Inspection, Safety Meetings the Stories of ARCA's First Day at Daytona
(DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.) - The Daytona International Speedway garage opened today to competitors in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards, setting the stage for tomorrow's opening day of practice for Saturday's Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200.
Though car haulers were invited to enter the infield Tuesday afternoon, teams were first allowed to unload cars and set up in the garage stalls this morning. Inspection lines were open throughout the day, giving the 48 entered teams an opportunity to properly prepare for tomorrow's four-hour practice session, which begins at 1 p.m. and opens on-track activity for the first of 19 series races this season.
"The car went through body tech really good," said Bill Gerhart, crew chief for six-time Daytona winner Bobby Gerhart and the No. 5 Lucas Oil Chevrolet. "As far as practice tomorrow goes, we're extremely confident in this car. It may be the best car we've ever had here, and we've had some really good ones. With the extensive testing we did here in January and at Talladega a few weeks ago, we're ready to go with our complete package. Even if we didn't practice tomorrow, I feel like we could go qualify it right now and be just fine. We know where we're at; we know what we've got, and we're very confident in the direction we're headed."
Nine-time ARCA champion Frank Kimmel struggled through Daytona testing last month - failing to finish among the top 50 of 58 drivers - but his brother and crew chief Bill Kimmel expressed confidence in the No. 44 Ansell/Menards Ford's direction this week.
"We got through tech in good shape," said Bill Kimmel. "We have a few small things to fix, but all the big stuff is good. We definitely have higher expectations for tomorrow's practice. I mean, we were so bad in the test that we have to be better tomorrow. This isn't the car we tested with here. This is the car that we raced at Talladega last year, and the car drove very well there. I think we'll be fine overall. I don't believe we have a pole car, but the car should race well. It's got to be better than what we tested with."
Owner, Crew Chief Meetings Spell Out Procedures, Cover Safety: ARCA Racing Series crew chiefs and team owners met with series officials in separate one-hour meetings today to discuss qualifying and race procedures and series business, respectively. The meetings are standard practice for the beginning of a new season, and allowed participants to ask questions and provide feedback in an open forum.
Randy LaJoie, a former NASCAR driver and founder of The Joie of Seating, a custom racing seat manufacturer, spoke at the meeting as series officials talked about plans for new safety standards in the ARCA Racing Series. Plans in coming seasons include increasing the specifications for seat safety to an SFI mark of 39.2, but at costs that are "affordable for all budgets," said ARCA president Ron Drager.
"We're looking to make this the standard for 2013, but we're encouraging (teams) to get out there tomorrow," Drager said. "We want to improve the safety levels of our drivers' seats."
LaJoie reflected on his own experience when stressing the need for safe seats in the ARCA Racing Series.
"My hardest hit was at Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine, a one-third-mile track, so it proves you can hit hard at a short track or a speedway," LaJoie said. "The SAFER barrier is the nicest thing I've ever hit, but we race at a lot of race tracks without full SAFER barriers even today."
LaJoie talked to the series' crew chiefs and owners about the inspection process for newly-modeled seats, saying that work with black boxes and re-creations of hits with computer simulators played a significant role in development and testing.
Specifics and deadlines for the new seat standards have not been officially determined, but officials continue to research with the hope of consistently improving safety for ARCA teams and drivers.
Scott Heintz of Heintz Performance also spoke at the meetings to lay out details for new fire extinguisher standards in the series. According to a new rule made official in November, fire extinguishers with an original manufacturing date of over six years in the past will not be allowed for use in the ARCA Racing Series. Previously, renewals had been provided on a two-year basis for an unlimited period of time, but the rule was changed to ensure that mechanisms within extinguisher tanks are kept current and functioning.
Top Qualifiers' Tires to be Impounded: ARCA president Ron Drager confirmed today that the Hoosier tires of the top 10 qualifiers for Saturday's Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 will be impounded after Friday's Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell. Qualifying begins at 2 p.m.
"This protects the integrity of the tires that are qualified on," Drager said.
UNOH on Hand at Track: Steve Farmer, vice president of development for the University of Northwestern Ohio, appeared at the owner's meeting and spoke about UNOH's student involvement in the 2011 ARCA Racing Series season. Students from UNOH - ARCA's Official High Performance Education University - play pivotal roles as crew members for several ARCA teams, thanks to partnership between ARCA and the Lima, Ohio-based school.
Farmer said that 13 students remain available for placement on ARCA teams.
"These kids are good, and it's a strong investment for your team," Farmer said. "I don't think you'll find better help anywhere in the country."
Smile Big: Though not on track today, ARCA Racing Series drivers wore their driver suits and stood in front of the green screen to pose for official series headshots. Steve Arpin, driver of the No. 25 Mike's Hard Lemonade/Trent's Tire Toyota, was one driver who brought fun to his photography session. Arpin posed like a body builder for a series of pictures.
Entry List at 48: The official entry list for Saturday's race stands this evening at 48 drivers. Interestingly, one driver in the field has led more laps at Daytona than all of the other 47 combined. Bobby Gerhart, a six-time Daytona ARCA winner, has led 401 laps over 23 starts; only six other drivers on the list have led laps, and together they have led just 74.
Frank Kimmel, who has finished second twice and third twice, has led 43. Tom Hessert has led 21. Mark Thompson (six), Chad McCumbee (three), and Barry Fitzgerald (one) have also run at the front of the field on the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
The 80-lap, 200-mile Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 airs live on SPEED at 4:30 p.m. Eastern on February 12, with live timing and scoring presented by ARCA Nation at ARCARacing.com. Bobby Gerhart (No. 5 Lucas Oil Chevrolet) is the defending and all-time leading winner at the track, with wins in 1999, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2010. Gerhart also won four consecutive poles between 2003 and 2006.
The race is the first of 19 this year, and activity begins with a four-hour practice at 1 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, February 10. Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell begins at 2 p.m. on Friday, February 11, and the series will host a final, 45-minute practice at 10 a.m. on Saturday.