TONY RAINES 2007 Summer Homecoming Tour Presented By DLP HDTV -- Part IV CORNELIUS, N.C., (Aug. 13, 2007) -- Tony Raines began his racing career by competing at small tracks around Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. As...
2007 Summer Homecoming Tour Presented By DLP HDTV -- Part IV
CORNELIUS, N.C., (Aug. 13, 2007) -- Tony Raines began his racing career by competing at small tracks around Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan.
As Raines worked his way to the pinnacle of racing in the United States -- the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series -- he began competing at places like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway and Michigan International Speedway.
Raines' hometown of LaPorte, Ind., is about two-and-a-half hours from Indianapolis, site of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, where he finished 41st on July 29, and about 90 minutes from Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., where he finished 24th on July 15.
LaPorte is also about three hours from Michigan International Speedway (MIS) in Brooklyn, where this week's 3M Performance 400 Nextel Cup race will mark the fourth and final installment in the 2007 Tony Raines Summer Homecoming Tour Presented by DLP HDTV.
Raines has plenty of memories from racing at tracks around Michigan and even attending a NASCAR race at MIS as a spectator in the late 1980s.
So while his first Nextel Cup Series win would be special no matter where it occurred, a win at Michigan -- in front of the hometown crowd -- would be extra special.
Local flavor: Several crew members on the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet come from towns in Ohio, and MIS is the closest thing to a "hometown" track they have on the NASCAR circuit.
Gary "Turtle" Clem (Truck Driver -- Eaton, Ohio), Scott Creque (Pit Support -- Lyons, Ohio), Jim Davis (Tire Specialist -- New Philadelphia, Ohio) and Steve Hoegler (Engineer -- Cleveland) all hail from the Buckeye State.
TONY RAINES (Driver, No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet):
Overall thoughts heading into Michigan:
"The last three weeks, our performance and our speed have been stepped up. Obviously, Ron (Fellows), being the great road racer, the team gave him a great car and he got a great finish (at Watkins Glen). We had a good, solid run at Pocono, where during the previous race we were not so good. In the first Michigan race, we weren't very good. So if we can have the same kind of improvement at Michigan that we did at Pocono, that would be a solid effort from everybody. I'm hopeful and ready to go and we're ready to keep the momentum going.
You served as a spotter for Ron Fellows last week at Watkins Glen. What was that experience like?
"The chicane is usually an interesting place, so I thought rather than sitting on pit road and not doing anything, I could at least watch from a better place on the track. Spotting there is not a big deal. I really didn't do anything. But I was able to watch a lot of drivers and a lot of cars and I believe our car looked as good or better than anybody's. So I think the DLP team did its work. They definitely gave Ron a good car and you've got to have a good car to have a good day."
Does the track at Michigan change from the June race to the August race?
"The conditions are different, I think. In August, it's a little bit slicker and hotter. The track there is very temperature-sensitive and, obviously, a cooler track is a faster track."
What are your thoughts with 14 races remaining and achieving the goal of finishing in the top-20 in owner points?
"We changed our approach to some things three or four races ago and it seems like we've seen some instant improvement. We seem to think we have more potential. It's hard because it's hard to switch in mid-stream. But, on the other hand, it seems that it's given us more flexibility -- the ability to adjust the car and get a little bit more speed. The downside is we're new to it, so there is a lot we don't know. But the upside is it just seems like the potential is better. I'm excited. It just seems to fit us better.
Do you think Michigan gets overlooked as a hotbed of racing?
"Without a doubt. There are a lot of good dirt tracks around there. But there are so many paved speedways that have talented drivers. It just goes on and on. The coolest race to me was what they call the 'Dealer's Choice' in Kalamazoo. It was a race in the fall and they would run any and every kind of class that ran around the state. They paid good money and there would be hundreds and hundreds of cars showing up. I went up there one time with a Sportsman car and I ended up finishing second. That was one of the first big races that I entered and did well against that many cars. It was a bigger track than I had ever been too. If you ask anyone in Michigan about the 'Dealer's Choice,' they'd know what you were talking about."
What do you remember about that first race you attended at Michigan?
"I was in the grandstands and I don't think I was even 21, yet. I just remember the cars, the quality of cars and sponsors, the paint jobs, the crowd. It was just a really exciting event. I remember Rusty (Wallace) leaving pit road. They didn't have pit-road speed then and he'd just hit the chip on every gear on the way off pit road. He got on and off pit road better than anybody else. That stuck out as the most memorable thing."