Race Recap - OCS August 10th, 2019
The Gray Racing team was back in action this weekend at Orange County Speedway for races in both the Charger division and the brand new “Late Model Sportsman” division. You may recall that at the last event on July 20th, the Late Model Stock Car and Limited Sportsman divisions raced together while still having separate winners for the two classes. Early last week though, track officials made the announcement that the two divisions would officially be combined moving forward, hence the new Late Model Sportsman title. For what it's worth, based on the racing that we saw this Saturday, I think it’s fair to say that this was absolutely the right move and we can expect some super competitive racing for the remainder of the season.
Race #1: Chris Gray - #5 - Late Model Sportsman (1st Twin)
Our goal for the #5 car this Saturday was pretty simple: go faster than we did at the last race. However, during the afternoon practice sessions, we honestly weren’t doing a very good job of attaining that goal. Since we didn’t have a chance to get to the track and test after our last race on July 20th, we had to try to experiment with setup changes as quickly as we could during race day practice. We tried something new with how we set the track bar and also made some camber adjustments during the first two sessions, but the car was consistently a bit too tight and we just didn’t seem to have the speed that we were hoping for, particularly after seeing the lap times that some of our competitors were running already. So, with practice ending before we could make a third run, we had to resort to making a final cross weight adjustment and basically hoping for the best in qualifying. We weren’t too concerned though because Chris has a habit of always finding extra speed during qualifying when we really need it. So much so in fact that we will often refer to him as “ole’ two tenths” because that’s typically the amount of time he picks up from practice to qualifying. Knowing that we had a lot of ground to make up on the stopwatch, Chris hopped in the car for qualifying and instead of just picking us up two tenths, he laid down a lap of 14.867 seconds which was nearly half a second faster than our average lap times during the afternoon practices! Now, the pole winner’s time was just under 14.5 seconds, so we knew we still had some work to do, but it was still great to see that we made a good adjustment and picked up some speed. With the Late Model Sportsman division running twin 35 lap races, we knew we’d get even more opportunities to make changes and pick up more speed as well, so all in all we were feeling confident going into the night's races.
As soon as the green flag dropped for the first race, it was apparent that this new division was going to put on some barn burner races. Eight cars took the green flag and all eight cars were battling for position for the whole race. An early caution gave us a chance to come down pit road and make a small adjustment to try to loosen the car up a bit more, and from that point on we battled hard with a group of cars for the 4th-7th positions while the top two or three cars raced hard just ahead. It was shaping up to be a great finish for us, until with less than 5 laps to go, a couple of the leaders got together coming off of turn four and Chris ended up hard in the outside wall trying to avoid the wreck in front of him. Fortunately, Chris walked away just fine from the incident, but the car was beyond repair and so our night came to an abrupt end.
Race #2: Evan Ingram - #15 - Charger
Although we were obviously bummed about the outcome of the Late Model Sportsman race, there was no time to dwell on that because we had to turn around and get the #15 Charger car ready for the 25 lap feature in that division as well. Evan was not able to be at the track during the afternoon practice, but we had a good test session on the Thursday leading up to race weekend and we were confident we’d be in good shape regardless. Still, it is a bit nerve racking to hop in a car cold and be expected to go out and run a fast time in qualifying, which is what Evan was faced with arriving at the track just before the driver's meeting. Obviously it was not a big deal to him though as he managed to jump right in and lay down his fastest Q time so far this year putting us in the 6th spot for the start of the race. After getting shuffled back on the initial start, Evan calmly started picking off cars one by one. When all was said and done, Evan raced hard and crossed the finish line in 5th place for his first top-5 in only his 4th career start! We definitely have a very fast race car and a driver that is making huge leaps every time he buckles in. We are all very excited to see what the rest of the season has in store for us in the Charger division.
While Evan's race certainly helped to take our minds off things for a bit, it was still a bitter sweet night at the track. To anyone who is not involved in our sport, I simply cannot explain the feeling that Chris and I had Saturday night. Seeing a car that has been in our family for twenty years, and that we have spent literally countless hours (and money) on since we were teenagers, end up looking like a mangled heap of metal at the end of pit road is nothing short of gut wrenching. It may sound silly or over-exaggerated to some, but this is a huge part of our lives and this kind of thing hits hard for racers. Now, we’re not done racing by any stretch of the imagination, but we are done racing in this particular car. It has been rebuilt on one too many occasions already and I think it is time that we finally send this car to the grave. Our plan moving forward will be to shift focus to completing our backup car, which we have been slowly but surely rebuilding for the last year or so. (This is the car that Chris won one race and nearly won the Limited Sportsman championship in at OCS in 2014) If all goes well, we hope to have it ready for at least one or two of the remaining races at Orange County this year, but either way we’ll definitely be back for the next race with Evan in the #15 as we continue our battle for Rookie of the Year in the Charger division.
Until next time…