DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Approximately 50 drivers kicked off a three-day ARCA Racing Series test session on Friday at Daytona International Speedway in advance of the 50th annual Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 on Saturday, Feb. 16, part of Budweiser Speedweeks 2013.
The season-opening ARCA race is celebrating its golden anniversary in 2013. The inaugural Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 back in 1964 was the series’ first superspeedway race in history.
Headlining the list of drivers in attendance for the test is the defending race winner Bobby Gerhart, a native of Lebanon, Penn., who pours his heart and soul into preparing for races at Daytona.
Gerhart has dominated the season-opening ARCA race, capturing a record eight victories in the 80-lap, 200-mile event, including six out of the last eight races.
He also holds an event-record four poles.
But with all that success, he’s just as hungry to win a ninth Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200.
“I’m pumped up to race here just like I was the first day I came,” Gerhart said. “We treat this race like we have not won any of them. That’s really what you have to do. You got to put yourself in position where you throw everything at it you can and work as hard as you can.”
Light rain slowed the morning session on Friday but teams got plenty of track time in the afternoon. At the lunch break, Gerhart was anxious to see where the field stood in terms of speed.
“I’m not going to be quiet about it, we’ve done a lot of work given the new rules package,” Gerhart said. “I’m anxious for some great weather and a great opportunity to see if what I believe is going to happen happens.”
Clay Campbell making his dream come true: Clay Campbell, president of the prestigious Martinsville Speedway, is taking his first laps around Daytona International Speedway’s legendary 2.5-mile tri-oval during this weekend’s test.
Campbell is testing a Spraker Racing Ford with a Roush Yates engine and plans to enter the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200.
“I’ve been doing various types of racing for 20 years and if you had the opportunity to do something bigger, I think anybody would jump at the chance,” Campbell said. “Anybody that would have the opportunity to run Daytona, you would be crazy not to. The history, the tradition, this is the ultimate as far as motorsports goes.
“This is obviously hallowed ground. This is the ‘World Center of Racing.’ Who wouldn’t want to drive on the World Center of Racing.’ ”
Campbell is working with racing veteran Jeff Spraker, who has been fielding cars for Campbell the past two seasons in the NASCAR K&N Pro East Series. The two began discussing the opportunity of racing an ARCA event at a superspeedway.
Campbell competed in the fall ARCA event at Talladega Superspeedway and is ready to tackle NASCAR’s most storied venue Daytona International Speedway in February.
“That was a good place to start,” Campbell of Talladega where he started 34th and finished 26th. “Even though (Daytona and Talladega) look the same and they are almost the same, there’s quite a bit of difference. This is much narrower than Talladega.”
During Budweiser Speedweeks, Campbell will be focused and prepared for his Daytona debut, but he won’t forget to promote his upcoming NASCAR race schedule.
“We’ll announce a sponsor later but anytime I have the chance to mention the Virginia 500 on April 7 at Martinsville Speedway, I am going to do so,” Campbell joked. “Good tickets still remain.”
Road to Daytona: Four drivers who achieved success in the three ARCA touring series in the 2012 season are experiencing the opportunity of a lifetime during this weekend’s test.
Johnny VanDoorn, Travis Braden, Jonathan Eilen and Dakota Carlson are participating in the test session having earned spots in the second-year "Road to Daytona" program.
“It was pretty cool just to say some day that I got to go around Daytona,” said Carlson after his first laps on Friday morning. “Us short track racers, we’re never going to make it to this level more than likely. It definitely sits you down in the seat when you go into the corner.
“It was a really cool feeling.”
The “Road to Daytona” program gives competitors from nearly all divisions of ARCA competition the opportunity for seat time at Daytona.
VanDoorn, 24 and of Coopersville, Mich., is now a three-time ARCA CRA Super Series champion and won the 2012 title for Kaos Motorsports. Braden, 18 and of Wheeling, W.V., is the 2012 Super Series Rookie of the Year.
Eilen, 27 and of Hampton, Minn., won the 2012 Midwest Tour championship five years after becoming the series' first race winner. Carlson, 25 and of Cedar Springs, Mich., won the ARCA Gold Cup Series championship, contested at ARCA-owned Toledo and Flat Rock Speedways, as well as Spartan (Mich.) Speedway.
Andy Hillenburg, a two-time Daytona winner and the 1995 ARCA champion, is assisting each Road to Daytona driver in the test session. His Fast Track High Performance Driving School, ARCA's Official Driving School, is providing the cars and support for the test.
“The first time that I came here to drive at Daytona myself, I didn’t even have a van ride around the track,” Hillenburg said. “I had not even been on the race track and here it was go out and run 195 mph. That was over 20 years ago. That’s the way it was.
“Now these kids can be a lot better driver and prepared to capitalize on the opportunities they get and make better racing for all of us.”
The three-day ARCA test continues through Sunday. A section of the Oldfield Grandstands will be open free to the public with access available through the lobby of the Daytona International Speedway ticket office.
Tickets for NASCAR’s biggest, richest and most prestigious race – the 55th annual Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 24 – are available at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.
Fans can follow NASCAR on Twitter (@NASCAR) or ARCA (@ARCA_Racing) and stay up to speed on the latest news by using hashtags #NASCAR, #DAYTONA500, #CokeZero400 and #NASCARBattle. In addition, fans can also stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest for all the latest news all season long.