Ironically enough, my column headline a couple months ago, prior to the start of the racing season, was “The Calm Before The Storm.”
If only it had been an indication of what was to come during the following weeks and months.
Here we are, two months later, in the midst of weathering the storm that has been the season to this point for my team and I. That’s racing though, right? If it was easy (and economical), everyone would do it. At least that’s what I tell myself to push forward.
From a slew of engine issues to my crew chief having to undergo surgery, the past four weeks have seemed like a test that didn’t have the correct answer as a choice for any question; in some ways synonymous with a law school exam.
Let’s recap, shall we?
The 2023 Belleville Nationals. My first dirt USAC Silver Crown race in nine years and my first time at the Belleville High Banks. (Woah!) I was overjoyed about having the opportunity to race on the dirt surface on a more routine basis for the first time since my winged 410 sprint car days in 2014 and ’15. With a new Beast chassis, fresh powerplant and all-new components, we were ready to rip. Or so we thought.
Practice day quickly turned sour. After a mere four laps in my first session, the engine gave out — to be polite about it.
When I returned to our pit area to have the team assess the problem, we concluded that it was a terminal issue and “our weekend was done.”
I refused to accept that outcome.
Anyone who knows me personally can attest to my passion, determination and willingness to go against all odds to simply make things happen. In fact, someone told me at the track there was no way we would be able to find another MOPAR engine, have it delivered to the track and installed in time to race the next day.
In a moment where most would have thrown in the towel – especially after a lot of other strife we, as a team, had encountered in only a few races – we didn’t back down. Instead, we went to our “war room,” aka the trailer, made loads of calls and walked the pit area seeking a spare MOPAR engine.
With a field consisting mostly of Chevrolet engines, we had to go outside Belleville, Kan., to find what we needed.
The process of installing a Chevy into a car set up for a MOPAR would not have been the ideal process to overcome with the limited amount of time, and the tooling and parts supply with which we had to work.
For example, there are numerous different components and intricacies between the two engine manufacturers specifically to set up in a Silver Crown car. From the engine plate, motor mounts, stacks, headers and plumbing, to list a few items, utilizing a Chevy was considered as an option for a long-standing 30 seconds.
With the help of some overly gracious friends and my killer crew, we found an engine in Indianapolis, worked out a deal and had someone drive nine hours overnight to the track where the new power unit was installed in time for practice.
All of this was under the notion the engine may not have worked with how my car was laid out as far as some of the connections and such go.
In less than 24 hours, we went from preparing to load the trailer to head back to Indiana to finishing in the top 10 at Belleville. What a turn of events!
Obviously, I know we have the potential to run much better than 10th, but all things considered, it was difficult to be disappointed.
Now, I joke and say “adversity” is my middle name. After the obstacles at Belleville and dealing with other events out of our control at the Hoosier Hundred and still salvaging a fifth-place finish, one can only hope that what the rest of the year has to offer is a cakewalk. If not, I’ll still push on and make the most of every situation. It’s business as usual.
At the end of the day, I remind myself to enjoy the process, take it all in and recognize that I am living a dream I have worked so hard for the past few years and that others would go to extremes to have.
I can’t thank my crew (Kevin Besecker, Keith Hoseapple and Justin Upchurch), my family and sponsors (Bradford Allen, Mobil 1, 1-800-CALL-SAM, EcoMend, Motorsports Safety Group, Driven by Dr. Jason Cormier, Dee Ford, 8 Track Entertainment, Simpson Race Products, Armstrong Farms, Neal Metal Recycling and Demolition, BEAST, Fatheadz Eyewear, FK Rod Ends, VAHLCO Wheels, METTEC, Wilwood, Allstar Performance, Indy Race Parts and Tyme Auto Transport) enough for being a part of this journey with me and for their continued support.
I could not do this without each and every one of them.
Also, major shoutout to Davey Hamilton and Davey Hamilton Jr. for coming through at a crucial moment and enabling me to make it back on track within a limited timeframe. Thank you.
Until next month, race on.
“The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all.” — Walt Disney.
This story appeared in the June 21, 2023 edition of the SPEED SPORT Insider.