In anticipation of the 65th ARCA 200 Sunday afternoon, April 30th at Salem Speedway, this version billed as the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200, the legendary paved oval, in its 52nd season of operation, has been busy with several key ARCA ...
In anticipation of the 65th ARCA 200 Sunday afternoon, April 30th at Salem Speedway, this version billed as the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200, the legendary paved oval, in its 52nd season of operation, has been busy with several key ARCA Bondo/Mar-Hyde Series teams bent on finding a faster way around Salem's tricky high-banks.
Past champions' Frank Kimmel, Bill Baird and Tim Steele along with veterans' Dill Whittymore, Bob Schacht, Mark Gibson, Joe Cooksey and Kirk Shelmerdine all took the opportunity to test recently as did rookies' Mike Harmon, Brian Ross, Shawna Robinson and Karla Lampe.
Kimmel, in Larry Clement's brand new Advance Auto Parts #46 Chevy, liked the handling characteristics on the new car. "The car did very well and I'm very happy with it," said 2-time Salem winner Kimmel. "It's pretty fast and I think we have some more left. We're going to have to be fast. It's going to be the best field of cars ever at an ARCA short-track race. There's just some really great cars coming, good equipment, good drivers. It's going to be tough to win this one."
Robinson, in the Michael Kranefuss-Jeremy Mayfield owned Kmart Ford Taurus, made her first-ever Salem appearance and seemed please with the results. "I love this track," said Robinson. "I mean I love it. It seems like a track where you're going to get better and better as the race progresses. We didn't come here today to really try and do anything except get me comfortable with this race track. And I like the track a lot. We didn't get down to where we need to be qualifying, but I know we can. I was learning so much, just by where I could get on the gas and where I could turn the car. When my lap time would change, just a fraction of a second, I knew where it was happening, and that's big. When a driver can learn where they lost that little bit of time and where they can pick it up next lap, that's huge. I learned that today about Salem. We definitely hit a home run today by testing. I also learned that even though it's a short-track, it's a Darlington style race track. It's busy out there."
Shelmerdine, the point leader heading into Salem, also got his first look at the historic oval. "I've never been here before and I needed to kind of find my way and figure out where to run," said the 2-time ARCA winner. "By the end of the day, we think we know which direction we need to work towards. That's really all today was for." Shelmerdine, who has 35 ARCA starts with victories at Atlanta and Lowe's Motor Speedways, has never competed in the ARCA short-track portion of the schedule. However, after the superspeedway specialist walked away from Daytona with the point lead, the lure of a potential championship was too pressing. "We'll definitely be going through a short-track learning curve," said the Welcome, North Carolina driver. "Not so much with set-ups but with just getting me comfortable. This short-track grind is a whole new world for me as a driver and I know we'll have our hands full on raceday." During a 13-year NASCAR Winston Cup career, Shelmerdine crew-chiefed 44 wins and 4 championships for Richard Childress Racing and driver Dale Earnhardt.
The Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 also marks the fulltime return of 3-time ARCA champion Tim Steele to ARCA competition. After missing the Daytona opener, the all-time ARCA superspeedway winner will work with a deficit. "It was a tough deal missing Daytona, but we did what we had to do," said Steele. "We didn't have a car ready and we've never gone into anything without all our ducks in a row. We're definitely going to be prepared for the rest of the season once we get going at Salem. We have four cars already prepared and my crew chief Tom (Sokoloski) is having the guys pick up two new Ronnie Hopkins cars within the next week. Ernie Elliott is again supplying us with the engines and I don't have to tell you how happy we are about that. Missing out on the points given for the Daytona race and all the bonus points really puts us in the ultimate situation of having to play catch-up. Our backs are up against the wall and we know it. But like I've said so many times before, we just love challenges." The Coopersville, Michigan driver won 4 of the last 5 ARCA races he entered at the Indiana oval, although it has been since September of '97 since Steele has last appeared at Salem.
Short-track season continues for ARCA on May 14th at the ¼ mile Anderson Speedway bullring with a 300 lap grind before the versatile ARCA road warriors shift gears again in time for superspeedway action at Lowe's Motor Speedway on May 20th. Winston Cup veteran and 7-time ARCA winner Ken Schrader is expected to enter the Anderson event as the defending race winner.