CONCORD, N.C. — Fans taking in the Bad Boy Off Road World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte may have done a double-take when they passed the lone World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series pit stall containing an open trailer and a specially-painted, American flag-themed 410ci sprint car.
After all, very few race fans familiar with the NASCAR scene as well as the dirt open wheel scene would likely have expected former XFINITY Series regular Cale Conley to not only be working on one of the high-speed machines, but driving it during the most prestigious dirt track weekend in the Southeast.
But with a lack of opportunities and funding currently available to him at the NASCAR national series level, Conley — whose career began in quarter midgets and moved to the USAC and Outlaws ranks prior to 2011 — has returned to his roots this fall and taken back the reins of a dirt sprint car to stay behind the wheel any way he can.
“(Friday was) my fifth night back in one, and it’s probably not the most ideal situation (for me) to come and race with the World of Outlaws, but it’s our only option,” Conley said. “I need laps and we’re having a good time, so that’s a positive. Our expectations aren’t too high … and (car owner) John Shewbrooks is just letting us come out here and race, so I can’t ask for any more than that.”
Conley said that the biggest adjustments that he’s had to make in his return to the dirt have been mental changes, though the cars are vastly different in their own right.
“I’ve been talking to some people and I said, ‘either these things have gotten faster or my brain’s just gotten slower since the last time I was in one,'” he quipped. “Who knows? Maybe it’s a little bit of both.”
“It’s tough because the NASCAR race cars (that I’m used to) drive so much differently. They drive off the right front and they feel like loaded dump trucks on ice … they’re big, heavy vehicles compared to these sprint cars … which are like rocketships.”
For the 24-year-old, who recorded an XFINITY career-best of sixth at Kentucky Speedway in 2014 for Richard Childress Racing, it’s been six years since he has regularly raced on dirt.
Conley admitted that his return to the clay has not been quite as smooth as he had hoped.
“I figured I would jump back in and knock some dust off and it wouldn’t be too bad, but it was totally different than what I expected it would be. It was almost like resetting completely. You know, six years off (from dirt racing) … that’s a long time, but I’m happy to be here, like I said, and glad to be representing the ‘Stars and Bars’ with this car this weekend.”
Conley finished 10th in Friday night’s C-Main, but said he hasn’t been focused on the results as much as he has been the ‘fun factor’.
“I definitely haven’t been looking at the numbers this weekend. If we could get to a point where we’re even close to making one of these races, that would be like a win for us. The whole garage area at these Outlaws races is always filled with drivers who can win these events, so for me, I’m just focused on making some laps and having some fun. I don’t want to get in anyone’s way … I feel like I’m up to speed, but just don’t want to make any crazy decisions out there at this juncture.”
“It’s just about going out there and having some fun driving something.”
While Conley says that he and his team “are still full court press(ing)” to find him an opportunity at the NASCAR national series level for 2017, the fact that sponsorship funds have “mostly dried up” have meant that he’s turned back to his dirt roots to be able to stay behind the wheel and competing at some level in the racing world.
“It’s hard to get the funding to get back into that NASCAR level, so it’s been fun to go out there and get my mind off that stress by racing these things on the dirt … I’ve been thankful for that mental break.”
“If I wasn’t sitting in a race car (this weekend), I’d just be sitting at home on my couch watching NASCAR, so I’m happy to be driving something and knocking some dust off … remembering what these fast, fast machines are like and having some fun here in Charlotte.”
Listen in to Race Chaser Online’s conversation with Cale Conley during the Bad Boy Off Road World Finals:
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 22-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as both the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series and the co-track announcer at Millbridge Speedway.
Email Jacob at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Email Race Chaser Online: email@example.com
Follow RCO on Twitter: @RaceChaserNews