MOTOR MILE SPEEDWEEKS
It was shortly after 8:00 AM at Motor Mile Speedway, and the fog wasn’t lifting.
Neither was Ron Hornaday, Jr.
The .416-mile oval was nearly invisible due to the fog, but the sound of squealing rubber easily penetrated the dense morning mist. On pit road, the newly formed No. 9 Joe Denette Motorsports team was preparing Hornaday’s truck for the subsequent test session.
The Chevrolet Silverado wasn’t ready to take to the track. But Hornaday was.
“I already got a lap around here,” joked Hornaday minutes afterward. “I drove my Z71…yeah, it was squealing… so we’ve already gotten the track broken in pretty good.”
Hornaday has been part of a record-setting number of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers who have opted to test at Motor Mile Speedway in anticipation of Saturday’s Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway. Since February, 14 race teams –nearly half of the 36-truck field – have chosen the New River Valley short track to log the crucial preliminary circuits in preparation for the spring race at Martinsville.
It’s an upward trend that began in 2008. Over a four-race span at Martinsville Speedway, half of the winners noted a Motor Mile Speedway test session as a contributing factor to their success on race day. Since, the track has experienced a groundswell of activity from teams throughout the truck series spectrum.
Banked 15 degrees in the turns, Motor Mile Speedway has a miniscule three degrees more banking than Martinsville Speedway. Certain commonalities are the reason why many organizations select MMS as their proving ground for waging a competitive campaign at Martinsville Speedway. From local upstart competitors Caleb Holman and Jeff Agnew to series champions Hornaday and Todd Bodine, this year’s unprecedented crop of visitors underscores the magnitude of a Motor Mile Speedway test.
Collectively, the springtime test sessions at MMS have blossomed into an unofficial “speedweeks.” For some, the practices have become commonplace. For others like Hornaday, it was uncharted terrain.
What follows is a weeklong chronicle spotlighting four different drivers searching for the same goal: victory at Martinsville Speedway.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012: Richard Childress Racing
Drivers: Ty Dillon & Joey Coulter
The phrase ‘a first time for everything’ has taken on a very literal meaning to Ty Dillon.
Dillon’s first laps around Motor Mile Speedway this past Tuesday served as a precursor to his maiden NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start at Martinsville Speedway this weekend. And if the test session is any indication, the rookie may be experiencing another first at race’s end.
Dillon has posted only four career starts in the truck series entering Saturday’s Kroger 250. Despite the inexperience, Dillon boasts an average finish of ninth.
“Going to these new tracks, it’s just learning what it takes. Like the little tricks that you have to do at certain places to be better than everybody else. Every track has different characteristics. [I’m] just trying to learn and compete at the level of everybody else,” explained Dillon.
For the truck series newcomer from Lewisville, NC, the lessons come by the lap. Dillon was quick to note that a fleet of fast trucks and an arsenal of knowledgeable mentors have expedited the learning curve, and is the reason for his optimistic outlook on the Martinsville event this weekend.
“When you’re in great equipment, it gives you the confidence to go out there and drive harder and make things happen,” said Dillon. “Being with the right guys and having confidence in myself that I can go out and do it. That’s the main thing.
“I want to go win. I always want to win,” Dillon continued. “A top five would be great, but a win is what we want.”
Dillon gave a glowing assessment of the Motor Mile Speedway test, revealing that the team’s main area of focus were adjustments pertaining to the rotation of the vehicle from the center of the corner-off. Dillon’s determination wasn’t limited to a Martinsville victory, however. When asked about his more long-term goals for the season, an unabashed Dillon gave a poignant response.
“I think we can go out and run for a championship in our first year. We’ve got the best equipment, the best guys— I believe in them and they believe in me,” Dillon proclaimed. “So we’re going to fight for a championship, even though it’s my rookie year.”
Currently posted ninth in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series standings, Dillon’s aspirations are certainly attainable. After all, there’s a first time for everything.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012: Joe Denette Racing
Drivers: Ron Hornaday, Jr. & Max Gresham
By 8:45 AM the fog had begun to recede, revealing the hidden facility the Joe Denette Motorsports team was stationed in the middle of. It was a familiar scene for Hornaday.
“It’s kinda cool, because I grew up at Mesa Marin [Raceway] in California. When you walk in – with the grandstands and the way the track is laid out- it looks just like it,” Hornaday recalled.
Hornaday, the venerable four-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, is a short track stalwart. Over the past six races at Martinsville Speedway, Hornaday has accrued a stellar 2.3 average finish, complimented by a win in the Kroger 200 in 2010.
The statistics suggest that when it comes to short track racing, there is nothing left for Hornaday to learn…except for his race team.
After six consecutive seasons with Kevin Harvick Incorporated, Hornaday is in his first season with Joe Denette Motorsports. Saturday’s Kroger 250 will mark the team’s second ever outing together.
For Hornaday, the Motor Mile Speedway session was invaluable, not as much for setup creation as for team-building.
“This is the true test, right here,” revealed Hornaday. “We’re up here to sling springs and see what people can do; just getting the guys gelled and working together.
“Basically, you say it’s a new team, but it’s still up at KHI. We’ve got some new key players, but Hensley and all the other guys up front are still the same.”
And whether it’s his successful recent history or the bright future new opportunities promise, Hornaday was brimming with confidence following Wednesday’s practice.
“Martinsville is such a demanding track. It’s about qualifying and getting a good pit stall; being up front—it’s so hard to pass at Martinsville. So if you can come off the trailer and practice good and qualify good, you’re gonna stay out of trouble,” Hornaday explained. “I’ve got my first grandfather clock, and we’ve got nothing to prove anymore. It’s just a matter of winning.”
Thursday, March 22, 2012: Red Horse Racing
Drivers: Timothy Peters, John King & Todd Bodine
No team had more momentum following the NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway than Red Horse Racing. The trio of RHR trucks garnered finishes of first, second and sixth in the pinnacle event of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
That was nearly a month ago. The truck series has been on hiatus ever since, and it’s left some wondering whether the momentum gained has been lost in the time lapse. But Red Horse Racing’s flagship driver feels like the schedule is on their side.
“We still feel like we have momentum. The best part about it for our organization is that the first two races of the year are at tracks that the team has won at,” noted Timothy Peters, who is off to his best start in the series since winning at Daytona in 2010. “With the way that the year has started, it’s definitely given us confidence. We’re not cocky by any means, its confidence.”
Peters will be enjoying a bi-annual homecoming this weekend in the Kroger 250. Following his 2009 triumph at Martinsville Speedway, the Danville, Va., native has compiled a record of three top tens and two top fives. This past Tuesday, Peters and the No. 17 NTB/Service Central team made the pilgrimage to Motor Mile Speedway aiming to bolster their short track skill set.
“Today’s test will help some,” Peters said. “My biggest deal going into Martinsville is that we need to qualify well. We need to be good on pit road and I need to race good. Even though I love it—I put Martinsville in the same category as Daytona: you’re day can go great, and then you can get caught up in somebody else’s doings.
“It’s like Bobby Hamilton told me: He says that if you can load it back in the hauler with all the fenders on it and on the lead lap, you had a good day. That’s what we’re shooting for.”
Peters enters Martinsville Speedway a pre-race favorite. But he is no longer the only frontrunner emerging from the Red Horse Racing stable. The addition of two-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Todd Bodine brings a new dimension of depth to the organization.
Like Hornaday, the veteran from Chemung, NY, was busy learning the intricacies of his new race team.
“It’s a different team with different guys, but trucks are trucks. You just make them go fast. So that’s not a big deal. I’m very impressed with the team… we’re optimistic,” Bodine said. ““This test can help, for sure. It’s more of a get-to-know-each-other kind of test, but we’re definitely learning some things.
“Main thing is to get it to turn really well and still get forward bite. That’s what’s important at Martinsville. That’s what we’re concentrating on. We’re testing a few different things to try and learn some stuff. The setups won’t be exactly the same, but the trends will be,” added Bodine.
Although Bodine has notched a pair of second place finishes, the veteran remains winless in 16 starts at the perennial Henry County paperclip. The unfavorable tally only serves to strengthen Bodine’s motivation.
Like his leadfoot counterparts, Bodine left Motor Mile Speedway with a winning mindset.
“We’re not going to Martinsville to finish second,” Bodine stated. “If you can’t win, you just have to get the best finish you can to keep the points going. You have to be realistic.”
Only one racer will capture the coveted grandfather clock in the Kroger 250. Will a weekday test session at Motor Mile Speedway translate into a victory lane celebration at Martinsville Speedway this weekend?
Only time will tell.
Having raced in all three series, what is your opinion of the shorter race format the truck series employs? Do you think it yields more competitive racing?
“Well, we can say its shorter races, but we’re so dumb running trucks because we just run them so hard when the green flag drops. You got young kids out there and veterans out there, and they all want to win. We push each other that much harder. Maybe the shorter races are doing it, and the lack of tires—we only get four sets of tires when we show up at the race track. You’ve got to do all your homework at the shop. So I don’t know if it’s the shorter races, I think it’s just a matter of being on your game, and from the green flag to the checkered flag, you’re running hard.”
Do you feel like you’re a frontrunner for the title this year—is this your year?
“You always have to think that it’s your year, otherwise what’s the need of leaving the shop? You know, its racing. You have to take into consideration that it isn’t always strawberries and whipped cream. But we’re all on the same page. The guys are great. The guys at the shop are close-knit. You name it, we got it going on. Life’s good at Red Horse Racing.”
You’ve been with three different teams in the last three years. It seems that no matter your talent level, no one is safe anymore. What’s more important for a driver to possess now, sponsorship or talent? And what does that say about the health of the sport?
“Well, you have to have sponsorship. These things cost a lot of money to run. There are some guys that go out without talent that have sponsorship, and that doesn’t seem fair, but that’s the nature of the beast. That’s the way it is now. It’s not like the old days. And we have to understand that. I’m fortunate enough that Tom has given me the chance without having sponsorship. We’re working on it, but we started this deal without having sponsorship. For him to have that faith in me meant a lot.”
You had the experience of a lifetime at Daytona in February. What has winning that race done for your career? And in hindsight, do you think that race would have played out differently between you and your teammate had the circumstances been different?
“I haven’t been racing that long. I started when I was 16, and I’m 23 now. We’ve come a long way in a short amount of time. I’m just very fortunate. Since Daytona, it’s just been wild. I’ve taken part in all the media—I hadn’t done that in the past. It’s been a huge learning experience, but it’s been neat and really special.
“I think if the outside would have come back on the last lap— it looked like they were probably going to— [Peters] probably would have stayed behind and pushed me to the end. He didn’t want to cost Red Horse a win. But if he and I would have been by ourselves on the last lap, I’m sure he would have pulled out and tried to make something happen—which would have been fine. It would have made for a great race.”
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