ESCANABA, MI (October 8, 2003) - Given the nature of his everyday job, it's little wonder Rod Wells decided he wanted to race in the ground pounding, teeth rattling world of the Championship Off Road Racing (CORR). "I make little rocks out of...
ESCANABA, MI (October 8, 2003) - Given the nature of his everyday job, it's little wonder Rod Wells decided he wanted to race in the ground pounding, teeth rattling world of the Championship Off Road Racing (CORR).
"I make little rocks out of big rocks," said Wells, who owns and operates Wells Crushing and Screening, a rock excavation company. "I had always been around off-road racing helping different drivers for the last 15 years here at our local track, Bark River Raceway. I just never had the time or opportunity to really get involved until a few years ago."
That's when Wells, a Gladstone, MI native, decided to try his hand at racing. After a two-year apprenticeship in the CORR Enduro Truck Division, Wells moved on to the Sportsman Stock pick up truck division a year ago recently completing his best season to date finishing sixth in the 2003 CORR Sportsman Stock championship standings.
"We were running in the Top-3 in a couple of races only to have a mechanical problem put us out," Wells stated. "That definitely hurt us in the points chase. We also had a rollover that set us back a little bit. We still managed to have a number of Top-5 finishes, three Top-3 finishes and a win, but we were definitely hoping for more than that. We finished sixth in the final points, but that was just 10 points out of third. It was disappointing not to finish higher."
As a racer, Wells can be excused for wanting more. His red 2003 Chevrolet pick-up, sponsored by RFW Concrete and Construction, BF Goodrich and EMP Stewart Components, showed flashes of brilliance this season. Nowhere was that more evident than the August race at Bark River, his home track
"We easily had the best truck on the track," said Wells of the second Bark River event on the 2003 CORR tour. "On Saturday, we got together with another truck and rolled. We worked all night to put the truck back together. We came back Sunday to score our only win of the season with a pretty beat up truck. We had bent springs, bent axles, you name it. We had to rob parts off an older truck just to get this one ready to race again. It was the real highpoint of the season and I'm still not sure how we did it. It was an emotional roller coaster for us because we knew we had the fastest truck after the practice session Saturday. We were extremely fast. We took only one practice lap Sunday just to make sure we had everything tight and that we weren't missing anything. If we don't have the rollover at Bark River and just finish Saturday's race, we easily finish third in the points. It was a great weekend for us, but a tough one too."
Perhaps even tougher is the number of hours Wells and his team, led by crew chief Bill Schmitt, have to put in to make his truck ready for the racetrack.
"Even if we have two or three weeks in between races, the work to get the truck ready to race is nonstop," Wells stated. "There's so much work after a race not only to get it ready for the next event, but to make sure the truck is safe. They take such a pounding that we check everything, even the roll cage, to make sure we're ready for the next race."
CORR rules for the Sportsman Stock class dictate each truck has to have a stock chassis and the engine can't be any more than 370 cubic inches. The block has to be stock with stock dimensions on the crankshaft, pistons and connecting rods. Engine compression is unlimited and each truck runs a restrictor plates on the carburetor, which is a two-barrel Holley allowing the engine to make around 400 horsepower. All trucks also run an automatic transmission. About the only thing not restricted by the CORR rulebook is engine compression and how many shocks per wheel each team run.
"This series is tough on equipment. You basically take a stock pick up truck, making some modifications to it, run it 75 miles an hour, jump it 20 to 30 feet in the air and land it," said Wells. "There's bound to be some repercussions, especially to the suspension. The steering components take an unbelievable beating. They are loose after every race. We put all new steering components on our truck probably two to three times a year."
According to Wells, the driver gets his share of hard knocks during a race as well.
"We don't run any windshields in these trucks, so the speeds seem twice as fast because you have mud and rocks bouncing off your helmet all the time," the 36-year-old driver stated. "That makes it very interesting."
Over the course of the 14-race CORR season, replacing parts and keeping a team on the road can become a costly proposition. Wells is quick to point out that compared to a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series team, where budgets can run up to $4 million a season, the CORR Sportsman Stock division is a very cost-effective series to race in.
"Our biggest cost is engines and transmissions," said Wells. "Steering components costs can mount up too because you never know when you are going to have to replace something there. To build a new truck, a rolling chassis alone is around $10,000. By the time you are done, you probably have $25,000 in the truck. There's such a discrepancy in what you can put in the engine in this class. You have to have stock dimensions on the engines, but you can put a lot of money in the parts in it. Knock on wood, B&B Engines gives us very good, reliable engines. We race a single engine for the entire season - all 14 events - before we have to refresh it. We haven't had an engine failure in two years, so we've had really good luck there." Like NASCAR or any other form of motorsports, sponsorship funding plays a critical part of Wells' racing effort.
"A tire deal is huge because you can easily spend $4,500 a year just in tires," explained Wells. "We like to bolt on new tires at every race. We're fortunate we have a tire deal with B.F. Goodrich because not everyone has one. It's a real competitive advantage to have new tires at every race over those that have been run before at another race."
Wells also points to the association with EMP Stewart Components, a world-class designer and manufacturer of high performance engine cooling components located in nearby Escanaba, MI, as one that has benefited his racing fortunes.
"EMP Stewart Components came on as a sponsor last year and they have been a big help," said Wells. "We had some cooling issues that they were able to resolve that for us. With the radiators up front in these trucks, we have to keep them blocked off so they don't get clogged up with mud. At the last race, we ran about 185 degrees of engine temperature all race long, so that's not a problem for us at all anymore. It's a great feeling to know that you don't have to worry about the truck overheating."
With two years of rock solid results under his belt, Wells has his eyes firmly set on the 2004 CORR season and a run at the Sportsman Stock division championship.
"We're building a new truck for next year," Wells indicated. "We know what we have to do to win the championship next year. Last year was a real eye opener in terms of finding out how much time you have to put in on these trucks if you really want to compete. Our races usually last between 15 to 20 minutes and I always get asked if it's worth putting in all the time we put in. When the green flag drops, there's not a better feeling in the world, so it's definitely worth it. Now we need to take it to the next level and compete for the championship. We need to finish in the Top-5 every race and if we can do that, I think we'll be in the hunt for the championship."