This entire racing experience can begin with the famous quote, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in," - Godfather Part III.
I had no intentions of racing the NASCAR Xfinity race at Road America this year. I thought my NASCAR racing opportunities were over as the last result we had in 2017 was very frustrating and I wasn't ready to begin that adventure again. However on June 10th I received a Facebook message from a friend in Elkhart Lake, asking if a previous crew chief could contact my dad and I about possibly racing at Elkhart Lake in NASCAR at the end of August. I thought it wouldn't hurt to talk and after hearing about the car and how much more competitive it was compared to the last time we raced we thought we should try and get sponsorship for the race.
Immediately work began contacting sponsors, family friends, anyone we thought would maybe know someone that would partner us for the race. Luckily we were able to get some great partners for the race. My uncle was able to get a hold of Jim from Throttlestop out of Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin and they came onboard for the race. Another Wisconsin company, Green Industrial, Matt and Mike partnered for the race. Getting to know Mike and Matt through the Northwoods Shelby Club it was awesome having Green Industrial on the car. Lance from Custom Fiberglass Molding from Weyauwega, Wisconsin also came onboard through social media and I cannot thank him enough for reaching out to us for the race!
The local support made the difference as well. David, from Dad's Excavating, came onboard, along with Randy and Lynne Sippel, from Richards of Dunbar Supper Club and Motel/Sippel Racing. Tom and Stacy, from The Gearbox out at Road America also supported us in the race. Another family friend, Randy from Bella's Custom Design helped design/print the decals for the car and made sure we proudly represented Elkhart Lake on track!
As the weeks went by my dad and I traveled to North Carolina to help out on the car as it just had a new composite body installed and was getting rebuild. It was two weeks before the race and the crew was just getting my seat in the car and bolting up components. We knew it was going to be very close getting the car ready for the event.
The Wednesday before the race my dad and I traveled to all our sponsors filming short one minute clips with them, having the owners explain their businesses to our supporters/fans. I wanted our fans to learn about each and everyone of our sponsor and what they do. We also had a radio interview on 106.5 The Buzz at noon along with being a guest on the Driver's Meeting in Hartford, WI. After some more filming on Thursday we were ready for the race weekend to begin. We received a call Thursday night that the team just finished up our car and was driving up from Denver, N.C. that night and would be there in the morning. Plans were coming together!
"The Adventure Begins"
It was 7am Friday morning and I was just about to head out to Road America when my uncle gave me a call. He asked if I could put the phone on speaker so my dad could listen. I listened, and as soon as my dad and I were listening Brian said we were done. As the team had hauler issues on the way up and wouldn't get to the track in time for practice or tech. We immediately were heartbroken as all the hardwork we put forth for the event and we wouldn't get to make a single lap.
We immediately began discussing options and thought we could at least go out to the track and talk with team owner Mike Harmon about options for the weekend. After talking with Mike he agreed for us to run the second car for the event. It wouldn't be the newer car we originally planned on running but at this point we wanted to try and be apart of the race. Aaron Quinn the driver originally planned to run the other car was so very kind and agreed to let us race the event with us having sponsors making our effort more competitive.
The team immediately began preparing the car for the first practice at 12:35pm. Randy, from Bella's Custom Design, did all of our decals and started applying them to the car as the team frantically prepared the car for tech/first practice. We adjusted padding in the seat as this wasn't my seat and therefore was not properly fitted. I went to NASCAR medical to get a driver weight and to take my final concussion baseline exam. After finishing those two up I returned to the trailer as the car was heading through tech. I then attended the rookie meeting and received a lap around Road America with Billy Johnson. It was great getting insight from Billy on the track and I feel like it helped me immensely prepare for the weekend. Luckily we were able to get the car through tech and I was getting my gear on for the first practice. We were getting to go out on track after all! Rolling out the first session onto Road America was very nerve racking. After the first few corners I could tell we had a good handling car. We had some rear end issues but were able to fix them for the second practice session. We ended the first session in P31 out of 34 with a 2:23.3 but I knew we had more speed to show.
The team worked on fixing the car and we made some driver seat adjustments for practice 2. The next practice began at 2:35pm. We headed out on track and immediately the car felt a lot better. We were able to run a 2:20.5 moving us up to P27 out of 33 cars. After coming in for a few adjustments we headed back out on track. Unfortunately coming into turn 5 I got on the brakes and wheel hopped the car. This caused the right rear truck arm to break and it flung the spring out of the car and into the air. I parked the car on the access road at turn 5 and knew we were out for the remainder of the session. The Mike Harmon Racing Team got the car after the session and immediately began working on the car. They replaced the truck arm as well as put the transmission from the car we were originally were going to run (as it arrived that afternoon) in with the help of my dad. As we left the track on Friday I was anxious for the race but exhausted from highs and lows of the day. From not running at all in the morning to going out for the first time in an Xfinity Car in two years I was happy to have the day in the books! Haha!
That night we had dinner with the team and I was able to talk with the crew chief on the car. I was very impressed on how he setup the car and was really looking forward to the race the next day.
The next morning I woke up around 5:30am and headed downstairs. I wanted to get a few racing laps on iRacing before heading to the track. We arrived at the track around 7am and started to get ready for qualifying. In qualifying we went out and laid down a 2:18.1 picking up another 2 seconds from the practice before. This put us at P27. However when I was running my cool-down lap I noticed the rear end of the car walking around again and was worried with what happened yesterday. Fortunately the team was able to repair the left rear truck arm for the race. I was nervous wondering if the car would make it but after talking with the crew chief I knew we would be good for the race. I attended the autograph session sitting next to Matt DiBenedetto, the driver who just about won the cup race a week before, and ate lunch on my way to the driver's meeting. After the driver's meeting I started preparing for the race. I got suited up and noticed the team installed the helmet air cooler for the race. This was just another example how the team did an outstanding job all weekend long. They never complained and did their very best in all aspects of the car.
I then headed to the parade trucks ready for the race to begin. After taking a lap around the 4.048 mile track I was ready to get behind the wheel of the #74 Throttlestop Camaro. We had to start at the rear of the field with our adjustments after qualifying but it made me feel a little more comfortable knowing I could slowly work my way through the field.
The race went green and we immediately began passing cars slowly and methodically. The #74 Custom Fiberglass Molding Chevrolet handled exceptionally well and we were able to make our way up to 23rd by the end of stage 1. We came in for fuel and tires and with the leaders coming in before the stage we lost track position and had cars to pass all over again. The second stage went green and again the car handled well. I took my time working passed slower cars and after another 10 laps for the end of stage 2 we were inside the top 20 in 17th.
For the final stage we took tires and fuel again and the crew cleaned my windshield as we prepared for the 25 lap battle to the end. We didn't know if a yellow was going to come out but our plan was to run 13-14 laps before having to pit for fuel. We again lost some track position due to cars pitting before the stage but started the final stage confident we had the speed and car for a solid finish. The final stage went green and we pressed on. Luckily right when we were about to pit a caution came out for debris in turn 4. This meant we could come in for tires and fuel under the yellow. We went green on lap 34 with 11 laps to go. I tried working my way through the pack and we were running 17th when Gray Gaulding in the #08 in turn 1 lost control and brought out the last caution. A few cars pitted but we stayed out. Coming to the green for the green, white, checkered I knew the chaos was going to start. Luckily we were able to get through turn 1 cleanly and #10 of AJ Allmendinger had some issues in turn 3 and rejoined right in front of me coming down into turn 5. We made it cleanly through 5-7 when the craziness began in turn 8. An accident happened and before I knew it cars were spun sideways everywhere in 8. I took to the outside of 8 driving off in the grass avoiding as much as possible. I rejoined with someone on my outside in the carousel but was able to pass them. I took the white in 17th with the #07 in front. I pushed hard gaining on the #07 ever so slightly. It was going to come down to the last few corners. I got a better run out of turn 14 and dragged race up the hill. I lost by only 2 thousandths of second. However due to some last lap spins/offs we were able to finish 15th! I took the car around on the cooldown lap waiving to all the fans as I had the biggest smile knowing we just finished 15th in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Road America. I parked the car and got out still in disbelief we were able to achieve such a great result!
Never in my wildest dreams did I think we were going to finish 15th! When I was a kid I remembered watching Carl Edwards race around Road America in 2010 winning the race and when I first started this adventure in NASCAR in 2016 my dream was top 20. However thanks to our sponsors Throttlestop, Custom Fiberglass Molding, Green Industrial, Dad's Excavating, The Gearbox, Bella's Custom Design, Richard's of Dunbar Supper Club and Motel, and Sippel Racing we were able to achieve even better!
Big thank you to Teddy, Mike, Denise, Liz and everyone on the Mike Harmon Racing Team for making this possible! The hardwork they put in all weekend made the difference and I was so very happy to get the results they deserved.
Also thank you to my dad, uncle, Bill, and Dick for spotting in the race, calling strategy, and making the race possible. Without each of them we would not have been able to race!
Like the original quote said, Yes sucked back in for sure! Haha!
Amazing the highs/lows and obstacles a person can face in life but how with the loving support of family and friends anything is possible! From a kid with a dream to race NASCAR at Road America to racing with the sports next greatest drivers, I am forever grateful for this amazing experience and thank you all for following along in the adventure!