Going in to the final race of the 2013 ARCA season each team has an agenda, for some it’s to run up front and win the race at all cost, for others making their first start it’s simply to have a good day preparing for 2014 and there is everything in between. For Hixson Motorsports/Max Force Racing with their Scott’s Rookie of the Year Candidate Thomas “Moose” Praytor’s goal was simple, do or don‘t do whatever it takes to remain in the top 10 in the Championship standings.
The Kansas Lottery 98.9 presented by the Rock started with a full day of technical inspection at Kansas Speedway. The lengthy tech process caused the team to make an afternoons worth of changes before Praytor headed to Cabela’s for an autograph session. “This was my first trip to Kansas Speedway and the place is like the Taj Mahal of racing, it’s incredible. My Dad was the color commentator for the first TV broadcast and even he was blown away by all the development around the track,” offered Praytor.
The task for the only practice on race day was to put the Realtor Ford Fusion through its paces, keep it in one piece and get ready to race. Racers being racers the team used up every minute of practice with Praytor being one of the final cars on the track improving lap times every time out. “Kansas has to be one of the smoothest tracks I’ve ever been on. It was so smooth the speed our Realtor Fusion carried into the corners was really incredible. We knew what we needed to accomplish and we were probably too conservative on our approach but with just 1 car we couldn’t afford to be out on the ragged edge.”
Qualifying in the ARCA Series is usually an uneventful happening with the only drama being who will set the fast time and take home the Ansell Pole Award. Friday’s qualifying took on a new meaning as 5 of the first 10 out either spun or wrecked during their qualifying effort. A conservative setup just got more conservative as the tire pressures were changed to handle the cooler track with less grip. “After seeing some really great drivers struggle we changed our setup up some and I changed my first lap to make sure our Realtor Fusion had all 4 corners on when we got done. I was glad we did because on cold tires our car was a handful. My 2nd lap was better but still off from practice.” Praytor would roll off 25th.
While the day had been beautiful the weather was changing and anyone with a phone or an Ipad could see the change rolling across the country side. The race strategy became much like the strategy used all season by the underfunded team with shops in Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee and Mobile, Alabama, don’t take yourself out early, out point the competition and go the distance.
The team devised a plan that would put the Realtor Fusion on pit road early and often continuing to keep the tank full of Sunoco to gamble on the long green flag run to the end or when the weather hit. With years of watching hurricanes on the coast the team estimated that the race would go the distance or get really close to it, and like a road course the idea was to be the first person to be able to go the distance.
With the drop of the green flag Praytor was able to make up the spots he left on the table during a conservative qualifying effort but the Realtor Ford Fusion was struggling under the lights. “Our Ford got really tail happy when we were around other cars and it made it hard to run in traffic. The cautions were laying out perfectly for us to change it up and we thought our strategy was working in our favor every lap it didn’t rain.”
As the race neared the halfway point the gamblers started making their final bets, to come in or gamble and stay out. The Hixson Motorsports/Max Force Racing effort had already put its chips on the table. In order for the gamble to payoff the rain had to stay away and the race had to go the distance. Little did they know.
At lap 60 it was announced the race would go 5 more laps and stop due to the weather coming towards the track, not at the track but coming. “Between my Dad and Wayne (Hixson) I think they have more than 50 years of racing experience and they said it was the first time they could ever remember a race being called while it was going on and before it started raining.” The early ending doomed the 2 to a 19th place finish. The rain would come 30 minutes after the drop of the early green flag and when it came it came big.
“While we were big picture racing all day we were still after the best finish we could get and not getting a chance to play that strategy out is really disappointing. Our guys had a good weekend in the pits and I’m proud of what they have been able to accomplish in their first year together. We raced around James Hylton a lot tonight and he can still wheel a racecar. I think I got the better of him on a restart one time and just made him mad. He got his Roush Yates horsepower wound up and just blew by me. What an incredible guy. Congratulations to Frank (Kimmel) on his 10th Championship and his 80th career win, those guys were awesome all year.”
After tabulating all the bonus points and rechecking the numbers ARCA will post it’s final Championship points standings on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Part of the hardest working all volunteer crew in racing (L-R) Keith Showalter, Doug Murphy, Crystal Bates and Adam Lowe.
- Photo2 by Team PR