By ED TURNER
For the Potomac News
& Manassas Journal Messenger
Grand Stock driver Dave Zech was not surprised when he finished second in the season opener at Old Dominion Speedway two weeks ago even though it was his best finish yet in four years of racing in the division. In a sense, Zech, a 37-year-old Herndon resident, had prepared for the race not only by devoting considerable time to working on his race car in the offseason but also by accumulating experience and knowledge during his three previous seasons of running part-time in Grand Stocks.
“It was very satisfying to get second place in the first race,” said Zech, who is also second in points. “Whenever I put this amount of effort and concentration on something and I work on it long enough, I know what the results are going to be based on how much effort I put into it.”
At one point in the season opener, it looked like Willard Lawrence was going to snatch the second spot away from Zech. But Zech was having none of that. As they came through the turn, their cars rubbed together, with Lawrence’s tire striking Zech’s left door.
Zech had been trying to avoid just such an incident as he followed his friend, Ron Jardine, through much of the race. He had thought about passing Jardine but didn’t want to risk taking either himself or Jardine out and costing them a good position, especially because it was the first race of the season.
Luckily, when Lawrence and Zech touched, neither of them got out of shape. And Zech battled to hang onto to his spot. Ultimately, he stayed ahead of Lawrence.
“I wasn’t going to let anybody pass me and take away from where I was,” Zech said.
Last week, Zech was scrambling toward another top five-finish when he was hit from behind and spun out while he was running fifth in lap 15. Before the race, Zech had qualified third, his best ever, running two tenths of a second faster than his previous fastest qualifying time. After spinning out, Zech started at the rear of the field, methodically picking his way through the field. He reached sixth before the race ended.
“I was pretty happy because that was the most cars that I’ve had to pass in one race,” Zech said. “That race in itself taught me a whole lot about passing people.”
Zech learned the classic point that the farther he got through the field, the harder it became to pass cars. He also found that he had to pass lapped cars that he had already gotten around once.
“It gave me a different sense of the attitude that you have to have in order to pass,” he said. “Learning to pass requires a different mentality than just going around and going faster.”
Zech said that passing takes a combination of the right attitude and knowing how much the car will actually stick to the track.
“You’ve got to hold your space and not touch the other guy and basically, he’s got to back off and that’s why it’s a little bit of a mental issue,” he said.
And Zech knows what it’s like to have a big crash. Last September, he started on the outside pole, and when he wheeled down the backstretch in the first lap, his brake caliper broke. Brake fluid started spewing over his right front wheel, and Zech car suddenly took an abrupt right turn and smacked into the wall.
The car jumped onto the backstretch rail and then slammed into one of the telephone poles holding up the fence. People said it sounded like a cannon firing when the car hit the pole. Zech wasn’t hurt but the front end of his car was destroyed and ended his season early.
He started racing in the division when Tom Dyson was winning championships and drivers like Greg Compton, Mike Darne, Stan Owens and Mark Winstead made Grand Stock races even more exciting than Late Model races were sometimes.
“It seemed like whenever I was faster, they got even faster, so I was always a half-second behind them,” Zech said. “And when I improved, they improved, so I never caught up with them.”
Zech, however, wound up 10th in points even after running only two thirds of the season.
When Zech first started racing in the division, it was very intimidating, he said, although racing has never scared him. He did, however, adjust quickly to the division. Zech is encouraged by his strong finishes thus far in the season. This is the first year that he has been able to take time from his business and devote his energy to racing since he started competing four years ago. And his years of learning about setting the car up and mastering all the technical details that go along with it have finally started paying off.
“I’m really, really close right now,” Zech said. “It’s just a matter of consistency for me right now.”
Last week’s race was one of the first that the front-runners weren’t able to pull away from Zech. He was staying equal and even catching up to them at one point.
“And that felt really good,” he said.