Two invaders from a neighboring state to the east topped the practice charts when the Spears SRL Southwest Tour Series and Northwest Super Late Model Series teams unloaded on Friday afternoon at Rocky Mountain Raceways (UT). Dominic Ursetta and Chris Eggleston, each accomplished racers from Colorado, were among the fastest three at the end of the three and a half hour session despite never seeing the 3/8-mile circuit before.
Ursetta made a sticker run and laid down a lap that was only a tick slower than the track record of 14.625 seconds, set by multiple-time SRL champion Derek Thorn in 2011.
“I think it’s more in the driver we need to work out than the car right now,” the two-time Colorado National Speedway track champion joked with Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “To be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve been in the seat. We struggled with it all year kind of and got some help. Obviously, it’s headed in the right direction.”
Although they made that short run and ended up more than a tenth faster than nearest competitor Blaine Rocha, Ursetta made a few additional longer shakedowns throughout his time on the track.
“We were just getting dialed in and getting it close,” the 29-year-old Arvada resident continued. “We’re probably going to make a long run (during Saturday practice) to make sure. We made a couple 10-lap little dashes. We’ll see.”
Ursetta’s Colorado counterpart Chris Eggleston tied with SRL regular Bobby Hodges for third fastest on the day. The talented driver, who currently sits a close second in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West standings, noted how neat it is to be somewhat close to home. With the opportunity, the former race winner at North Wilkesboro Speedway a few years back hopes to make a rare Super Late Model touring appearance well worth it.
“We don’t feel like we made a lot of gains, but we didn’t go backwards either,” Eggleston mentioned about the well-balanced car, which has visited victory lane with him behind the wheel this year at Colorado National Speedway on four occasions. “Just more or less trying to figure out what the car is going to do over a long period of time. Thought we made changes that helped our long run speed and didn’t really take away from our short run speed. We’re going to throw it on the scales a little bit and see if we can document a few things and see if we can find just a little bit more.”
Making the car handle the best for the long run is something that current SRL points leader Derek Thorn has mastered before. After winning at Rocky Mountain each year from 2012 through 2014, the California native was right outside the top five on the charts and had his focus set for 150 laps on Saturday.
“Today’s an important day to try and get some seat time when the track is a little bit cooler, more like the conditions of tomorrow night,” Thorn described. “We’ll come back in tomorrow and try to find a balance for what it's going to be like. It’s going to be a tough road. I think today was a good call and I feel like we ended in a pretty good place.”
Included in the necessary analysis is the fact that teams will have to run the entire distance on the same tires in which they start the race. There will be a break at halfway for crews to fuel their cars and make approved adjustments. Thorn is currently perfect when it comes to setting fast time in 2017, but knows that being there at the end is more important.
“To be honest, I’d gladly trade some fast times for some more wins,” Thorn said. “But I feel like we’ve got the speed. The important part is getting a good race car and if you can manhandle it for a couple laps to put it up front. As long as you’re top eight (in qualifying); that’s all we’re really hoping for. We always put our best foot forward. It’s always a kudos and a tip of the hat to (crew chief) Mike (Keen) and all these guys for working so hard to have five straight fast times, but our definite goal is the $10,000-to-win.”
In addition to the cash prize, SRL partners Retro Custom Metals and Rockwell Time are putting up a one-of-a-kind six foot tall Copper Cupola to the overall race winner and custom watches to the best finishing SRL and NWSLM drivers. Leading the Northwest brigade was Brooke Schimmel, a teenage racer in her first full season driving Super Late Models. Being 13th overall on the charts, she knows that there is definitely more to be achieved but was optimistic about her first experience on this particular track surface.
“This is a completely different field than we’re used to. We have a lot of work to do, but we’re steadily making strides on getting better,” the Woodland, Washington racer commented. "It looks like it could be a smoother track, but you get down in there and it’s definitely not."
Among the nine competitors that share the commonality of making their Rocky Mountain debut, a feature that many remarked about were the multiple grooves that can be run around the slightly-banked oval.
"It’s really cool to be able to run the outside as a faster line," Schimmel continued. "A good day tomorrow would be competitive with our Northwest Super Late Model guys and competitive with the Spears (SRL) guys as well. If we’re able to run fast among our group and decent among their group as well that is a really good weekend for us.”
One driver has years of laps at the facility and years of experience, but in a way was going back to school on Friday evening. 1990 NASCAR Northwest Tour champion John Dillon purchased a new Port City car prior to the weekend to participate with the steepened competition on hand and made numerous practice runs amounting to 115 laps on the surface.
“The changes that they make or want to make and what I am trying to learn is kind of different than what I’m used to,” Dillon, a two-time winner at RMR in the former Rocky Mountain Challenge Series, explained. “We’re just making laps, getting comfortable, and making sure we have a good long haul car so that’s what we’re working on the most. There are some really good guys here and that’s why we wanted to come. We’ll be there at the end. We’ve got some thinking to do and some work to do tomorrow.”
One driver searching for speed was Jan Evans, a NWSLM rookie. With his father, the legendary Garrett Evans on the radio and providing advice, the Washington teenager nevertheless feels like they are where they need to be come Saturday afternoon.
“First we were starting to run the bottom like most tracks, but when it didn't work out for us saw a couple of the fast guys so we tried the middle and high groove and that worked out for us a lot better,” Evans said. “A different setup is in the car, but we didn’t get to go out yet. We think we will be at least three-tenths faster tomorrow. Just pretty much start (Saturday) what we finished tonight.”
As a final note, a driver who has been winning all over the country in 2017 is in attendance but out of the seat for this weekend. Preston Peltier is assisting with the effort of former NASCAR Southwest Tour champion Eddy McKean, who finished the session right outside the top 10 less than three-tenths off the top time.
In fact, the gap from third fastest to eighth was a minuscule 0.016 seconds, setting up what should be an extremely tight battle between North and South on Saturday.
Action gets underway at 12:30 p.m. MT with one final hour-long practice session. Qualifying begins at 5:00 p.m. with the SRL/NWSLMS Civil War 150 taking the green at approximately 8:15 p.m. Speed51.com will feature live Trackside Now coverage leading up to the first car on track until following the checkered flag.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Central NY & PA Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
Friday Practice Results
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