By ED TURNER
For the Potomac News
& Manassas Journal Messenger
Two-time Mini Stock champion Sean Dawson has been gradually getting stronger in Legends at Old Dominion Speedway this season. In his last race two weeks ago, Dawson qualified fifth and finished fourth behind winner Kyle Hendershott, Roger Austin Jr. and Kevin Yeatts. Dawson now holds fifth in points.
”It’s going a little bit better,” Dawson said. ”We just have taken some time to getting used to setting up the car, and the qualifying has been tough getting used to.”
Dawson did not have to qualify in Mini Stocks. Instead, cars started according to how they had finished and their points standing. Because Legends cars are so equal, qualifying well is significant.
”If you can qualify up front and be up front with the front runners and not be stuck back in the pack, it makes it a whole lot easier,” Dawson said.
A few races back, when Dawson qualified in the back, he had difficulty getting through the field even though his car was fast enough to be up front. Not only are there more cars in Legends but if a driver is slightly off in his set up or makes a mistake racing, it’s more difficult to gain positions.
Dawson noted that the biggest change from Mini Stocks to Legends is the horsepower to weight ratio. In Mini Stocks, that meant a driver could run close to wide open most of the time. In Legends, Dawson said, a driver has to be smooth with the throttle to keep the tires from breaking loose from the pavement. Translated: That means spinning out is easy in a Legends car. Dawson has done that only once thus far in a race and he kept his fingers crossed that other drivers flying by wouldn’t slam into him.
Dawson ran his first race in Legends well, qualifying fifth and coming home with a seventh. But it was not easy. ”The first night I can honestly say we were lucky just to hold on and stay up there,” he said.
In Mini Stocks, Dawson was known for his late-season surges. Now, he’s hoping that will be the case in Legends, even though his team’s primary focus this year is just learning how to race and set up the car.
”I think we’re close enough in points that if I can have a couple more strong runs we could finish third in points,” he said. ”That would be fantastic. It would be more than what we expected in the first year.”
Coming into the season, Dawson was aiming at a top 10 in points and maybe a top five if things went his way. Dawson, however, knows it will be much harder to grab a win in Legends with the fierce competition in the division because Hendershott and Austin seem to have a lock on wins in Legends this season.
In fact, Dawson learned much from running up front with Hendershott, Austin and Yeatts two weeks ago by following their lines around the track and figuring out where they were running.
Before he drove a Legends car, Dawson didn’t think there would be that much of a difference between the way a Mini Stock and Legends car felt moving around the track. But he said that isn’t the case.
”Once you get out there and see how far [Legends drivers] push the car going into the corner, it’s definitely something,” Dawson said.
Though he was tempted to try for three straight championships in Mini Stocks, Dawson decided to move up to Legends to get more experience in a faster car and to drive a car that he could compete with at other tracks. He and his team were considering running a Grand Stock car but then realized they couldn’t compete at other tracks as easily in that division.
Dawson also said that he misses racing every week. And he misses racing in Mini Stocks.
”I miss the guys and the competition driving in those Mini Stocks,” he said. ”It was definitely nice knowing every week that you were capable of winning. That definitely is a feeling that I miss.”
Dawson has taken advantage of his ability to run at different tracks with a Legends car by racing once at East Side’s dirt track this season. ”That was a lot of fun,” he said.
He pointed out that he was able to drive more aggressively on dirt just because the car doesn’t spin out as easily as it does on pavement. Legends cars still retain some traction in dirt.
Dawson is hoping that he will get to race at Summit Point’s road course sometime soon. Right now, however, his team is concentrating on getting used to setting up the car and seeing how adjustments affect the car before they travel to other tracks much.
Dawson also has had to adjust to being surrounded by other Legends cars throughout the race. In Mini Stocks, cars would get strung out a bit and he’d have a chance to breathe and relax some. But in Legends, Dawson always has cars beside him or right behind him.
”I spend pretty much the entire race on the edge,” he said. ”In Mini stocks, I got to where I could relax here and there. But there hasn’t been much relaxing going on in Legends.”