Lucas Oil Series notebook
Notes: Chris Simpson lands moonlighting gig
By Alli Collis and Kevin KovacDirtonDirt.com
Chris Simpson of Oxford, Iowa, will enter a brave new racing world when he competes in this weekend’s Lucas Oil Show-Me 100 presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com at Lucas Oil Speedway.
After spending the entirety of his 15-year dirt-track career driving cars fielded by Kevin and Cindy Trca of Swisher, Iowa — his mother and stepfather — Simpson will finally step into a full-fledged hired-gun role. He is set to make his debut with Haughton, La.-based Childress Racing, which has brought the 31-year-old Simpson on board to run a special-event schedule for the remainder of the 2015 season. | Complete Show-Me coverage
“This is all new to me,” conceded Simpson, who is accustomed to his racing effort being a family affair. “At the end of last year I was working on possibly doing something this season with the Rowland (Racing) guys but that fell through, so this is really the first deal that I’ve driven for someone else.”
The unexpected opportunity to join the Raymond Childress-owned operation as a teammate to regular driver Garrett Alberson of Las Cruces, N.M., was presented to Simpson last month by chassis builder and setup guru Ronnie Stuckey, who works closely with the Childress team. With a mutual connection — both Simpson and Childress Racing campaign Black Diamond-Club 29 Race Cars constructed at Stuckey’s shop in Shreveport, La. — Stuckey saw the rising Simpson as a solid candidate to fill a second Childress seat.
“The week of Batesville (the washed-out Bad Boy 98 scheduled for April 17-18 at the Arkansas track) Stuckey called me and asked if I’d be interested in doing something with (the Childress team),” Simpson said. “I said, ‘Yeah,’ and I ended up talking to Raymond’s son-in-law and we kind of finalized everything to get together.”
Landing a quality ride with the well-established Childress Racing takes a major load off Simpson, who oversees preparation of the Trcas’ equipment
“It makes it a little easier for me,” said Simpson, who expects his schedule with Childress Racing to include such major events as the Dream and World at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, and the Topless 100 at Batesville. “Obviously there’s a little more pressure on the side that I want to do good for them so we can continue on doing something down the road, but as far as me preparing the car and getting the car ready, it takes that pressure off for sure. They’ve got a brand-new Black Diamond car for me and some fresh (Andy Durham-built) motors, so I’m excited to get going with them.
“To be able to have people see that you can do it and offer you a chance is a real honor,” he added. “Obviously last year when I went down to Magnolia and Whynot (for special late-season events in Mississippi) and ran second in those two races, those (Childress) guys were there and seen how good we ran. We had just got these new cars, so they were pretty impressed with that I think. Then they were there when we went to Arizona (for January’s Wild West Shootout), and even though we didn’t win any races we were pretty good and didn’t tear anything up. I think we gave a good account of ourselves in front of them, so it’s just cool to have somebody recognize that and want to take an interest in me driving their stuff.”
Simpson is hopeful that his association with Childress Racing will help him unlock the door to victory lane at a big-money event. He has only one five-figure triumph on his career resume — a $10,000 UMP DIRTcar Summernationals score in 2013 at Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Ill. — but he’s been flirting with some important checkered flags in recent years, including a runner-up finish in the 2013 Show-Me 100.
“Honestly, I feel it’s just a matter of time before we come and win one of these big shows,” said Simpson, who will bring his team’s hauler and No. 32 machines and crew member Dillon Disterhost to Wheatland so he can enter Sunday night’s UMP DIRTcar-sanctioned event at Tri-City on his way home. “My dad keeps calling me and telling me, ‘You’re gonna pull off one of these big ones.’ ” — Kevin Kovac
Big week in Wheatland
There’s an excitement in Lucas Oil Speedway general manager Dan Robinson and his staff this week that only comes once a year.
It’s Show-Me 100 week, after all.
“We’re all about big events here at Lucas Oil Speedway and this is the biggest one of all so we’re all definitely looking forward to it,” Robinson while making preparations for the blockbuster three-day extravaganza of speed topped by Saturday night’s 23rd annual 100-lapper paying $30,000 to win. “It’s a relief when we pull it off, but the anticipation is really building as we speak.
“Our reserved ticket sales are ahead of last year’s pace. Our suites are sold out for all three nights. Everything is looking great.”
Robinson and Co. are especially anxious to show off Forest Lucas’s unparalleled dirt-track palace to a national audience comprised not only of fans and racers from across the country but television viewers who will have a chance to watch the Show-Me 100 action in the coming weeks on broadcasts carried by CBS, CBS Sports Network, MavTV and NBC Sports Network. With some off-season changes to the speedway’s infield and the track itself, the already spectacular place now looks even better.
Most notably, gone is the dirt-covered infield in favor of a finely-manicured area of grass and concrete access roads.
“Cosmetically the grass infield has really helped things, especially at night with the lights on it,” Robinson said of the brilliant green ground that now dominates the the track’s landscape. “It should be a much more presentable show for TV as well as in person.”
The track has a new look as well.
“Basically, when we did the infield and poured the concrete we lowered the bottom a couple feet,” Robinson said. “That allowed us to add a little more banking to the top, especially coming out of (turns) two and four just to maintain that momentum to keep that top lane racy. The clay itself is a lighter color, too … we put a couple hundred loads on.”
Robinson and his race-day staff of more than 120 employees — not including the Lucas Oil and MLRA series officials and the television production crew — also have another elaborate pre-race laser-light show planned to lead into Saturday night’s Show-Me 100 finale.
“We brought it back (after debuting the laser-and-music show last year) and added to it,” Robinson said. “We’ll have some pyro accompany it this year, and hopefully we’ll be able to do the full driver introduction as scheduled — we had to scrap that last year because rain was moving in — because that was gonna be quite a spectacle as well.”
Robinson is confident that his Lucas Oil Speedway team is doing everything within their power to make the Show-Me 100 “a true event” in its sixth year at the 3/8-mile following its move from West Plains (Mo.) Motor Speedway.
“It had to go through a transition time (after relocating from West Plains),” Robinson said. “We’ve always tried to keep a balance between the West Plains history and traditions — like the Race of Champions and the Manufacturers’ Dash and the 20-lap heat races — but we’ve tried to put a Lucas Oil spin on it as well to showcase our facility and our products. I think we’ve been able to accomplish that … things like the laser show give a different aspect to it. We’re about entertainment, we want to give the fans something to talk about, and I think we’re doing that.” — Kevin Kovac
Gotschall’s best shot
Brantlee Gotschall of Nevada, Mo., will be one of several home-state drivers making up this weekend’s Show-Me 100 roster at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo. Having only entered a handful of events so far this season, the former modified driver is looking to breakthrough this weekend, aiming to make the Show-Me 100 starting lineup for the first time in his racing career.
Gotschall, 35, made the trip to Wheatland back in April for the Lucas Oil MLRA-sanctioned Spring Nationals. With impressive car counts on hand for the weekend doubleheader, Gotschall failed to make the starting lineup for either event. He traveled to Monett (Mo.) Speedway and Springfield (Mo.) Raceway for the May 1-2 MARS doubleheader, where he finished 11th and sixth respectively. As it does for many other drivers, Memorial Day weekend’s Show-Me 100 marks the start of a busy 2015 season for Gotschall.
“This will be our fourth event I believe,” Gotschall said. “We raced Wheatland in April with MLRA. Then went to Monett with MARS and Springfield an ran there and that’s it. Just been trying to get things in order. We’ve got a lot of racing coming up after the Show-Me. I think we’re off one weekend after the Show-Me and we’re pretty much racing full-bore for a while there.”
While Gotschall’s Nevada home is about an hour from the Wheatland oval, his laps at Lucas Oil Speedway have mostly been limited to major events.
“For being so close, I wouldn’t say I’ve raced there a whole lot,” Gotschall said. “I’ve never raced weekly or anything there. When I raced mods I only went there twice or something like that. I started racing Late Models, and of course anytime the MLRA or Show-Me or Diamond Nationals is there, we usually try to go to those.”
Starting with Thursday’s MLRA-sanctioned Cowboy Classic, Gotschall will begin his mission to join the field for the Show-Me 100 for the first time. Tough luck has kept him out of the running of his home-state’s biggest event in the past.
“It’s huge,” Gotschall said of the Show-Me 100. “It’s definitely one we want to try to get in. We’ve been so close several times. I’ve led B features and things happened and it just never has worked out. But hopefully this is the year that something will happen. I’d be disappointed if we don’t get in this year.
“We’ve just been so close so many times and it just always something silly that happens and we don’t get in. I’d be tickled to death with a top-10 in the Show-Me 100, but I’d definitely be disappointed if we don’t make the show.” — Alli Collis
Odds and ends
The Lucas Oil Series ASi Racewear Crown Jewel Cup presented by DirtonDirt.com kicks off this weekend. The Crown Jewel Cup awards drivers points based on finishes in events paying $20,000 or more on tour schedule, with a $10,000 bonus going to the driver earning the most points at the end of the season. Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., was last year’s Crown Jewel Cup champion. … The top 24 drivers failing to transfer to the Show-Me 100 will be eligible to start the Midwest Sheet Metal Show-Me Challenge, a $2,000-to-win, $250-to-start non-qualifiers race. The winner will have the option to forfeit his earnings and start last in the 100-lap main event. … Fast Shafts of Des Moines, Iowa, has added incentives to the weekend. A new carbon fiber drive shaft will be awarded during Thursday’s Cowboy Classic and Saturday’s Show-Me 100. Drivers must run the Fast Shafts decal to be eligible. … Ryan Gustin of Marshalltown, Iowa, and Jared Landers of Batesville, Ark., are among drivers that have already captured victories at Lucas Oil Speedway this season. Both scored MLRA victories in the April 10-11 Spring Nationals. … Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla., enters the weekend as the Lucas Oil Series points leader. While he has series-leading three victories in 2015, he has never won the Show-Me 100. … Two-time Show-Me 100 winner Ray Cook of Brasstown, N.C., and Dale McDowell of Chickamauga, Ga., are among drivers not scheduled to make the trip to Wheatland this weekend. Cook will be promoting his Spring Nationals series, while McDowell plans to enter the tour’s weekend tripleheader at Boyd’s, Dixie and Rome. … While Scott Bloomquist tops the win-list with five career Show-Me 100 victories, Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., is the only driver to capture multiple Show-Me victories since the race was moved to Lucas Oil Speedway.