By ED TURNER
For the Potomac News
& Manassas Journal Messenger
Late Model driver Mike Southard is hoping the new Eaton motor he put in this week will carry him to victory lane soon. Southard, currently third in points at Old Dominion Speedway, has had two top-five finishes thus far, a third and a fifth. But he knew he needed some extra horsepower down the straightaways when he qualified eighth before both races.
?We don’t really look slow, but what’s showing up on the watch as slow is our straightaway speeds,? he said. ?I’m hoping to get a car length or two quicker with the new motor. It should make a big difference.?
Southard said he has good corner speed now but has not been able to get close enough to challenge current points leader Mark McFarland because he has not qualified in the top six yet. With the new motor, Southard is expecting his qualifying to improve.
?I believe we’ll be pretty strong and be able to hang with the front runners with the new motor,? Southard said.
Southard is off to his best start in Late Models. Usually, he said, he’s around 14th at the start of the season. In the offseason, Southard and his crew put on new shocks, steering and suspension and it has made a difference.
Southard is still trying to regain the peak performance he had early last June when he claimed back-to-back victories. He was not able to return to victory lane again last season, but he was consistently in the top five for the rest of the year.
?It was disappointing not to win again,? he said. ?But there were three or four times that I made a decision during a race that cost me the win. And sometimes, I was overly nice and that cost me the win.?
Southard is eager to notch another win. He wants to be the first to outrun McFarland this season. He said that if someone doesn’t win soon besides McFarland, it’s going to look like a runaway for the former champion.
?You have to give credit to Mark (McFarland) and his crew,? Southard said. ?He has an awesome crew and Jim Dean is knowledgeable about cars and he has means. McFarland is going to be tough to beat this year. He’s real strong.?
Southard points out that McFarland has had a head start on most of the ODS drivers this season because he ran races at South Hampton and South Boston before Old Dominion’s season started.
Southard, however, believes he has a chance to grab a win with his new Eaton motor. ?Once you’ve won,? he said. ?You’ve got to get back and win some more.?
Southard has also been preparing to open his racing experience business at Old Dominion Speedway. It’s appropriately called Try It Racing. And people who have fantasized about driving a race car around a short track will now have the opportunity to drive a car that’s somewhere between a Winston Cup car and a Hooter’s Cup car at Old Dominion Speedway.
For $295, people will drive 15 laps, plus warm up and cool down laps, and follow a pace car around the three eighths of a mile oval. Drivers will wear a racing suit, a helmet with a radio, and receive safety instructions. After driving the car, the driver will then go for 10 more laps with either Southard or another race car driver in a two-seater car.
?I think it’s going to be neat,? said Southard, who’s been preparing the cars for their May 16 opening.
Southard has had crew members and friends who have not driven a race car test out the cars.
?It’s been fun for them,? he said, ?because I see the smile on their faces when they get out of the cars.?
Southard explains that the cars are fast enough now that they could qualify in the top five in Late Models. He has two Chevy Monte Carlos and a Ford Taurus.
?The pace car will go as fast as you go and maintain control and when you’re done, you’ll come back down into pit row and climb into a two-seater,? Southard said.
Moreover, people can also just go for a ride with a NASCAR licensed driver for $60 if they pre-register or for $75 if they come in at the gate. Southard will have three or four guest drivers, who are all NASCAR licensed. He’s lining up Frank Deiny for a date in May. Drivers will also get photos taken of their experience.
?You’ll get a full feeling of what it’s like to race,? Southard said.
Southard said he has been working hard on his business and has put his own car on the back burner somewhat. But, with the new engine, he’s eager to get on the track again.
He’s also grateful to his crew and friends for all their hard work and support they’ve given for his race team and his new Try It Racing business.
Southard is hoping that the extra horsepower he has now will put him in the running for a strong season.
?I think my chances are real good,? he said.
For information on Try It Racing, call: (703) 368-3232. The program’s Web address is www.tryitracing.com.