By ED TURNER
For the Potomac News
& Manassas Journal Messenger
Michael Arnold is making an impression in Grand Stocks at Old Dominion Speedway this year. Arnold, a 38-year-old Hyattsville, Md., rookie, is now fifth in points and has cracked the top five twice this season and only finished outside of the top 10 once, with an 11th.
He started the season off strong with a fourth-place finish. And last Saturday, he grabbed the fifth spot in one of the twin 50s. At one point in the race, he was up to fourth but got shuffled back toward the end of the contest.
Arnold is pleased and surprised with his points standing. ”I didn’t think I’d be this far up in the points,” he said. ”Truthfully, I didn’t. Hopefully, it will hold up.”
Arnold, who ran 10 races in Grand Stocks last year, came into the year with the goal of simply lasting out the season. Like other racers, he has learned that finances are often the toughest element about the sport. He has two sponsors, E.V. Airtight and Masonary Restoration, who are helping him out.
”They’re a big help,” Arnold said. ”Hopefully, with my support and everything, we can finish the year out.”
Arnold is doing what he can to keep costs down by staying out of trouble on the track and keeping the car well maintained. He also says that maybe he’s not as aggressive as he should be on the track. But he says that he’s more focused on bringing the car home in one piece. Right now, he is focused on collecting seat time and doing what he can to improve the car.
The new rule in Grand Stocks that limits drivers to two new tires per race has helped Arnold and other low-budget teams. Tires cost $470 for a set, which can be expensive for an entire season.
”If I had to buy four tires every weekend, I don’t think I would make it a whole season,” Arnold said.
Arnold had his most satisfying race last year after he qualified third and was running second behind two-time champion Jimmy Hardin. However, a caution came out. As the cars downshifted to lower speeds, Arnold got into the wall in turn three.
”That would be my most satisfying and disappointing race,” he said. ”The car was running really good that day.”
Arnold, however, hopes that strong runs like that will be coming his way again before long. He ran go-karts in the WKA before running Grand Stocks and collected some 60 wins, as well as three track championships at King George Raceway and two Virginia state championships.
He says that racing Grand Stocks is a lot different than go-karts. Grand Stocks not only require more money and work but more adjustments to the race car. The week before the last race, for example, Arnold stayed up to one or two in the morning a number of nights working on the car. Then, he got up at 6 a.m. Saturday before the race and worked on it till noon until he had to drive to the track.
He and his brother Ray (he also has two other brothers that help with the car) then made more adjustments on the car at the speedway, replacing a bent push rod. Arnold says he’s grateful to Dickie Boswell for loaning him the part.
”He gives me lots of help,” Arnold said. ”Without those guys and my sponsors, we couldn’t have made the race this weekend.”
Arnold used to watch Boswell race at Beltsville Speedway back in the early ’70s while he sold French fries in the stands.
”He’s helped so much,” Arnold said. ”It’s just tremendous to have a friend like that.”
Arnold, who is originally from Tennessee and sports the colors of the University of Tennessee on his racecar, grew up a race fan and says he rarely watches other sports, although he played football and baseball in his early years.
Arnold learned a lot about racing in go-karts. And one thing was to drive respectfully.
”You don’t want to bump anybody in go-karts,” he said. ”You do a little rubbing but the actual bumping, you don’t do.”
Arnold raced up and down the East Coast in karts. At tracks like Orange County in North Carolina, he drove at speeds up to 90 mph.
”You’re on the edge the whole time,” he said.
One of his more exciting races in karts was running his first time on dirt at Daytona in 1997. ?Out of 154 drivers, he qualified 34th. ”It was a real good experience,” he said.
Arnold likes racing because of the challenge of getting the car right and competing with other drivers. He also likes meeting new people and making new friends, as well as the camaraderie at the track.
”It keeps me busy on the weekends and gives me something to keep the frustrations out,” he said.
Right now, Arnold figures that he’ll be patient and work his way up the ladder in the division as he becomes more experienced. He plans to pick up another sponsor and stabilize his racing situation so that he can compete even better next year.
”Racing is really an enjoyment to me and my brother,” he says. ”It really is.”