RPW Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – BARBERSVILLE, FL – Track conditions so far this week at the Volusia Speedway Park for the DIRTcar Nationals have thrown many drivers a curve ball.
However, even though the surface has produced several bumps and been both tacky and slippery, drivers have all seemed to adapt very nicely.
For veteran Brett Hearn who has won the DIRTcar Nationals Championship on seven different occasions, the track is always changing and what you see early in the week may not be what you have by Saturday night’s finale.
“This place, the last few years, has thrown mud pretty much all night long,” Hearn said. “It then gets dried off and gets slick. Volusia is just a very weird place. It’s unlike any other track we run.”
Now that Hearn is semi-retired and focusing his efforts on his new role with the management team at Orange County for 2020, the racing operation is being run out of Vinny Salerno’s Four Star Motorsports shop. With only has a handful of events they’ll attend this season, the team wants to be good every time they hit the dirt.
So far this week, Hearn and his team have been fast right from the start.
“I’m just really happy that we’ve been able to come off the trailer and time trial well,” he said. “We’ve been good in our heat races too. Tuesday night, we had a good short run car. Tonight, we wanted to have a good long run car.”
Hearn was able to bring the Fox Shocks #20 home in the fourth position for his first top five finish of the 2020 season.
One driver who had a tough time on Tuesday night, though, was former Super DIRTcar Series champion Tim Fuller. Fuller didn’t have the best run in the first feature of the Florida swing, coming home in 18th, but feels like he and his team are heading in the right direction.
“We’ve been struggling so far,” Fuller said. “We struggled last night (Tuesday). Tonight (Wednesday), maybe we’re a little bit better, but this track right now is so narrow.”
That narrow groove has made set-up of the race car very crucial for the Edwards, NY driver.
“You can’t miss the line by much,” he said. “I think we’ll be alright as we work through the week.”
On Tuesday night, the facility had several bumps that made chassis and shock set-up key. However, on Wednesday, Fuller thought things were improving.
“The track may be better tonight because it’s so narrow and we can’t get to the bumps,” he said. “They’re further out so with it being such a fine line, it’ll be hard to tell.”
No matter what, Fuller knows the conditions are the same for everyone.
“The track will be fast all night long,” he said. It’s unfortunate that we have the track conditions the way they are, but it’s Florida. What can you do?”
Fuller brought his St. Lawrence Radiology #19 home in the 13th position on Wednesday.
After two top 5’s and three top 10’s in the four races run at Volusia in 2019, Lebanon Valley and Albany-Saratoga regular Peter Britten grabbed 11th on opening night of the ‘20 Nationals Tuesday and took home a 10th place finish on Wednesday.
Britten is another driver who saw similarities in track conditions between both nights of racing.
“It felt like it may have been a little bit faster tonight than it was on Tuesday, but the lap times don’t really show it,” Britten said. “Times were about the same as they were for the opener.”
Just like Fuller, Britten knew the bumps were there.
“The track definitely still has the bumps,” he said. “I think this place was the same as the first night. I mean, some years when we’re down here, we get a different track every night. This year, so far, it seems like we’ve got almost the same track.”
For this year’s Nationals, the Australian-born driver feels like he has a piece that is capable of not only running up front, but also contending for wins.
“I feel like we’ve got the potential to win here at Volusia,” he said. “Now we just need to capitalize on that potential.”
For night one winner Mat Williamson, the way the track is really isn’t as big of a deal as keeping up with the conditions. Making the right adjustments, he feels, is very important if you want a shot at running well.
“We have a good car down here,” Williamson said. “I honestly wasn’t that good in my heat race tonight. I felt like we could have been a little better with the changes we made after our feature Tuesday. We just have to stay on top of the race track and keep making changes to the racecar as the track changes.”
The DIRTcar Nationals point leader is just like both Fuller and Britten. He sees a lot of similarities in the track from night one to night two.
“The two nights were very similar,” he said. “Running after the late models tonight put a little bit of a corkscrew to it. However, we felt like that would play into our favor. We had a bit of a tight racecar on Tuesday with the brown that was in the race track so when it got black and slick, we got even better.”
Mat brought the Buzz Chew #88 home with a third place finish after starting the feature in eighth. He threw the car to the extreme outside coming through turns three and four on the final lap of Wednesday’s feature, trying to get by Stewart Friesen, but to no avail.