Racing beat

The Automobile Racing Club of America isn’t in the same class as its bigger racing brothers. It doesn’t try to be. While NASCAR Nextel Cup and Busch Grand National are Dom Perignon and fine cheese, ARCA is more akin to draft beer and pretzels. And to the average working man, there is absolutely nothing wrong with draft beer and pretzels.

ARCA competitors are hardly household names – with the notable exception of Frank Kimmel.

In the past, the series has featured guys like Glenn Miller, who owned the Chicken Lounge Restaurant. And there’s Glen Morgan, who was an attorney with the Texas law firm of Reaud, Morgan and Quinn. Roger Blackstock was an auto painter; Alabama’s Craig Butts was a political lobbyist; Calvin Councilor was a real estate agent; David Hall ran Frog’s Import Salvage; and C.W. Smith is a retired Pennsylvania State Trooper.

Kimmel, however, has given the circuit some serious star power.

When fans think of motorsports champions, they think of Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty, the only two men to claim seven NASCAR Cup titles. However, the Intimidator and the King aren’t the only wheelmen to roll lucky sevens behind the wheel of a stock car. It’s on a smaller stage of course, but Frank Kimmel also boasts seven crowns – all earned on the speedways, short tracks and dirt venues of the ARCA circuit. Even more impressive is that the Clarksville, Ind., native has won a staggering six consecutive ARCA titles, a streak unprecedented in the sport.

Last season Kimmel ran away from the competition, logging eight victories – double the win total of the series’ second-place finisher, Joey Miller.

“Winning that seventh title was really big,” Kimmel says. “The championships never get old, but I guess the seventh was the biggest of all. Now we want to see if we can win our eighth.”

Once he walks away from ARCA, Kimmel will likely have most series records all to himself. In 303 starts heading into 2006 he logged 64 checkered flags and 184 top-five finishes. Kimmel is also the all-time ARCA money winner, eclipsing the $3 million plateau last season.

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About the only feats yet to be accomplished are victories at Daytona and Talladega.

“It doesn’t really bother me that much, but obviously there’s nothing we’d like more than to win at both places,” Kimmel says. “The weird thing is that Daytona and Talladega, aside from being the most prestigious tracks our series race at, are probably the easiest ones to win on. We just haven’t been able to do that yet, and hopefully it’ll change.”

Prior to hooking up with ARCA Kimmel – who began racing at the age of 16 – was a three-time Late Model champion. He was ARCA Rookie of the Year in 1992 and won his first race in the series in 1994 at Toledo.

And in 13 years in the ARCA fold, he has adapted to the many changes the circuit has undergone.

“It’s a lot different than it used to be,” he says. “In the past, 80 percent of our budget was spent on our short track program, and maybe 20 percent went to intermediate and big tracks. Now, I’d say 60 percent of our budget is set aside for the intermediate tracks, which is where we race the most.

“The intermediate tracks are where you need the best motors, so when you’re limited in your budget you have to decide where to spend your money.”

ARCA was founded by John Marcum, a former race driver and official of Bill France’s upstart NASCAR circuit from 1949-52. In 1953, Marcum decided to form his own sanctioning body, called the Midwest Association for Race Cars. The initial season consisted of a 20-race schedule, with Jim Romine winning the MARC Championship over Buckie Sager and Iggy Katona.

In 1954, the series decided to expand beyond the Midwest and sanctioned three races in Georgia. Over the next 10 years MARC continued to grow, and in 1964 it changed its name to the Automobile Racing Club of America.

Now competing in 17 states, ARCA was becoming national in scope. While existing in the shadow of NASCAR, the circuit continued to produce good drivers and exciting races. But in 1981, Marcum – a member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame – -died. That left ARCA with an uncertain future, and there were only eight races on the schedule that year.

But in 1982 Bill France Sr. announced that Talladega Superspeedway would post a $25,000 ARCA point fund. By 1993, race attendance was at an all-time high, and 15 of ARCA’s 19 races were televised, reaching 10 million viewers. Total attendance reached a new high of 619,000 in 1997, and a record $2.7 million in prize money was awarded.

The number of drivers competing in ARCA in 2006 is a testament to the series’ growth. Sometimes as many as 70 drivers try to make the field for major events, such as races at Daytona and Talladega. The circuit has even expanded to truck competition, and its main series features 23 events annually ranging from Florida to Iowa.

But one thing about ARCA is likely never to change – the working class nature that is its foundation.

Another Positive Review
Nextel Cup regulars test and approve the Car of Tomorrow

The new NASCAR prototype vehicle, set to debut in the 2007 season on a limited basis, continues to get positive reviews from drivers. In May several NASCAR Nextel Cup regulars tested the vehicle on the new surface at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte.

Teams from Hendrick Motorsports (Brian Vickers), Richard Childress Racing (Jeff Burton), DEI (Dale Earnhardt Jr.), Evernham Motorsports (Scott Riggs), Joe Gibbs Racing (Denny Hamlin), Chip Ganassi (Casey Mears) and MB2 Motorsports (Joe Nemechek) were part of the tests, which were held over two days.

“This car drives and handles pretty well,” says Scott Riggs, driver of the No. 10 Valvoline Dodge. “The rear wing is going to be a big help. It gives you a lot of adjustability. We made some adjustments with the wing today that allowed us to run a lot better than the day before.”

The drivers spent more than three hours on the track in the afternoon of the second day, running solo and then also running three 10-lap group runs.

Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet, says he wasn’t that surprised that the new car handled so well at this test.

“We’ve put a lot of time and effort into this new car, so we kind of expected it to run well,” says Burton, who also drove the RCR Car of Tomorrow earlier this year at the Bristol test. “For the first time running the wing at a big track like this, I’d say it was a successful test.”

NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Director John Darby said the two-day session at LMS provided NASCAR with some valuable information.

“The wing is an effective adjustable part that can be used to the driver’s advantage,” Darby says. “We have some things to work on, but for the most part, they are minor things. Even though we tested on a hot race track (air temperature in the mid-90s) with hard tires, the drivers were able to achieve a comfort level and give us a lot of positive feedback heading into our next test.”

The Car of Tomorrow is the culmination of a five-year design program by NASCAR’s Research and Development Center. Of primary significance are safety innovations, performance and competition, and cost efficiency for the teams.

The new car will begin competition in 2007 at the spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway and will race at 16 different events next season. The 2008 Car of Tomorrow implementation schedule includes 26 events. Teams will run the entire 2009 schedule with the Car of Tomorrow.

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