DIARY: A Day In The ARCA Pits, Part 2

Willie Mullins (3) drafts during ARCA practice Friday at Daytona Int'l Speedway. (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 they prepare to compete in Saturday’s Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire at Daytona Int’l Speedway. This is the second of three daily diaries he’ll be filing to SPEEDSPORT.com.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Waking up at 5 a.m. isn’t for everybody, but that’s when the entire Mullins Racing team started to stir in order to get to Daytona Int’l Speedway when the garage area opened at 7 a.m. Friday.

We met in the common area of the house that Willie and Dinah Mullins rented and the first thing Willie started talking about was the weather. There is a band of storms heading for Daytona Beach on Saturday and with the ARCA opener scheduled to take the green flag at 4:45 p.m., there are serious doubts about whether the race will get in as scheduled.

For teams like Venturini Motorsports that’s not a problem, but for a small team with a volunteer crew like Mullins Racing, rain creates a lot of issues. One by one, Willie asked crew members when they had to be home. Most said they were in until the race was run, but a few, like spotter Kevin Belmont, won’t be able to stay if the race gets postponed.

It was finally decided that there was nothing that could be done about Saturday’s weather on Friday, so we loaded up and made the 15-minute drive to the speedway so the team could start prepping the car for the 9:30 a.m. practice.

The team spent the first portion of the one-hour practice making sure the issues found during Thursday’s practice were sorted out. Willie took his No. 3 out for a few single-car laps and posted the fourth fastest lap early in the session, which showed the car had the speed the expected a day earlier.

Back in the garage area, crew chief Tony Furr made the call to swap out gears. The reason behind the change was to help Willie close the gap in the draft to the car in front of him. They waited until later in the session to go back out on track, but this time the team wanted Willie to make a few laps in the draft.

Willie got linked up with Leilani Munter and a few other cars in the draft and he turned a few fast laps, leaving the team eighth fastest overall for the session. The team was happy with the speed in the car, so now all that was left to get the car through pre-qualifying inspection and draw for a qualifying group.

ARCA, unlike NASCAR, utilizes a group qualifying format on superspeedways. Thus, what group you’re in plays a huge part in where you qualify. Willie earlier in the day had joked about wanting to be in a Venturini sandwich — with a Venturini car in front of him and a Venturini car behind him — during qualifying.

Somehow that’s exactly what happened. With the luck of the draw Willie ended up in the same group with Munter, Harrison Burton and defending race winner Michael Self — all in Venturini Motorsports Toyotas. Thad Moffitt, Richard Petty’s grandson, was also in Willie’s group along with Eric Caudell.

A little more than an hour before qualifying Willie met with the Venturini teams and Moffitt and sorted out a plan for qualifying. Munter would lead the draft, followed by Burton, Willie, Self and, finally, Moffitt. Caudell hadn’t shown speed much of the weekend, so no one expected him to be able to keep up in the draft.