For the second week in a row, CARS Tour conducted a Late Model Stock tire compatibility test with three teams at Rockingham Speedway and was met with the same challenging track conditions as the week before.
‘The Rock’ is an extremely abrasive speedway just over one mile in length that has chewed through the selected tire combination over the past two weeks. The series tested with contenders Jared Fryar, Layne Riggs and Timothy Peters last week but was forced to return with the same group on Tuesday morning because the first session produced ‘inconclusive’ results.
The track has sat dormant since April 2013 and collected eight additional years of weathering on its already gritty racing surface.
North Carolina racers Ryan Wilson and Zachary Marks turned laps at the track over the weekend in the hopes of leaving additional rubber on the track but the three test teams experienced the same wear on Tuesday.
Even worse was that a portion of the pavement came up on the exit of Turn 2 and punctured the grille of the Nelson Motorsports entry driven by Peters.
Following a series of meetings between the teams, CARS Tour operator Jack McNelly, Hoosier Tire representative Jeff Freeman and event promoter Charlie Hansen, the decision was made to slow the cars down via a restrictor plate.
The hope is that the cars could be slowed to such a point that entry and apex speeds were slow enough to take pressure off the tires and not pull up additional portions of the racing surface.
The final run of the afternoon began at 5 p.m. ET with Timothy Peters making two green flag runs with a restrictor plate and on the same set of tires at intervals of 20 laps and 15 laps, respectively.
He saw progress.
“It’s a direction for sure,” Peters told Short Track Scene afterwards. “We’re still concerned a little bit with the overall show, but this is a little encouraging to see.
“The car was balanced pretty good, and the track came up a little bit on that last run, but the tire seemed to hold up. My overall concern is the product of the race.”
Specifically, Peters was concerned that a restrictor plate would keep the cars wide open in Turns 3 and 4, and perhaps even Turns 1 and 2, limiting passing opportunities.
During a break between sessions, Peters and Freeman were discussing potential changes with the driver challenging the tire representative over what a plate race would look like.
Peters said: “You know that would be a terrible race.”
The veteran short tracker and NASCAR Trucks winner, who is also the general manager of Nelson Motorsports, wanted to be clear that there was no animosity in the exchange.
“It wasn’t heated, but there was honesty,” Peters said. “We want to make sure (CARS Tour) has a good show. We want to make sure the owners of this racetrack has a good show. I want Hoosier and Jeff (Freeman) to have a good show. My concern was that the direction we were going with the test wouldn’t be good.
“So, we backed up a little bit. There was a compromise that I believe could possibly work. It shows potential for sure. But there are still concerns going forward.”
McNelly confirmed that the March 6 race would feature restrictor plates in all likelihood.
“We came to the conclusion that we have to slow the cars down a little bit,” McNelly told STS after the test. “They were just too fast, and this racetrack is very, very abrasive.
“That’s especially true now that it’s sat for seven or eight years. It was just too difficult on the tires. So, we’re going to have to slow them down unfortunately, a little bit.”
Restrictor plates will be matched to individual engine packages, “meaning not every engine will have the same restrictor plate,” with testing expected to take place on the Harrington, Ford and GM at an independent dyno.
As for concerns from the racers and fans, that a restrictor plate could produce pack racing or limit passing, McNelly believes they have time to find a package to deliver the best racing product. There are open tests scheduled for back to back weeks in late February where any team can come and turn laps.
There was a test schedule for January for CARS Tour and Hoosier wants to give the tires built for the event an additional month to cure.
The hope is that the track will become less abrasive as more cars participate in various sessions.
“Really, we’re kind of in a box,” McNelly said. “There’s not much we can do. We are going to work and continue to work, and the fellows will put on a good show. The car has still got to handle.
“There’s going to be some guys that may do a better job of driving a loose car. It is what it is. It’s plate racing but maybe not to the extent of Daytona and Talladega.”
McNelly also pointed to races like Myrtle Beach or Southern National where cars often run in tight packs in an effort to conserve tires until the finish.
“We’re kind of faced with the same thing here, but on a much larger scale,” McNelly said.
Riggs said the series and tire manufacture put teams through several scenarios on Tuesday.
“They’re just trying to mandate around the tire,” Riggs said. “It’s the only compound they brought. We tried a lot of different things. For example, I went out there and didn’t go all out, because we would be saving during a race.
“It still wasn’t enough even after 18 laps. If we went all out, we could kill them in 10 laps, and if they restricted us, we could make them last 25.
“This tire isn’t going to be enough to withstand 75-100 laps of racing.”
Like Peters, Riggs wasn’t keen on the idea of restrictor plate racing, and that his family team wouldn’t be as interested in showing up for that kind of event.
“Mentally, I’d probably not show up,” Riggs said. “But I’m sure they’ll get it worked out and find a way to prove to us that we can run all out, and we’d come here.”
For his part, Freeman declined requests for comment.
Andy Marquis contributed to this report