Craig Murto: Racing in the rain

Craig Murto

The NASCAR Xfinity Series race last weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was aptly called the “Mid-Ohio Challenge,” and it was a challenge even for the most experienced racers once the rain started to fall.

There weren’t even five laps complete of the 75-lap race before the rain fell. But it wasn’t simply rain. As TV commentators described it, drivers found themselves battling “monsoon conditions.”

And not just once. It rained. It stopped. The track dried and everybody came back in the pits to switch to racing slicks. Then it rained again and everybody had to put rain tires back on.

The racing was incredibly entertaining; I don’t think a single driver in the field didn’t run off course at some point. Some armchair fans got on social media to blast NASCAR racing in the rain, but I guarantee that the fans who paid good money to be at the track didn’t mind getting a little wet to see a race.

You don’t see “road course ringers” in the Cup Series anymore, because driver points are all too important to the teams that have Charters. But in the Xfinity Series you do see ringers, because a lot of the Cup car owners are more interested in the owners’ championship than the driver points.

That’s why Sam Hornish Jr. was in a Childress car, and why Mario Gosselin wisely put Andy Lally in one of his cars. And that’s how 35-year-old Justin Marks came to be behind the wheel of the Chip Ganassi No. 42.

Marks is 35 and lives in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area. Fans may have heard drivers reference time spent at the GoPro Motorplex kart facility just north of Charlotte; Marks and Michael McDowell opened the facility in 2012. In 2015 Marks teamed with car owner Harry Scott Jr. to field NASCAR K&N East cars for Scott Heckert, William Byron, Justin Haley, Dalton Sargeant and Rico Abreu.

As a driver, Marks has been in all of NASCAR’s top divisions, but has met with mixed success. His greatest success in racing was on road courses in GT cars, a career that included a win at the Rolex 24 in Daytona teamed with Andy Lally.

Obviously that road racing experience paid off, as he out-raced Sam Hornish in the rain at the end of the Mid-Ohio Challenge.

NASCAR allows all three of its top divisions to run in the rain on road courses. Goodyear brings a rain tire, and every race vehicle must be fitted with a windshield wiper motor and defrost system.

A year ago, Terry Labonte tested rain tires on a Cup car at Martinsville. Unfortunately, even on a short track, racing in the rain is not practical or safe on an oval. Oval racing is too much on the edge all the time, and since the cars only turn left the mist has nowhere to go, whereas road racing with its left and right turns and elevation changes, offers drivers a chance to see something other than mist in their windshield.

Billy Moyer Jr. filled the windshields of World of Outlaw dirt Late Model competitors at Winchester Speedway last weekend as the son of the racing legend grabbed his first win in the series.

At Dominion Raceway, Nick Smith won both NASCAR Late Model Stock Car features. There’s talk of a Thursday night race at Dominion the week of the Cup race at Richmond, and rumors that many from the Sprint Cup garage are interested in attending to see what all the fuss is about.

At South Boston Speedway, Matt Bowling won both NASCAR Late Model Stock Car features. Bowling is in a tight battle with Northern racer Keith Rocco for the national Weekly Racing Series title.

The big feature race at South Boston was the Pro All Stars Series Super Late Model 150. Veteran short tracker Jeff Fultz got behind the wheel of the LFR Chassis house car and beat Tate Fogleman for the win. Most of the time Fultz works as a crew chief for young drivers in LFR’s driver development program, but he obviously still has ability behind the wheel. Years ago he won a race at South Boston in NASCAR’s now defunct All Pro Series.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.

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