CONCORD, N.C. — When Kyle Strickler moved from Pennsylvania to North Carolina in 2016, his long-term goal was to eventually secure an opportunity to race a dirt late model.
After multiple successful seasons racing dirt modifieds, that opportunity presented itself this year as Strickler agreed to drive for team owner Eric Wells and his Wells and Sons Motorsports team.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do — go late model racing,” Strickler said. “I’m fortunate that I have a lot of great sponsors behind me that allow me to go do that now.”
According to Strickler, who competed during last weekend’s Can-Am World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte, the transition hasn’t been easy.
“The modified stuff comes second nature to me. I’ve been doing that for so long that I know how to convert the feel of what I’m feeling on the race track into adjustments,” Strickler explained. “In the late model I’m still learning that. I know what I’m feeling, but I don’t know the correct adjustment to make all the time on the late models yet.
“That compiled with how good everybody is in the late model world makes it really tough sometimes. Sometimes I’ve learned you’ve got to take what you can get. It’s hard to go out there and just make something happen.”
There are a lot of differences between the dirt modifieds Strickler is used to racing and the dirt late models he’s been racing recently, the biggest of which is the brakes.
“We can’t run as good of calipers on the modifieds, so the brakes are so much different on a late model and so much better on a late model,” Strickler explained. “A lot of times, for a guy like me that uses a lot of brake, I just need to figure out what to do differently to get the car to be right for me. I think coming from the modified, I just push way too hard on the pedal on the late model side.”
Strickler thinks he needs to work on adjusting his driving style because the things he normally does in a dirt modified don’t always translate to a dirt late model.
“I probably haven’t changed it (driving style) enough. That’s one of the issues with the late model side of it. I’m trying to find the balance between the setup on the car and me changing my driving style,” Strickler explained. “Obviously it would be great where they both would drive the same and I could just do everything I do in the modified in the late model and then it would be perfect.
“It’s hard to do that,” he added. “Really hard to do that just because there are so much more tires (grip), so much more downforce. It just makes it really tough. I’m trying to make those adjustments.”
Strickler’s first season in a dirt late model hasn’t been all negative. He earned his first victory in a dirt late model during a Schaeffer’s Iron-Man Championship Series event at Tennessee’s Tazewell Speedway on July 4.
Moments like that give Strickler the motivation to keep pushing ahead, something he’ll be doing on his own after recently deciding to part ways with Wells and Sons Motorsports.
One main reason for the split, according to Strickler, was it was simply too far from his North Carolina home to the Wells and Sons Motorsports shop in Hazard, Ky.
“I think the plan moving forward is to just drive my own stuff, modified and late model,” said Strickler, who raced his own dirt late model last weekend during the Can-Am World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte. “The Wells gave me an awesome opportunity with getting me started. It was just too far away. I can’t be in two places at one time. When I was with my wife and kids, I felt like I was letting the race team down and when I was in the race shop in Hazard, I felt like I was missing out with my wife and kids.
“I think this should be the perfect situation for me where I can have the best of both worlds, a race team and a family in the same town.”
Strickler says his plan for next year is to focus mostly on dirt late model racing, with a few higher paying modified races sprinkled in.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Strickler said. “Just got to keep on moving forward and getting things better and learning about the late model side of stuff and also still do a lot of modified racing, which has been so good to me all through my career.”