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How Two Random Fans Saved My Race

by Stephen Cox
Tuesday, September 04, 2012

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Practicing on the bending backstretch at Kil Kare
Nelson Skinner/Sopwith Motorsports
Last weekend's ARCA Truck Series JEGS.com 100 in Xenia, Ohio turned out to be one of the most utterly bizarre experiences I've had in two decades of motorsports.

The owner of ED CO Racing, Ed Yoak, offered me a single-race deal to drive his truck at Kil-Kare Speedway. I'd never met Ed before, but he is a cool guy who's forgotten more about auto racing than I'll ever know.

So I called up Tom Cumbow, the equally cool president of the ARCA Truck Series, to ask his advice. Tom gave me the thumbs up and I took the ride. We would test on Thursday and race on Friday.

That's when things began to get weird. The team called on Wednesday and informed me that our scheduled testing day was canceled. The digitally-powered door system on their race shop had gone berserk. The whole system was down. The doors could not be unlocked. And our race truck was inside. Instead of testing, they spent Thursday unlocking their shop.

Fast forward to Friday. On the way to the racetrack I pass a young couple walking along Interstate 70 near the Indiana/Ohio border. They're carrying a gas can.

I pull over on the side of the road to pick them up. Immediately a cop pulls over behind me and his lights start flashing. I see that no good deed goes unpunished.

The stranded man and woman walk to the cop's car, lean into the window, and I watch the conversation take place in my rear view mirror. The woman appears to be wearing no pants. This will be explained in due course. The cop turns his lights off and drives away, leaving the stranded couple walking toward my car. This is odd. 

The barely-clad woman jumps in my front passenger's seat and explains the tragic coffee spill that ruined her new bluejeans and resulted in her pant-less condition. She also sports an oversized pair of flaming pink flip flops. I am uncertain which is the greater distraction.

Meanwhile, her presumed boyfriend and his empty gas can ride in the back, explaining that he would rather risk a ride with a stranger than with a cop.

Only at the gas station do I learn that Miss No Pants and her boyfriend not only have no gas and no pants, they also have no money. So it's my treat. Ten dollars later the crisis is handled and I resume my trip to Kil-Kare.

I arrive to find that I have a race truck but no crew. Apparently the crew chief and mechanic had some emergency preventing them being at the track. 

My throat hurts. It dawns on me that I'm contracting the flu that my kids had earlier in the week. No wonder I'm so tired. This just keeps getting better and better. 

I pause to think. No crew means no spotter. No spotter means no race. So the task at hand is to find a pit crew at all costs.

By this time it's after 3 pm. Practice begins at 4 and the truck hasn't been touched. My physical strength is disappearing fast. I appear to be in Deep Serious.

Series Operations Manager Robbin Slaughter saves the day when he recognizes two random fans sitting in the grandstands along the backstretch. Turns out that Jerry Young is a former stock car driver; John Buck is his former crew chief. They made a lot of noise at Kil-Kare back in The Day.

L-R, Jerry Young, Ed Yoak and Stephen Cox in the pits
Nelson Skinner/Sopwith Motorsports
Predictably, they resist. Young protests that he's never spotted or been a crew chief before. And he hasn't raced in decades. And he knows nothing about the mechanics of an ARCA Truck.

No matter. He is a human being who has seen a race track before. Given my state of desperation, I consider him abundantly qualified.

Young and Buck leave the grandstands and throw themselves into their new-found roles. Young starts giving me a bucket load of incredibly accurate advice on how to drive the weird, 5-turn oval at Kil-Kare.

Buck, on the other hand, works hard but talks very little. He begins hustling on the truck like an old hand, changing tire pressures, adjusting stagger and doing all the little things that come with experience. 

It dawns on me. Holy freakin' cow. These guys are really good. Maybe all is not yet lost.

Our practice times place us dead last. I come in to the pits for adjustments. We get faster. Now we're 13th quick.

Team owner Ed Yoak comes over to ask about the truck. I tell him it's understeering in Turn 4. He adjusts the front right coil over; Young and Buck work on stagger again. We go back out and run 11th quick. 

The truck is still pushy. We make one final adjustment and qualify 9th. 

Jerry Young (L) lowers the jack while Stephen Cox climbs into the cockpit for practice
Nelson Skinner/Sopwith Motorsports
The truck is impounded after qualifications, but I still think it can go faster. I talk it over with Young and Buck. We decide to accept the grid penalty and make more changes to loosen up the truck. We'll start dead last.

My head is pounding. Feels like I have a watermelon stuck in my throat. I consume all five hours of my energy boost in sixty seconds. It had better work because I'm out of energy, focus and ideas.

The green flag comes out and I begin passing trucks left and right. Suddenly, a flash of flame catches my attention. It's a crash.

Under the ensuing caution period I have time to examine the grandstands in search of a woman wearing oversized flip flops and no pants. Sigh. Apparently she is not a race fan.

I count only five trucks in front of me. We're not doing half bad. The green flag comes back out.

With Jerry Young on the radio, John Buck standing by with a wrench and Ed Yoak providing the truck, we race through the field and finally end up in 7th position. I consider this the greatest miracle since the water turned to wine.

Consider: this was only my third ARCA Truck race. I'd never driven this truck or this race track before. My crewmen had never spotted or supervised a team before and had been out of racing for years. We had no testing whatsoever and had met three hours before.

Yet this creepy, surreal symphony of weirdness produced a top ten finish at one of the toughest short tracks in the Midwest.

You just can't make this stuff up.

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