An out-of-the-blue text message led to Rich Clouser’s Hart to Heart 100 win Saturday night at New Smyrna Speedway (FL).
Clouser was vacationing with his family in North Carolina last weekend, watching NASCAR’s talent battle around Charlotte Motor Speedway when he received an alert on his phone.
“We’re sitting in the stands watching the Cup boys go around the track and I get a text from [Daniel Keene Jr.],” Clouser told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “He asked me if I was racing anything next weekend.”
Keene proceeded to ask Clouser if he would be interested in piloting his No. 5K Super Late Model the following weekend for the Hart to Heart 100 at New Smyrna.
Keene said he had prior commitment and was unable to drive.
Clouser visited the shop that week, helping make necessary adjustments to accommodate the transition of drivers.
“I worked with Jared on the car, getting the big boy seat put in because I’m a little bigger around the waist than Mr. Keene,” Clouser joked. “We got it comfortable for me and came up to New Smyrna Friday night for practice and the car was awesome.”
Practice reassured Clouser that he would be wheeling one of the fastest cars Saturday evening. Time trials confirmed it. Clouser qualified fourth and started on the outside pole after an invert of five.
“Luck of the draw, we started on the outside pole,” Clouser said. “We got off to a little bit of a slow start but it being a hundred laps, which is my style anyways, we were able to creep our way back up to the front.”
Clouser took over the lead from racing veteran David Rogers just before the halfway mark. Second-place finisher Tyler Ankrum was the only worry in Clouser’s rearview mirror as the laps wound down.
“I was watching [Ankrum] in the mirror, I knew his car was really tight and he was having a hard time turning,” Clouser said. “Overall, it was good clean racing by everybody and man, I had a blast.”
Ankrum agreed that his machine was too tight and consequentially free off the corners. Winning for Ankrum would have required a miracle, or rather, a mistake.
“My car was pretty good on the short run, but it just wasn’t enough to get it done in the end,” Ankrum said. “It would have taken [Clouser] making a mistake. That’s the only way we could have won.”
Both Ankrum and third-place finisher Brad May were ultimately testing for the prestigious Governor’s Cup 200 in November. Ankrum experimented with an unconventional setup, while May brought out a car that had never been raced.
“This was definitely a test for the Governor’s Cup,” May said. “This is the first time we’ve ever raced this car, so that was the whole purpose of the night, to see what it would do on a long run. We learned a lot and definitely have some ideas to make it better moving forward.”
Despite leaving with only a notebook to take back to the shop, both teams commended Clouser for his dominating performance.
Clouser ended his victory celebration by dedicating it to breast cancer survivors, hoping that promoting events like the Hart’s will benefit those still soldiering through the disease.
“This is the type of event that needs to happen more often,” Clouser said. “The awareness needs to be spread more, but it’s getting better. We’ve always in past years, when I’ve raced other people’s cars, supported breast cancer awareness.”
Clouser smiled, “Pink is one of our favorite colors.”
Canadian Jerry Artuso and Vermont native Todd Stone completed the top five Saturday night.
A full on-demand replay of the Hart to Heart 100 can be found by visiting Speed51.com’s Trackside Now coverage.
-By Melissa Strahley, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
1 5K Rich Clouser
2 58 Tyler Ankrum
3 9 Brad May
4 5 Jerry Artuso
5 1X Todd Stone
6 11 David Rogers
7 12 Mario Gosselin
8 112 Steve Weaver Jr.
9 39 Morgan Hoover
10 30 Noah Cornman
11 8 DJ Hoelzle