Mike O’Sullivan boarded a plane this past winter and made the trip to Pensacola, Florida’s Five Flags Speedway for the 48th annual Snowball Derby. The Springfield, Massachusetts racer didn’t make the trip with the intention of racing at the ½-mile oval; he made the trip hoping to soak up the experience and learn.
O’Sullivan spent much of that weekend at Five Flags Speedway walking around the pit area with his brother and fellow racer Tommy O’Sullivan. But they weren’t walking around looking for autographs from their favorite drivers. Instead, they were walking around trying to learn how some of the best Super Late Model teams operate.
The overall experience ended up being an eye opener for the O’Sullivans and impacted how they approached the rest of their offseason. They knew if they wanted to be competitive that they’d have to change things around, and that’s exactly what they did.
“The way they race is definitely a little different, those guys would bury the Modified Tour around here with money and that type of stuff,” Mike O’Sullivan told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “You’ve got to take it like that but the stuff we learned from how they do stuff, what they’re doing and how they go about it is a little eye opening.”
Tommy ended up selling his car, one of Mike’s former cars, and purchased a Hamke car previously driven by Jeff Choquette. As the two brothers looked around at the newly-acquired Super Late Model they quickly realized that they needed to make wholesale changes to Mike’s car as well.
“We looked at that and how we’ve been running ourselves and we said, ‘you know what, we better change this stuff around,”” said Mike. “We cut my car apart and started to do a lot to it. We built a jig over the winter and said that we needed to do a little bit ourselves to try to make our stuff better, and that’s what we did.
“We put a clip on it and went through the whole thing top to bottom, interior to exterior, we had the carb powder coated, brand new body on it and try to keep everything as light as possible. We want to try to get back to where we were a couple years ago. We made a lot of changes with shocks and all kinds of stuff, so right now it’s ready to be put in the box and head to White Mountain. I’m tired and exhausted. We did a lot of work but it’s all worth it. I’m excited to see how it goes.”
Mike O’Sullivan will make his way to White Mountain Motorsports Park (NH) this Saturday, May 21 to kick off the 2016 Granite State Pro Stock Series season. After experiencing limited success in the two seasons since winning the championship in 2013, O’Sullivan is ready to get after it and turn things around this season.
“That’s part of what motivates me. You can look at it and think maybe it’s passing us by a little bit, maybe guys are working harder than we are and we need to keep up,” he explained. “You stop and think, take a breath and step back and look and say, ‘we can’t let this beat us.’ This has happened before. My father has been racing for a long, long, long time and it hurts no one more than him because he’s always had good drivers and championship finishes every year. So to see us run like we have the last year and a half to two years, it more motivates me.
“We’re better than this. Those guys that are winning are definitely good teams and do a good job, but we need to raise our level to try to get better at it. I think we got behind, I really do. Even now I wanted to go testing and make the Thompson PASS race, but I kept telling myself when it was on the jig that I’m not rushing. We tried to pay attention to every detail, and with that being said as far as the way it came out it looks great. Now we have to go out and see results on the race track.”
After winning the championship in 2013, O’Sullivan made the decision to take a step away from full-time competition as he awaited the birth of his third son. He won the 2014 season opener at Thompson, but since that race he struggled to record the results that he knew the team was capable of.
In 15 races since his victory at the 2014 Thompson Icebreaker, O’Sullivan hasn’t recorded a finish better than fourth in Granite State Pro Stock Series action. That is a far cry from the five podium finishes and eight top-six finishes he recorded in 11 races during his championship season.
“You might not have been able to keep on top of it as much as you need to, and that’s my fault and our fault directly,” he said of the part-time racing schedule. “Your mind might be distracted somewhere else when you go to the race track because we thought we had what we needed, otherwise we wouldn’t have shown up. After competing it’s one of those things were you see some positives but once race time came around we just didn’t have what we needed to compete.”
Applying what he learned during his trip to the Snowball Derby and working hard during the offseason, O’Sullivan hopes to return to form for the upcoming season. The car looks good and the nuts and bolts are tight, now it’s just a matter of finding speed on the race track.
“We made a bunch of changes and it means nothing. We worked our butts off all winter,” stated O’Sullivan. “We started working on the car the Tuesday after Waterford and we haven’t stopped. Tonight we’ll be out there again. We never stopped, never took a break or nothing. So I’m proud of that fact that our team has done all this work, but once again it means nothing until we get a result on the race track to see if we made the right decisions.”
O’Sullivan and the Granite State Pro Stock Series will see if their offseason work pays off this Saturday, May 21 when they kick off their season at White Mountain Motorsports Park.
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51.com