That theory could be true in certain situations, but not every situation is alike. Some have proven that it’s more about knowledge than equipment to get to victory lane.
Two races that I have covered in 2016 are prime examples of talent rising to the top without having a driver or team having the latest equipment.
Back on May 7th, Ty Majeski and crew chief Toby Nuttleman decided to take an “old reliable” car to compete in the TUNDRA Super Late Model Series season opener at Wisconsin International Raceway in Buchanan, Wisconsin.
Majeski would win the 50-lap feature event and celebrate in victory lane, despite starting 12th in the field. During his post-race interview, Majeski mentioned they brought a race car with a 13-year-old chassis and motor that was built eight years ago.
“We brought a car here that we didn’t know what we would have, this is an old Randercar chassis that Charlie Menard and Steve Carlson drove along with an old B&B motor that hasn’t been refreshed in five years,” Majeski said. “We came out and it was pretty good right out of the trailer.”
Fast forward to this past Sunday’s Falloween 150 at Dells Raceway Park in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin.
Casey Johnson inherited the lead after Majeski and Andrew Morrissey spun while battling for the lead on the last lap. Johnson held off Natalie Decker in a green-white-checker finish to win in a car prepared by Jason Schuler.
During the race, Todd Kluever, a former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie of the Year driver, kept saying: “You wouldn’t believe what is in that car.”
Johnson, who had to race his way into the main event after qualifying 15th, just missed making the show by one spot as the top 14 were locked in. Johnson, who finished second in his qualifier race, quietly drove this car to the front of the field.
In the final laps, Johnson sat behind Majeski and Morrissey hoping for something to happen, and it did on the last lap. Johnson jokingly said that everything went according to his plan to get the victory.
In victory lane, Johnson discussed how his deal to drive the car occurred seven days prior to the event when he stopped in to pick up parts at Pathfinder Chassis. Schuler, who co-owns Pathfinder Chassis with Joe Wood, was in shock that his car was in victory lane let alone be in a podium finish.
“I knew we were going to be a third-place car because both Majeski and Morrissey were the class of the field and were all night,” Schuler said. “I was just glad we were there to take advantage of it, a win is a win and we will take it.”
Schuler even said to Johnson on their way to the track on Saturday, that if it’s not up to speed, he wouldn’t be upset if they just put it back on the trailer and went home. Schuler relayed that Johnson said he doesn’t quit that easily.
So what was in that car that made this victory more interesting?
Schuler wasn’t afraid to share what was in there; in fact, he’s proud of what he put together.
For starters, the chassis was basically a bunch of different chassis pieces lying around that he started putting together last fall. Some of it had rust that he had to burn off.
The motor was a Tesar 9:1 that Schuler bought for $2,500. The engine was sitting under Gene Coleman’s work bench for about ten years and was last used by Kevin Cywinski in the mid 90’s during the ARTGO portion of his career. Coleman even gave him the clutch.
The motor had a unique bolt pattern that Schuler needed to find a specific header and exhaust, so he went to a Midwest Racer’s Auction and found one that matched for $15.
Schuler put the motor in the car, started up right away, and admitted that he hadn’t taken the valve covers off the motor prior to the race. He also said the car has a spool in the rear end and Penske Reds for shocks. The body is a bunch of used panels with a fresh coat of paint and decals.
As far as the other parts for the car, he basically said he just cleared off the shelf of parts just sitting around.
What is new on the car? He bought one hub, because he had three used ones. A new steering wheel because Casey preferred a smaller one versus what he had in the car along with new gauges and seatbelts.
The winner of the Falloween 150 picked up a check for $3,000. Schuler told Johnson that was all for him, but asked to be reimbursed for fuel and pit passes. Johnson’s normal sponsor, Hougan Farms, picked up the tire bill for the weekend.
On Sunday night, a driver and an owner were sitting around complimenting each other.
The driver talked about how the owner can build a car out of anything and make it a winner. The owner discussed how that driver is a wheelman, and can drive anything at any track.
“I was going to bring the car here and race it myself and he wasn’t going to have time to fix his car from Rockford and I said ‘Well just take my car,’ “ said Schuler, who offered the ride to Johnson. “I was going to take it anyways and get a chance to learn something, and learned that he is a hell of a driver. No kidding, he is pretty damn good, not going to lie. It’s pretty amazing stuff out there today and it was kind of crazy.”
But, both happily admit they didn’t have a winning car, and would have been tickled to death heading home with a third place finish.
On that night, the racing gods wanted to reward them for each of their efforts.
So the question continues to linger around the racing pits and garages: Is always having the latest and greatest equipment that will get you the victory? Or is it always going to be the knowledge, and sometimes luck, to head home with a trophy and a “Happy Gilmore” check?
These are questions that might ever be answered simply because auto racing has such a wide variety of competitors. There are some who race on a tight budget of used parts competing against those with new parts on the same track for the same purse and prizes.
As long as they’re competitive, allow a driver to show their talent and put on a show for the fans…that is what really matters.