Craig Murto: Stay in the Game, Part 1

Craig Murto

Racing is a sport that can send you soaring to the highest of highs, but also sink you to the lowest of lows; when your luck is bad, how do you stay in the game?

We asked a number of racers before the 2018 running of the Easter Bunny 150 Pro All Stars Series Super Late Model race at Hickory (North Carolina) Motor Speedway how they stayed in the game when it appeared the chips were down and problems were gnawing at them.

“It usually makes me work harder,” said Brandon Setzer, who’s had his share of ups and downs.

Setzer’s father, Dennis Setzer, was a popular driver in Late Models, as well as NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series.

“It makes me get to the shop, do my homework and work extra hard trying to make the car better, so it doesn’t happen the next week,” Setzer explained. “You just have to get out there and put yourself in the best position to get the most you can get.”

But for some teams, the most they can get doesn’t match the big-money operations. Such is the case with 23-year-old Sammy Gooden from Maine.

“We race over at Oxford Speedway in Maine, and it’s probably one of the toughest tracks to race on,” Gooden said. “There are weeks we go over there, and we’re a Top 10 car, pretty decent, then there are weeks we shouldn’t even be out there with the Street Stocks. You just have to motivate yourself during the bad weeks to work on the car more, and do more reading, go through the car more to see what’s going on. You just have to try to make it better, because if you just give up at the end of the day, you didn’t get nowhere. You just have to find some way to motivate yourself.

“Me, I just try to keep a smile on my face and try to work on the car more,” Gooden continued. “I have a young family, and I work a lot, so it’s hard, but the best thing you can do is try to put more time to it. The more people you can get involved, like friends and family, is better because they try to keep you motivated and to do better.”

Another New Englander, Derek Griffith, observed, “It’s just one of those things, that’s how racing is. You just have to pick yourself up and keep chuggin’. We’ve all been there; all these guys have been there. We’ve all had our low points. You just have to try to start over and pick yourself up from there. You’ve always got time to learn, and anytime you’re learning something it’s a good day. Even a bad day is a good day if you’re learning something. Pick yourself up and keep rolling, that’s the only way to get through it.”

Tyler Church and his wife had a baby over the off-season, and he hadn’t been to a racetrack in six months after hurting his engine late in 2017. His perspective was, “I have a lot of good things going on in life other than racing. I’m fortunate to be here … If I get to go racing, I’m going to have fun.”

Garrett Hall also put fun as the most important aspect of his racing.

“You get those spells here and there (when things aren’t going well), but we all stick together and work as a team,” Hall said. “We have a lot of fun together, so we’ll get through everything that happens. … If you’re not having fun, what’s the sense in doing it?”

Derek Ramstrom believes that keeping a positive attitude can propel you through the tough times.

“You just have to maintain and be optimistic,” Ramstrom said, observing that many of the touring races are long and you can start 30th and find yourself in Victory Lane. “Don’t hang your head.”

One of Maine’s top racers, Ben Rowe, agrees that a good attitude counts for a lot. But he also noted that the crew often keys off the driver’s tone.

“You just have to maintain a positive attitude,” Rowe said. “As a driver, you have to stay even keel behind the wheel, or you’ll get your guys all fired up, and nothing good ever comes from that. You got to try your best to tell ’em what (the car’s) doing and work your way out of it.”

In an upcoming column, we will continue our conversation with racers about how they stay in the game when the chips are down.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.