Driver Development: ARCA Racing Series prepares drivers for future careers in stock car auto racing; Danica Patrick, Others, prepare for February 6 Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (January 18, 2010)-What brought IZOD...
Driver Development: ARCA Racing Series prepares drivers for future careers in stock car auto racing; Danica Patrick, Others, prepare for February 6 Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200
DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (January 18, 2010)-What brought IZOD IndyCar Series star Danica Patrick, NASCAR President Mike Helton and Motocross great Ricky Carmichael to Daytona Int'l Speedway one week before Christmas?
The Automobile Racing Club of America, which converges in Daytona Beach each December for a three day test in preparation for its February season-opener Speedweeks race date. Since ARCA's superspeedway racing debut at Daytona in 1964, the nationally touring sanctioning body has taken an important industry position in helping to prepare drivers for professional careers in stock car auto racing.
For many drivers with aspirations of full time stock car racing, the first step to a successful career in any of NASCAR's top three touring divisions is ARCA Testing at Daytona. ARCA Daytona Testing is what helped prepare Ryan Newman for an ARCA win at Daytona in 2001 and a 2008 Daytona 500 victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
David Ragan, who finished sixth in the 2009 Daytona 500, got his first glimpse of Daytona's high banks via the ARCA Racing Series, competing in ARCA races at Daytona in 2004, 2005 and 2007.
"The first time I went to Daytona to compete in an ARCA race I had no idea about drafting or the bumps in the track or the way you make a qualifying lap by running one lap up high on the racetrack and one lap down low," said Ragan. "The last ARCA race-in 2007-I entered the race knowing that I was also competing in the NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races so the ARCA race basically served as a big confidence booster. We finished second or third in the ARCA race and went on to finish fifth in the Daytona 500. The ARCA race was a big confidence booster that led into the next week and the NASCAR portions of Speedweeks."
Kyle Busch won the 2004 ARCA race at Daytona. Justin Allgaier, Justin Lofton, Parker Kligerman, 2009 ARCA Daytona race winner James Buescher and 2008 ARCA Daytona race winner Michael Annett are just a few recent examples of drivers who made their Daytona debuts via ARCA Racing.
Industry experts recognize ARCA as an established route to the highest levels of stock car auto racing. It's the reason Larry McReynolds entrusted his son with 2009 ARCA Racing Series Championship Car Owner Eddie Sharp during December ARCA Testing just a few weeks ago.
"Looking at all the different series and what my son Brandon has run previously, I wanted to get him into a series that has a lot of the elements of the upper [NASCAR] series - big cars, lots of power, weight, bigger tracks," said McReynolds. "The rules that play into Nationwide and Sprint Cup as far as pit road speed, pit stops, the way restarts are, pretty much everything about the ARCA Racing Series is beneficial to a driver with NASCAR aspirations."
McReynolds entered Daytona ARCA Testing with limited expectations and no concrete plans to return for February's ARCA race. However, the 18-year-old was solid during morning session single car runs and those successes helped the team decide to participate in afternoon drafting. Should funding become available, McReynolds will return for the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 on February 6.
"I can see us maybe spending two years here in the ARCA Series if the right opportunity presented itself," said Larry McReynolds. "You spend one year learning the car, learning the track, learning the competition, learning where the restrooms are located in the garage area. Then you spend the next year coming back and trying to really win races and trying to compete for a championship."
While drivers like Brandon McReynolds are drawn to Daytona Testing to gain experience and track time, others come to the World Center of Racing for the very specific goal of gaining approval to compete in the ARCA portion of Speedweeks.
Goshen, New York, native Sean Corr began his racing career at local dirt tracks, making the biggest jump of his career-to-date in 2009 with three ARCA Racing Series starts and several open test sessions. During December testing, Corr was among approximately 60 drivers who were observed by ARCA Officials. A successful drafting session and a fourth-place showing on Sunday's speed charts allowed him to gain approval to race at Daytona in February. He plans to return with his No. 82 Empire Racing Team.
ARCA Officials look at a variety of factors when approving drivers for speedway racing. Among them, past racing history, participation in racing schools and on-track observation at ARCA-sanctioned tests.
"We encourage drivers to participate in as many open tests as possible because the added experience young racers gain with track time helps improve the racing for everyone," said Joe Wells, vice president of competition for ARCA. "We try to schedule open test sessions one month in advance of all of our speedway races. In addition, one-on-one interaction with ARCA Officials and veteran drivers help rookie drivers make the most of the ARCA experience."
ARCA Officials were not the only observers during Daytona Testing. NASCAR President Mike Helton frequented the ARCA Garage at Daytona during the three day test. Many drivers who plan to race in the February 6 Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 ARCA Racing Series event at Daytona plan to participate in the NASCAR portion of Speedweeks, either in 2010 or in upcoming years.
IZOD IndyCar Series star Danica Patrick drew attention to ARCA Testing by using the event to gain her first taste of drafting. While her ARCA Racing Series involvement will likely be limited to ARCA Daytona testing and the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 ARCA Daytona race, others, such as renowned Motocross star Ricky Carmichael, plan to extend their ARCA schedule past Daytona.
Carmichael is expected to race in as many as nine ARCA events in addition to his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series ride with Turner Motorsports.
ARCA testing at Daytona draws drivers from the world over, with Venezuela's Milka Duno, India's Narain Karthikeyan and China's Darryl O'Young joining US and Canadian drivers in this year's edition. Many will return for ARCA's February 6 Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 season opener at Daytona Int'l Speedway. The race is live on SPEED beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern. Tickets are available online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.