After a fall rainout led to an offseason of anticipation, short track race cars finally took the track at Richmond Raceway Friday for practice for the inaugural Commonwealth Classic. Energy was high throughout the pits, as the eagerness to get to the track – for many drivers, for the first race of 2019 – culminated with the opportunity to compete at a NASCAR Cup Series facility.
Here is a look at some of the notes from Friday’s practice at Richmond.
Surprises in Store for Racers
Most racers knew coming to Richmond would present new challenges, as they tackled the ¾-mile d-shaped oval in Virginia. However, lots of little surprises presented themselves from racers across all the categories at the event.
Tour-type Modified racer Bobby Measmer, Jr. was most surprised by the impact aerodynamics will play at Richmond. Within just one round of practice, he could feel the importance of the draft.
“It’s funny you bring that up. I was behind a couple coming down the straightaway, went to make a pass going into three and four. I wanted to see if I could feel it. A lot of air goes through these cars. I could tell. It definitely knocked a hole in the air. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that come into effect, especially on the long front straightaway.”
Derek Griffith said his first time on track in his PASS Super Late Model left him shaking – literally.
“I think for me and a lot of other guys, we’ve got a vibration that we just can’t seem to shake,” Griffith explained. “No matter what we do. No matter what set of tires you put on, you’re going to have some sort of vibration or shake. It could be a lot of things. People are talking about pinion angles, people are talking about unbalanced driveshafts, wheels and tires not being aligned. It’s just a whole different animal. These cars usually aren’t going that fast, other than New Hampshire.”
Fellow Super Late Model racer Matt Craig echoed Griffith’s sentiment regarding the vibration.
“I had a big vibration when we first went out there. I only ran about three laps the first session because I thought there was something bad wrong. I’ve been dealing with it; I think we’ve got it a little better. NASCAR, they almost have no driveshaft angle, it’s pretty straight. They’ve got all that stuff pretty precise, and we don’t have that luxury.”
Setups also proved to be a guessing game for racers. American-Canadian Tour combatant Rich Dubeau started the day more than a second off the pace after a miscalculation on baseline setup but worked his way up to second-fastest in final practice by day’s end.
“We were apparently 1.1 seconds off the pace the first practice,” Dubeau stated. “You get here and nobody in New England has been to this track in a Late Model. Between showing up with the wrong gear, luckily our spring combination worked well but that was a guess.
“Fortunately, we haven’t had to change springs, so we’re lucky but we started 1.1 seconds off the pace and closed within a tenth or two. We were very happy with that.”
Super Late Model racer Kodie Conner experienced similar issues with the gearing on his machine.
“I’ve been out there two times and changed gear twice,” Conner said after the second round of practice. “The first time out there, we were super loose in, through the center, and off. I talked to my dad, we were thinking we got it dialed in and tightened up a little bit, we went out there and we were shoving the nose a little bit in the center”
D.J. Shaw is one of the few drivers this weekend who has experience at Richmond Raceway. Shaw has one previous NASCAR K&N Pro Series East start at the track dating back to 2011. That didn’t prevent him from being caught off guard on his very first lap of practice, as he spun his PASS Super Late Model.
“My biggest surprise has been that I ended up backwards and almost ending my day on the first lap,” Shaw said. “I’m one of the three or four guys who has actually raced here before, so I was a little embarrassed, but things have gone a little better since then. We’ve kept it pointed in the right direction. We’re able to work on the car and not fix it.”
Doing your Homework
For most racers at the Commonwealth Classic, this was their first time at Richmond Raceway. Without seat time, competitors looked in other avenues to acclimate themselves to the facility.
ACT Late Model driver Bobby Therrien studied in-car footage from past Richmond races to get a feel for the racetrack.
“I was able to go back a handful of years and find some Super Late Model races with in-car cameras,” said Therrien. “It kind of gives you a heads-up on what to expect, but until you’re here, it’s up in the air for everybody. It puts everybody on a level playing field.”
Many drivers mentioned turning laps on iRacing to prepare for the weekend.
“I think it’s the biggest help, iRacing,” said Ryan Kuhn, who set the fastest time in ACT Late Model practice. “They got it right on the spot. I’m running the exact same line as I run on iRacing. It’s worked a lot. The track surface is older than it is on iRacing, but it’s still pretty dang close.”
“I did jump in the seat on the iRacing part of it,” said ACT’s Tyler Cahoon. “The biggest difference I see is the corners seem to be a little more narrow than what iRacing proposed, for me. The groove is there. The track surface is a little bit different, but as you’re heading off into three the corner disappears. Other than that they do a great job.”
Others, of course, don’t have that luxury.
“So, I have three kids, dude,” said Nick Sweet. “I don’t play video games. If my wife caught me playing a video game, she’d be saying ‘Are you kidding me?’”
MacDonald Meets the Wall
It was a relatively clean and calm practice day. However, it was not without incident. Eddie MacDonald hit the turn one wall during practice, putting his participation in Saturday’s racing in jeopardy.
While MacDonald suspects a tire issue sent him into the wall, his team was working to discern both the exact cause and his chances of racing.
“Entering one, right in the center of one and two, the tire appears to have gone down. Just hit the wall. Wrecked the car pretty good. We’re still deciding if we can fix it or not and get back out there. Hopefully we’ll figure it out and it’s not too bad. There’s a lot of stuff bent. These guys are good.
“We’re really not sure,” MacDonald added. “The sidewall of the tire is sliced, but we don’t know if it happened before the wreck which caused the wreck, or if it was a result of the wreck. Still trying to look into it and see what it is. It seemed like when it went, it took the brake line with it. It wasn’t too bad of a hit.”
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51.com photo