ROSSBURG — Unable to test their trucks on dirt prior to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway, drivers are considering an array of options to prepare for Wednesday’s race.
Rules for NASCAR’s top three levels – the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series – prevent teams from participating in any testing with their vehicles unless it’s sanctioned by NASCAR. The rule is designed to contain costs and ensure parity throughout the series.
“Yeah, I wish we could go test the truck at a dirt track,” John Hunter Nemechek said. “When we first went to Eldora, we were able to do that and kind of get a feel.”
Eldora Speedway’s fifth annual Dirt Derby is the only top series NASCAR event that is contested on dirt. The inaugural truck race at Eldora in 2013 marked NASCAR’s first dirt race since 1970.
Being the series’ only race on dirt, many of the drivers don’t have much experience racing on the surface and would welcome a chance for testing.
“It’s tough obviously with the no-testing policy,” Johnny Sauter said, “even for just to be able to go to any type of dirt track and just be able to run around would be pretty awesome.”
Some drivers have found ways to get on the dirt – just not in their trucks.
Christopher Bell, the champion of the 2015 NASCAR truck race at Eldora, is competing in this weekend’s Kings Royal in preparation for Wednesday’s race. Bell expects the experience of running on Eldora’s dirt will help him even though there’s a big speed difference between sprint cars and trucks.
“The Kings Royal, I’ve been able to do that the last couple of years before the truck race, and it’s been a huge advantage for me because like Chase (Briscoe) mentioned before, sprint cars are so fast. And the trucks at Eldora are relatively slow,” Bell said. “So quick time this weekend in the sprint cars is going to be in the 12-second bracket and when we go back in the truck it’s going to be in the 20-second bracket. So clicking around there in a sprint car, getting laps in a sprint car, it won’t really help as far as track conditions because the conditions will be totally different.
“But the speed will be so relative whenever we go back to the truck series. I’ll be able to hit my marks a little bit more precise because I’ll be used to going so much faster.”
Unlike Bell, Sauter doesn’t have much experience racing on dirt. His plan is to test a street stock on a dirt track in Wisconsin. The street stock is a similar size to a truck, which Sauter thinks will help his preparations.
“Obviously I live in Wisconsin; there’s a racetrack there called Beaver Dam; it’s a half-mile. I’ve been trying to get ahold of the guys to try to go over there Sunday afternoon for four or five hours and try to drive that thing,” Sauter said. “I think whatever I get on that’s on dirt it has to be somewhat the same as what a truck would be or what I perceive it would be. And that’s something that’s heavy, 31, 3,300 pounds, whatever it is. I think those street stocks weigh that much.”
Nemechek, who like Sauter lacks extensive dirt racing experience, agreed that practicing in a stock car wouldn’t help him much.
“Like Johnny said, I think if you were to go run a dirt late model or something like that, it’s really not going to help you just because of the weight difference,” Nemechek said. “So it’s definitely a lot of difference. I definitely think that going to run a street stock could help Johnny. We’re not really doing anything to compare cars to the trucks. We’re not going to test anything.
“I definitely think that just being able to show up and drive and going back and watching last year’s race and the previous year’s race is definitely going to help us.”
Dirt track veterans like Bell and Briscoe said along with the differences in cars, various tracks have different conditions, and Eldora presents some of the toughest.
“This is the one track I’ve been looking forward to more than any. It’s going to be nice to finally get to Eldora. I’ve been going there ever since I was little. Never got to actually race there. My Dad never wanted to take me there because it was dangerous in a sprint car and we only had one motor growing up. So it was tough,” Briscoe said. “But never thought my first laps were going to be in a pickup truck but definitely excited. Eldora for a dirt guy is Daytona and Indianapolis. Definitely going to be an honor to run there finally.”
Eldora has a very fast track, Briscoe said, which is why his father didn’t want him competing there while he was learning to race.
“Eldora, in general, it’s so fast. And it seems like it’s a self-cleaning racetrack where when guys do start flipping it seems like you can’t get out of their way. Like I said, it’s so fast it’s hard to slow down,” he said. “And that was one of the things my Dad really didn’t want me going and doing. If we had a different motor situation we certainly would have did it but with our situation we were never running for points in USAC or anything so we just kind of stayed away from it.”
With all the challenges Eldora presents, the dirt veterans and dirt novices all agreed that the drivers with dirt backgrounds will have big advantages entering Wednesday’s race.
“I definitely think the dirt racers have a little bit of an advantage, just due to racing on dirt, knowing what the track conditions are, what the dirt looks like and what they need for setup-wise,” Nemechek said. “And for asphalt racers, we don’t really know what we need. Luckily we have a couple guys on our team that have raced dirt in the past. They’re definitely going to be a huge help.”
“I’ve done this my whole life and I’ve raced 100 times a year,” Sauter said, “it’s something you have to get a feel for. If you only do it once a year, it’s hard to grasp that concept.”
Briscoe is counting on his dirt experience to put him in contention for a victory.
“My whole dirt background has been 410 non-winged sprint cars and a couple midget races here and there,” he said. “But just having dirt experience in anything is certainly going to help I think just because you know what the track is doing, you can tell just by reading it and you just know that feel that you need on dirt as far as side bite and forward bite goes.”