DIARY: A Day In The ARCA Pits, Part 1

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Willie Mullins (3) is among the ARCA drivers waiting to hit the track for practice. (Adam Fenwick photo)

SPEED SPORT News Director Adam Fenwick is spending this week with Mullins Racing, a small family-run ARCA Racing Series team, as it prepares to compete in Saturday’s Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire at Daytona Int’l Speedway. This is the first of three daily diaries he’ll be filing to SPEEDSPORT.com.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — I made it to Daytona Beach shortly after 1:30 p.m. on Thursday and I could see Daytona Int’l Speedway out of the left side of the airplane as we landed.

I took an Uber to the credential office to pick up my passes for the weekend and I was soon on my way to the speedway after getting a ride from Crystal, a member of Mullins Racing’s volunteer crew.

Driving into the speedway gave me goosebumps. In my nearly 10 years of working in motorsports, I’d never set foot inside Daytona Int’l Speedway. That feeling was quickly gone, however, as we got parked and I walked into the ARCA garage.

It was there I met up with Dinah Mullins, wife of Mullins Racing’s driver and owner Willie Mullins. She gave me the penny tour of the hauler — a much smaller hauler when compared to those of ARCA big dogs Venturini Motorsports — before introducing me to Willie.

Willie and I have spoken on the phone a few times, but this was the first time we’d actually met in person. He quickly shook my hand and with a big smile thanked me for coming. We walked out to the car in the garage, which was a buzz of activity as crew members prepared for the first practice of the week at 4 p.m.

Mullins Racing is returning to Daytona this year with a great deal of momentum, having finished second to Michael Self last year. That was certainly a big deal for this small team based out of Fredericksburg, Va. This offseason the team hired veteran crew chief Tony Furr to lead the team in the hope that Furr’s experience and leadership could help the program find the extra speed needed to win.

Willie Mullins heads to the garage area. (Adam Fenwick photo)

Practice didn’t get off to a great start. Willie went out and ran a few laps, but the car was slow. I was standing with Dinah on pit road watching and she couldn’t understand why the car, which was competitive during the ARCA open test in January, was so far off the rest of the field.

The team brought the car back to the garage discovered the problem.

“Tony was trying to work on the front sway bar geometry a little bit and made it a little free. We got it a little bit too close to the tire, so we had to work on that,” Mullins said.

The team spent some time working on the car before sending Willie back out to pit road. That’s where he sat for some time as he waited on an opportune time to hit the track and see what the car had in the draft.

He finally hit the track with a small pack of cars and was able to pick up some speed, moving him to 18th out of 35 cars by the time practice ended at 6 p.m.

“I wish we were a little higher up on the speed charts, but we didn’t get with a good group,” Mullins explained. “You’ve got to get with a good group to do what we need to do and we didn’t. We were at the back and we didn’t get a good pusher and that’s why we aren’t up on the speed charts where we need to be.”

Despite not being higher up on the speed charts, Willie believes the car still has speed left in it as the team prepared for another practice Friday morning at 9:30 a.m., followed by qualifying later in the afternoon.

“We’re just trying to find a little bit more speed tomorrow morning,” Mullins said. “We’ve got a good car. We’ve got a car that will race great. We’ve just got to keep the fenders and tires on it.”