LONG POND, Pa. – The ARCA Menards Series open test at Pocono Raceway is often a time where young drivers who have little to no prior experience on larger speedways can get up to speed.
That was very true on Wednesday, as several teenagers got their first chance to tackle the 2.5-mile ‘Tricky Triangle’ that is Pocono Raceway, learning the ins and outs of the unique three-turn facility.
Two of those who participated in Wednesday’s test – Chad Bryant Racing’s Corey Heim and Venturini Motorsports’ Chandler Smith – are 16-year-olds who aren’t even old enough to compete during Friday’s 80-lap, 200-mile ARCA race at Pocono.
However, both Heim and Smith will be old enough to race during ARCA’s second visit to the speedway in late July, meaning Wednesday’s track time was just as crucial to them as it was to the series regulars.
The aforementioned duo came to Pocono off the short tracks of the Southeastern United States, meaning that finally driving on a big track like Pocono was a constant learning experience.
Smith took the day in stride, however, posting the second-fastest lap of the test at 53.221 seconds (169.106 mph) and landing just behind his Venturini Motorsports teammate, Christian Eckes.
For Heim, the day ended on a positive note as well, as he was third-quick overall at 53.266 seconds (168.963 mph) and best among the three Chad Bryant Racing entries in attendance.
“Definitely the first thing I learned was that everything comes up really fast,” said Heim. “Pocono is a really, really fast race track. We’re averaging about 170 mph around this place and I’m used to much, much slower tracks than what this one is … short tracks and things like that. Today was definitely a learning experience all the way around, but I got a lot of advice from my teammates (Ty Majeski and Joe Graf Jr.) and a few other people who have been around this place before.
“Following people when I could helped me learn a lot as well, and I feel really good about where we ended the afternoon before the rain hit,” Heim added. “I know I don’t get to use what I’ve learned today for a couple months yet, but I think things will be good when we come back here at the end of summer.”
As he worked to figure out Pocono’s quirks, Heim leaned on the expertise and experience of a former NASCAR national series veteran for advice about unlocking the secrets to success at the track.
“Mike Bliss ran here a few times after the repave, so he’s honestly helped me out significantly,” noted Heim. “It’s a lot of little things, like the bumps and how I can get through corners better. It may seem like simple stuff, but it all adds up to help a lot for someone like me who’s never seen the place before.”
Lessard had the benefit of crew chief Jeff Stankiewicz, a former NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series signal-caller, up his sleeve as he turned laps in the No. 28 for KBR Development on Wednesday.
“Pocono is such a fun place,” Lessard noted. “I’d never even been here to watch a race or anything like that, so this is all new to me. I’mr eally happy, though. At first, we were struggling and needed a lot more speed, but Jeff Stankiewicz (crew chief) and the KBR guys got me dialed in by the end of the day.
“I’m getting better around the race track and the car is getting way better, and that’s what you want.”
Lessard, who started the test session nearly at the bottom of the leaderboard, ended up fifth overall (53.953/166.812) after a late surge just before the showers that moved in and cut the day short.
“It surprised me, because we were on old tires and ran our fastest lap of the day,” Lessard pointed out. “Every time we went back out, we got better. Even as the tires got older, we got better. I’m happy.”
As far as the nuances of speedway racing, different drivers discover different feels as they get acclimated to a facility, and that was true for both Heim and Lessard.
“It kind of reminded me of a short track, just with long straightaways,” said Lessard of Pocono. “The corners, you have to slow the car down a bit, and there’s a lot of rolling speed. It’s different than I’m used to, but it’s still a race track and I finally found a line I was happy with by the end.”
“This place is all momentum. If you get loose in any of the corners, it kills your straightaway speed and you’re going backwards in a hurry. It’s mainly about consistency and being smooth, which is normally something I’m really good at,” explained Heim. “(Crew chief) Paul Andrews actually calls this place a big short track, just because you’re always setting up your entry for the corner exit. If you can arc the corners more and more and get a better run off, you’re gonna be alright, and I’d say we did that well.”
Heim and Smith will return to Pocono on July 26 for the Pocono ARCA 150, while Lessard, defending race winner Harrison Burton and the rest of the ARCA field hit the track on Friday for the General Tire #AnywhereIsPossible 200.
Coverage of the race kicks off at 5:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 2, with a same-day re-airing on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET.
Journalist Kyle Magda contributed to this story.