|ARCA tested at Daytona this weekend|
The season-opening ARCA race will celebrate its golden anniversary in 2013. The inaugural Daytona event in 1964 was the series’ first-ever superspeedway race, and headlining the list of drivers in attendance for the test was the defending race winner Bobby Gerhart, a native of Lebanon, Penn., who has dominated the season-opening race with a record eight victories, including six of the last eight.
Gerhart also holds an event-record four poles, but even with that past success, he is hungry to win a ninth Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200.
“I’m pumped up to race here, just like I was the first day I came,” Gerhart said. “We treat this race like we have not won any of them. That’s really what you have to do. You got to put yourself in position where you throw everything at it you can and work as hard as you can.”
Light rain slowed Friday’s morning session, but teams got plenty of track time in the afternoon. At the lunch break, Gerhart was anxious to see where the field stood in terms of speed.
“I’m not going to be quiet about it, we’ve done a lot of work given the new rules package,” Gerhart said. “I’m anxious for some great weather and a great opportunity to see if what I believe is going to happen happens.”
Clay Campbell, president of Martinsville Speedway made his first laps around Daytona International Speedway during the weekend test, driving a Spraker Racing Ford with a Roush Yates engine.
|Martinsville's Clay Campbell|
“I’ve been doing various types of racing for 20 years and if you had the opportunity to do something bigger, I think anybody would jump at the chance,” said Campbell, who plans to enter the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200. “Anybody that would have the opportunity to run Daytona, you would be crazy not to. The history, the tradition, this is the ultimate as far as motorsports goes.
“This is obviously hallowed ground. This is the ‘World Center of Racing.’ Who wouldn’t want to drive on the World Center of Racing?’”
Campbell is working with racing veteran Jeff Spraker, who has been fielding cars for Campbell the past two seasons in the NASCAR K&N Pro East Series. Campbell competed in the fall ARCA event at Talladega Superspeedway and is ready to tackle Daytona in February.
“That was a good place to start,” Campbell of Talladega where he started 34th and finished 26th. “Even though (Daytona and Talladega) look the same and they are almost the same, there’s quite a bit of difference. This is much narrower than Talladega.”
Newcomers Johnny VanDoorn, Travis Braden, Jonathan Eilen and Dakota Carlson also participated in the weekend test session, after earning spots in the second-year "Road to Daytona" program.
“It was pretty cool just to say some day that I got to go around Daytona,” said Carlson after his initial laps Friday. “As short track racers, we’re never going to make it to this level more than likely. It definitely sits you down in the seat when you go into the corner.
“It was a really cool feeling.”
The “Road to Daytona” program gives competitors from nearly all divisions of ARCA competition an opportunity for seat time at Daytona. Coopersville, Mich., native VanDoorn, 24, is a0 three-time ARCA CRA Super Series champion and won the 2012 title for Kaos Motorsports. Braden, an 18-year old West Virginia resident, was the circuit’s 2012 Super Series Rookie of the Year. Minnesota’s Eilen, 27, won the 2012 Midwest Tour championship, five years after becoming the series' first race winner. Carlson won the ARCA Gold Cup Series championship, contested at Toledo and Flat Rock Speedways, as well as Spartan (Mich.) Speedway.
Two-time Daytona winner and the 1995 ARCA champion Andy Hillenburg assisted the Road to Daytona drivers this weekend, and his Fast Track High Performance Driving School provided cars and support for the test.
“The first time I came here to drive at Daytona, I didn’t even have a van ride around the track,” Hillenburg said. “I had not even been on the race track, and (they said) `Go out and run 195 mph.’ That was over 20 years ago and that’s the way it was. Now, these kids can be better drivers, prepared to capitalize on the opportunities they get.”