SPEED SPORT News Director Adam Fenwick is spending this week with Mullins Racing, a small family-run ARCA Racing Series team, as they prepare to compete in Saturday’s Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire at Daytona Int’l Speedway. This is the final diary he’ll be filing to SPEEDSPORT.com.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — With the garage at Daytona Int’l Speedway not opening until 10 a.m., there was no big rush to get to the track Saturday, like there was on Friday.
Even when the team got to the track, there wasn’t much to be done because the car had been impounded following qualifying. With the race not scheduled to begin until roughly 4:45 p.m., the volunteer crew spent most of the afternoon performing pre-race tasks such as setting up the pit box, preparing tires and filling up fuel cans.
Willie Mullins, the team owner and driver, was cautiously optimistic. His car was fast, he’d proven that during practice and qualifying, but you could tell he was nervous. This is Daytona after all — the same place where drivers like Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and David Pearson made names for themselves.
“We just want to have fun, load up the car at the end of the night and go have dinner,” Willie said multiple times.
From 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. they opened the garage up to fans. Willie’s wife, Dinah, raises ducks and has a flock of ducks that live on a pond just outside of their race shop in Fredericksburg, Va., so for fun she ordered 200 rubber ducks with the Mullins Racing logo imprinted on the front to give out to fans.
The rubber ducks were a huge hit with not only fans, but also other race teams. Crew members were stopping by to pick up ducks for their kids and friends. It didn’t take very long for the team to hand out all of the rubber ducks, which gave Dinah a reason to smile.
It wasn’t very long before it was time to start heading toward pit road. The crew had the pit stall set up fairly early, but by 3:30 the team was preparing in earnest for the start of the race while Willie got into his firesuit.
I walked out to pit road shortly before driver introductions. Willie and Dinah had already been out there for a little bit and they were sitting on the pit road wall talking. It was obvious both of them were a bundle of nerves as the start of the race got closer.
Shortly before driver introductions I looked at Dinah and asked her how she was feeling. She just shook her head, took a deep breath and said, “Nervous.” A few minutes later the end of last year’s ARCA race, where Willie finished second, was shown on the big screen on the frontstretch. Dinah briefly looked like she was going to cry, but she held it in.
Since Willie was starting fourth he was one of the last drivers to go through driver introductions. I walked with Dinah and Willie down to the car at the other end of pit road, where Willie quickly climbed aboard his chariot. After the National Anthem was complete I walked with Dinah back to the pit, where we waited for the start of the race.
Luckily, the weather that we all were dreading didn’t arrive, so we watched from pit road as the field took the green flag. Willie was quickly shuffled from fourth to eighth, but he dropped in line behind defending race winner Michael Self on the bottom lane.
Disaster struck on the third lap.