GRC Personalities // Steve Arpin: Dirt Tracks and Home Tracks
As soon as I saw that the Charlotte race was on the schedule, and especially as soon as I heard that it was going to be held on The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway, that was the one my radar locked onto for the year. That was going to be my Super Bowl for the year, that race. And I was excited about it. I’d be racing at home, my fiance’s whole family was coming down, my whole family was going to make it but at the last second plans changed. It was just going to be all of my friends and family.
Obviously I was in the NASCAR industry, and this is the hub for it—all the friends and families that I’ve built relationships with over the last four or five years were coming out just to see us. On top of that, it was a dirt track. That is me. It was clay—it wasn’t the gravel or all other sorts of surfaces we’ve been on all year. A big part of the dirt oval was used, and it was just exciting.
The race track was so cool. It combined a couple of different elements—it combined some asphalt on the start, asphalt on top when we left the race track, and a long, banked dirt corner. Where I enjoyed it was that the track essentially changed where the preferred line was, where the ruts were—everything changed, not only every time we were on the race track, but essentially each and every lap we came around. You were encountering something new in every corner. It was so much fun, it was such a mental challenge, and it was just really neat.
There was definitely some adaptation. Everything I’ve ever raced has been rear wheel only, and just a completely different style of racecar. Any time you put a really narrow tire, like the style we run in GRC, on the cars, along with all-wheel drive, it’s a completely different animal. But at the same time, I think everything I learned about—what the track’s going to do, how to read the race track, how to put yourself in the right place at the right time—it was kind of like riding a bike. Right off the bat, I felt right back at home.
We started the weekend out great. The Royal Purple Ford was so good—I honestly don’t think we made a single adjustment to it. We went out there and we originally set fast time, but I didn’t realize they weren’t going to let the first lap count! So after the first lap, they told me we were the fastest, and we chilled out and just tried things for the remaining five laps. Later on, we learned that the first lap didn’t count.
We had a great couple of heat races. We had a flat tire in the second heat, which put us in the LCQ, and won the LCQ. People always say you can’t win the race on the first lap, but I proved them wrong! Honestly, the best part of my position was, that was the best start we had all year long. We got an awesome hole shot, and we were clear in front. At that point, I didn’t take a look in my rear view mirror at all to see what was going on.
I came back around and there was a lot of carnage, so I honestly don’t know what happened. But it’s racing! I’ve heard a lot of different stories about what went on behind me. But it’s the LCQ, and we all need to get into the main. That LCQ was stacked—it was a final on its own with the quality of drivers that were in it. I’ve raced with Tanner Foust a lot this year, and he’s been nothing but a gentleman. A person with as much respect as he has both on and off the race track doesn’t come by that respect accidentally. So I would have to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that if there was a car malfunction, he’s probably speaking from the heart and sincere when he talks like that. If it was just an accident, a bad racing deal, it’s just one of those things that happened. He apologized, and you go on to the next race.
Everything changed when the second tire went down in the final. By the end of it, I felt like I was a construction worker that had a hold of a jackhammer for about 26 hours straight. That steering wheel was shaking so bad. It was my own fault—we had the issue in the heat race with the right rear tire going down, and we made adjustments to compensate for that, but I didn’t even think to make the adjustments on the entire right side instead of just the right rear. Lesson learned for me, it will not happen again.
Driving it with the right front going down, you could get it on the right handers with the right front tire going down and the left front doing all the work, but on all of those left handers there was a lot of handbraking being used. There were a lot of different shifting patterns, a lot of RPMs trying to get turned with the throttle pedal. By the end of that race my arms were like rubber. They were just shot.
Everyone at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and GRC, in my eyes, did such a great job. We never really had a jump, but the track provided enough excitement, enough side-by-side, intense, hard racing, that it completely slipped my mind that we didn’t have a jump.
All of these places I’ve always wanted to race growing up, and never had the opportunity, I’m getting to come to for the first time in a GRC car. It’s so cool! I’ve gotten to accomplish so many things for the first time that I’ve always wanted to do in life in general. Traveling the world—we got to travel all over the place this year. Bristol Motor Speedway—of all race tracks, and all things in my life, I wanted to say that I raced at Bristol Motor Speedway the most. I’ve always wanted to come back to The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway and race there, and the stars hadn’t aligned for that yet, but I got to do it in a GRC car. I’ve always wanted to go to SEMA in Las Vegas, and we’re going to be racing right outside it and get to be a part of it for a day or two!
It’s been such a cool year, such a cool experience, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many great people. Everyone at OMSE, the whole team in Sweden. Tanner Foust has been an absolute savior to me. He’s been so great in taking the time to explain things to me, and to help teach me a lot of the lessons that most people have to learn the hard way, that he’s probably learned the hard way himself, but he’s passed most of that knowledge and wisdom on to me. It’s just been such an incredible experience all year long.
Photo credit: Matthew Kalish