Russell Erwin has spent most of the 2019 season brainstorming behind the wheel of a Super Late Model after winning his third I-95 Challenge Series championship one year ago. However, the Beaverdam, VA driver known as “The Commonwealth Bandit” will switch things up this weekend, putting a crate motor into his No. 22 for the $50,000-to-win FASTRAK World Championship at Virginia Motor Speedway.
The decision to go Pro Late Model racing came after he received a phone call from a car owner wanting him to use his crate motor for the big weekend. From there, the massive purse that goes with the FASTRAK World Championship made it an easy decision for Erwin to enter the event.
“We’re pretty excited, especially considering we don’t do any Crate racing and we kind of put a deal together with Sonny Lacy and them guys up there,” Erwin told Speed51.com’s The Morning Bullring. “He has a couple crate motors sitting up there and his boys don’t Crate race anymore. He wanted to put his crate motors in somebody’s car that he felt could run good. Some guys gave us a call and I said, ‘Well, heck let’s go with it.’”
Erwin admitted racing a Pro Late Model has been a struggle due to the differences between a Pro and a Super Late Model. Despite that, Erwin heads into the weekend fresh off his first Pro Late Model win at Virginia Motor Speedway this past Saturday on a last-lap pass.
“We’ve had a good car but to be honest I’ve really struggled,” he admitted. “I struggle early in the night. We’ve had way too much traction in the car and when you run Supers and Steel Block you’re constantly looking for traction. With the Crate, you’re always trying to get all the traction out of the car because all the traction slows these cars down. We’ve only run this thing four times and we’ve been good later in the night because as the night goes on we keep getting better and better, but we’ve really struggled early. Every week we’ve been making changes and this past week, we made a couple more changes and we hit on something early in the night and qualified second.”
A self-proclaimed poor qualifier, Erwin is a huge fan of the new format for the FASTRAK World Championship. The event will utilize passing points from the heat races instead of qualifying, making the heat races more important than ever as they decide who is locked into the 75-lap main event and who will need to race their way in on Saturday.
“I absolutely love it, I know a lot of guys hate it and a lot of guys have had something to say about it and kind of upset because they’re not qualifying,” he said. “I said to myself the minute I saw the, this is all playing right into my favor. We haven’t been able to qualify with the Crate good but we’ve raced really well, passed cars in the heat race every time we’ve ran, we were passing cars in the feature. To be honest, when you look at the results of some of these [races], we’re passing more cars than anybody. I think this passing points deal will really play into my favor.”
Originally from Syracuse, NY, Erwin now considers Virginia Motor Speedway his home track. With only a few starts at the Jamaica, VA state-of-the-art facility, he is excited to go after the $50,000 in the richest Pro Late Model race to ever be run.
“We’ve won some $20,000-to-win races and some tens and some fifteens and stuff, but $50,000 to win for a Crate is unbelievable,” he said. “To be at Virginia Motor Speedway, a place we don’t race at much, it’s the closest race track to us and we get there to run a couple of those Super races every year, but that’s about it. The reason why we have this Crate in there is because it’s $50,000 to win and it’s an hour-and-a-half from my house.”
With a high car count expected for this weekend’s FASTRAK World Championship, his goal is to simply make it into the A-Main and have a shot at the $50,000. With 75 laps to decide the winner of the FASTRAK World Championship Saturday night, Erwin believes the race can be won from anywhere in the starting field.
“The ultimate goal would be for me to go down there and win that deal, but we’ve run this Crate deal four times and there’s going to be a lot of really good guys there that run Crate every weekend. They really have a huge, huge benefit being that they run Crates all the time and we’re a little bit behind the eight-ball. The goal is to get into the show and 75 laps is a long time. That place is big, especially for a Crate. If you can get in the show, you can start 25th or 30th at the place to win.”
Race fans unable to make it to Virginia Motor Speedway to watch Erwin in action can click here to order their pay-per-view video ticket for the event today.
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51.com State Editor (IN/MI) – Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo Credit: VA Motor Speedway