This story was originally published at arcaracing.com.
TOLEDO, Ohio (April 11, 2017) — Rookie Tony Mrakovich looked really good in his ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards debut at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, finishing eighth in a Ken Schrader Racing-prepared Toyota.
For a teenager who had never raced anything beyond a 30-lap feature in a Legends car on dirt, a 200-lap short track war on asphalt, complete with live pit stops and 11 cautions, seemed like a mighty big leap for the Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania youngster. Mrakovich attributed much of his success Saturday night to the “dream team” he had around him.
“It was like working with a dream team,” said Mrakovich. “From Austin Theriault to Kenny Schrader to Frank Kimmel to Matt Weber, it was all-around amazing.”
And they were all there to assist Mrakovich in his maiden voyage, including Kimmel who spotted for Mrakovich.
“Frank Kimmel gave me so much guidance. As much as he’s a great spotter, I had a driving coach for 200 laps. I think he was worried he was talking too much…I wanted him to keep talking. Every single corner, he was telling me exactly where I ran and if it was a good corner or not. I was overrunning the corners and they were beating me off the corner. Frank taught me to back up the corner…to not go in as hard so I could get back in the gas sooner. By the end of the race, I had learned how to do it. I didn’t know Frank Kimmel was even going to be my spotter till I got to the track. It was pretty cool having a 10-time champion in my ear to listen to…it was a real confidence builder.”
It didn’t hurt having an ARCA winning crew chief calling the shots from the pit box either.
“Matt (Weber) was great to work with. We had a lot of challenges during the race…I think we had around five pit stops. I definitely got a lot of practice getting on and off pit road. The whole crew did a great job….we kept ’em busy; that’s for sure. A couple times I didn’t get in my pit box very well, but I learned a lot.”
Kimmel and Weber weren’t his only sources of information.
“I’ve learned a lot from Austin Theriault and Kenny Schrader. Frank (Kimmel) was as happy as Kenny was after the race. They know what we did to get our eighth-place finish. Frank was the first to realize we had a problem. It’s amazing how he knows what I’m going through without being in the car.”
Mrakovich spent the first half of the race near the front logging laps, but after his first stop, something went amiss.
“We had some issues in the middle of the race. If not for that we might have had a top-five car. After our first stop, we lost grip on the right-side and we fell back to 25th and went a lap down. It went from an amazing car to worse than any dirt car I’ve ever driven. That’s why we spun up in (turn) two. It felt like the right-rear was down. Being a dirt track racer, I’m used to being sideways but that was a handful. It was sideways on the straightaways.
“Once we came in and put our old right-sides back on, then it was fine. After that it was good to go and we were able to get our lap back. We were two seconds faster with the 90-lap tires. Then we cut down a left rear tire, so it seemed like one thing after the other.”
In other words, the 18-year-old high school senior went to school over the 200-lap run.
“It was definitely a lot different than what I’m used to all my life on dirt. The strategy of the race was intimidating. My longest race I’ve ever run was a 30-lap feature. As a driver the whole experience was a confidence builder…just to get on asphalt for 200 laps.”
Beyond the 200 laps, it was also the first time he had executed a pit stop.
“It was definitely a challenge just to find the pit box. It was a white sign with the black 11…it wasn’t easy to see. The whole thing getting in and out was challenging…maintaining pit road speed…it was quite a learning experience.”
Sounds like Mrakovich had a “takeaway” or two when it was all said and done.
“My biggest takeaway was that a lot can happen in 200 laps that I had never thought about.”
A lot can happen after 200 laps too. After the checkered flag had waved, Mrakovich found himself backwards and stopped in the middle of turn one with the field baring down on him. Must have been quite a view from inside the windshield.
“We were in a wreck on that last lap. We got turned after the finish line. Then we came down pit road backwards.”
So from a Legends dirt car to a 3400-lb ARCA car, Mrakovich taught himself a lot at Nashville and is more than ready for his next opportunity.
“I think a lot of people thought it was going to be a big jump from the Legends car to an ARCA car, and I’m not saying it wasn’t, but a Legends car on dirt teaches throttle control and there’s a lot of that in the ARCA car. A Legends car is always a handful, especially on dirt. In a 200-lap race you could relax a little as opposed to a short race in a Legends car where you just get up and go.”
Mrakovich hopes to ‘get up and go’ in the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 at Salem Speedway April 30.
“That’s the plan…I had to get through Nashville first. But Kenny (Schrader) came down right after the race and he was really pumped for us. He didn’t think we’d even be in the top-15. Everyone is really pumped for the next few races. Right now, we’re just taking it one race at a time. I’m just excited to get to the next race and put in as many as possible.”
In the meantime, it’s back to school at the Lancaster Career & Technical Center where Mrakovich is wrapping up his senior year.
“I chose to go through a more technical high school program. Any chance I have to be around cars, I’ll take it. I went to a catholic school all my life so it’s a big change. I graduate in a couple months…I’m excited to get down to the race shop after I graduate. I learn so much from those guys and I want to learn a lot more.”