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Expert Advice on How to Lose

by Stephen Cox
Tuesday, October 23, 2012

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Stephen Cox
There are three rules in short track racing. Number 1, don't give up the inside groove. Number 2, survive at all costs. And Number 3... don't forget Rules 1 and 2. 

This is doubly important when it comes to the really short tracks, like Lake County's beautiful 1/5th mile oval in Painesville, Ohio, four of which would fit in your back yard.

You have to stay with the leaders, avoid the inevitable wrecks, keep the fenders on your truck and drive like a wild banshee in the last few laps. After 20 years of racing, I should know this. But I forgot it during Sunday afternoon's 125-lap ARCA Truck Series season finale, and I paid the price.

Following six hours of restless sleep at the Red Roof Inn, I arrive at the aforementioned micro-track on Saturday with an unstoppable one-song marathon playing over and over in my head. Ever had that happen? I believe it to be a mild form of insanity. The song was Fun's “Some Nights.” I should be grateful. It could have been the Village People.

Practice begins and thanks to my crew, the #20 Boschett Timepieces/Ed & Co. Racing Supplies truck is reasonably good right off the trailer. In only our third race together, we're really beginning to gel.

Team owner Ed Yoak likes to pretend like he's always grouchy but he's too nice a guy to be very convincing. John Buck and Jerry Young won lots of races together in the 80's and act like an old married couple. Willard Yoak works constantly and pays no attention to either of them. 

Together they're an amazing bunch. I've been supremely confident in this crew's abilities since our 7th place miracle at Kil Kare Speedway in August.

Practice starts and the truck is quick but a bit loose. We change the panhard bar and yank spring rubbers, getting faster every session. We're 3/10's off quick time even though we're on ancient tires while the frontrunners are on stickers. So far, so good.

An hour goes by. I try to switch my mental radio station to Atlanta Rhythm Section's “I'm Not Gonna Let It Bother Me Tonight.” I fail. Maybe I need a hair band.

Qualifying
Our high hopes are dashed in qualifying when the truck doesn't like the new tires and goes loose. I chase my tail all over the track and qualify 6/10th's slower than we practiced. Disaster. We'll start 12th. Now we have to fight our way to the front on a tiny, 1/5th mile oval in Sunday's race. This won't be pretty. 

Dinner is a plate of Red Lobster's coconut fried prawns at 11 pm. I type my last phone entry on Sopwith Motorsports' Facebook page and go to bed.

Race day begins sunny and cold. In our ten-minute warm up session, we drop the panhard bar and find some grip in the truck's rear end. We get all of the speed back that we lost during qualifying. The truck works really well below the white line at the bottom of the track. See Short Track Rule Number 1.

Driver introductions begin over the public address system. A kid on the front row of the grandstands waives to me. Aha. A potential fan. I grab an ARCA Truck Series souvenir t-shirt and toss it to him over the catch fence as I walk to my truck.

I don't have many fans and can't afford to waste these opportunities. Besides, it was ARCA's t-shirt.

I try to switch songs again as I buckle into the cockpit, this time to Whitesnake's “Here I Go Again,” but can't get past the opening keyboard solo. 

The green flag drops and I tag onto the tail of Levi Mansfield's #54 truck. Levi is stupid fast. I'll just follow him to the front, right?

Thirty laps go by. My master plan is working. Following Levi and the #21 of Brandon Huff, I work my way up to 9th position. Not setting any records, but hey... we're moving up.

I get past Brandon and am closing on Levi when the truck gets loose again. Overdriving the truck trying to stay ahead of Brandon, I spin myself out in Turn 1. My bad. The nose is dented but it still runs okay. John and Willard take the hood off. I hope Ed doesn't get mad.

Instead of hustling the truck, I should have been taking it easy until the next caution flag allowed me to pit and pull a spring rubber to tighten it up. I should know better. See Short Track Rule Number 2.

Green flag again. The truck develops more oversteer every lap. I'm slowing down. Brandon is still behind me but I'm clearly holding him up now. I hug the white line and give him the outside. He doesn't want the outside; he wants the low groove. I don't blame him. But I'm not going to gift wrap it. See Short Track Rule Number 1. 

Parked after accident
Brandon finally punts me and I spin sideways. I don't think he meant to. He's a good guy and a great shoe. We're both sliding now and he can't stop in time. His truck hits me again, this time just behind the front left wheel. The steering column is pinched and the steering wheel will barely turn. The truck is undrivable and I have to make a pit stop.

John and Willard radio for me to kill the engine. After five minutes of inspection it's clear that our day is over. I climb out of the cockpit, do a painful TV interview and stand by myself along pit road thinking of Short Track Rule Number 3 while “Some Nights” still plays endlessly in my head.

Rats. My first and only wreck of the entire season comes in the final race of the year. Go figure.

I should have been patient. I should have survived at all costs and waited for the race to come to me. Instead I abandoned the tried and true rules of short track racing and fouled up our day. 

It's been two days now. Desperation sets in as I watch the last half of the race from the infield. The Village People is simply not an option, so I try Cinderella's “Gypsy Road.” Thank goodness. It sticks. 

Stephen Cox
Some nights I stay up
cashing in my bad luck,
some nights I call it a draw

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