September 30, 1970, was the last time that a NASCAR national touring series race was contested on dirt. The winner was Richard Petty. It was held at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds. There were 23 cars in the race, 12 were running at the end and Petty won by two laps. The prize money for first place was $1,000. John Sears started on the pole, led 10 laps and dropped out on lap 16, finishing last and taking home $200. Benny Parsons led 78 laps before his engine expired and he was credited with a 14th place finish taking home $240. Petty started sixth and led the 112 laps that Parsons and Sears didn’t. For those who miss the old days, Petty finished 14 laps ahead of the fifth place finisher, Cecil Gordon.
History will be revisited as the Camping World Truck Series Wednesday night at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, OH. The series will run a 150-lap feature race, broken into three segments. The field for that race will be set through qualifying, qualifying races and a last chance qualifier. The top 20 drivers in points are locked into the field while the remaining 16 cars on the entry list will duel it out for the final 10 spots.
As the trucks roll up the road toward Ohio, Shane Wilson, crew chief on Brendan Gaughan’s No. 62 for Richard Childress Racing, sat down with Frontstretch to talk about bad luck at Iowa and all of the things that go into preparing a vehicle designed to race on asphalt for a race on dirt.
Mike Neff: Last race you ran was Iowa. It ended up with a far from ideal result for you guys. What did you think of your trip to the heartland of America?
Shane Wilson: It was fine; it was just a racing deal. We’re running good; we’ve just had some unfortunate luck the last couple of races, but you can’t complain too much when you’re running in the top five and have one of those racing deals. It is one of those things that you don’t want to happen but it happened. We’re competitive and everything so we just kind of put that one in the books and we’re heading to the next race.
MN: The next race is the one that we’re all excited about which is why we’re getting this done a little early this week: Eldora. Has Brendan ever run on dirt?
SW: He has raced some on dirt. When he was younger he raced off-road trucks up in Cranden and some different stadium stuff he did. It is different but that helps a little bit. Plus he ran some UMP Modified races for Team Dillon down at Volusia (Fla.) for a race or two. He’s done some other stuff here and there, not a whole season but has raced some so it isn’t completely new to him. When we have done some testing for this race, he’s been pretty good. He knows enough about it now that he knows what he needs to feel. The truck isn’t going to drive exactly like a dirt car anyway. It is going to drive more like a dirt street stock or bomber car rather than a modified or a full-blown late model.
MN: Let’s take a look at the truck front to back. First of all, you aren’t going to have a splitter on it, correct?
SW: Correct, that is going to be one of the bigger things, with the cushions and we don’t know exactly what kind of track we’re going to have, because if it rains we’re going to have to race on a muddy track or a so-called wet track. With the different transitions and getting on and off the track and the cushions and different things, the splitter isn’t really designed to race on a dirt track. They’ll look old school. There will be a valence where the splitter once was. There will be a fairly big nose opening, at least as big as what we have at Martinsville. It will look kind of like a short track deal although I don’t think anyone will have brake ducts. The grill opening will be pretty good for the radiator and then the valence will be tapered on the front.
MN: From the underneath side of the valence back to the front wheels, will you be covering up that section to prevent mud from building up in that area?
SW: It will be open without brake ducts. Like I said, I don’t think you’ll need brake ducts, assuming our testing helps us. I don’t think you’d want to run them anyway because I think they’d get ripped off or get packed full of mud. It is really a simple truck. You smooth up everything you can to take away everything that can collect mud, different braces and things. You have to beef the front up because it is going to be a full-contact race I’m sure. It is actually a little different from anything else we have because the front is beefed up even more than Martinsville to take all of the beating and banging of clumps of mud and everything. We try to simplify. You try to smooth everything up and anything you can’t you try to use some Pam spray or liquid something to make the dirt not want to stick to it. Hopefully it won’t be raining to where we have to go out when the track is tacky because our stuff isn’t really meant for that. You never know, though — Mother Nature may make us change our minds to get us out there.
MN: For the grill opening, I’m assuming you are going to use a screen to keep the dirt from clogging it up?
SW: We’ve put a fair amount of thought there and NASCAR has helped us out a good bit. We can run what they call outerwear. There are a few different colors of it but ours is white, at least what we’ve tested with. Mud doesn’t really stick to it but it is a little bit finer than the screen on your screened in porch. It gives another layer to keep the clumps of mud out of there. Then behind that we’ll also have a shaker screen and then the normal grill screen. So, we’ll be in pretty good shape there. Not only is there possibly mud that we’re going to race long enough that night that we’ll probably put 150 miles on it or so.
MN: OK, back to where the driver is: dealing with the windshield, I’m assuming we’re still going to have windshields in these things?
SW: Yes, we’ll still have windshields. We made a piece; I don’t know if we’re going to use it or not [but] it is a deflector that you see on some dirt cars. It is another rule they did. It is going to mount on the hood up by where the left side hood tether plate is. We’ll play around with that and we’re going to have tear-offs on the windshield. You just never know though, if we get into a deal where it is wet and tacky we don’t know exactly what to expect so we’ll have some of those made but I don’t know if you’ll see everyone use them or not.
MN: How many tear-offs are you planning on putting on the truck for the day?
SW: More than normal (laughs). We’ve put the base plus six or seven. If you get too many you’ll start to blur the windshield. We’ll definitely have more than normal though. Usually in a Truck race you just need the base coat and three tear-offs, you’ll never get past that. This will be more like a Cup-style windshield with the tear-offs that we’ll have where we’ll pull one after each racing event and there are three parts to the race plus qualifying and heat races.
MN: For the driver himself, is Brendan going to have tear-offs on his helmet in case any dirt gets in through the window net?
SW: He may but from testing, and I know testing isn’t like the race since there aren’t as many trucks out there, because we just tested with our teammates, but I just don’t think with the windshield and the window net on our stuff, the openings are pretty small so I don’t think we’ll get a lot of dirt in there. Once again though, if we do, we’ll be ready for it. I’m sure we’ll have some kicking around there and he may have already done the deal because, as I mentioned before he’s done the off-road racing thing so he may bring his off-road helmet with the tear-offs and stuff for those visors but I’m sure he’ll handle that if he feels he needs to.
MN: Moving on back, we’re still using truck arms. Has NASCAR limited you to the amount of travel that you can have in the rear end to be able to plant that right rear tire?
SW: The biggest thing is they are going to let us run our quarter panels a half of an inch higher than we normally do. What will limit us is the exhaust pipe hitting the ground on the right side; that will be the biggest obstacle. We’ll be able to go pretty soft, as soft as you would want to go. Just from doing a little testing we’re pretty confident there. If we were going to do this more you’d probably develop a truck with a high right side rail and that would be the one you’d want to use. Right now, we’re pretty happy with it. Every now and then we’d hit the pipe on a bump or something but it is tough enough to take it. The good part about it is you’re hitting dirt, you’re not hitting asphalt, so you won’t see a lot of sparks flying out of there when it does hit. That kind of stuff is pretty easy, it hasn’t been a problem so far. Until we get there and start racing, testing for Eldora, since I’ve never raced dirt, you have to find the right dirt track. Eldora is a unique track unto itself so testing other places is helpful but it isn’t going to tell the whole story until we get some laps on it.
MN: Getting all of the way to the back, the spoiler is obviously going to collect some dirt. Do you have to anticipate the amount of buildup and weight that is going to add to the truck?
SW: When we tested we really didn’t see anything getting up that high. The biggest issue that everyone is going to fight is on top of the exhaust pipe and up in the rear bumper cavity. Once it fills up and gets the stuff in there it kind of smooths out. We’ll collect a little bit of weight if it is muddy and tacky but, once again, everyone will be in the same boat. Really hoping, and I know Tony and the people up at Eldora are going to try and get it pretty dry for us. Mother Nature could change that plan if they get a little bit of rain during the day on Wednesday. If there isn’t any rain during the day on Wednesday, we won’t experience any of that. We might get a little bit during practice, qualifying and heat races but there won’t be any during the actual race.
This race is going to be very interesting. If the track is as hard and dry as Shane is predicting it will probably be a one groove, slicked off track. That would result in a rather boring event. If the track gets some rain during the day and the track can get some moisture in it, then we just might see racing in all three grooves on the track. Whatever we see, it is going to be historic.
©2000 - 2008 Mike Neff and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!