For all the hype about an open-wheeler, the fastest female in Daytona during Speedweeks was none other than a Daytona Beach native. Alli Owens, who ran in the top five during much of her ARCA season debut at Daytona, has spent the last several seasons running limited schedules in the Series. She spoke to Frontstretch‘s Bryan Davis Keith Friday on her expectations for race weekend in Palm Beach and the rest of the 2010 ARCA season.
Bryan Davis Keith, Frontstretch: Palm Beach isn’t quite as close to a hometown race as the last one was, but still you’re in the state of Florida. Talk about your upcoming weekend.
Alli Owens: I’m really looking forward to it. We didn’t even know we were going to have this race until last week. I’ve always really liked road courses, I’ve run the last two at New Jersey and I’ve gotten to test different cars at Road Atlanta, so I felt comfortable coming here. Entering the test, I had to share the car with Steve [Arpin], so it wasn’t a comfortable fit, but it got me familiar with the track and things like that. I actually learned a lot from Steve. He sat me down, drew out the track for me and showed me around. I’m really looking forward to getting out there now.
Keith: This is a really tight road course, there’s really nowhere to go if something goes wrong. How does that change your approach entering the race?
Owens: All road courses, I’ve got to approach a little bit differently. I find myself to be a little more aggressive. Here, you’ve just got to keep hitting your marks. You have a really high braking point on the backstretch from fourth to first gear. There’s just a few points you’ve got to really make sure you aren’t wheel-hopping or anything like that, really getting your rpms up to shift down. You’ve just got to be sure you’re smooth out there. And consistent. Learning from New Jersey, in the ARCA Series a lot of people get impatient on entry into the turns, where everybody’s grouped up together. You’ve just got to be really patient and learn this track as you go. That’s the biggest thing. Also, the track’s going to change because we’re going to be out there for a long time (Editor’s Note: track temperatures fluctuated 10-15 degrees during Friday’s practice session).
Keith: Your teammate Steve Arpin was absolutely thrilled about the possibility of racing on rain tires. Your thoughts?
Owens: I think it’s going to be awesome. I think me and Steve are the most excited about it because we’re thrill seekers, so anything that’s kind of out of the norm, we’re totally thrilled about it. I’m really hoping it rains, because it will be a really cool experience. I think we’ve seen at Montreal and places like that, when you move up to the Nationwide Series, people do this stuff in the rain. I think it’ll be a great learning experience. It’s weird. Normally, we’d be like, “Please don’t rain, please don’t rain.” But now I kind of want it to.
Keith: You didn’t get the finish you wanted at Daytona, but ran really really well. How much has the momentum carried over from Daytona to this weekend?
Owens: I think it actually started before Daytona. My mindset with this team has been completely different from anything I’ve been in before. I’ve been in really good cars, I’ve been around really good people, but I’ve never had the combination mix. These guys believe in me, so that carried over going into Daytona. Now that we’ve proved we can run up front, these guys really want to win just like I do. That puts you in a different mindset. That’s a place I haven’t been in awhile, in my head. 2010 is a really big year for us, and now that we got some attention at Daytona, people are saying “Alli Owens, who is this girl, what can she do?” This is kind of my second chance in my home state to show what I can do.
Keith: Danica [Patrick]‘s not here this weekend, so you’re the only female in the field. Does that enter your mind at all, that this is the weekend I need to step it up and make a mark?
Owens: It’s kind of a tricky subject for me, because I’ve never played the female card. I’ve always been by myself in the garage with the guys. So when the other girls show up, that’s when I get kind of weirded out and uncomfortable. Now, I’m getting back to my own ways. When I put on my helmet, I want to be treated the same as everybody else. But yes, I do have a point to prove, and it’s going to come out. And if comes out here, it’s going to give us huge momentum for the rest of the season. It’s not an oval track, it’s something completely different from what we’re used to, so it’d be huge. At road courses, you really get to see driver talent as far as aggressiveness, being able to strategize and work with your team, and to earn positions on pit road and the track. It’s going to be a huge driving accomplishment, and I will earn a lot more respect from the drivers and my team if I go out here and perform.
Keith: How has the teamwork been in the Venturini Motorsports camp?
Owens: With Mikey Kile and Steve Arpin, there’s definitely a real tight-knit connection there. It’s because we all have to trust each other. We’re all kind of in the same position as to where we stand in the sport and what we’re looking to get out of it. So when you sit there, and you have that kind of relationship with your teammates, you can bring it to your team. [With] these guys, when you go to the shop, my crew chief could be working on Steve’s car doing setup. Everybody works on everybody else’s stuff. In that way, you feel like everyone’s 100% into these cars. It speaks volumes about how we approach “team” as a whole. And this is a family; that’s the coolest part about it. If I’m having trouble, like I said Steve sat me down at the shop and was like, alright this is what I’m doing here, try it. And at Daytona, I was helping him out, telling him my car’s doing this here and this there. So to be able to have that connection now with this team, knowing that the three of us are really trying to build our careers as drivers, you couldn’t ask for a better scenario.
Keith: How’s the sponsorship search going?
Owens: Right now, we’re focusing on what we have and getting the local area involved. It’s coming along. We’re getting pretty much all of our season done, and we’re excited about that. Being someone that was sitting there with only six races, to be right there with a possible chance to run for a championship is an awesome feeling.
Keith: There were a lot of wrecks in the Daytona ARCA race. Some in the Daytona media center went as far as to questioning why ARCA was or should be racing there. Now you’re coming from a plate track to a 2-mile road course with lots of inexperience in the field. What do you say to those out there questioning ARCA’s driver fields?
Owens: Did anybody watch the Nationwide or Truck race? They couldn’t make a lap before the caution flew. I look at that, and think they’re supposed to be the professionals. We’re supposed to be the ones that are learning, and they had more wrecks than we did. I think the ARCA Series is taking the right precautions, making sure the drivers that show up to these racetracks are qualified enough to drive them. And they’ve stepped up their program a lot about that. So being able to come to a road course, look at the New Jersey races. Apart from weather, we had some decent races going. The road courses, I’m not really too concerned about. Now once we go to Texas, it’s really going to show some light as to whether ARCA is taking the right precautions to make sure the right drivers are on the racetrack. As far as I can say to the naysayers on ARCA, I think we had a better show than the Nationwide or Truck races. We had a great race, and ARCA has really stepped up its program. And so have these teams. We’re not out here to wreck cars. We’re out here to race.