USAR: Hickory: Mike Herman Jr race report

Herman Carries Fireside to the Front at Hickory Kannapolis, NC-Hopefully, the fire has been lit under the No. 34 team after this past Saturday night's Aaron's 250 at Hickory Motor Speedway. Mike Herman, Jr. led his first Pro Cup laps since the...

Herman Carries Fireside to the Front at Hickory

Kannapolis, NC-Hopefully, the fire has been lit under the No. 34 team after this past Saturday night's Aaron's 250 at Hickory Motor Speedway.

Mike Herman, Jr. led his first Pro Cup laps since the 2001 season when he was driving for the now-retired racing legend Don Sprouse. It was also the first time out front for the new Fireside Hearth & Home colors that were debuted at Hickory in 2003.

"That was the most important part of the night, to get the Fireside name out front. 2003 seems a long time ago but since we are only able to run part-time this was only our 10th race in Fireside burgundy," said Herman. "Fireside has been solidly behind this team. There are highs and lows in racing which they understand. Tonight was a high point and it will give the Fireside members and customers something to smile about this coming Saturday night at 10 p.m. when the race replays on the Speed Channel."

At times the night didn't look too promising for the Fireside car. After starting 19th in the field of 32 cars, Herman was spun out early in the race by a rookie driver. This spin started the chain of events that would lead Herman to the front. The No. 34 was brought to the attention of the Fireside crew on Lap 70 for right side tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment. Five laps later, during the next caution period, Herman was brought down pit road for left side tires. This looked to be Herman's only pit stops of the night as Crew Chief John Kolessar commented that they could go the rest of the way on fuel.

With new tires and an improved chassis the charge was now on. Herman steadily picked up positions one by one until he moved into the top 10. Knowing the leaders still had to pit, Herman used a conservative approach only using the bottom of the track when needed.

"I had to keep telling myself to stay on the game plan. When I caught the pack that included the 84 and 51 car, I really had to tell myself to take it easy to save my tires," Herman commented. "I needed to stay in the high groove to save my tires which is where they were running and I knew they all had to pit so there wasn't a need to pass them. Then all of a sudden my spotter Chris Rogers told me it was about to rain, to get all I could get. So I turned it to the bottom and went on."

The rain never materialized but that was okay for the Fireside team as the fire towards the front continued to burn. The caution flew just past the halfway point in the Aaron's 250 which gave the top five leaders a chance to dive onto pit road for service. With the leaders in the pits, the No. 34 would inherit the lead for the first time since 2001 when Herman led over 200 laps in the season. After the race was restarted, Herman would continue to lead until eventual race winner Shane Huffman would drive by with fresher tires. Now solidly in second place, Herman had a top-five finish within his sights.

"We knew we weren't a contender for the win since we had 60 more laps on our tires due to our short-pit strategy, but we had a car good enough for a fifth-place finish," said Herman.

That was until Herman suffered another spin, again at the hands of a rookie driver. Luckily the car suffered no damage during the spin, but the tires were flat spotted so once again the No. 34 was brought to pit road. This time the only available tires were the set the team started the race with due to the USAR mandated rule of eight BFGoodrich Tires g-Force radials per race.

"We lost our best set of tires in that spin. It's funny that we were spun out by two rookies tonight. When you race with veterans like Jay Fogleman and Michael Ritch you never have to worry about things like that. That's okay, I know I'm not around the series full-time anymore and I don't have the respect I once had, so I've got plenty of time to remember things like this," Herman said sternly. "I promise I'll earn that respect back real quick."

Back on old tires Herman didn't let adversity keep him from charging back into the top ten. At times Herman still looked like a contender for a top five but the old tires finally gave up. Herman held on for a solid, ninth-place finish, his first top 10 since the Pro Cup event at Southern National Speedway in Kenly, N.C., last year, which is cause for more optimism out of the Fireside Hearth & Home camp.

Southern National Speedway will host the upcoming Merchant's Tire & Auto Centers 250 on Saturday, July 23 for the next stop on the USAR Pro Cup Southern Tour. The No. 34 team will be representing the Morrisville location of Fireside Hearth & Home during the Kenly event. Over 150 builder customers and Fireside members are expected to attend the traditional Fireside Builder/Member Night at the Races which features the best tailgate party at the track along with another expected run to the front by Mike Herman, Jr. & the Fireside Racing Team.

-frt-

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Series Stock car
Drivers Shane Huffman