Trucking With Twisty: Taking the (Pro) Challenge  by Mike Twist
Getting The Chance to Race at Historic Hickory Motor Speedway
Like various team members from six PASS Super Late Model teams, I recently headed south for the Easter Bunny 150 at Hickory Motor Speedway (NC).  My plan was only to cover the event for  Unlike the Rowes, Cassius Clark, Travis Benjamin, Derek Ramstrom or Eric Chase, I had no actual plans actually to log laps on the historic oval.

Shortly after making it down to North Carolina though, those plans changed for the better when Bob Dillner asked me if I wanted to drive the #151 Pro Challenge Truck in the undercard to the PASS South season opener.  He didn’t have to ask twice.

The opportunity consisted of plenty of firsts in my racing career.  It was the first time that I had been behind the wheel of a Pro Challenge machine.  It was the first time that I would race with a spotter and most important to me, it was the first time that I would get to lap the historic Hickory Motor Speedway.
My first practice laps were pretty slow as I learned the track, the truck and also which gear to put it in.  But team owner Dillner was on my Racing Electronics radio during both practice sessions and he encouraged me to drop the hammer.  By the second practice session, he might have encouraged me a little bit too much.  On one lap, I got on the gas a little too quickly and a little too hard, the #151 whipped sideways and I got a quick glance at the infield through my windshield.  But I didn’t overcorrect and just let off the gas.  The truck righted itself and I was back on the throttle going down the backstretch.

I expected Bob to be a little bit mad about my near-miss.  That couldn’t be any further from the truth.

“You’re racing at Hickory Baby!  Wooo!” he yelled over my radio.

Cool.  That meant that I didn’t have to back off.  That was great and I only got it sideways one more time in the session.
When I came in, the shifter stuck in gear.  I shut it down and we went to work to fix the problem.  By the time I got lined up again, the shifter appeared to be fine and crew chief Dustin Archer tightened up the truck a little bit.  I’d be good to go for the qualifying. 
I’d never run any time trials laps in my New England racing career – heat races are king up here, so I was a little nervous about it, but the fact that all of the cars and trucks made the show helped ease my mind.

Actually, it was a good thing that was the case.  I shifted into the wrong gear on my lap and didn’t figure that out until hitting the rev limiter halfway through the lap.  By that point, I shifted but lost valuable time.  I chalked that up to my inexperience because the shifter seemed to be working fine when I came in.  But my problems with that weren’t over yet.

My time trial result?  12th on the grid.  Not bad, you might say.  Well, there were only 13 entries out there, so that didn’t sound quite as impressive under those circumstances.

Next up was the driver’s meeting and then lining up for the race.  I’ve got to admit that I felt a little out of place among the teenaged drivers I was competing against.  One person stopped by my truck to ask if Nick Stroupe, who qualified his BDI Racing entry on the pole, was my son. 

“No, just my teammate,” I replied – feeling a whole lot older than 33.

Everyone made me feel right at home though – from the Pro Challenge officials who even took rookie drivers like myself aside after the driver’s meeting to make sure that we felt at home to teammate Nick Stroupe, who answered all of my stupid questions about when to use the brakes, which line to use and when to turn into the corner, to 2007 Pro Challenge Carolinas Champion Devon Haun, who stopped by my truck to chat and ask about what I raced back home in New England.

As we started to go out onto the track for our 30-lap feature, my linkage problems
resurfaced.  The truck wouldn’t get out of third gear and that didn’t work so well on pit
road.  I stalled it quite a few times and really must have looked pathetic getting out onto
the track, but third was where I wanted it for the race, so that would be fine.

I dropped back to last at the green, but spotter Dale Averill proved to be a great coach. 
I picked off a few cars and trucks here and there and even found myself inside of the top
10 on the final restart.  I think that I was up to seventh or eighth when the shifter finally
decided to unjam itself.

Coming out of turn four to take the green flag and having the 1100cc engine rev to 12,000
RPMs, but not go anywhere is not a good feeling.  I grabbed a gear and took off, but not
before the field checked out on me.  My final result was a 10th-place finish.  My goal for
the race had been to get a top 10, so it was a successful day…

…And also an extremely fun one.  I had always been a Pro Challenge fan since I saw them
race at South Boston Speedway as part of the 2006 Mason Dixon Meltdown.  That was when Zach Stroupe and Corey Lajoie beat and banged all the way to the checkered flag with the race being decided by about six inches.  Now I can tell you that these little cars are just as impressive to drive.

The power to weight ratio make this feel more like a race machine that any stock-framed or snouted car, Legend car or racing kart that I’ve ever driven.  After seeing firsthand what it took to race one, I wasn’t the least bit surprised when Series graduates Zach Stroupe and John Stancill both placed inside of the top five for the Easter Bunny 150 Super Late Model race later in the evening.

There will be more graduates of the series that you’ll hear about in the future as well.  Haun and my teammate Stroupe put on a great battle for the victory at Hickory (I know because I got to watch it out of my windshield after they lapped me late in the race).  Haun won by inches and I fully expect that both drivers will move up tin the future.

And just a few days after my adventure, 15-year-old Meghan Dillner got the chance to wheel the #151 truck around Hickory in a test session.  I wasn’t there, but those with stopwatches were gleeful to tell me that her lap times were much better than mine.  Hey, I never claimed to be a good racecar driver, I just try to have plenty of fun doing it.

I’d love to see what these little machines could do on some of the high banked quarter miles of New England like Thunder Road, All-Star Speedway, Riverside or Monadnock.

When will I race again?  Well, my plans for the 2008 racing season up in Maine are still a little incomplete.  I will be racing the #51 racing tractor, which will now be a John Deere, as part of Pluffybilt Racing Tractors’ assault on the North Saco Lawnmower Racing league.  With a few (well actually 1.5) more horsepower and a year of tractor racing experience under my belt, I expect to take a step up in the performance department there.  My old tractor will also get towed to the races to be driven by a few different people who I know that are crazy enough to want to wheel it around.

I also still have my racetrucks that are legal to compete at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, Oxford Plains Speedway and Wiscasset Raceways.  Some assembly is required there though after both trucks were sidelined by engine problems in their latest races.  Come to think of it, my #51 truck was pretty evil in the handling department too last year, so while I might also race those trucks this year, there will have to be some major changes made to them first.

The #151 Pro Challenge Truck on the track at Hickory.
The #151 and #51 team Pro Challenge machines of BDI Racing in the pits at Hickory.