PENN YAN, N.Y. — Blog & Photo By Race Chaser Online Dirt Correspondent Clint Miller —
I haven’t blogged for my online racing family in a long time. For many reasons, the main being I’m just not that interesting. For this resurgence of ‘On The Cushion’ I wanted to give you, the fans, a look behind the scenes of what goes on leading up to race day on race day from someone other than the impressive list of drivers we see every time we go to our favorite short track.
First of all a little background on my family and our history in the sport. My father Bill Miller is driving a street stock this year at Black Rock Speedway in the little town of Dundee, NY. Not going to date him because he would kill me, but he has driven many laps around the four-tenths-mile clay oval.
The last few years he has driven Dirt 360 Late Models on and off for Steve Kent. Steve is a great man and gave us many opportunities, we could just never hit the sweet spot on the set up and struggled mightily. Even though the camaraderie with the guys on the team was amazing, the overall fun was missing. Dad decided to hang up his driving shoes after that, and lets just say i wasn’t gonna have the career of my father, and my favorite driver end like that.
Fast forward- Carl Cleveland (my cousin) had a street stock in the weeds that wasn’t being used and a motor on the floor that was begging for attention. At the end of last year we burned a lot of midnight oil to have the car ready for the last couple races, with our eyes on doing the work last year to have the car ready for this year.
With some persuasion only a son can provide we were able to get him back in the car for ONE MORE year. But we made it perfectly clear that this year was about having a car that was pretty competitive and to put an emphasis on fun. Learning to love again what we have done for so many years before it became a second job.
We had a long cold winter here in the Northeast so we didn’t get the car apart like we wanted in a timely fashion. This set us back and caused us to miss our track’s three practice sessions. We finally got things put together a couple days before the season started.
The power plant that was in the car was adequate, but just not enough smoke to make the power we needed. Around February we started putting a new one together. We finally dropped the new engine in a week or so ago and it hasn’t yet disappointed us for power.
We arrived at the track on the first night, which in essence was our practice night. No expectations. Run 20 laps and load it on the trailer was the directive of the night. The car wasn’t bad- although it pushed real bad, was a handful to work on and even more of a handful to drive! We got caught in a couple jingles and ended the evening on a very respectable 8th place finish and drove it on the trailer. Mission accomplished.
In the midst of our first run and getting into bits of mischief, some our doing and some not, there was a lot of work to be done. Now mind you, I just had rotator cuff surgery and am not much help yet since surgery. Other than a couple nights Carl helped out dad was pretty much on his own, all I could do was chase wrenches.
It seemed like there was one problem after the other. We were out chasing parts and getting them to fit at about 3:30 Thursday afternoon so we took the rest of the day off to get ready for Friday.
We made a few chassis adjustments and went out for the hot lap session. The car was a little better but not the way we wanted it to go. When the car came in from hot laps, dad tried parking the car when we found yet another issue. It turns out for some reason the clutch stopped working and put us behind the proverbial 8 ball.
We started repairs on our #82 by bleeding the clutch. We had our nephew up working on it again- I’m down and frustrated with my shoulder issue. Now they call us down for the heat- ugh. We are not going to make it so that will put us scratch in the feature if we get it fixed. We kept working diligently and with the help of another fellow racer we were able to fix this issue. With that help we will make the feature. Thanks Guys!
Started 16th in the feature, and with the chassis adjustments we made while they were working on the clutch, the car wasn’t half bad. Drove up to 8th with 3 laps to go and were pretty much run over going into turn 3.
Now i understand that accidents happen and sometimes racing is a contact sport, its very frustrating when all the work you put into something is taken away from someone trying to take your 8th place spot. Makes you shake your head, but it is what it is. Fortunately the damage didn’t stop him from pulling away.
Green comes out and we are able to pick up a spot or 2 and come home with a hard fought, 10th place finish. More importantly, we were able to load it onto the trailer. Goal attained yet again.
So with the race car all tucked away in the garage after surviving a Friday night at Black Rock Speedway the deliberations began as the phone call was received that the new motor we have been so patiently waiting on, was done.
Dad and his wife Shirley, who has dedicated many years loving the sport alongside my father, spent many hours on Monday delivering the motor to the shop in hopes of an all-hands-on-deck situation the rest of the week. Let the Tuesday morning of hands, feet and elbows flailing commence.
Dad spent most of the afternoon and evening working and with the help of family and friends the old motor was out. The new engine went in and buttoned up awaiting the arrival of the mad scientist that built the beast, the giver of the heartbeat. I arrived at the shop Wednesday afternoon and the last of the valves were being set.
It was time, the word was given to fire it up. Tension was broken right away when the car wouldn’t start. Why did this break the tension you ask, well dad had forgotten to turn on a little thing called- the ignition switch. A roar of get the rookie out of the seat filled the garage and laughter rang out. Everything went off without a flaw. We did some more work on the front end and we were ready for Friday night!
Some more chassis adjustments are made and we go out for the heat, car still won’t turn. The car was just not running up to snuff, ah the life of a team and driver with years of experience. More chassis adjustments and it was time for the feature. We weren’t all that worried about the motor, it didn’t skip and it did need to break in.
Went out for the feature and it was the best the car handled to date. The power still wasn’t there, but a call to the builder and we will get that part figured out. We managed another top 10 finish and we look ahead to the next week with a full race-ready car sitting in the shop.
Our team is all about having fun and being competitive. That’s our goal and, so far, we are making strides in doing both. As a fan in the stands or reader at home you may not fully grasp all that goes into this sport that we love. Hopefully this blog helps folks make the connections to all that goes into getting these machines on the track every Friday or Saturday night.
Thanks for reading and remember- dirt is for racing, asphalt is for getting there!