Smith Leads The Way in ARCA Kentucky Testing
Wildwood, Missouri driver Jesse Smith, in the no. 25 Venturini Motorsports Chevrolet, posted the top speed in ARCA RE/MAX Series open testing Wednesday afternoon at Kentucky Speedway.
Smith, among 24 drivers who tested, circled the 1.5-mile Sparta, Kentucky speedplant in 30.752 seconds, for an average speed of 175.598 mph.
The open test served in preparation for the next event on tour - the Drive Smart Buckle-Up Kentucky 150 Saturday, May 9th.
The series' most recent winner Justin Lofton, in Eddie Sharp's Lofton Cattle Toyota, was second fastest overall with a speed of 174.836.
"We were very good right off the trailer, so we really didn't make any big changes," said Lofton. "We didn't need to. We worked on a lot of little stuff, and we know the track's going to change quite a bit by the time we come back in May. Main thing is, is that we've got a really good base-line set-up, so we can tighten or loosen as necessary from there."
Penske development driver Parker Kligerman, in the Cunningham Motorsports Dodge, was third overall (174.752) after struggling in the morning session.
"We weren't very good at the onset," said Kligerman, who is still in high school in his hometown of Westport, Connecticut. "We just couldn't get off the corners. But the Cunningham crew worked and worked on it and got it much better."
Kligerman, in six series starts, has not finished out of the top-10. His most recent finishes include third at Salem, fifth at Rockingham and seventh at Talladega.
Frank Kimmel, a late arrival, was fourth quickest overall at 174.345. Kimmel, a four-time Kentucky winner, has not won at Kentucky since May, 2005.
Newcomer Brian Ickler, in a second Venturini Motorsports entry, was fifth fastest overall at 174.289.
There were three separate on-track incidents throughout the day involving Chad Hackenbracht, Jimmy Weller and Justin Boston. All three drivers made contact with the wall; however, there were no injuries.
Parker Kligerman Pulling out all the Stops; High-Schooler Leads by 5 Points Headed to Kentucky
Most high school seniors are preoccupied with friends, finals, peer pressure and proms. And while Parker Kligerman may have all that on his mind - there's something else brewing on his brain - the thrilling possibility of winning the 2009 ARCA RE/MAX Series national championship.
And why not? The 18-year-old West Port, Connecticut rookie, after four events, is leading the championship points headed to Kentucky Speedway for the Drive Smart Buckle-Up Kentucky 150 Saturday, May 9.
In fact Kligerman, a development driver for Penske Racing, hasn't finished out of the top-10 in six career ARCA RE/MAX Series starts dating back to his debut on the New Jersey Motorsports Park road course in September of 2008 where he finished sixth from outside pole.
On the heels of a career-best third at Salem in early April, a fifth at Rockingham and a seventh in the most recent race at Talladega, Kligerman finds himself out front by a mere five markers over red-hot racer/Talladega winner Justin Lofton.
It is the most unlikely situation considering Kligerman's Cunningham Motorsports team was only budgeted for eight races in 2009, spread way out over the entire season. But with Kligerman turning heads faster than a hurricane, Cunningham Motorsports turned up the wick and moved those eight races to the front of the schedule. But what happens after the eight races if the money runs out?
"Don't worry; we're working on it," said Kligerman. "We can't give up. We're trying as hard as we can to find money. The exposure we're getting helps. We've got a couple things on the table; we'll see what happens.
"Honestly, I didn't expect to be racing in the first four races, let alone leading the points.
"But I also know how good this Cunningham Motorsports team is. The equipment is unbelievable, so it was up to me to go out and take hold of it."
And take hold he did.
"It was sort of nice the way it's worked out this season. I had no expectations, but I also knew how fast these Cunningham cars are. All those factors combined, I knew I was in a good place."
Speaking of a good place, Kligerman, along with a couple dozen other drivers, tested at Kentucky Speedway Wednesday in preparation for yet another first - his first real start on an intermediate, down-force track. It did not go well at the start.
"Our car was not handling well in the morning session. We kept throwing adjustments at it in small increments, and it just wasn't working. Nothing was working. My crew chief Chris Carrier and I talked it over and decided we needed to make some drastic changes. On a scale of one to 10 (10 being the most drastic), we went to 10 and a half. We changed everything, and we picked up three-tenths right after lunch. We immediately went faster and faster. We moved truck arms, changed shocks, changed springs. You can almost name it, and we changed it."
Kligerman and the Cunningham crew shaved off nearly a full second from the morning test session to their final run in the late afternoon.
"The car finally felt like it should. With about 10 minutes left, we pumped up the air pressure some and taped it up, and it was real good. With one or two more changes, we're very close to being a spot-on car."
Kligerman shot up to third on the leader board in first Kentucky Speedway appearance, just .015 seconds off Lofton's best time.
"We know that Justin (Lofton) and the whole Eddie Sharp Racing team are going to be very formidable. They have a lot of experience; and we all know how well they run on these intermediate tracks. But, like always, I'll keep an open mind, and like I said, I have no expectations; so I'm not going to put that pressure on myself.
"We still need to discuss set-up for Kentucky, but we'll put it (the car) on the pull-down rig at Penske and get the car right where it needs to be at a place like this (Kentucky)."
If Kligerman were to, somehow, someway, win the championship, he would follow in his teammate's footsteps as an ARCA champion. 2008 series champion Justin Allgaier, currently running fulltime in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, signed on with Penske Racing last summer, about the same time Kligerman put his pen to a Penske contract.
"I usually speak with Michael Nelson (heads up Penske's Cup program) every week after each race and the tests. Occasionally, I speak with Tim Cindric (Penske President). We all share thoughts about the program and how we can improve what we do."
Kligerman also keeps in close contact with his Cunningham Motorsports car owner Kerry Scherer.
"Kerry and I speak once a week at least. And, he comes to all the races. He's very supportive of me; he's helped me so much, and has opened so many doors for me. I know he's worked very hard on my behalf - opened the door for me with Penske Racing. Kerry's been a huge force in my career, and I would not be where I am without his support. I'm very grateful for that."
Kligerman's also getting a big-time taste of how hectic the travel can be.
"The travel's insane. I mean, compared to last year, I expected this year to slow down. We originally had our season spread out over the whole year. Well, obviously, that's changed now. Last year, my principal excused my absences if I kept my grades up. I had my best grades ever last year.
"This quarter's been tough. I think I've been home 36 hours over the last three weeks. Fortunately, spring break was right in there so that helped. Finals are coming too.
That ain't all that's coming - so is senior prom, which falls on the same day as the Pocono ARCA 200 on June 6th. Kligerman claims he won't be missing either event; but that's another story down the road.
NOTE: The last Penske Racing development driver to win an ARCA RE/MAX Series races at Kentucky Speedway was Ryan Newman.
Practice for the Drive Smart Buckle-Up Kentucky 150 will be Saturday, May 9th from 12 noon to 2:00 PM ET followed by Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell at 4:00 PM. The Drive Smart Buckle-Up Kentucky 150 will follow at 8:00 PM.
ARCA Sweeps Talladega
ARCA swept the Spring Talladega race weekend as race winners Justin Lofton (ARCA RE/MAX Series), David Ragan (NASCAR Nationwide Series) and Brad Keselowski (NASCAR Sprint Cup Series) each have ARCA affiliations.
Keselowski, a Rochester Hills, Michigan, native, earned his career-first Cup victory in his fifth Series start on Sunday in a James Finch-owned Chevrolet. Both Keselowski and Finch are currently active in the ARCA RE/MAX Series as car owners; Finch fielded the No. 51 Miccosukee Gaming & Resorts Toyota for Eddie Mercer in Friday's ARCA RE/MAX 250 at Talladega and Keselowski fielded the No. 29 Greased Lightning Cleaning Products Chevrolet for Mikey Kile. Keselowski honed his racing skills at ARCA-owned short tracks, earning two Late Model victories at Toledo Speedway during the early stages of his racing career. His older brother, Brian Keselowski, is the 2003 Late Model Champion at Toledo Speedway and a former race winner in the ARCA RE/MAX Series. Father, Bob Keselowski, is an ARCA RE/MAX Series and ARCA Late Model Champion. Bob Keselowski was honored for his 1989 ARCA Championship season by serving as honorary starter during ARCA RE/MAX Series pre-race ceremonies at Talladega on Friday.
David Ragan, the winner of Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Talladega, competed fulltime in the ARCA RE/MAX Series in 2005 and won an ARCA race at Lanier National Speedway in his home state of Georgia in 2005. Ragan is currently active in the Series as a mentor to up-and-coming driver Chris Buescher. Ragan is scheduled to attend the May 17 Menards 200 at Toledo Speedway, where he will sign autographs for race fans.
Lofton, race winner of the ARCA RE/MAX 250 at Talladega on Friday, is currently second in the Series' point standings and in his second year of fulltime competition in the ARCA RE/MAX Series. Friday's race win marked the second ARCA RE/MAX Series win of his career.
Silas Soaring with Confidence to Kentucky Speedway
In cars fielded by Andy Hillenburg, Stuart, Florida's Bryan Silas finished ninth in championship points in his rookie season back in 2007. Not bad. With high hopes from there, Silas, with the same team, sputtered in 2008, finishing 12th overall in points. Now fast-forward to 2009 where Silas is headed in a different direction.
"Our team chemistry is so much better this year," Silas said. "We've always had a decent team, but our communication if much better now. We know what each other is thinking. It's very cool."
Whatever is going on, it's working. Silas, after four events, is tied for fourth in points with Patrick Sheltra headed to Kentucky Speedway for the next event on tour - the Drive Smart Buckle-Up Kentucky 150 Saturday, May 9.
Silas also has a new crew chief to connect with - veteran Cal Boprey, whose methodical and mathematical methods are making things happen.
"Cal is phenomenal. Our communication level is the best I've ever had with a crew chief. He's got a very unique style and approach to the whole thing. He's not one to yack your ear off; he's more the silent type. He'll stand there and stare at the car, going over mathematical equations in his head - anything that makes the car go faster."
And there's no doubt that Silas is faster on-track this year. The driver of the no. 11 Rockingham Speedway-Oasis Outsourcing Ford just finished a career-best fourth at Rockingham Speedway in the Carolina 200. Prior to that, he was eighth on the Salem short-track; and finished 12th at Talladega just last Friday.
"I've gotten a lot smarter as a driver too. I'm starting to figure out that you can't race every lap like it's a qualifying lap."
Silas is also quick to point out that his comfort level is on the rise regarding all the different types of tracks that ARCA competes on.
"I think it (experience) absolutely makes a difference. Now I have a general idea of what's coming at me with all these tracks. So if I'm not handling well in practice, I know more what to expect during the race."
Like most fulltime racers, Silas's favorite track is the next one on the schedule. However, he's keenly aware of the tracks that present greater challenges for the 21-year-old driver.
"I've always struggled at MIS a little, and I don't know why. But I think Cal's going to help me get past that this year; I really do. I'm really confident that even on my weak tracks, we're going to run great.
"Salem's actually, if I had to choose, one of my best tracks. I've always run good there, and we get better every time.
"And as far as the intermediate tracks go, I've always run good at Kentucky; it's definitely a favorite of mine. Track configuration-wise, it's a lot like Kansas and Chicagoland, but I seem to run better at Kentucky. I have the line down better at Kentucky; it fits me like a glove."
Unfortunately, Silas, unlike many of his title-contending counterparts, didn't get the chance to participate in the open test Wednesday at Kentucky.
"Funny story actually. I was driving up to Kentucky Speedway from Concord (NC) yesterday, got within an hour from the track, when the crew called and said they would not be coming. At the time, it looked like a strong possibility that it'd be raining all day, but they got the whole test in. It's too bad, though. It would have been nice to have had the opportunity to test. I feel like we may be chasing it a bit compared to some of the rest when we go back for the race."
Regardless, Silas is starting to talk about that "W" word - winning.
"I've always felt like I could win; but honestly, in my first two years in the ARCA RE/MAX Series, I thought if it did happen, it'd be more out of luck than anything. This year, with how things are going between me and Cal, and the whole crew, I feel like I can drive to the front.
"I just need to drive smart 22 races in a row. I still have a lot to learn, but I've definitely gotten smarter over the off-season. I know I have really good people around me. I know our communication is better than it's ever been. A win and a championship are possible."
Silas will get his next chance for that career-first win next weekend at Kentucky Speedway. The Drive Smart Buckle-Up Kentucky 150, the 18th appearance of the ARCA RE/MAX Series at Kentucky since its 2000 debut, is scheduled to roll off at 8:00 PM ET Saturday, May 9. Practice and Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell precede the race action Saturday afternoon. The event will feature live timing and scoring at ARCAracing.com as well as live streaming audio of all the on-track activity.
Check Out a Short Track, Get ARCA Tickets for a Speedway
Race fans coming out to Mahoning Valley Speedway on Saturday night, May 16, will not only get to see some of the finest pavement short track action, they will also be treated to super speedway racing as well.
Thanks to Pocono Raceway, the first 500 adult grandstand guests attending the races that night will receive a free ticket to the June 6 Pocono ARCA 200 which is the lead-in event to the Pocono 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup event the following day at the 2.5-mile Long Pond track.
On display will be the official Pocono Raceway Pace Car.
Race fans will also be eligible to win free Terrace Grandstand race day tickets to the Pocono 500.
On the card that evening will be all regular track classes which include Modifieds, Late Models, Street Stocks, Dirt Modifieds and Pro4 Late Models plus the season premiere of the 4c Super Modifieds. Race time is 6:00pm.
Over the past few years Pocono Raceway and Mahoning Valley Speedway have enjoyed a solid working relationship and members of the two popular Northeast facilities are excited to be joining forces once again by giving fans the opportunity to see racing on both the professional as well as the grass roots level.
The Pocono ARCA 200 is an 80-lap, 200-mile race that traditionally has been one of the most hard-fought events on the ARCA schedule. Not only will the top stars of the ARCA/REMAX Series be on hand such as nine-time champ Frank Kimmel but the race also features a slew of development teams as well as a strong contingent of local flavor.
Current Mahoning Valley Speedway Modified point leader Kory Rabenold of nearby Slatington, is planning on being part of the Pocono ARCA 200 line-up. He competed in both ARCA Pocono races last season and is anxious to make the return to his “home” track.
Rabenold will be joined by another local talent, Chase Mattioli, grandson of Pocono Raceway’s CEO Dr. Joe Mattioli. Chase Mattioli is an active participant with ARCA, the NASCAR Camping World East Series as well as the KONI Challenge Series.
The Pocono ARCA 200 is set to get underway at 1:00pm, June 6. Qualifying will take place the day before along with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice and qualifying. There will be two rounds of NASCAR Sprint Cup practice prior to the Pocono ARCA 200 beginning at 10:00am.
Mahoning Valley Speedway is located just west of Lehighton on PA Route 443. For additional information call the track office at 570-386-4900 or on the web at www.mahoningspeedway.com
For information on Pocono Raceway including ticket pricing call 1-800-RACEWAY (1-800-722-3929) or on the web at www.poconoraceway.com.