Opening Night at East Carolina Motor Speedway
Robersonville, NC — Just about every professional sport in today’s age has some sort of full speed, full contact practice before the real battle begins. Major League Baseball has Spring Training, the National Football League has a four game pre-season, NASCAR has open practices and test sessions. For all intents and purposes this was exactly what this weekend was for us at The Weekly Racer, a live time practice night gearing up for the 2014 race season and our inaugural touring season. To my luck I had the entire day off from my day job so what did I do, what just about any other race fan would do, packed up the equipment and headed south!
Friday was what all drivers and race fans wish for, plenty of sunshine and warm temperatures. The day saw moderate cloud cover and temps well in the upper 60’s for most of the afternoon and into the evening. Before jumping on the road I had to run a few errands around town and I used it as my test to see if riding with the top down would be a viable option… I decided against it and just went windows down.
The drive from Newport News to Robersonville, North Carolina – the quiet little city to play host to this new NASCAR Hometrack – was actually really pleasant! Though the GPS I was using decided to take me through downtown Suffolk, on a Friday afternoon, while certain roads were closed and/or under construction BUT I can’t be to angry the maps haven’t been updated in a few years and, I still got there ten minutes before the gates opened. I do have to be honest though, this has been the most ‘Out In The Middle Of No Where’ tracks I have been to yet! Which is one of the things I loved about this place!
The closer I got to my destination the smaller and more ‘windy’ the roads got. It took me down one road, I guess it was a short cut, that I actually was not sure if it was paved or just a gravel road that has been compacted over the years! Pulling up to the track I noticed there wasn’t a huge billboard out front, not a ton of bright lights – hell there wasn’t even street lights on the road the track is on – no fancy parking lot, this to me was the definition of short track racing.
You know I come from a track that has been around for quite a few years now, that has gone through management changes, upgrades, renovations, but there was something that stuck out in my mind about East Carolina Motor Speedway. Something about the wooden grandstands, and red guard rail that still encompasses most of this 3/8 mile high banked tri-oval. I don’t want it to sound like Mr. Perry and his staff are behind the times, I actually feel like it adds something special to the track, a reminder of where the sport has come from.
Open Those Gates
Every other Friday afternoon at 4 pm (EDT) East Carolina Motor Speedway will open its gates to drivers and fans alike! I will say make sure you get there ASAP because there was a line of eight or nine cars lined up waiting to get into the pits and set up. There were definitely some opening night jitters/confusion, however, the staff was very diligent and worked together to over come those obstacles. I highly suggest heading over to www.ecspeedway.com for all their ticket pricing and a full listing of this seasons race schedule.
Practice got underway right at 6 pm (EDT), race control was pushing for two rounds for each class with a five-minute time limit whether cars were on the track or not. Not a whole lot of time to figure out a line or a set up, but there is only so much you can do when gates open later in the afternoon. I was hoping to provide you with some practice times to see who was going to be fast right out the gate but the track was working out some glitches and training with the new scoring system and scoreboard, not to mention some drivers had not placed their transponders in the machines just yet.
Race director, Dalford Briley and his crew kept things running smooth as silk through practice leading up to qualifying. Now again remember there are a lot of things I am still learning this season so I was a bit surprised when only Late Model Stocks & Limited Late models took the track for 2 laps of qualifying. In my previous experience with Saturday night racing each division got at least one lap on the clock, but when your running a program that is not able to start until 4 pm I can see the need to draw pills to start the lower divisions.
UCAR – 20 Laps
The UCAR division was the first to start the 2014 season at East Carolina. A division that over the years has grown in popularity due to the lower financial needs to field these cars. Eleven cars showed up to help kick this season off right and by the luck of the draw the #08 of Joseph Pittman was given the honor of starting on the pole and when the green flag waved he wasted no time jumping out to a huge lead.
It did not take long however for the first caution flag to wave when last years points champion #48 Duane Walker broke loose in turn four and smacked the guard rail pretty hard. When the field took the green flag on lap 5 so did the #90 machine of Greg Walston, and he took the lead in commanding fashion jumping out four to five car links over the rest of the field.
The race would see two more caution flags and one intense battle for the win. With five laps the #24 car of Thomas Brandner decided it was time to get down to business. Spending three-quarters of the race hanging towards the back of the top five, Brander took the lead from Travis Miller down the back straightaway coming to the white flag and held the field of to capture his first win of the season.
Street Stock – 10 Laps & Mini Stock – 25 Laps
The Street Stock division originally set to take to the track for a 25 lap feature was shortened to 10 laps after only three cars showed up for opening night. To make matters worse the #10 of Frank Reigel ran into problems on the warm up laps and was unable to take the green flag and the black #3 of Travis Roberson took the checkers in dominating fashion over Nathan Ward and the #40 car.
Mini Stocks were next to take the track. The first time seeing a division like this, all but one car had an old style mustang 5.0 body and all of them sounded like V6 engines. Either way, you could tell these drivers were eager to get the adrenaline pumping through their system as it took the field three tries to get underway. Coy Whitehurts drives way to deep into one spins, creates a full restart. Then pole sitter Andy Ipock #51 & Lee Campbell try twice to get a good green flag start. Each time punching the throttle before flagman Terry Bullock threw the green flag, “I’m gonna give these boys one more time before moving the whole field up,” Bullock told the tower. The message must have been received as the fourth time was a charm.
The #12 car of Kevin Peirce took the lead on lap 3 and never looked back as the field cruised for 25 laps with only one caution on lap 18 for potential oil leaking. Track officials slowed the field down to check each car, checked them all out, nothing was bad enough to warrant a black flag and we were back to green flag racing for a seven lap shootout where Peirce held on to win followed by the #24 of Barnes, #01 of Whitehurst, the #51 of Ipock and the #64 on Cambell.
Late Model Stock Car – 100
The race that everyone had been waiting for all night, home track hero of Michael Rouse starting on the pole and new comer Deac McCaskill made of the first of four rows to take the green flag. What shocked me right off the bat was how fast McCaskill and his blue #08 fell to the back of the pack. At first I thought he was having mechanical issues, or not enough practice time at a new track, but then it hit me; he is saving his stuff for the end.
Michael Rouse did not care however as he jumped out to a one second lead of long time Langley Speedway driver Jeff Shiflett. There was no looking back for the #23 machine as he held just over a one second lead for the first quarter of the race, while 2013 Southern National Motorsports Park Champion Deac McCaskill still rides over eight seconds behind the leader.
It wasn’t until lap 40 that McCaskill seemed to turn on the jets while Shifflett looked to lose a bit on his car as the #9 machine of Burbage passes Shifflett like he was standing still. We only had one caution during the entire race for debris that was found in the racing line in the middle of turns one and two. This was a huge break for McCaskill & Shifflett as Deac had seamed to have lost the field and allowed for Shifflett to cool his tires.
Lap 75 was a scary moment as Brian Whitehurst in the #8 machine gets way loose out of turn number two almost collecting now charging Deac McCaskill. With 16 laps to go McCaskill takes second position away and set his eyes on race leader Michael Rouse. Deac finally took the lead with 5 laps left as Michael Rouse tried everything he could to hold onto the lead but it just was not enough as McCaskill took the white flag with a two car lead and brought home the trophy.
After the races were complete I caught up with Deac and asked him how it felt to get the win first time here.
“Feels good man,” McCaskill told me. “Hate that we only had seven cars here you know but still, a wins a win. It was a challenge for us, it was the first time we had seen this track today. We had two really short practices, we were fairly close when we unloaded, we still made a lot of changes anticipating that tire wear was going to be really bad.”
When the race got under way and Deac feel to the back of the pack I looked over to the announcer and told him, watch for that 08 I can guarantee you he is saving his stuff for the end and boy did he ever. “I didn’t want to drop back that far, I was hoping to run second or third,” McCaskill weighed in on dropping back so far. “I panicked there for a minute and said I think I better go.” Deac took off and with the help of a mid race caution was able to be there for one exciting finish at the end.
I did ask Deac how this year was going to play out with points, will he run SNMP and ECMS with hopes of a national championship he told me right now the team is just taking it week by week. “Last year we ran a lot of races and it was just tough.” McCaskill did express they would see how things played out about midway through the season and see if they had a chance to run for a national title.
Limited Late Models – 50 Laps
The Limited late models were the last division to take the track for their 50 lap feature. It didn’t take long to run into trouble as the #3 of Travis Roberson snapped loose going into one hits the wall hard and drops a lot of fluid on the track. Clean up took quite some time to finish as there was fluid from top to bottom. More misfortune for some teams on opening night as Taylor Howard has a ton of smoke out the back of his #99 machine and he was done for the night. About midway through the race the #77 had issues and had to take his machine behind the wall! Lap 35 pretty much sealed as the #16 of Daniels takes the lead as White slowed up and took a three to four car lead quick and cruised his way to victory.
East Carolina Motor Speedway will take the week off and return Friday April 4th for race number two of the season. If you have some time head over to their website, here is the link – www.ecspeedway.com – for some more information. While you are doing that why don’t you head over to our Facebook page www.facebook.com/theweeklyracer, very soon I will be giving away two sets of tickets for the April 4th race. If you have not liked the page click the Like button when you see the announcement and you are entered to win, if you already like the page simple share the status on your page and you will be entered to win.