WINCHESTER, Ind. — Winchester Speedway is where legends are made and it’s a true honor to compete at such a historic track.
It was the famed Rich Vogler Classic on July 21 and I was driving for team owner Davey Hamilton.
I was driving a USAC Silver Crown car at the world’s fastest half-mile track. Who wouldn’t be thrilled about that?
The first time I came to Winchester last year, we were scrambling to fix fuel line/engine problems during practice. When that was corrected, we timed lap at 16.0 seconds. Our race ended early because of a hole in the bottom of the fuel bladder after 50 laps of bottoming out on the race track.
One year later, we finished the whole race and I made some big improvement on the track.
It had been so long since I had raced at Winchester and experienced just how crazy it is and what the track makes the car capable of doing.
We qualified 16th in what was a bigger field than last year. Despite having quicker lap times in qualifying than in practice, I didn’t have enough laps to make the progression of pace that I needed to produce the times I wanted to run.
I’m trying to break the notion of getting up to speed fast enough on the short track in a defined period of time, but it’s very hard to do.
There is a clear risk and reward to getting up to speed quickly, especially on a pavement short track. The bigger the “bite” you take on the entry of a corner is directly correlated to how much risk you’re willing to bear.
If you’re willing to risk a crashed car every time you enter the corner, you’d get up to speed very fast, assuming the car is still in one piece. I’m certainly not going to risk that, but there’s a happy medium to be struck between too small of bites, small bites, medium bites and big bites.
With enough experience and knowledge one can start making smart bites — adjustments in driving that are big, small or medium depending on the feedback you get from the track and the car.
I’m striving for the day where I can begin taking smart bites and not just conservative small bites.
My small bites of progression put us back to 15th at the start of the race. It ramped up near the middle and end. Two cars passed me at the start because I was getting checked up on the front straight by the car in front of me.
Hamilton told me before the race began our primary goal was to just finish the race and not make unnecessary risks, so that was the name of the game for the entire race.
I worked on feeling the car out and building up my pace slowly in the beginning of the race, to ensure that no big bites and unnecessary risks were taken.
I wanted to judge my pace compared to the competition, which my dad, who was spotting for me, was keeping me apprised of.
There were several close calls throughout the race — moments where I got on the gas too hard on the exit and had to keep the rear in check. My fastest lap of the race put me 10th, only four-tenths off of Kody Swanson’s fastest lap.
Swanson won the race.
There was a caution, which gave a welcome reprieve from the intensity of the race, and then we were back to racing action. Before the caution had come out, I was actually running very competitive lap times compared to the leaders and at the end of the race was running the fastest lap times of anybody.
I made a ton of progress throughout the race, but unfortunately was a couple laps down to Swanson.
If I was racing those cars for position, I would have been more aggressive in passing. But the goal of keeping the car in one piece and finishing the race was foremost in my mind.
I eventually did pass Kyle O’Gara who was slower than me, but it wasn’t for position. That gave me some really good experience in figuring out what the best/most reliable way to pass someone at Winchester is, as well as a lot more confidence going into next year’s race there.
We finished 11th and made tons of strides throughout the race. It was a good race for me.
I was grateful to have finished with the car in one piece.
Next time, the goal will be to practice and qualify much more competitively so I start off the race higher on the grid. We’ll definitely be in the conversation, hopefully, for a podium but at least a top five or so, which would be great.
I really enjoy Winchester Speedway and can say with a lot of confidence that it’s one of my favorite race tracks.
I can’t wait to run the Rich Vogler Classic again in 2023.