The 2007 Championship Season in Review
Achieving peak performance in any sport or line of work requires developing a strategy and tactics. When Justin and I began racing in 2002, we were in it for the fun, nothing more. Therefore, we were as much door-slammers and fender-bangers as anyone. When we moved to the Factory Stock Division in 2004, we put together a five year plan to win a championship. Admittedly, this seemed like a big order as the Factory Stock Division of SCRA was filled with good, experienced drivers with many years behind the wheel, as well as several former champions. As it turned out, the championship came in the fourth season, which was a surprise to many people as neither Justin nor I are mechanics, although Justin has a solid foundation of automotive knowledge. We do, however, come from a good Scots-Irish gene pool of stock car racers and have the minimal smarts to put together and follow a plan to win.
To win the championship, we knew that Justin had to develop the same skill-set as the top drivers, and we had to have first-class equipment; we knew we could do both. Justin based his racing philosophy on that of Larry Graham, the 1951 Kentucky Regional Champion. The Graham story will be told in its entirety at a later date; however, in summary, Justin wanted to establish himself as a clean driver worthy of the respect of the top drivers at Manzanita Speedway; he wanted to learn to protect his equipment; he needed to develop a routine that would focus his mind on race day; and perhaps, most importantly, develop the patience to let the race come to him and be prepared to take advantage of opportunity even though it happened at high speeds. Secondly, we needed the best equipment and that takes financial support. That’s where our sponsors stepped up. Through a combination of cash, equipment, and parts and service provided by our sponsors, Justin Upton Racing had a top car on the track at every race event throughout the season. Justin always termed the car as “magic,” and that’s because it was a great racecar, thanks to all of our sponsors.
During 2004 and 2005, Justin always gave room to the top dogs when they tried to pass him. He knew he could not keep up with them and would only serve as an antagonist by trying to hold them back and perhaps cause a wreck. In his words, “winning at this stage was not as important as building my skill and creating the ‘karma’ that will be paid back to me someday.” Deliberately, he did not build the strongest cars during these years. What was the point if he didn’t have the skill to control the power? Furthermore, according to many NASCAR drivers and personal experience, it takes much more skill to race on dirt than on asphalt. So part of the plan was to be patient, work on skill, not speed, and build up the equipment needed for a championship run.
The road to the championship began in earnest in late 2005, when Justin Upton Racing purchased the car in which Anthony Madrid won the 2005 championship. Justin knew this was a great racecar because Anthony Madrid, an eight-time champion, built it, and it had never been in a wreck. Again, Justin did not feel that he was ready to compete for the championship so this car was jazzed up and repainted and used as a “show car” during 2006, appearing in front of over 200,000 people at various car shows in Phoenix. Most racers were mystified about buying the car but not racing it.
After the 2006 season was in the books, the Stock Car Racing Association (SCRA) made one significant rule change that Justin and I fought against for three consecutive months as the rule worked its way through the SCRA process. Traditionally, SCRA has operated with an open motor rule as long as the motor was “stock” as defined in the rules. As a result, drivers gained horsepower by adding cubic inches. In 2006 Justin ran a 383 stroker while most of the top drivers ran with 400s, 406s or 410s. Justin Upton Racing had already invested in a new Chevy 410 for the 2007 season. To our dismay, SCRA approved a rule change to a 360 cubic inch motor limitation. We were disappointed because we had the big engine and Justin was ready to handle it. Nevertheless, Justin benefited more than anyone with the new motor rule.
The racecar with which Justin won the 2007 championship is a 1976 Chevrolet Camaro with a 360 cubic inch Chevrolet motor built by Chris Smith of Five Star Engine & Exchange in Glendale, Arizona. The carburetor, by rule, is a four barrel Quadra jet; Justin’s were built by Rod’s Carb’s in Phoenix, Arizona. The transmission is a 350 Powerglide built by Ben Zapia of Columbia Transmissions in Mesa, Arizona. The chassis and roll-cage were built and set up by Anthony Madrid. SCRA inspects the top five finishers after every main event; as a result, Justin’s #66 was inspected 16 of 17 times during the season and once pre-season. Obviously, the car meets all of SCRA’s specifications.
Weight and overheating are critical factors in dirt-track stock car racing. In addition, SCRA rules require a roll cage built to certain specifications which add weight. On the other hand, the car builder is allowed to remove all extraneous weight. The result is a chassis, roll cage, motor, drive train, and the skin of a 1976 Chevy Camaro. The final racecar weighed 2,965 pounds compared to a normal Camaro weight of about 3,500 pounds. Overheating is countered by tuning the motor to the nth degree and running an aluminum radiator, a mister system, and a transmission cooler. Inasmuch as temperatures in the cockpit can reach 140-150 degrees fahrenheit, Justin had his own water bottle in the cockpit with a tube running to his helmet.
One of the keys is the overall gear ratio of the car as the car has to be geared to achieve maximum speed on the 1/3 mile track while maintaining enough torque to come out of the turns with power. All the cars have locked rear-ends thereby transferring maximum power to both rear wheels. The development of speed and power is a delicate balance and # 66 achieved this balance as well as anyone. While the cars do not have speedometers, one can calculate the speed based on the gear ratio and the rpms generated by the motor. With optimal track conditions it appears that the car is capable of hitting 90-95 mph by the end of the straightaway. Overall, an average speed of 60-65 mph is typical over the 1/3 mile, banked-turn course.
SCRA uses a limiting tire rule to control the speed of the stock cars. All cars must be equipped with street tires manufactured for use on passenger cars. Number 66 runs with Cooper GT’s and 8” chrome wheels provided by Higginson Tire & Wheel in Queen Creek, Arizona.
Safety features for the driver and car include the roll cage, special battery container, racing fuel cell secured in a compartment located in the trunk of the car, and a small fire extinguisher mounted in the cockpit. Drivers are required to wear a double-layered fire suit, fireproof gloves and shoes, a special racing helmet, and a five-point harness with a quick release mechanism. For improved vision, drivers place several plastic “tear-offs” across the face plate of their helmets, which can be pulled off one at a time during a race to remove the dirt and mud that accumulates on the face plate during a race.
During the 2007 season we provided a weekly, running commentary on Justin’s and the #66 performance; therefore, we won’t repeat that here. Instead, we will summarize the season’s high points and results.
Justin Upton Racing gives a special thanks to its sponsors: Auto Trading Publishing, Union Bank, Waldo’s BBQ, Thompson Auto Repair & Towing, Columbia Transmissions, Prattster Graphics, Proud Owner Design, Higginson Tire & Wheel, Photo Tee’s, Ideal Pest Control, Five Star Engine & Exchange, Southeast Valley Line-X, Dan’s Racing Supply, PrimeStaff, and Diversified Trucks. Also, thanks to our E-Team and fans who have followed our championship season. We hope all of you join us as Justin and the #66 tries for a repeat in 2008.
Upton Wins the 2007 Championship
Justin Upton is the Stock Car Racing Association’s 2007 factory stock champion at Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix, Arizona. Long live the king, and may he prosper always!
Most people think that this quest for the championship began in March 2007, the beginning of the season. They would not be correct; the quest began in the heart and soul of a ten year old kid in Bowling Green, Kentucky in 1951 as he watched his father, Latt Upton, and Larry Graham, a 22 year old lead-footed daredevil, win the Kentucky Regional Championship at Beech Bend Park in Bowling Green. Nineteen hundred and fifty-one was the most exciting and memorable year in the history of the world. Every time Larry Graham took to the track in that fabulous 1938 Dodge stock car with the ’36 Cadillac engine, it was really the kid behind the wheel, pushing hard into the corners and coming out into the straightaway with a full head of steam. Oh, the power of childhood dreams; let them never die!
In June 2002, Justin Upton had to be coaxed, perhaps brow-beaten is the proper word, to go to the race track. He pleaded, “Dad, we can’t race with these people; this is Manzanita Speedway, and we’re out of our league.” He was right in 2002, but I knew that we could learn. Also, I knew that Justin had it in him; at least that’s what I surmised from the various police blotters from his youth. But I have always been aware that if one doesn’t believe a particular thing can be done, then it can’t be done. A great satisfaction has been watching Justin’s driving skills grow, almost from race to race, but, more importantly, his confidence in himself that he could climb this magical mountain to a stock car championship. In 56 years of racing at Manzanita Speedway very few people have accomplished such a feat; to be a part of that circle is no small achievement. We will talk more about the plan to win a championship in a later writing.
Justin went into tonight’s event with a 21 point lead over Bobby Taylor, the defending champion and a Stock Car Racing Association hall of famer. We discussed playing it safe but Justin decided that he wanted to race with the style that got him to this place: flat-out, full bore racing. He was coming off his best night ever, winning all three of his races last week. Tonight it appeared there would be more of the same as he bolted from the blocks, winning the trophy dash and his heat race, a streak of five straight wins. Tonight’s heat race win placed him on the pole for the main event and gave him a 27 point lead. Windy McDonald, the Manzanita announcer, did the math and announced that if Justin finished 15th or better he would win the championship.
Through most of the main event, it seemed that another clean sweep was in the works. Justin quickly moved into first place, holding back the big boys, i.e. Larry Price, Bobby Erdman, Anthony Madrid, Jody Henderson, and Bobby Taylor. Price and Erdman pressed him especially hard, but it appeared that Justin had the horsepower to hold them back. Every time the pressure was greatest, Justin would stretch it out another car length. Two yellow flags resulted in restarts alongside Price; each time Justin beat him into turn one and reclaimed his lead. On the third yellow flag at lap 14, Price got the jump and took the lead coming out of turn two. Suddenly, there was Erdman and Madrid knocking on the door. It was getting a little dicey in the sandwich between the two former champions, and with Bobby Taylor losing his radiator and spinning out, Justin eased off, dropped into fourth place where he finished. The championship was in the bag!
When the flagman gave Justin the checkered flag for a victory lap, I recalled the last time that Upton Racing took a victory lap with the flag. It was October 21, 1951, my father’s 38th birthday, and Larry Graham did the honors in #22. See if you can figure this out: Justin’s car number is 66, and he is a third generation stock car driver.
Although the season is behind us, we plan to send emails telling all of you about the sponsors who have supported us thereby making this championship possible, an outline of the details of the championship racecar, a description of the five year plan that we followed to win a championship, and the story of Larry Graham, the first Upton Racing champion.
The Saga of Bobby Taylor and Justin Upton:
Both Bobby Taylor and Justin Upton want to win the stock car championship at Manzanita Speedway. Taylor has won the title twice, is the defending champion, and a 2006 inductee into the Stock Car Racing Association’s Hall of Fame. His reputation as a stock car driver is assured but another championship would be so sweet. Upton, on the other hand, is a comparative newcomer, a Factory Stock Division driver in his fourth season, although he had a couple of years in Bombers and Claimers. He has never finished higher than ninth. Upton has the correct genealogy as his grandfather, Latt Upton, won the 1951 Kentucky Regional Championship as an owner in Bowling Green, Kentucky. It remains to be seen if he can duplicate his grandfather’s exploits. Both of these men have put on an amazing show each week of the 2007 season with never more than a handful of points separating them. It was a three way race until last week when a disqualification took Larry Price out of contention.
Coming into tonight, Bobby Taylor was coming off two consecutive main event victories. A win tonight would take him a long way toward repeating as the Stock Car Racing Association Factory Stock champion. Justin Upton, on the other hand, who has been incredibly consistent this season, trailed Taylor the past two weeks, but gave up only five points in the championship chase. Coming into tonight’s race, Upton remains 12 points in the lead.
The Stock Car Racing Association rules, under which we operate, states that the winners of the previous week’s heat races will comprise the field for the trophy dash the next week. Since Upton won his heat race last week, he will start on the front row outside for the trophy dash. Taylor, who finished second to Upton in last week’s heat race, will lose out on the opportunity to pick up from one to four points in the dash. At the green flag, Upton beat Ron Smith, the pole setter, to turn one and the race was essentially over. Upton was gone and finished with a full straightaway lead.
A lucky pill draw put Justin Upton on the front row outside for his heat race; Bobby Taylor was farther back in the field. The outside front row was a good starting position as the track was beginning to dry and the outside line was very fast. Again, Upton beat the pole setter to turn one and then played get-gone. Bobby Taylor made a great run from the back of the field, but by the time he took over second place, Upton’s lead was insurmountable.
The main event, however, was the show. By virtue of his heat race win and coin toss for the inversion, which was defeated, Upton started on the front row outside again. Maybe this was his lucky night. The pole setter, however, was the veteran driver, Paul Arseneau, and he beat Upton to turn one and took the lead with Justin on his bumper. Bobby Erdman, Bobby Taylor, and Larry Price were right there; there was no real advantage at this point. As usual, track conditions came into play. The track went dry-slick, very fast, and dangerous. Then, all of a sudden, all by himself, Arneseau spun out and Upton took the lead for a moment with Price pressing him. Price was really working the outside line and overtook Justin. Now Price had the lead, Justin second, Erdman third and Taylor fourth.
With the track dry-slick the yellow flags began to fly. Over the remainder of the race there were five yellow flags resulting in a double-file restart. Since Price was in the lead he got to choose whether he wanted the inside or outside line. At each restart he chose the fast outside line, which put Upton on the inside. Taylor and Erdman were behind Price and Upton on each restart. At every wave of the green flag, Upton got a slight advantage as they approached turn one, but Price’s momentum on the high line would swing him through the turn and back into first place. Every restart revealed the experience of Larry Price against his on charging protégée, Justin Upton. Price is aware that Upton’s car is just a little faster than his car, so he began to start the race early before reaching the orange cone in turn four, which is the spot where the cars are supposed to accelerate as the green flag flies. By now, the track had changed again, making the outside line the fastest in turns one and two and the inside line the fastest in turns three and four. On the last restart near the end of the race, Upton had figured out how to get by Price, using his advantage of the inside line coming out of turn four and racing Price hard into turn one; instead of letting off, Upton feathered the throttle, pushing Price a little higher while he accelerates hard on the inside out of turn one. They race side by side, throttles wide open, never touching as they went into turn three; Erdman and Taylor stayed close. Upton still had the inside line and that was the advantage in turns three and four. As he charged out of turn four he had the lead and Price could not keep up. At the finish it was Upton, Price, Taylor, and Erdman, pretty good company at Manzanita Speedway.
Justin Upton made the first clean sweep of his career, winning the trophy dash, heat race, and the main event. At the end of the race Upton’s 12 point lead over Bobby Taylor, the defending champion and SCRA Hall of Famer, had expanded to 21 points. The championship will be decided next Friday, October 5, 2007, at 7:30 p.m. Come and join us.
A Bare-Knuckled Brawl:
With only three races remaining in the 2007 schedule, the gloves have come off, and it is going to be bare-knuckles to the finish. Manzanita Speedway officials announced prior to the race that they had cautioned all drivers to let the fast cars go and try not to interfere with the closest points race in history. So much for that announcement; tonight’s event was the most contentious, aggressive race of the season. It seemed that every driver was aware that with only four races remaining, it was now or never. The track was extremely fast with the outside line being the most popular. To make matters worse, by the time of the main events, the track was dry-slick, rough and rutted.
Although every race was hotly contested, all eyes were on the main event, with Justin Upton, Bobby Taylor, and Larry Price locked in a championship points race that could go to any of them. At the beginning of the evening, Upton was in first place with a 17 point lead over Taylor and a 22 point lead over Price.
The Stock Car Racing Association (SCRA) has a tradition to have the first heat race winner call a coin toss prior to every main event. If the driver wins the call, the main event is run straight up. If the driver loses the call, the field is inverted; in other words, the closer to the front one was in the heat race, the farther back in the field one starts the main event. Tonight was an unlucky night for the winners of the heats as they went to the back. Focusing on the three men locked in the championship battle found Bobby Taylor, the defending champion, on the pole, Upton on the outside third row, and Price on the inside fourth row. The drama began immediately as Henderson was caught up in an early crash that crushed the right side of his car. Meanwhile, lucky Justin Upton just missed the crash, and found himself in fourth position with Taylor in the lead and Price moving up. On the restart, Upton worked his way into the lead on lap four, remaining in front until another yellow flag at lap eight stopped the action. For whatever reason, tonight, all restarts were double file rather that single file as has been the practice. Upton, as the leader, chose to start on the outside, giving the inside position to Bobby Taylor. At the green flag, Upton hesitated while Taylor punched it. By turn two, Price had taken second and Upton was back in fourth place. Meanwhile, Price, who was contending for the lead, was black flagged as smoke poured from his engine. There was pressure on every lap, whether from the top cars or the cars at the back of the field. At the end it was Taylor with the win, Anthony Madrid in second with a recently purchased car (Madrid is a nine-time champion), Upton, Paul Arseneau, and Larry Olney in fifth. And that is not the end of the story.
On the political front there is trouble brewing. Larry Price learned early in the week that he had been disqualified from the race on September 7, 2007, as a result of findings in the post-race inspection. The disqualification would strip Price of his points in that night’s event, dropping him out of contention for the championship. Price immediately appealed the decision to the SCRA Board of Directors, which has not yet held a hearing on the matter. Price is one of the top drivers in SCRA, a former champion and member of the SCRA Hall of Fame. Hold on, race fans, as it appears that the 2007 Factory Stock championship chase is going to be a donnybrook!
With three races to go, Justin Upton has a 16 point lead over Bobby Taylor. However, until the controversy with Price is resolved, there is no telling how 2007 will play out. The next race is Friday, September 21, 2007, at 7:30 p.m
Closest Points Chase In Manzanita Speedway History
According to Manzanita Speedway, the 2007 points chase in the Factory Stock Division is the closest on record at Manzy. Those of you who are following this season with us are probably fully aware of that fact. The chase has been close from the first race and there has been no let up, although the gap widened a little tonight.
The thing that makes dirt track racing so much fun, if you’re into that sort of thing, are all the variables that go into trying to win, where change is the only constant throughout a night’s events. Key elements include the driver’s emotional attitude, which can change from minute to minute as events unfold, skill, equipment, which can be affected by various factors during the race card, track conditions, and the level of competition, which is affected in different ways by all of these elements.
Manzanita Speedway is a one-third mile clay oval with banked turns. Several hours prior to the race, the track is scraped, harrowed, and water is applied to the clay. About 45 minutes before the first race, all the cars are put on the track to do what is called “mud packing.” The idea is to force the water deep into the clay and create a “tacky” or sticky surface on which to race. When everything is done exactly right, the track is very fast; however, the track prep workers may start a little early or late, put on too little or too much water, or weather conditions may affect the resulting track surface. A slight, but constant, wind or even a breeze may change the surface.
Tonight the track was heavy in the early stages of the race. In other words, there seemed to be too much water, creating a little mud, which slows the cars. As the race card unfolded, the constant pounding by the cars during the heat races dried out the track, and it then became a dry, slick surface for the main event. The best racers learn to read the track and make changes in their racing setup accordingly. Tonight, Justin put a smaller tire on his right front and a larger tire on his left rear to offset the car’s tendency to get “loose” in the turns. Getting loose means that the rear of the car is trying change places with the front of the car or “spin out.”
Justin was in tonight’s trophy dash via his heat race win last week, starting on the outside front row next to Ron Poe. One of the greatest thrills of racing is the green flag start when all cars mash the accelerators to the floor at the same time. Tonight was no exception and they went into turn one four wide; that doesn’t work. As a result, Justin and Larry Price were elbowed to the back, Price popping a tire and going to the pits. At the end of four laps, Poe won and Justin was in second place, adding three points to his total.
Going into tonight’s card, Larry Price was in third place in the chase, so naturally, he won his heat race, creating just a little more pressure. Justin had his worst pill draw of the year and started his heat in sixth position. At the end of three laps he had worked his way to second place behind Jody Henderson, a four-time champion at Central Arizona Raceway, just to give you some idea of the level of competition at Manzanita. Justin pressured Henderson, going inside and outside. A couple of times he got the nose of his car underneath Jody, but could not make the pass, and everybody knows that if Jody gets out front, he can’t be passed—until tonight. On the white flag lap Justin moved to the outside groove high on the track and used the sling-shot move that Larry Price used on him a couple of weeks ago. Going down the back stretch Justin slowly moved past Henderson and came out of turn four hard for the win. Justin was going deeper into the turns tonight, deeper than I’ve ever seen, and it paid off. As the drivers go into the turns, there is an imaginary point at which they let off the gas, which slows the car for the turn, and then they punch it again, sliding the car through the turn. By going deeper before letting off, one can get through the turn quicker, if one doesn’t slide over the top of the banked turn as a result of too much speed.
After the heat race win, the main event was almost anti-climatic—almost. Upton started on the second row inside behind Larry Price with Paul Arseneau on the outside front row. The greatest danger is when all 20 cars plow into turn one bunched together. Tonight was no exception; there was a big pileup and a restart. After that, for four laps Justin followed Price and Arseneau as they raced side by side. Yellow flags slowed the field, spread it out, and the best cars and drivers gradually moved to the front. At the end it was Price, Arseneau, Matt Martinez, the teenager, Upton, and Henderson. At the end of the night, Justin increased his points lead to 13 over the new second place driver, Larry Price, and to 17 over Bobby Taylor, who dropped to third.
There are four races to go with the next race scheduled for next Friday, September 14, 2007. Race time has been moved up to 7:30 p.m. The last race will be on October 5, 2007
The Air is Clean and Fresh – Up Front
As we have been reminded more than once by Larry Graham, Upton Racing’s 1951 champion, stock car racing is about 50 percent luck. After that, add in the other factors that make up a winner: good equipment, patience, and, finally, driver’s skill. Justin Upton Racing had all of that tonight with heat race and main event wins. Actually, we have had good equipment all season; at the end of the year we will give you a detailed description of the #66 car, its engine, and setup. We will talk about all of the challenges we faced in the off season and what we did about them. Furthermore, for the most part, Justin has displayed a remarkable patience behind the wheel, with a little slippage here and there. To top it off, his driving skill has taken a giant leap forward this season.
Justin Upton Racing began the night with a four point lead over Bobby Taylor and a nine point lead over Larry Price. He ended the night with an eight point lead over Taylor and a 17 point lead over Price. To put his performance in perspective, both Taylor and Price are former champions and are members of the Arizona Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame. Justin is doing a great job, and to the credit of Price, he has been a mentor to Justin since his debut in 2002. Also, Larry Graham of Bowling Green, Kentucky has mentored Justin by email all season. Justin claims that he has patterned his driving style after that of Graham as explained to him by his grandfather and father.
In stock car racing at Manzanita Speedway, the pill draw for heat race starting positions is critical. Normally, only the top four or five, depending on the number of cars that show up, go to the main event. When one starts near the back of a short heat race, sometimes it can be tough to get to the front half of the field before the race is over. That means one goes to the semi-main event for a shot at the last five starting positions in the main event. The semi is a door-banging, desperate, last chance to get to the main event; so one must hope for a good pill draw. Justin, and I hope this doesn’t jinx him, has had a marvelous run of good pill draws based on his use of a strategy founded on mathematical probabilities; sorry, we can’t explain this one to you, it’s a secret. Tonight, it worked again with Justin starting his heat race on the outside front row.
Justin’s car is powered by an engine built by Chris Smith, owner of Five Star Engine & Exchange in Glendale, Arizona. All season long when he has started up front, he has consistently been able to beat his opponent to the first turn. Again, tonight, he raced down the front straight and slid into turn one, coming out of turn two in first place. He led his heat all the way to the checkered flag. It was a very smooth run.
The main event was hardly different. Justin started on the outside front
row due to his heat race win. Again, he beat Ron Poe to turn one and
was in first place. As always, Jody Henderson, Larry Price and Bobby
Taylor tucked in behind him within a lap or two. Anthony Madrid, another
mentor and Hall of Famer, advised Justin to run the middle groove in
turns one and two and hold tight to the inside on turns three and four.
He did exactly as told; Henderson and Price tried the outside move that
was so successful for Price last week, but different track conditions
sent both of them over the outside cushion in turns one and two, shifting
them back in the field. Taylor stayed with Justin but never could make
a move on him, even though he had several opportunities when yellow flags
tightened up the field. At the trophy ceremony, Taylor said he kept waiting
for Upton to make a mistake but he never did. That is true; Justin ran
about as good a stock car race tonight as is possible, at least in Phoenix,
Hot Night, Hot Race in Phoenix
Everyone knows that racecar drivers wear a double-layered fire suit, fire-proof gloves and shoes, and a crash helmet; furthermore, the heat from the engine comes right into the cockpit. The weatherman obviously has a sense of humor, since he made it 108 degrees at race time, which was 8 p.m. It was probably 140-150 degrees in the cockpit. It was hot tonight!
The points chase for the championship also got a little hotter tonight. Justin Upton began the night four points ahead of two-time champion, Bobby Taylor, and eleven points in front of Larry Price, a former champion and third place driver. This is one of the closest championship runs in many years, maybe the closest of all time at Manzanita. Apparently, the chase is going to the wire, and we only have six races to go. Equipment and endurance will be the keys as the drivers have five more consecutive weeks of racing, then two weeks off before the finale on October 12, 2007. Justin is feeling all of his 46 years, losing six pounds tonight and feeling sick all the way home.
Fifty-six years ago this weekend, Manzanita Speedway opened for its first race. Tonight’s celebration opened under new owners who have made obvious improvements to the track. There was a sense of excitement in spite of the heat. Looking for something different, they even changed the format for the race. The top 12 in the points chase were placed automatically in the main event. The remaining cars had to run a qualifying race with the top eight going to the main event. The top 12 were brought to the front straightaway, introduced to the crowd, and commanded to pick up a Frisbee, look at the number on the bottom, and throw the Frisbee to the grandstands. Justin picked number four, second row, outside, not bad.
Unless you have been on the track, you just can’t imagine the tension and excitement of the parade lap and then, as you come out of turn four, the green flag flies and everybody punches the accelerator to the floor at the same time. The roar is deafening! Turns one and two with 20 cars going hell-bent is almost death defying. There is lots of banging and slamming as the cars push to open holes to race through. By the time the cars hit turns three and four of lap one there is already a certain amount of stringing it out. Now you can breathe. Well, Justin blasted through turns one and two on the outside and by the time he was coming out of turn two, he was already pushing the car in front of him for third place. Coming out of turn two on lap two Justin had taken second place behind Jody Henderson, who is in fourth place in the standings. Tonight Jody had the better car. Throughout the race, Jody gradually lengthened his lead. It appeared that the race was his unless he made a mistake. Halfway through the race the top five in the field became the same top five drivers in the points standings: Jody, Justin, Bobby Taylor, Larry Price, Matt Martinez. All of them were running the inside line; the remainder of the field spent the night banging and bashing each other in every groove in the track. The leaders continued to protect the inside line and there was no passing up front. Finally, on lap 18, Larry Price, the old pro, gambled and moved away from the rail to the outside cushion. It worked! On lap 19 Price roared into turn one high on the cushion while Henderson, Upton, and Taylor stayed inside. Price got high enough that he looked like a sling shot as he zipped past Justin and Bobby as they came out of turn two headed toward three and four and the checkered flag. Price didn’t have enough to catch Henderson, but he was second, with Justin third and Taylor fourth. Justin didn’t make a mistake; Price gambled and it paid off.
At night’s end, Justin retains his four point lead over Bobby Taylor. Larry Price was the big winner, gaining six points, and now stands in third, only five points back.
This chase is so nerve wracking that tonight I considered praying for divine intervention, but I didn’t. For some reason, it just didn’t seem proper to bother the Man over a stock car race, especially when He probably has more urgent things to consider.
The Iceman Gets Caught in a Hot Westerly Wind!
A couple of weeks ago Justin was interviewed on the radio show, Racing Roundup. During the show, Mike Huneycutt, a Manzanita Speedway track official and two-time racing champion, dubbed Justin “The Iceman” for his calm demeanor on the track. Well, tonight the Iceman almost melted! And it wasn’t just the high temperatures. Tonight’s racing action was the first in six weeks as the summer break came to an end. The rust from the layoff showed in almost every driver, including Justin Upton, who began the night seven points in front of Bobby Taylor and 16 points ahead of Larry Price. It was not only the rustiness from the layoff, but it appeared that everybody was anxious to win the race on the first lap; sorry, it can’t be done, and tonight’s results proved the point.
It was hot tonight, about 104 degrees at race time, 8 p.m. The track, however, was in good racing condition and the cars seemed to be very fast. Justin and his #66 ran the trophy dash hard on a wet, slick track, finishing second behind Larry Price. He started sixth in the heat race and finished third. Fortunately, the coin flip for the main event resulted in an inverted field, which worked for Justin, placing him on the third row outside.
The flags were flying tonight, mostly yellow flags, that is; the main event set a record for the slowest race on record, taking over 30 minutes to race 20 laps. As I said, everybody, including Justin, was trying to win on lap one. With one lap down, there was a five car spin and crash in turn three and a three car pileup in turn two. Upton Racing was lucky in avoiding both messes. After the cars were sorted out, three went back to the pits, and Justin was in fourth place with 19 laps to go. All three cars in front of him were in unfamiliar territory due to the inverted field. I was thinking that our #66 was going to quickly move to the front, but little do I know about racing after all these years.
As the green flag dropped again, Justin immediately stomped the gas, riding Ron Poe’s bumper into turn one where Poe loses it, goes into a spin, and Justin goes right along with him. Under the rules, both cars go to the end of the line. Now in 17th position for the restart, my euphoria has turned to disappointment. Now I am hoping for a top 10 finish. In the past, Justin has shown the ability to move through the field after being dogged by adversity; so there is hope. So there he goes, passing one car every lap until about lap 10 when Larry Price blows a tire and spins in front of him. This time he is on the brakes but while he is slowing, everybody else is accelerating around him. Justin is back in 17th place with 10 laps to go.
Although Justin is older than some of our sponsors, imagine that this is your kid; I just want the race to end. What happened next is almost unbelievable. Some fans in our section thought that Justin got p----d off; I thought perhaps he installed an afterburner on his car during the summer break. Suddenly, his was the fastest car on the track. The gaps between him and cars in front were closing, and he was passing one car after another. Just give us a few more laps without a yellow flag, who knows how far we can advance. Finally it is over, and I can breathe again. Justin Upton Racing was in fourth place, pressing the top three at the checkered flag. That was our ninth top five in the last 10 races and he is still the points leader with seven races to go.
After the race, Mike Huneycutt, who has become somewhat of a mentor, told Justin that he made only five mistakes tonight, all of them related to being too aggressive and impatient. I thought he looked a little aggressive, but when I talked to Justin, he said, “I kept my cool all night.” As Justin always says, “Racing is a metaphor for life; you have your ups and downs.” But that does not mean that he was not too aggressive tonight.
An aging driver faces many challenges, most of them physical, as I well know. Last night while Justin was doing a minor checkup of his car, his back went out. His wife told me prior to the race that he could just barely crawl into the car. He was in such pain post-race that he had the dry heaves. Could anyone have talked him out of racing tonight? Not a chance! If I had been that dedicated to anything in my life, I would have been KING
The Pendulum Swings Back
Larry Graham, Upton Racing’s 1951 champion, recently said that racing was 50 percent luck. We think he’s right, and the luck can be good or bad. Larry Price’s bad luck put your driver, Justin Upton, back into the points lead at the half-way mark in the 2007 season. Of course, at the same time, Justin did some pretty good driving to help himself, gaining an eighth top five in nine starts in tonight’s main event.
Personally, I should probably see a doctor. I’ve had a feeling of foreboding for the past several weeks. It began as soon as Justin won his first main event and moved into the points lead. The feelings became worse when he fell out of the lead by one point at the last race. Tonight I just felt like the bottom was going to fall out, and Justin was going to begin driving like I used to. As I recall, I used every line on the track with no inkling of what the next lap would bring. Thankfully, I can report to all our sponsors and fans that the sky did not fall tonight.
Larry Price, one of Manzanita Speedway’s old pros at age 55, went into tonight’s races with a one point lead. He has been a mentor to Justin and me from our first foray into stock car racing at Manzy in 2002. We would not be where we are today without Larry’s help. He has sold us cars, built engines for us, and worked with us in the pits when we had trouble. He has always been more helpful and gracious than one in the racing game would expect. He began tonight by winning the trophy dash, finishing second in his heat race, and after moving to second at the half-way point in the main, blew a tire which put him in the pits. He got back in the race, but his bad luck earned him a 16th place finish and cost him the points lead. We want to win, but we feel bad for Larry; however, we know he will come charging back when the season resumes on August 10, 2007.
In spite of my negative attitude, Justin ran a good race in his heat. He started from the fifth position, worked his way to second chasing his buddy, Jay Armstrong, who had borrowed our backup carburetor prior to the race. On lap six of eight, Justin caught Jay, taking him on the inside of turns three and four, coming out hard on the inside straightaway in first place. A spin behind him brought out the yellow and returned the field to their positions on lap five. At the restart, Justin lost his opportunity with a hesitation and sputter from his carburetor, finishing second. With an apology, Justin told Jay, “Sorry, man. I need my carburetor for the main.” In racing, you help where you can, but you still have to go for the win.
The main event found your #66 in the number six starting position, third row outside, which is not too bad. However, the carburetor problem plagued Justin’s car all night. The car would not go when he punched it. Before the half-way point in the race, the field had taken on the look of many previous mains. The front row starters, Richard Kirn and Jay Armstrong, both went to the pits with flat tires early in the race. Then the race broke down to Jody Henderson, Larry Price, Bobby Taylor, all former champions, with Justin in fourth chasing them. It seems Manzanita has been stingy with putting water on the track over the last few races, which has created a rough and rutted racing surface. All the drivers were fighting it. Justin almost got past Taylor a couple of times, but just didn’t have the horses when it counted. Frankly, Justin was busy keeping Ron Poe behind him. Poe worked the inside and outside, but could never make the pass. After Price went out with his flat tire, the teenager, Matt Martinez, who started far back in the field, began picking off one car after another. While the top five were banging on one another, Martinez, obviously the fastest car in the field whizzed into second place and raced Jody Henderson to the checkered flag, losing by half a car length. At the end of the race, Justin was in fourth place and back in the points lead with 723. Taylor is now in second place at 716 points, seven behind Upton, while Price slipped to third at 707 points, 16 out of first.
With a six week summer break upon us, we can get our equipment back in shape for the second half run. Also, we are looking forward to the Men’s Luxury Toy Expo where we will work with Michael Huneycutt and the Stock Car Racing Association’s show car. We expect 150,000 spectators over the three day event. In the meantime, we hope you don’t drive like we do at the track: you be safe!
Justin Upton Racing
The Other Side of Luck
Larry Graham, the first Upton Racing champ in 1951, once said that racing is 50% luck. If he is correct, last night we experienced the DARK SIDE, finishing out of the top five for the first time in eight starts, and losing the points lead. That’s my take on it; however, Justin, in his low-key, philosophical way of looking at things, believes that he had GOOD LUCK last night. It appears that I can’t teach the kid a thing!
It is true that Justin Upton Racing has been on a good luck roll through the first seven races of the season with seven top fives, a win, and the points lead against some of the top stock car drivers in Arizona. Drivers like Larry Price, Bobby Taylor, Jody Henderson, Paul Arseneau, and up-and-coming kids like Matt Martinez would be tough to beat at anybody’s track; they are especially formidable at Manzanita Speedway where they have been racing for years. So if you are competing up front with them week after week, you are doing something right. Now for the story:
Last night Justin finished second in the trophy dash and the heat race. However, there was an inkling of things to come when he let Larry Price take the heat win away from him about five laps into the eight lap race. Justin was driving deep into turn three on each lap while Price was hugging the inside, finally cutting underneath Justin for the win. When asked about the change from his previous strategy of working the inside, Justin said that he could not find a comfortable line on the track. It was a dry-slick track and he felt loose all night. But two seconds is not that bad, so what went wrong?
In my mind the bad luck began with the coin flip that resulted in an inverted field, putting Justin on the fourth row outside. The other part of the bad luck was that the track decided to start 22 cars rather than the normal 20 in the main event. Why, who knows? That many cars on a 1/3 mile track creates a lot of traffic, especially when they are all going flat out, and two more cars represent two more door-slammers. A thought about door-slammers: these are the cars that have no chance to win, and usually are driven by the less-experienced drivers who are trying to win on the first lap, and can never make up their minds which line they are going to run. They tend to muck up a race, slamming into other cars, bringing out the yellow flags. They will always be there (they are in NASCAR, too) but you have to be careful when you are racing door to door or behind them. For six laps Justin didn’t go anywhere as the field was bunched up but it was obvious that a lot of door-slamming was going on as the cars in the middle of the pack were bouncing around. On the back straight of lap six, Justin got caught between two teenagers and they turned him around, bringing out the yellow. He is going to have to replace both doors on his car before the next race. Now, with 14 laps to go he is dead last and a full half lap behind the leader on the single file restart. At this point, I am done; I want to go home, and I figure that Justin is screaming inside his helmet. However, he starts plugging away, picking off a sniper here and one there. With five laps to go, another yellow comes out and he is in 11th. Maybe a top ten is possible. At the end, Justin picked off four more and finished seventh, disastrous in my mind. Later, after talking to Justin, maybe he was lucky. Seventh was pretty good after being in 22nd with 14 to go; losing the points lead to Larry Price, who was second behind Martinez last night, by only one point was pretty good; and only having to replace the doors on the car is pretty good. Maybe I should stop being a pessimist.
Justin Upton Racing has three weeks off, got to replace those doors, you see. We race again on June 29th, and then we have the entire month of July off. That should give us plenty of time to recuperate. Also, we plan to use the down time to work on our show car. Michael Huneycutt, a two-time champ at Canyon Raceway and a master car builder, is going to help us with the bodywork on the show car. In the near future, we will have a beautiful car that will do nothing but parades and shows.
I Thought I Was Going to Conquer the World
Tonight’s trophy dash found your Justin Upton Racing #66 on the pole; and as the points leader, he also found himself with a big bull’s-eye on his back. But, apparently, at this early stage of the season, Justin does not feel the pressure. When asked about it, he responded, “I love it.” I wish I could have said that in my prime. If I had been asked to shoot a free throw to win or lose a basketball game in my youth, I would have shot the ball over the backboard; I would have struck out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning; I would have run the wrong way with the football, scoring for the other team as time ran out. I guess growing up in my household put so much pressure on the kid, that nothing fazes Justin anymore. Anyway, Justin took the lead going into turn one of the trophy dash, led the first lap, then he said he heard a loud “pop,” he eased off and almost lost control. The next thing you know, he is in third place, where he finished.
Back in the pits, he found a hole in his radiator, apparently from a flying rock or a part from another car. As you may suspect, radiators are kind of important when you are running a car wide-open. Justin and his pit crew, Richard Kirn and James Klever, spent the rest of the evening trying to keep water in the radiator, and they did it.
Track conditions played a big role in the racing tonight. It was a dry-slick track with the cars having a tendency to get “loose,” in other words, the rear-ends kept trying to switch places with the front of the cars. Although Justin won his heat race, he did it very carefully, trying to keep control of the car. That win put him in the third position for the main event.
After winning his first main event last week, Justin was feeling like “I can do that anytime I want to.” But that’s not how racing works. As Larry Graham said, “It’s about 50% luck.” The world would not be conquered tonight, although Justin is having his share of the luck, and he is doing a great job behind the wheel. He was boxed in tonight by Jody Henderson, a former champion, Matt Martinez, a 17-year-old speedster, and flanked by Larry Price, another champion. Behind Justin was Bobby Taylor, champion for the last two years. Justin must be figuring out the race game; he made an adjustment prior to the main by putting a larger tire on the left rear to adjust for the tendency of the car to get “loose,” and it worked. He said the car handled perfectly although he continued to worry about the radiator.
The field was fast and the drivers were aggressive. Justin began by hugging the inside line, and it appeared that all the top cars were following that strategy. As a result, Justin found himself nose to bumper with Martinez, later admitting that he stayed with him too long. Larry Price claimed the outside groove and made it work as he got around Justin and Matt Martinez for second place. By halfway through the race, Justin had dropped to fifth, chasing Ron Poe, who had passed him earlier. The racing was frantic with the entire top five pressing each other for position. With two laps remaining, Justin got his nose inside Poe on turn one, passing him on the inside back straight. It looked like a fourth place finish, but with the checkered flag waving, Price tapped Henderson coming out of turn four, sending him into the inside wall. Price wins with Taylor second and Justin third, and thankful for it. Henderson finished fifteenth and, mad as a hornet, filed a protest with the officials. I asked Justin his opinion of the incident, and like a true friend to both Price and Henderson, he said, “Oh, it was just one of those racing deals.” Well put, until he gets caught in one of those “racing deals.
Tonight Was The Night!
Perhaps a little history is in order here. Upton Racing dates to 1951 when my father, and Justin’s grandfather, Latt Upton, decided to build a stock car to race in the inaugural season at Beech Bend Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Latt hired a tall, lanky 22 year-old kid named Larry Graham as his driver. Graham proved to have the wherewithal to become, over a two-year racing career, one of the most dominant stock car drivers in western Kentucky and northern Tennessee before joining the U. S. Air Force as an officer in late 1952, while leading the points chase toward a championship. He won the 1951 Kentucky Regional Championship in my father’s car, but never finished the championship run in 1952. He did, however, leave a racing philosophy and a legacy that Justin Upton Racing is trying to keep alive. I have spent my life telling Justin all of my Larry Graham stories from the days when I was 10 years old. Graham, who is about 78 years old now, responds to all of our racing reports with emails that reveal additional details about his philosophy, all of which we retain and incorporate into our developing philosophy. Someday we will summarize all of this information for our supporters.
As all of you are aware, your race team has been pretty good to this point in the season. Going into tonight’s race, Justin Upton Racing was in 2nd place in the standings, just 3 points out of first. That was accomplished without a main event win; consistency was the key. As a matter of fact, Justin, now in his sixth season of racing, had never won a main event, and it was beginning to wear on him. Well, tonight was the night! We have a winner and a new championship points leader!
Justin started on the first row outside in his heat race, the result of a lucky pill draw. He has a great racecar, thanks to all of our sponsors, and was able to beat the pole-sitter to the first turn and never looked back. He led all the way with Jody Henderson running behind him in 2nd place. This put Justin and Jody into a tie for the points lead.
As a result of the win, Justin got to call the coin toss to determine whether or not the field would be inverted. He was lucky again and won the toss, placing him on the pole for the main event with Larry Price, another of his mentors and an old pro, next to him on the front row outside. Jody Henderson was in the 2nd row with last year’s champion, Bobby Taylor, another man with Kentucky roots, on the 3rd row inside. Obviously, it was going to be a challenge to beat this lineup. When the green flag dropped to signal the start of the race, Price beat Justin to the first turn, and Justin tucked in behind him. Matt Martinez, a 17 year old high school student, grabbed 3rd position with Bobby Taylor and Paul Arseneau filling out the top five. Price is hard to beat because he doesn’t make many mistakes, and soon built a two car-length advantage. While Martinez stayed in 3rd pressuring Justin, Justin closed on Price and, on a couple of turns, got the nose of his car under him but could not make the pass. Finally, on lap 13 a yellow flag tightened up the field. On the restart, Price retained his advantage, but Justin again almost got the inside groove on Price. With five laps to go, Price slipped up to the outside groove, while Justin dropped down to the inside going into turn three, and as they came out of turn four, Upton got the traction he needed and shot past Price. He pulled away, leaving Price to battle with Martinez, who finished 3rd, and Bobby Taylor in 4th place. Henderson had car trouble and after returning to the pits, finished 9 laps back. Justin now holds 1st place with Taylor in 2nd, nine points out. Henderson dropped to 4th in the standings.
After the adrenal high of this first career win subsides, we may have more to say.
Twinkle, Twinkle, Lucky Star
Last week we talked about track conditions and the critical role they play in racing results. Last week a steady wind dried out the clay oval, creating a dry-slick track that had cars spinning in all directions. Well, track conditions came into play again this past Friday night, but in an entirely different way. The track was perfect! The main event was run in record time, knocking four seconds off the record set last year when there was no rule limiting motor size. Engines this season are limited to 360 cubic inches but it obviously did not slow anybody down Friday night.
Ron Poe started on the pole and led all 20 laps. Your team with Justin Upton behind the wheel started on the second row inside after winning his heat race, but made a single mistake during the middle of the race by getting too loose coming out of turn two, then over-correcting while regaining control. It was a good save but cost him a couple of positions. For the remainder of the race, Justin, Paul Arseneau, and Bobby Taylor took turns gaining and losing third place; however, at the end it was Taylor in third, Arseneau in fourth, and Justin in fifth. Feel free to send Justin emails telling him he is not allowed to make mistakes while representing your business.
Now here’s the “Twinkle, Twinkle, Lucky Star” part: Justin had his worst finish of the season, finishing fifth, but gained points on Jody Henderson, the points leader, and now stands second, only three points out of first place. Justin is the only one of the top four drivers without a win in the main this season. Actually, this is strange territory for Justin as he has never won a main event, and, it seems, we may be experiencing a repeat of the “four-minute mile barrier.” However, we did a little calculation and, based on historical results, it is theoretically possible to win a championship by finishing sixth every race.
On Saturday, May 12th, we did not race, but won a trophy anyway. Thanks to Auto Trader Magazines, we were invited to participate in the Garage Mahal and Rosie On the House (KTAR 92.3 FM) radio shows hosted by Cookson Door Sales in Tempe, AZ. We met some nice people, had a great breakfast and lunch, and they were kind enough to give us a first place trophy for having the LOUDEST CAR IN THE WORLD!
Our next race will be Friday, May 18, 2007, at 8 p.m. at Manzanita Speedway. Also, we are scheduled to appear at the Gila Valley Family Festival in Safford, AZ on May 26, 2007. Justin was born in Safford; so obviously we will be BIG SHOTS while we are in town. In addition, we hope we see Goldie Shideler, who at 80+ years of age fulfilled one of her “100 Goals in Life” by driving Justin’s racecar in Safford last Memorial Day weekend. Her story appeared in the Safford and Minnesota newspapers, making us almost as famous as she is.
Justin Upton Racing
We don't often talk
about track conditions, but they always play a critical role in racing
results. Manzanita Speedway is a banked, 1/3 mile clay track, which, when
perfect, has water packed in before the race, resulting in a "tacky"
racing surface. Well, Friday night, a continuous strong wind dried the
track well before the main event, creating a dry, slick, and rutted racing
surface. If the fans liked spin-outs and crashes, they got their money's
worth. It was like pigs on ice, cars spinning here, there and everywhere.
I think many of the drivers felt like Justin when he said after the race,
"I couldn't find traction anywhere; the car was almost uncontrollable."
Good Deed Goes Unpunished!
Justin Upton Racing performed at Manzanita Speedway on Friday night and appeared at a charity car show, which benefited the Autism Foundation, on Saturday. So far, so good; now the story.
Recently, we purchased a new car hauler from one of our sponsors, Diversified Truck & Equipment Sales. However, in our frugal way, we passed up the spare tire, reasoning that since we had never before had a flat tire, we could extrapolate that success out to infinity: we will never have a flat tire! Things were great going to and from the race, but coming home from doing our good deed, guess what happened?
We were going east on the 202 with traffic whizzing past us like we were standing still, when, BOOM! the left rear tire on our new car hauler blew, rapidly going to shreds on the super freeway while laying down a major smoke screen. Doing 10 mph we made it to an exit ramp, pulled off into a Best Western Hotel parking lot and pondered our fate: no spare tire. Fortunately, Justin was able to get to Diversified Truck, buy a spare tire, and rush it back to us. Needless to say, all of us finished the day hot, sweaty, aggravated, and exhausted in spite of our good efforts for the Autism Foundation. Once again, it just goes to show that no good deed goes unpunished!
Now, to racing; three starts and three top fives. Friday night Justin drew his worst pill of the young season. The pill draw is critical as it determines your starting spot in the heat race. This draw put Justin in eighth position with the best drivers in the field in front of him. That’s a tall order in a short race. Nevertheless, with his experience and patience growing, along with a good racecar (thanks to our sponsors), he gradually worked his way to third. That was good enough to place him in eighth position in the main event. Again, a big challenge as he had Jody Henderson, the points leader and a former champion, Bobby Taylor, the defending champion, and Larry Price, a former champion, starting in front of him. I’m thinking that this is going to be a long night. However, he slowly picked his way to sixth, then a welcome yellow flag pulled the field together for a single file restart. Justin made the best restart of his life, jumping from sixth to third by the end of the front straight. Now everybody in the grandstands is screaming as we have a tight, three-car race to the finish. Bobby Taylor is in the lead with Price right there while Justin rides his bumper. It looked like Justin had the faster car, but as he attempted his pass, Price, the old pro, moved up the track, gave Justin a slight nudge, and all of a sudden, he’s back in fourth place as the checkered flag waves. Not bad, considering. At the end of week three, Justin stands tied for third in points with Bobby Taylor, but only 10 points behind the leader, Jody Henderson, who finished fifth on Friday. Larry Price is in second place, after finishing second in the main event, a half-car length behind Taylor.
Deuces Were Wild Tonight!
Tonight was all about deuces. Justin finished second in the trophy dash, heat race, and main event. The best part is the way he did it; no mistakes.
Trophy dashes, being only four cars and four laps, are typically won by the car that jumps out front at the green flag. That was the case tonight. Justin started second and finished second behind Jody Henderson.
In the third heat race Justin started fourth and finished second, but the main event is where you put the icing on the cake. The field was inverted. There is always a coin toss, and if the first heat race winner calls it wrong, the field is inverted. That means if you won your heat and thought you would start on the pole, you may well start in 16th position. Justin started in seventh position. Larry Olney started on the pole and began to run away from the field as the remainder of the top ten jockeyed for position. Justin worked his way to second, but Jody Henderson, a former champion, was on his bumper. Behind Henderson were Larry Price and Bobby Taylor, both former champions. Justin was slowly reeling in Olney and by lap 14 had caught up with him. On lap 16 Olney was probably feeling the pressure, lost control and spun in front of Justin’s #66, causing him to hit his brakes as Henderson and Price jumped to the outside and passed Justin and Olney. At lap 18, Justin, who ran the inside line all night, caught Larry Price coming out of turn four, and closed on Henderson, but ran out of laps, finishing second.
After two weeks of racing, Henderson leads the pack with 177 points, followed by Justin with 169, Price with 167, Bobby Taylor with 159, and Paul Arseneau in fifth place with 156. Justin Upton Racing is in the hunt!
March 16, 2007
The 2007 season got off with a bang! It was a night for the old pros to show their stuff as Larry Price, Jody Henderson, and Bobby Taylor, all former champions, taking the first three spots in the Main Event. Justin Upton was right there with them in the fourth position. Nobody ran away; the cars were competitive and stayed together throughout the race. Any one of the first five cars could have won the race with a little luck going one way or another.
Justin introduced last season’s backup car tonight with last season’s car taking the backup spot as the team’s “display car.” It will debut tomorrow in the Big Boys & Their Toys Show at WestWorld in Scottsdale. Justin was up until 4:30 a.m. this morning, putting the final touches on the racecar. It was never tested until tonight. Obviously, it was set up right, as it stuck wherever Justin put it on the track. Furthermore, with the new 360 cubic inch rule governing the engines in the Factory Stock Division, the new Five Star Engine & Exchange built motor performed flawlessly. The car had plenty of power coming out of the corners.
Justin also won his heat race, running away from the field. All in all, a good night’s work! When he was asked for details about the race, his response was, “I really don’t remember; I’m just too tired from staying up late all week getting the car ready.”
The next race will be on March 30, 2007.
September 1, 2006
Tonight was the race that wasn’t supposed to happen. September 1st was never on the race card, but was added a couple of weeks ago when the SCRA Memorial race was rained out. Nobody was in a good mood because this is Labor Day Weekend, and we were all supposed to be in the mountains. Needless to say, all top 15 drivers in the points standings cancelled their weekend plans to try to hold or improve their positions in the standings. Upton Racing’s Justin Upton and Richard Kirn were no exceptions.
Because of the holiday, the field was much smaller than normal with only 24 cars on hand. The fans pretty much stayed home, too. But with the small field, Manzy announced that everyone would be in the main event, there would be no semi. We thought that was a plus, but little do we know, as events proved.
Justin and Richard ended up next to each other in their heat race, and then the fireworks began. Justin ran a very respectable race and finished third, but Richard and Geoff Hatch tangled going down the back stretch, with Hatch going into a 360 spin, sliding off the track with a flat tire. He went into the pits, changed tires and returned just in time to catch Richard coming out of turn four on the last lap. Geoff, who is a friend of ours, admitted that he wanted to nail Richard, but suddenly realized that Richard had a flat, and he had a chance to take fourth place from him, which he did. Richard, however, thought that Hatch had hit him causing his flat. The officials penalized both of them, relegating them to the last two spots in the main event. When Richard was informed by Ricky Thornton, Sr., the Factory Stock Director, about the penalty, all I could hear from Richard was that famous American expletive, “B… S…! over and over. I thought to myself, “We’re going to have to expand his vocabulary.”
The main event was all about Justin inasmuch as Richard’s last place start pretty much took him out of the action. Justin ran the race of his life, running with the big dogs of Manzanita for the entire race. The thing that really stood out was that he had a comparable car and his skills were the equal of Manzy’s perennial top 5 drivers year after year. He has never been as aggressive in protecting his line, refusing over and over to give it up as the big boys tried to get inside of him. As the race progressed he moved up a position lap after lap until with one to go he found himself in the unlikely third spot, which he had earned with the best racing of his short career. As the race wound down, people were shouting, “Justin’s trying to win this thing,” as he pressured Larry Price, the old pro, and Terry Mumaugh, who is second in the points standings, for the lead. Suddenly, the white flag comes out covered by the yellow due to a spin in turn four, and Mumaugh and Justin both let up when they saw the yellow. The problem was that nobody else let up and when the cars came back around for the checkered flag, Justin and Mumaugh had been shuffled back in the field. Justin was credited with a 13th place finish. Both drivers protested to no avail. In this case, the racing report on Manzy’s website will not tell the true story of what happened at the SCRA Memorial race on Labor Day Weekend in Phoenix, AZ.
August 12, 2006
Upton Racing’s 43 year old teenager, Richard Kirn, sneaked out of the house tonight with the keys to the racecar. Unbeknownst to me, the father figure, Little Richard took the car to Canyon Raceway in northwest Phoenix, a track we never frequent because we are in a points race at Manzanita Speedway, and put himself on the race card. He turned in a respectable third place in his heat race, but was a total showoff in the main event and finished second. This was Richard’s best main event of the 2006 season by far. We even have proof with a picture of Richard on the front straight with his trophy.
Normally, when a teenager, even an older one like Richard, pulls a sneaky trick like this one, they end up in the doghouse. All I can say is that he is lucky he did not finish third! He would have been grounded.
July 14, 2006
I was just about to wish the 2006 season would end, so we could begin planning the 2007 season when Lady Luck and some good driving encouraged me to stay with ’06. The temperature today was about 155 degrees (whoops! It was 115 but felt like 155) and was still over 100 at eight o’clock race time. I was in the grandstands and just sweating miserably, wishing all the preliminaries were out of the way so we could end the misery and go home.
I felt even worse when the second heat race got under way and Justin was starting in last position, ninth. And he finished right where he started. I’m thinking that he will start in last place in the Semi-Main – just awful. No Main Event tonight. But I perked up when Richard got a decent, not great pill draw and ran a strong race, finishing fourth, which put him in the Main.
The Semi lined up worse than I ever imagined. Instead of being filled with rookies, the Semi had a lot of really strong drivers and cars including Bobby Taylor, the points leader, Terry Mumaugh, second in points, and others. I was right, Justin started dead last in a strong field. Then he drove 10 of the best laps he has run all season and finished third, putting him the Main Event near the bottom of the field.
The coin toss brought about another inversion, and this time it worked for us. Richard started third. Justin, due to his Semi race, started 18th. So I’m keeping my eye on Richard as he has a chance to turn in a good run; it looks like Justin is too far back to do much good. Richard does run a strong race, the third or fourth in a row. He is staying with the leaders. Later, Richard told me “…that he was shocked when he looked out the corner of his eye and saw the Auto Trader logo creeping up on him.” He, too, thought Justin was too far back in the field to make a run. When it was all over, Justin won the hard-charger award, coming from 18th to 5th while Richard finished 7th. It turned out to be the best joint effort of the season. However, at 155 degrees, it is still too hot to race.
July 7, 2006
Two flat tires kept both Richard and Justin from having a great night. Richard tried a new setup on his car, and he says that is what helped him finish second in his heat race. Justin was squeezed in his heat race as he got caught between two cars coming out of turn four and had to let up to keep from getting totally smashed. He went through the semi-main and finished second after leading most of the way. Lapped traffic cost him the win.
The Main Event had Richard starting in the sixth position while Justin started 18th. For a change, the track was in great condition. It showed because the entire field was fast and cars were able to hold their line. Richard was running in fourth when he rolled the right front tire off the rim coming out of turn two about five laps into the race. He was really into his best night of racing for the season but ended up with a 16th place finish after going into the pits to change tires. Justin was also having his best run of the year, moving from 18th to 7th place when he rolled the right rear off the rim with one lap to go. Needless to say, they were disappointed after such a promising start.
Richard and Jim Herzner, Jr. got into a little demolition derby after the race was over. Herzner felt that Richard had roughed him up earlier in the evening, so he slammed his car into Richard’s car as they were on their way to the pits. It cost Jim a $100 fine for the pleasure and Richard needs a new right door. So that’s why racing is so expensive!
July 4, 2006
Let’s take a break from racing, although I must tell you that two weeks ago Justin won his heat race while Richard was in second place behind him. They went on to finish 10th and 11th, Richard, then Justin, in the Main Event. Justin broke the rocker arm on his motor. And then on June 30th, while lined up ready to race, the wind was so fierce that the races were cancelled. That was OK as everybody was tired anyway.
But let’s get away from racing for a little while. We want to talk about what Upton Racing is going to do for the Arizona Veterans’ Donation Fund. This is going to be our little part of honoring Arizona’s servicemen and women at “The Legends Stock Car Championships I,” which will be held at Manzanita Speedway on October 7, 2006. The race is being dedicated to our soldiers, and we are going to raise money for them that can be used outside the legislatively mandated budget. The Donation Fund can be used for anything that the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services deems to be in the interest of our soldiers. We want to be a part of that.
With the help of Prattster Graphics and Auto Trader Magazines, we are going to build a Demolition Derby car that we are going to enter in the Demolition Derby at the Arizona State Fair in November. It is going to be painted like the American flag and we are going to sell the stars and other ad space on the car. All funds will go to the Arizona Veterans Donation Fund. Our goal is to raise $5,000.00. If any of our readers want to buy a star, make a check for $25.00 to the “Arizona Veterans’ Donation Fund” and mail it to Upton Racing, 891 N. Quail Lane, Gilbert, AZ 85233. We will put your name on a star within the flag. We plan to charge businesses $100.00 for their name on a star.
We will be showing the car around Maricopa County to make people aware of the sacrifices that our servicemen and women have made and are making. Hopefully, we can do something positive. Perhaps someone else can come up with other ideas to raise money for the donation fund.
June 16, 2006
Things are looking up, for one-half of the team, anyway. Richard is on his way up while Justin is on his way to church to seek Divine Intervention. Both of the good, old boys had decent pill draws tonight, so I’m thinking that the worm is turning our way. After the heat races, in which Richard finished second and Justin third, my optimism is almost boundless! Racing is not a drag anymore; it’s fun! If we get lucky on the coin toss to determine inversion, who knows what good can come of this night.
Holy Cow! The field is inverted, which puts Justin on the third row outside and Richard on the fourth row outside for the Main Event. That may not sound so good to the reader, but after the luck Upton Racing’s had in previous weeks, those positions were a wonderful place to start.
By the time of the Main, however, the track was hard and dry with lots of deep ruts. Manzanita needs some new clay, me thinks. But who cares now that we have decent starting positions. The cars stay bunched up for the first couple of laps, but Justin’s car appears loose coming out of turn two. As he comes down the front straight, losing ground fast, I notice that he has a flat on his right rear, and into the pits he goes. When he comes back out, he’s about four laps down with no chance.
Richard, on the other hand, probably had his best night of racing this season. Although his car is still under-powered, he got the most out of it tonight. In his heat race, he held off Terry Mumaugh, the points leader, for most of the race, giving up the lead near the end when he went too high out of the groove, letting Mumaugh slip underneath him for the win; nevertheless, an excellent race. Starting in eighth position for the Main amidst some very tough competition, Richard ran his little motor hard, stayed out of trouble, and finished eighth, his best finish of the year.
So, another week in a grueling season goes by, with Richard’s enthusiasm at an all-season high. Justin is down, although he knows that Lady Luck will smile on him again; his question is when? In the meantime, all he can do is all he can do, and let Lady Luck have her fun at his expense. Someday, when he least expects it, the charm that he buried at midnight, exactly two feet, seven inches northwest of the cottonwood tree on the west bank of the Gila River near Hayden, Arizona, will work its magic, and he undeservedly will win a race that he should have lost. That is the power of luck in racing. Stay tuned.
June 2, 2006
I suppose we’re going to have to start going to church. We don’t have any luck at all; maybe Divine Intervention is the only thing left for Justin and Richard. Their pill draw stunk up the place with both of them starting dead-last in their heat races.
Richard ran a great heat race and came from eighth place to second, a seeming miracle. Justin started eighth and saw every car in front of him take turns spinning out. Fortunately, he didn’t hit any of them. When the race was over, he was almost a lap down from the top three, but he was in fourth place because everyone in front of him spun out. Unbelievable!
Judy called me on my cell phone, asking, “Who do you think is on the pole?” With Windy blasting away on the public address system, I could not make out what she was saying. When the Main Event lined up, the coin flip for inversion landed Justin on the pole. So that’s what Judy was trying to tell me. Richard started eighth. I’m thinking, “If he wins this thing, we will start going to church; it doesn’t even matter which one.”
The green flag drops, Justin takes the outside and Shumaker takes the inside of turn one and into the lead. As they come out of turn four there is a massive pileup, thereby causing a restart because the field did not complete the first lap. On the restart, Justin jumps out in front. Coming out of turn two, he begins to pull away from the field. He’s going to win it! Going into turn three, he begins slowing down until every single car passes him. A blown transmission! Wait a minute, Richard is running strong. Four laps into the race, the dry, wind-blown track disappears into clouds of dust. Wisely, Richard decides to put it in the pits because he can’t see. The question for Upton Racing is: What is next for us? Perdition?
Memorial Day - May 29, 2006
Eighty-four year old Goldie Shideler of Safford was straight-forward in her approach to Upton Racing’s Justin Upton, who was appearing with his race car at Green’s Furniture on Memorial Day. “I want to drive your race car. I’m 84 years old and I have 100 things I want to do before I die; one of them is driving a race car.”
A few years ago, while Shideler was in Minnesota visiting her daughter, a woman asked her, “What’s on your 100 list?” Shideler was mystified until the woman explained that everybody should have 100 goals. After reflection, Goldie decided that she should have a list of goals, so she got the list to 80, saying that she is still trying to think of 20 more. She has done most of the things on her list, including skydiving, riding in a hot air balloon, a glider and helicopter. She has ridden a camel and elephant but still needs to ride the San Francisco Trolley, go to Central Park in New York, and the Taj Mahal in India. But today, Monday, May 29, 2006, was race car day.
Upton was at a loss as to what to do, but Goldie was insistent. After explaining that the car doors were welded shut and the only way in was to climb through the window, Goldie replied, “I can do that.” She could, but found out that the seat was set up for a person 6’1” while Goldie is only 4’6”. David Green, owner of Green’s Furniture, came up with the solution. Justin Upton would drive the car, Green would help Goldie into a sitting position in the back window so she could grasp the bars of the roll cage, and Justin would drive the car around the block. Goldie agreed that this would count as driving a race car, and she could mark another goal off her list. After the ride, Goldie was asked if she was scared. She said, “No, I don’t have enough sense to be afraid, so my daughter is afraid for me.”
After visiting with Goldie Shideler, Upton and Green have agreed to stop watching television and get out of the house more often.
May 19, 2006
Racing is more frustrating than golf! There are so many variables in racing that I don’t know how anybody wins. You’ve got your own skill and emotional state to contend with; the track conditions, which keep changing as the night goes on; the reliability of your equipment; and the skill and emotional state of all the other drivers on the track. As I said a week or so ago, sometimes stock car racing just makes one want to throw up one’s hands and quit. But, we can’t do that, we want to win!
Richard is so frustrated right now. He realizes that his car is not capable of running up front with the big dogs, but that does not lessen his desire to be up there; so there’s a natural frustration with that. Because he wants to get to the front, he has had a few fender bangers in his races which have drawn the attention of the officials. The old saying is that “rubbin’ is racin,’ but that really doesn’t cut it if you are “rubbin” too much. Nobody wants their car torn up by other drivers, including us, so the officials watch that sort of thing. He needs for the officials to look at someone else for awhile. An outsider may find it hard to imagine how difficult it is to control one’s emotions when the adrenaline is pumping so hard. But controlling it is a key to winning in any sport; it’s just harder to do in racing. By the way, Richard didn’t make the Main Event tonight, but at least we have two weeks to prepare for the next race.
Justin finally had a great pill draw. He pulled the first row outside in the second heat. Our money said he was going to win the heat, but he got second which was good. That meant that he would be starting near the front of the field for the Main Event, subject to the coin flip for inversion. Guess what? The field was inverted again so Justin started 10th, still one of the best starting positions he has had all year. But here is where the Devil comes in. On lap two of the Main Event, there was a big smashup at the front of the field coming out of turn four. Justin pops through a little hole in the mess, and we’re thinking this is his opportunity for a great finish. As he goes by the grandstand someone says, “Justin’s car looks funny, what’s wrong?” As he came through the big pileup, the Devil ripped off his front bumper, which put him out of the race after only two laps. You can’t race without a bumper.
So when you’re frustrated, what do you do? Well, you take a deep breath, suck it up, evaluate where you’re at, make adjustments, and go forward. As the Optimists’ Creed says, “Forget the mistakes of the past, and press on to the greater achievements of the future.”
May 12, 2006
Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that racing is a very dangerous sport. Sometimes we need to ask why we strap ourselves into a 3500 pound projectile with a high-performance engine, dress in a fire-suit, put on fire-proof gloves and shoes, place a crash helmet over our hard heads, and then go hell-bent-for-leather around a slippery dirt race track with 20 other cars hell-bent for the same goal—I want to win! Actually, it goes much deeper than that; there is something in the human psyche that comes out in this competitive urge that almost all of us have. We have raced on foot, horses, chariots, we race dogs, frogs, lawnmowers; you name it, we humans have raced it. Someday I will write more about this simply because I think it is interesting.
Back to Friday night, May 12th. Four fast laps into the Main Event, rookie Donnie Birmingham’s 01b car broke a tie-rod coming out of turn four onto the front straightaway. He was running side-by-side with 33x, Jody Henderson, who was fourth in the points standings at the time. With the break of the tie-rod, Birmingham’s car abruptly turned right, pushing Henderson into the wall at top speed. Sparks flew as the car climbed the wall, the noise of crushing metal drew every fan’s attention to the front straight, and suddenly, the car twisted from a climb and snapped off three barrel rolls, finally coming to rest on its wheels but with fire and smoke boiling from under the hood. This was one of the worst stock car crashes I have seen at Manzanita. The good news was that Jody Henderson got out of the car fast and was unhurt. His car, however, was somewhat of a mess.
Back to Upton Racing’s night. We need some luck in the pill draw; we always start near the back. Tonight Justin ran in the trophy dash as a result of his heat race win last week. He was in first place with a lap to go when he got too high coming out of turn four, letting Anthony Madrid, an eight-time champion, get underneath him, leaving him with second place. Both Justin and Richard worked from the back of the field in their heats but managed to make the Main Event. Justin was third and Richard was fourth.
Their heat race finishes normally would put them toward the back of the 20 car Main Event; however, we were hoping that the coin toss would create an inversion of the field and put them up front. It was not to be; they started in 14th and 16th positions. That far back of the best cars in the Factory Stock Division really causes problems. If you can only imagine going into turn one off the first green flag and being in the middle of that mess, door to door and bumper to bumper, with your foot hard in the gas. From the cockpit of the car, sweating inside your helmet, with the left foot touching the brake pedal, just in case, while your right foot is hard to the floorboard, all you see is a wall of metal going through the turn at high speed. Your car is bouncing up and down while the tail wants to come around on you, not from the speed, but from the bumping and banging from the other cars as they also want to get through that first turn ahead of you. I think Justin and Richard ran a very smart race tonight, showed a lot of patience (a good characteristic for a race car driver), and gradually moved up through the field, finishing 7th (Justin) and 11th (Richard). Considering all that happened tonight, we feel very good and our cars are ready to go next week.
May 5, 2006
Tonight was the night of frustration! Sometimes racing can be so aggravating that you just want to throw up your hands and quit. But racing, like life, goes on.
We worked all week on our motors to get them ready to race after what appeared to be a disastrous weekend last week. Fortunately, the motors were not as badly hurt as we first thought. Anyway, we went into tonight’s race with a little trepidation. As it turned out, the motors were pretty good.
Justin began the night on a great note by winning his first heat race of the season. Since he won the first heat, under the Stock Car Racing Association’s (SCRA) rules, he kind of expected to be on the pole for the Main Event; more about that later.
Richard was not so lucky in his heat race. He started near the rear of the field and got caught up in a tangle with about five cars near the beginning of the race and never recovered; he had to go through the Semi-Main since he finished out of the top four. The good news was that he came in second in the Semi which gave him the 17th starting position for the Main.
SCRA has this little tradition of having the first heat race winner flip a coin and call it in the air. Justin called and lost. That meant SCRA’s little tradition of inverting the field kicked in. So Justin, instead of starting on the pole, started in 13th position and the guy who normally would have started in 13th, got the pole!
When you start near the back of the field of the top 20 cars at the track, you have a formidable task ahead of you. Both Richard and Justin had a battle on their hands. In the beginning of the race, Richard was stuck at the back while Justin was passing about one car per lap. Justin worked his way up to sixth place and spun out all by himself. Now he is in the back of the field. By this time Richard is beginning to make some progress. Justin, in his frustration, drives somewhat aggressively to regain his position. Instead, he smashed up both front fenders and one door panel is caved in. Richard has some of the same experience and ends up with smashed fenders and doors. The cars look like hell after the race. The only redeeming part of the race was that Richard had his best finish at 11th and Justin was right behind at 12th. They will be working with the body tools this week. Sure glad our “show car” does not race.
April 28, 2006
Justin and Richard went into tonight’s races full of anticipation. They had not raced since April 7th, so they were anxious to get back to the track. As it turned out, racing is like life. Sometimes things just don’t work out as anticipated. Upton Racing had a tough night at the races, but Richard Kirn won the Upton Racing Sportsmanship Award.
During the preliminary mud-packing (cars prepare the clay by driving slowly around the track to push the water into the clay), Justin’s engine developed one of those strange noises that we sometimes hear in our street cars that send us straight to our mechanics. After just about every driver and pit crew member in the pits had given their opinion on the problem, Justin decided to park the car rather than run the risk of having to rebuild the engine. Richard, a true sportsman, then offered (no, he insisted) that Justin race his #67 car because Justin was higher in the points standings and needed to try and protect his position. Bottom line, Richard took one for the team. If you have never raced, you just don’t realize how hard it is to sit on the sidelines.
Justin surprised himself by finishing second in his heat race. Richard has been working on the handling of the car, and his work showed on the track. The second place finish placed Justin in the fifth starting position for the Main Event, a very nice place to start. He found himself wishing he was sitting in his old, familiar #66. But #67 surprised him.
Against a very fast field, Justin was able to hold on to fifth place through the first 12 laps; then disaster struck. All of a sudden, the engine began losing power, and Justin began falling back in the field. He dropped to last place, struggling to keep the car going. Finally, at the end, with other cars wrecking or dropping out, Justin had a 14th place finish. The win went to Bobby Taylor, who has been battling cancer, but refuses to relinquish his race car. Bobby is now in first place in the points standings, and Justin dropped to eighth place.
The good news is, after Justin and Richard spent all day Saturday working on the cars, the damage does not appear to be life-threatening to the engines. They will be back on May 5th.
April 7, 2006
Justin and Richard went into tonight’s race with the cars in good shape and hoping for a good pill draw. After the pill draw, they are still hoping for a good pill draw at some point in the future. A good draw is a key to making the main event due to the number of cars and the quality of the drivers. Generally, a third or fourth place finish in the heat race will get you into the main; however, if you start seventh or lower, that can be a big order. It’s just better to be lucky and get a low number in the pill draw.
Justin made the main by finishing second to Kerry Campbell, the current points leader, in the eight lap heat. Richard was in the same heat race, finishing fifth, and transferring to the semi-main. To be perfectly honest, no driver wants to go through the semi to try and earn a spot in the main. Richard won the semi-main with his best run of the season. After he took the lead, several yellow flags set up restarts. This meant that Richard had to let the second place car move up beside him for the restart although Richard got to choose the inside or outside. Tonight he chose the outside groove. To everyone’s surprise, he beat his opponent to the first turn on each restart and ran away with the win.
In the main event Justin started 10th while Richard’s semi-main victory gave him the 17th starting spot. It turned out to be the most exciting main event of the year. Matt Martinez, a 15 year high school student, won his first main event ever and broke the track record for 20 laps in the process, with a time of 6:16.06, knocking 13 seconds off the record set only two weeks ago. Remember, to set a track record, there can be no yellow flags, so the race was not only fast, it was clean. Justin finished fifth and Richard came in 13th, the best finish for both of them this season. After five races Justin is 6th and Richard is 20th in the points standings. Eight points separates 4th place from 10th place; it is shaping up to be an exciting championship run. Both race cars are ready to go for the next race on April 28th.
March 31, 2006
We began the night with much higher hopes than last week. The difference: we both felt physically better than last week. Also, both cars came out of last week unscathed, and Richard experimented with the setup on #67, based on advice that came from Mike Huneycutt. The car handled much better.
The Stock Car Racing Association uses a pill draw to establish starting positions in the heat races rather than time trials. While this speeds up the race, it also puts the luck of the draw in control. If you have a high pill number, you are going to begin your heat at the back of the field. In a short race, you don’t have much time to get to the front of the field and into the main event. Friday night required a fourth place finish to make the main event. Lower than that put you in the semi-main, a hard place to race. Our pill draws have stunk so far. Justin came from the back to finish fourth while Richard had it made but spun out, putting him in the semi-main.
event was really a terrific race. Justin started in 14th position, and
Richard started in 20th due to his fourth place finish in the semi. For
the second week in a row we were both in the main. Jody Henderson won,
the fourth different driver to win in the first four weeks of the season.
The race had a couple of yellow flags, but it was a fast track with fast
cars. The entire field raced hard, and we know it was exciting for the
fans. Justin raced from 14th to a sixth place finish, his best of the
season. Richard started 20th, dead last, and finished in 15th place, his
best effort of the year. Best of all, our cars are in great shape for
the races on April 7, 2006.
March 24, 2006
Neither Justin nor Richard was feeling very good physically prior to the race. Why? They stayed up too late Thursday night preparing the race cars. Since today was Justin’s birthday, he was hoping for a good showing as he had relatives from out of town as guests.
The track tonight was dry, slick and dusty. After a few laps it was hard to see. For the first time this season, both Richard and Justin made the main event, which is becoming increasingly hard to do in the Factory Stock Division. The division seems to be much faster overall this season compared to last year.
Richard finished fourth in his heat race and was in the main event, an enviable situation. Justin finished sixth and had to race in the semi-main, a circumstance that no driver wants to go through. Semi’s are full of cars determined to be one of the top four transferring to the main event. This sets up a situation ready for overly aggressive driving which usually leads to crashes. As luck would have it, Justin won the semi and transferred to the 17th starting position in the main event.
With a record turnout of 117 cars, the highest total at Manzanita Speedway since the early 1980’s, the track was dry and fast by the time of the main event. Richard, driving a car in which the setup is still experimental and with a 350 engine, probably the smallest motor in the competitive Factory Stock Division, raced hard but fell back as the race went on. Justin moved up but found himself running two and three wide in the back of the field. The race went the 20 laps without a single caution and set a new record of 6:29.94 which broke a track record set the week before. Justin finished 11th while Richard finished 18th. Both drivers felt good about their performances given the circumstances.
September 1, 2002
Stock car racing goes on. Friday night, August 30th, was a day when I was feeling absolutely confident; the first time I felt that, by the way. I felt like I was getting the hang of this and the car has been running pretty good. However, during the first heat race, my right front tire, which takes all the pressure of the continual turns, was rubbing against the fender. I slowed down to prevent a blowout, but still came in 4th. During the Main Event, however, I had my first brush with disaster. Frankly, at the time, it scared the daylights out of me. I was running strong and moving up in the field when, all of a sudden, a loud “pow” came from my engine and it died. Smoke started billowing from under the hood. The engine was on fire! I couldn’t breathe because of the acrid smoke coming from my burning battery cables. Keep in mind that the battery is inside the car next to the driver’s seat in a box bolted to the floor pan. I looked down and saw the fire coming up the battery cables toward the battery box. I had a vision of a fuse burning toward the dynamite! I could visualize battery acid exploding all over me. I’ve got to get out of here! Now! I punched the latch on my harness and it worked perfectly. I was loose in an instant. I scrambled out the passenger window, got one leg and all my weight leaning out of the car when the foot on my other leg snagged on the bottom of the window. I was off balance and fell with all my weight from the height of the window to the ground and landed on my left shoulder. I thought I had broken my arm. But I could still move with pain, turned out to be a terrible bruise. From the grandstands perspective, the scene had to have appeared right out of Keystone Cops. But not to me.
The experience is like falling off a horse; if you don’t get right back on, you probably never will. So on August 31st I fixed my car and went back and raced again that night. My arm still hurts, and I was doing well in the Main Event when my car just quit running without any warning. I think there is a lot of luck involved in this racing business, or maybe you just need to be a better mechanic.
August 31, 2002
I blew the engine in the car tonight. It sounded like the pistons were going to jump out of the motor. After the race, I told Judy that my big-time racing career was over. It is expensive to just pay the weekly fees and expenses to race, much less have to rebuild the car. Much to my surprise, Judy told me to keep going, go buy another car and start over. So I did. I went back to Larry Price and bought another 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme (identical to the first car except tan color) for $450. I bought it, stripped it out on Saturday, and had it ready to race the next weekend. It is a good, reliable car. I put the blue Olds in storage with the idea of rebuilding it and moving up to the Claimer Division next year.
August 18, 2002
I raced in the Ralph Hertel Memorial last Saturday night. I was a little concerned about being in a race with the word “memorial” in it, but I found out that he was the founder of the Stock Car Racing Association, not a victim of it. I finished 4th in my heat race, my best effort of the year. In the Main Event I started on the inside of the second row, a pretty good spot (I thought). I guess I’m still not used to people passing without signaling. By the end of the first lap I had been sideswiped on the driver’s side door (I’m glad I had both hands on the wheel or I would be missing a left arm), and the passenger door was smashed in. Oh, and by the way, I had dropped back in the field, way back. I was bumped so hard so many times during the race that I began to think something was wrong with my car. But it was just the sound and power of the bumps! Anyway, I kind of figured out how to get through the turns during the second half of the race and finished 8th out of 24 cars. Actually, this was a fun race; I am beginning to calm down. It was my third straight top 10. Now I’ve got to figure out how to get into the top 5.
August 3, 2002
I just had my best night of racing. I started 9th in my heat race and came in 5th. I started 10th in the Main Event and came in 6th. I must thank Randy Carlson, who is here on vacation, for helping me get the car ready for tonight’s race. Just as I pulled into the pits after the Main Event, my radiator hose blew and hot water and steam was everywhere. What good luck!
June 28, 2002
Tonight was my second
race. I couldn’t believe it when I drew the pole position! I’m thinking
that this is only my second race and here I am on the pole. It’s only
six laps; I’ll jump out in front and win ON MY SECOND NIGHT OF RACING!
Reality: I took off like a little old lady on the back streets of Bowling
Green. I was so slow in getting off the mark that I was in last place
before we hit the end of the first straightaway. I did pick it up and
finished 6th out of eight cars. I ran my first main event, starting in
15th position. I was determined to finish the race and not wreck my car.
I don’t know where I finished but my car was in good shape. Physically,
I was totally drained. That is such a surprise because driving a car doesn’t
appear to be that hard to do. I think it is the anticipation, the total
concentration of energy, and the pumping of the adrenaline. At any rate,
I’m exhausted. I like my bomber, it’s a pretty good one.
June 21, 2002
I race now or never. I’m 61 years old, in good shape, but unlikely to get in better shape or get younger. So I convinced Judy that I needed to buy a bomber and get in the action. Tonight is my debut at Manzanita Speedway. I have heard of Manzy most of my life, but I had never been here until about three weeks ago. I am in over my head, don’t know a darn thing about racing or the protocol for racing at Manzy. But here I am with my 1976 Olds Cutlass Supreme which cost me about $450. I wanted car number 22 because that was my dad’s number, but it has already been taken. So I take number 59 since I graduated from high school in 1959. That should help me win.
As I get to the pit entrance gate, I am met by Jeremy Lilly, Mike Lilly’s 14 year old son. Mike has helped me get my car ready to race, and he knows that I am ignorant and need help. I feel like a lost puppy. Jeremy’s job is to help me set up in the pits next to Mike and take me to the driver’s meeting and the pill draw. I don’t even know what the pill draw is, so Jeremy explains that I have to draw a number which determines my starting position in my heat race. My finish in the heat race will determine my starting position in the main event.
The bomber rules are pretty simple. Just get all the glass off the car and put in a screen for the windshield. You don’t need a roll bar or a fire suit. You do have to wear long pants and a long-sleeve shirt and helmet. That’s it. I did put one roll bar in my car although I was assured that it wasn’t necessary. The bombers don’t go fast enough to roll over. Great!
I am sitting in the staging area in my coveralls and helmet; the heat is overpowering. I wear glasses and I fog up. As I’m contemplating my idiocy for getting myself involved in this situation, a bomber heat race is going on. I am counting the laps as the cars come by every 20 seconds or so. A bomber that everyone says can’t roll over, rolls over right next to the staging area on the back straight! My enthusiasm drops like a stone, but I am trapped in staging. The only way out is onto the track at the signal of the official. I guess I am committed.
When the green flag flies I get so busy trying to control the car that I forget about my butterflies. I drive like a maniac and finish seventh out of eight cars. I think one of the cars blew up. So I go into the semi-main event. I start the race in about the middle of 20 cars and about seven laps into the race someone hits my left rear wheel coming out of turn four. The car handles crazily, and I realize I have a flat tire. I go into the pits somewhat relieved. I am done for the night; but what can I say, I am a rookie. As I climb out of the car I’m shaking. The adrenaline is pumping like I have never experienced before.
Other drivers gather around my car to assess the damage. It is only a blown tire, so I’ll be back next week. One of the young guys parked next to me said, “Well, that’s what happens when you go 25 in a 100 mph zone.”