With lots of off season changes, a new crew chief and the start of the 2004 season just over a week away, Joel Kauffman spent Tuesday testing his #44 L A West Luxury Vans/Choo Choo Customs Chevrolet at South Boston (VA) Speedway getting used to it all and preparing for his run at the 2004 USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series championship.
The biggest changes came when Kauffman moved his race team from his home in Northern Indiana to Mooresville (NC) and hired veteran NASCAR crew chief Timmy Kohuth to oversee the operation. Meanwhile, the Hooters Pro Cup Series made several rule changes, the biggest being the switch to BFGoodrich radial tires in 2004, a change from the old Goodyear bias-ply tires.
All the changes meant preseason testing would be key for the team's success when it hits the track at South Boston on April 17 to open up the Hooter's Northern Division season.
“It was a very important test session for us for many reasons and South Boston was the perfect place to do it,” said 18-year-old Kauffman. “Of course, South Boston is where we open up the season, so we will be better prepared for that race.
"But also, Timmy has raced with the Craftsman Trucks there the last few years, where he has a couple of wins, so he likes the place. And I ran really good there last year, so it was just a good place for us to go because we both know the track and we've both had some success there.
“The main goal of the test was to really work on the communication between me and Timmy. By the end of the day, it came really easy.
"Timmy is very easy to get along with. He has so much experience that he has a bunch of options he can do to a car when he wants to make one change. We ran into a couple of problems, but we were able to get them all fixed. That just built the confidence in me and in him as well.
"I'd say if communication was our biggest goal, were were able to accomplish it.”
Even though the car doesn't look ready, Kauffman's ride was fast at SoBo.
Joel (left) and crew chief Tim Kohuth (right) will make a great team in 2004.
It was also the first time Kauffman was on the new BFGoodrich tires in race conditions. Even though he has some experience with the BFGoodrich radials in ASA competition, Kauffman said the Pro Cup radials had a much different feel to them.
“I really like the tires. I think they will be great for racing and will make our racing strategies a little different this year than last,” added Kauffman. “I would say the BFG tires feel like a soaked up set for the Snowball Derby. They are really soft and have a lot of grip. They don't fall off the pace very quick and they showed that at our test. If anything, they were quicker after 80 laps than on stickers, but of course, our car was set up better too.”
Joel watches over the team as they make a gear change in his new #44.
In last year's South Boston event, Kauffman came home third, finishing behind two Southern Division drivers. It was one of three third-place finishes for Kauffman in 2003.
“Every change we made just helped the car out big time. I think the changes we made and the fact that the car got better all day long helped build the confidence that Timmy and I have in each other. There at the end of the day, we ended up really good. We had old tires on and we were running low 16.20s.
"Mardy Lindley, who is always good in these cars, was running 16.40s and 50s on pretty new tires we were told, so we were pretty happy with the test and decided to pack it up and go home.
“I think if we can put some stickers on it with a few more minor changes, I think we'd have a great car for the race. I'm really excited to start the year now and get this thing going. I think it could be a big year for us.”
Car builder Billy Hess gives Joel some advice at the SoBo test.
Kauffman and Team LA West Racing will make an all-out onslaught on the Pro Cup Series championship in 2004. However, they are still looking for marketing partners to help them in their quest. For inquiries, call the team at 704-622-7065 and be sure to visit joelkauffman.com for more information.