Magnolia - Saldana spotlight

Saldana Nearly Perfect at Pike County in 2007; Looks for First Win of 2008 One of the toughest feats to accomplish with the Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series is for a driver to sweep a night of racing. A clean sweep consists...

Saldana Nearly Perfect at Pike County in 2007; Looks for First Win of 2008

One of the toughest feats to accomplish with the Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series is for a driver to sweep a night of racing. A clean sweep consists of setting fast time, winning a heat race, winning the Crane Cams Dash and also being victorious in the A-Feature to end the night.

Joey Saldana accomplished this once last year at River Cities Speedway in North Dakota and nearly did it at Pike County Speedway last March, as he set fast time, won the Crane Cams Dash and led all 35-laps of the A-Feature event. The only blemish on his ledger was a second-place run in the first heat race. He even began the night by turning the fastest lap in practice of the 30 cars that took to the track. He held off a hard charge by two-time defending series champion Donny Schatz late in the race.

Saldana will have another chance to accomplish this on February 16, as the Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws pay a visit to the high-banked 3/8-mile track located in Magnolia, Mississippi. He rated the facility as one of the most challenging the series visits all season long.

"It's a tough track to get around," said Saldana, who pilots the Budweiser/Open Joist Mopar JEI. "You have to really have your car working well. It definitely can get slick and you have to put your car in a position to be up front. The racing is usually pretty good there. Hopefully we can be up front again this year. It's always a racy track and a good show for the fans."

In his career at Pike County Speedway, Saldana has three Top-10 finishes, including his dominating performance last year. In his first visit to the track in 1996, he turned in a very solid seventh-place performance. While the track surface at the high-banked 3/8-mile is different than most of the other tracks that the Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series visits during the season, Saldana finds it comparable to Volusia Speedway Park in Florida, where he competed for six consecutive nights last week in the Alltel DIRTcar Nationals, with there being a sandy complexion to the surface at both facilities.

"You have different clay down here and they try to work on the track to keep moisture in it," he explained. "It's hard to do when there is a lot of sand in the track. That's why at the end of the race, it can get pretty touchy on tires. Often you have to be in the right place at the right time, and that's often the characteristics of sand-type tracks."

Saldana and his team established a very solid foundation last week at Volusia Speedway Park, as they embark on their third-year together competing full-time with the World of Outlaws. They worked on a number of different combinations while at Volusia that they believe will benefit them over the nine-plus month schedule that awaits them, beginning this weekend at Pike County Speedway.

"With 20 good cars out here following the Outlaws, the competition is so tough that you have to run as hard as you can at any track," noted the native of Brownsburg, Indiana. "You have to be on your game. Everyone realizes how tough the heat races are and how tough qualifying is. Every race that you go to, you have to focus on it, as if it was the Knoxville Nationals, whether it's at Pike County or Volusia or anywhere. It's a very intense series and you have to take it with that intensity and go out and do the best job that you can."

While other sports have a "Spring Training" or "Pre-Season," Saldana and the rest of the Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series drivers dove right into the regular season last week with their first three nights of racing that counted toward the season long championship standings. Saldana and his team used three races with the All Star Circuit of Champions at Volusia prior to the World of Outlaws season opener to fine-tune their car.

"I think the pressure is that you start the year off down south, with all the good drivers there," said the second generation driver. "You have the guys from Pennsylvania and California and the guys from the All Stars. There is a lot of good competition and everyone wants to get out of the cold and race a sprint car. There were 50 cars last week and 30 of them were capable of winning the race."

In the season opening trio of races at Volusia for the World of Outlaws, the 1996 Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year, earned three Top-10 finishes, including a third-place performance on the second night of the Alltel DIRTcar Nationals. He is solidly in the fourth position in championship points, just 37 markers out of the lead as he chases his first series title.

"It's neat to come down here and run well after working hard all winter and knowing your crew worked hard," Saldana stated during his week at Volusia. "You get to see all of that work pay off. It makes all of that work very gratifying when you run up front."

With over 80 races remaining this season from coast-to-coast, Saldana is looking forward to taking to the track each and every night. Not only is he excited to battle for wins on the track, but also to help welcome his new sponsor Budweiser to a number of markets where the series competes.

"It's huge to go to places like Pike County," he shared. "This series goes to a lot of places where other series do not or cannot go to. That is one aspect of sprint car racing that helps draw sponsors such as Budweiser, Armor All, Quaker State and Bass Pro Shops to it. The World of Outlaws put on great shows where they go and they show sponsors that there are other forms of racing than just asphalt. The series is very exciting to watch and be a part of."

After a busy off-season that saw him compete and win in New Zealand, before taking part in the Chili Bowl and then traveling to Australia, Saldana took a couple of days to relax in Florida last week. He arrived in the Sunshine State at the end of January to compete at East Bay Raceway Park. Prior to competing at Volusia Speedway Park, he enjoyed a couple of days with his family, who he usually takes with him to Australia in the winter, but did not this season, as they took in the one of the most famous destinations in the Sunshine State..

"We went to Disney World for a couple of days," said a smiling Saldana. "It was very gratifying to see my son enjoy something like that. I wish I could have taken him for two weeks, not two days. It was definitely a good time to relax and have fun with my son."

For ticket information on the Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series event on Saturday, February 16 at Pike County Speedway visit: www.pikecountyspeedway.com.

-credit: woo

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About this article
Series World of Outlaws
Drivers Donny Schatz , Joey Saldana