the last decade and now these young drivers race hard and clean without a lot of the bump and run tactics you see in some stock car series. And they don't tear up a lot of equipment anymore so the composite bodies often look just as good after the race as when they started. Gone are the days when racers tape and bear bond was needed by half the field to patch cars back together and I am glad for that. 

At only 15 years old, Chandler Smith has amazingly qualified P1 for his first two ARCA races
Following Eckes to the checkered flag was Zane Smith, winner at Nashville for MDM Motorsports and another youngster with a good team. Zane was chased by his MDM teammate Sheldon Creed and two other young newcomers, Josh Berry and Chase Purdy. The first "veteran" to finish was Riley Herbst in 6th and he's only in his second year racing ARCA but is already a winner, taking Pocono last season as a rookie. Gus Dean followed Herbst home in 7th and now we go to Talladega this week where Gus already has a win in his brief ARCA career. Two other "kids", Colby Howard and Brandon Grosso, took 8th and 9th ahead of Chandler Smith. I doubt that any of these guys are even old enough to buy alcohol legally yet but there they all are - at the top of the charts in 700 horsepower stock cars. It is really amazing to me how they are able to race this way at such a young age. It sure is fun to be a part of it as a photographer for the series.

Gus Dean (32) has a win at Dega so he will be glad to get back south
Now that the series has raced on a couple of short tracks, it's time to head to the biggest track of the year at Talladega Superspeedway. If you've never been to "Dega" then you need to go at least once to see how huge the place is, especially the banking. It's a gigantic bowl with sides just as steep so the racing action is frenetic, side by side, nose to tail drafting at its best. Sometimes the worst happens too as the tendency for pack racing can lead to some big wrecks, although not nearly as bad in ARCA as you often see with the NASCAR races since the speed variance from top to bottom in the ARCA field is much greater. I started going to Dega in 2011 at the spring race and I think this will be my 12th visit to the home of the Alabama Gang. I have made a lot of good friends working races at Dega and the track itself is so different than anything up north that it is a special event in its own right no matter what series I am shooting. The track itself promotes its events as "More Than A Race" and that is certainly the case if you spend any time in the infield with the motor home crowd. Plus I've had the chance to make some great pictures of some of the wildest racing action I've ever been around, so that alone makes the opportunity to travel there worthwhile. Who cares if it's 500 miles to the track from my home in Indy? Not me. I will see you at the track! Until next time, click here for my photo gallery from Salem and enjoy these photos.

Pole winner Chandler Smith found the wall on the last lap after leading most of the race at Salem
Richard Petty's grandson Thad Moffitt had a rough day but the car sure looked good in Petty blue!
Race winner Christian Eckes hits the restart line in Turn 4 during Saturday's practice session.
Rookie front row starter Josh Berry (22) (shown here racing against Bret Holmes) took 4th place in his first ARCA start.

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