GONG SHOW BUDDIES REUNITE AT BEECH RIDGE by MikeTwist
Pickens Teams Up With Clark for First Asphalt Race
When New Zealand driver Michael Pickens took part of the “Gong Show”, he hoped that it would eventually lead to a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series ride with Roush Racing. Whether or not it does, remains to be seen. What it definitely did lead to was a ride in the biggest IBG-PASS Pro Stock race of the season, last weekend’s Pullen Heavy Industries 300 at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway.
“I was able to come up with Curb Records to help me out with some financial help and we did this.”
Clark gives almost the same exact account of what led up to the ride, throwing in the fact that the two drivers hit it off instantly.
“I met Michael down at the Roush Gong Show and I thought he was a pretty good egg,” said Clark. “We hit it off good and were roommates the last week that we were down there. He called me up and asked if I knew of any PASS cars that he could rent. I told him that I would fish around a little bit and see what I could find and then I put some numbers together myself to use my back-up car. Then we made the deal happen.”
Pickens was a fish out of water at Beech Ridge. He had never been to the track, or New England, before. He had never driven a Pro Stock. The midget driver was also not used to driving on anything but dirt.
“This is my first race on pavement, so I’m still trying to get my feet wet,” said Pickens. “I’m used to a 900-pound
This is what Pickens is more used to driving. (MichaelPickens.com Photo)
midget with 350 horsepower. You drive those things pretty much on the right rear. This thing is 2,800 pounds and it’s a lot different. It’s just a different discipline to teach yourself. At the end of the day, a driver is a driver. I think that any driver can hop into anything and eventually with enough seat time get the job done.”
Pickens' car was the rpoduct of the Clark family team. (From Left) Crew Chief Bobby, "teammate" Johnny and their father John. (51 Photo)
One thing that Pickens learned was that qualifying for a big-money open show isn’t always easy. He didn’t make it into the starting field through his heat race or the consi. So the pressure was on Sunday morning when Pickens needed to finish first or second in the last chance race to make it into the big show. He showed that he was up to the task by beating PASS regulars Corey Williams and Cassius Clark to the finish line.
“He didn’t have a good draw for the heat race and he still had a respectable finish in that,” said Clark. “He went to the consi and had a little bad luck there and got tangled up with someone. So he started third in the last chance race and had to finish in the top two. He took the lead on the backstretch and that was it.”
Pickens drove in the event as a teammate to Johnny Clark, another participant in the Roush search. Clark, the 2004 PASS champion, put Pickens into his back-up car renumbered as the #154 for this one race.
“I met Johnny at the Gong Show,” said Pickens. “We got talking and hung out a little bit. Basically, we became friends and kept in touch after that. I asked him if there were any opportunities for me to find a car to run and he said that I could run his back-up car if I could cover the costs.
The #154 of Pickens at Beech Ridge (Norm Marx Photo)
Clark didn’t get to see Pickens take the checkered flag though. Nervous about being a car owner, Clark decided to calm himself by working on his own racecar.
“I didn’t even go up and watch it,” laughed Clark after it was all over. “I didn’t want to watch it.”
Pickens didn’t get to show off his abilities too much in the feature though. He had an engine problem and dropped out early, finishing in the 27th position.
It’s not clear what Pickens’ next career step will be. He knows where he want to end up and has a few ideas on how to get there. But like many racers, whether they are from New Zealand or Maine, Pickens doesn’t have the deep pockets needed to race as often as he would like.
“It’s always been my dream to be a NASCAR Nextel Cup driver, but it’s a long road to get there and you need a lot of financial help,” said Pickens. “The good people from Roush helped Johnny and I with that test, so hopefully
The crews of the Clark and Pickens teams (with Clark in the red and black suit on the left and Pickens in the black and white suit on the right) pose with their car after the race. (51 Photo)
they will see the potential in me and somehow from that
Gong Show, I can get some help to get into a pavement ride to fulfill my dream.
“I’m still working on stuff to get the financial backing that I need. I’ve got people helping me out like Curb Records. It would be nice to be in a full-time ride where I can work with the same people and get comfortable.”
Starting next month, you will be able to see how Pickens and Clark fared in the Roush selection process as they appear on the Discovery Channel series “Racer X: The Race for the Ride.”