The carnival atmosphere surrounding the Illinois State Fair was the perfect backdrop for Hixson's Thomas “Moose” Praytor to make his first dirt start in almost 14 years. By returning to the 1 mile dirt oval for the 51st Allen Crowe Memorial 100 the ARCA Series presented by Menards continues to prove itself as the most versatile driving series in the world with its first of 2 races on dirt, that follow road courses, superspeedways, Speedways and a healthy dose of short tracks.
A one hour practice session in the morning was all Praytor and the Hixson/Max Force Team had to dial in the Realtor Chevy before Menards Pole Qualifying and racing in the afternoon. “My first few laps were interesting but that’s where Mr. Wayne’s (Hixson) 30 plus years of dirt track experience really paid off after we made a few laps,” said Praytor. “Our Realtor Chevy was really close off the trailer which helped me tremendously. By the time practice was over I felt like we were even closer with the driver still needing some more time.”
Qualifying 23rd out of the 37 cars at Illinois was a solid start to a first time dirt effort and with the drop of the green flag Praytor was on his way up through a crowded field. “I’m used to traffic but the dirt and not being able to see was new. I slowed down one time because I couldn’t see and gave up some spots. My spotter (Dad) asked what was wrong and I said I couldn’t see and my Dad in his usual voice-“Well @%$ %$#@$ they can’t see either you got to go!” For the rest of the race I just counted in my head the time past the start finish line about where I thought I was to let off the gas and then mashed the gas when I got to the middle of the guard rail. We didn’t hit anything so it was pretty good day from that perspective.”
After a move towards the front the Realtor Chevy started to lose ground to the leaders then started giving back positions to the cars it had just passed. “I could feel the right front go away a little on each corner until it just wouldn’t turn anymore. We were able to stay out long enough to catch a caution and the guys changed the right side tires on our Realtor car and we were back on the move.”
Even with the flat it looked the Realtor car was headed to a solid finish until Praytor started reporting the right front was going flat again. “Our Realtor car just wouldn’t turn anymore again and I thought we had another flat.” Under the next caution Praytor brought the Realtor Chevy back to the attention of his Hixson/Max Force team and 2 more tires.
Back under green tires didn’t help and the Realtor car had to come to pit road under green flag conditions. “We hated coming in under green but we were in trouble.” This stop the team got under the hood and quickly found out the issue was the heim joint that holds the sway bar on had been ground down with first flat and was now completely broken. “We went from having a good day to just hanging on and finished the last third of the race without any sway bar. Our Realtor Chevy was so good we were still passing cars even without the bar. We’ll get another shot at the dirt in DuQuoin in a couple of weeks.”
Praytor and the Realtor car finished 22nd.
“It’s been an emotional couple of days for our Realtor family in Alabama with the loss of Mr. Philip (Lasater Executive Officer of the Alabama Real Estate Commission). Once we said we were running the PL stickers on the Realtor car this weekend, emails, facebook and texts messages have been coming in from all over the state. It’s been an honor for me to part of the special tribute.”
“Our last few finishes have not been as good as we thought they should have been but we have been able to maintain our position in the Championship standings. Tonight the Illinois State Fair is having the group Journey on the stage at the track. As we were loading the hauler they were warming up with Don’t Stop Believing, that’s all I can say about our race team.”