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Carlson Appeases The Need For Speed At Rolling Wheels Raceway

Don Carlson
Don Carlson - Rick Young Photo

Weedsport, NYSeptember 24, 2008 – By Tom Skibinski, DIRTcar Racing NorthEast PR Director

Next up in the 2008 Mr. DIRTcar Pro Stock Championship Series is a return trip to Elbridge, New York and round number eight in the 11-race run for DIRTcar NorthEast’s top full-fender division.

Rolling Wheels Raceway Park hosts the 22nd Annual World Series Race Weekend, September 26-27, presented by Taylor Rental of Auburn and Don Carlson has had the event circled on his calendar for months. Fresh off his first Pro Stock Series win of the season last weekend, confidence is at an all-time high for this first year tour follower from Ridgefield, Connecticut.

“I don’t think there’s much chance to catch Pete (Stefanski), but I like my odds in the races coming up,” smiled Carlson, 48, who captured the RaceFest 30 at Canandaigua Speedway on Saturday night in his first-ever appearance at the Ontario County Fairgrounds legendary oval. “Except for Fulton, where I’ve only run once, all the tracks left on the schedule seem to suit my style.”

“Rolling Wheels is fast and its still my favorite track out of the bunch. 2004 was my first tour race there and I led 15 laps so that’s probably why I like it the best. Might’ve even won but didn’t have much experience back then and chose the wrong lane on a restart. I remember Fulton is also pretty quick but I got a flat tire (Vic Weekend ’04) and never qualified. I’m obviously comfortable at Syracuse after winning last year and with Orange County being my home track I’m looking forward to another chance.”

“I like all the bigger tracks where speed is an intimidation factor. There’s always some kind of finesse needed anywhere you go but I want to be at full throttle to feel like I’m really racing. Throwing the car into the turns is something I enjoy more than just gliding through trying to keep things straight,” remarked Carlson, who’s need for speed peaked last year as he reached victory lane in his fourth try circling the Syracuse Mile during Super DIRT Week.

Since day one, getting around the track faster than anybody else has been the driving force behind Carlson’s dream to compete in a stock car. But that first day wasn’t until the carpenter by trade turned 41 and it still wasn’t a done deal even after debuting at Orange County Fair Speedway midway through the 2002 season.

“When I went with my uncle to Lebanon Valley for the first time he had a couple partners and they were just terrible,” recalled Carlson, who joined Ron Wolter for his first taste of dirt track racing Pure Stock-style on the high banks in 1976. “The guys would share the driving but all they did was run around at the back of the pack. I knew I could do better than that, so when the time came I told my sons and their friends that I was finally going to do it.”

“My youngest son, Chris, found me a car on E-Bay for $800 but it cost another $800 to ship it home from Kansas. It was an old rusted out Camaro and when I got it I realized there was just too much work to be done. Then I went out to Lebanon Valley and Orange County looking for another car, finally buying a Pure Stock from Emerson Cargain. The first time out he lapped me and I wasn’t sure if this was the right game for me. I had always thought racing was so simple from the stands, but I found out pretty quick there’s still a lot of work even in the beginner’s class,” said Carlson, who finished out his first full season 11th in points with a September win in the 2003 Pure Stock ranks at the historic Orange County ‘hard clay’ oval in Middletown, New York.

Over the winter Carlson purchased a new EMS car and opened the ’04 campaign with three straight feature wins at Orange County. Six more checkered flags netted him the Middletown Rookie Pro Stock points title and another victory the next year vaulted him into seventh in the final OCFS Pro Stock standings.

“I ran Lebanon Valley in 2006 and ’07 and had a couple wins there before returning to Orange County this season,” noted Carlson, who befriended Linda Marshall —sister of DIRTcar Big-Block Modified veteran and long-time Valley regular Eddie Marshall— during Super DIRT Week in 2005, thus prompting the change in track locale. “I learned so much at Lebanon, with the track being faster the drivers ran much cleaner to save equipment. The speeds even seemed somewhat slower when I came back to Orange County.”

“I still prefer flat tracks, haven’t got a good set-up yet for the banked ones, they’ve been tough to figure out. But I’ve never been a mechanic or a car builder, just somebody that wanted to go racing. I still rely on guys like Allen (Komsta) for advice on motors and Eric (Marin) to dial in the chassis. I’ve been fortunate having Eric’s youngest brother Matt travel the tour with me this year, we’ve been running non-stop all season,” said Carlson, who is one of 12 drivers to compete in the initial seven Pro Stock Series shows that have taken teams from the Empire State into the Canadian Provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

Previously only branching out to Rolling Wheels and Syracuse’s Moody Mile during Super DIRT Week, Carlson made the move to full-time tour driver this season taking his sleek no. 26 Benziger Winery-Kleer Trim Board/EMS entry to a half-dozen never-before-seen tracks around the DIRTcar NorthEast circuit. A brand new Dodge Charger body recently replaced the old Chevrolet Monte Carlo skin prior to the Drummond tour stop and the trip to Canandaigua’s victory lane resulted in a successful shake-down for the Mopar-powered ride gearing up for Super DIRT Week.

“I love the whole tour idea but it’s a hobby that quickly became a job,” admitted Carlson, who is normally the first to arrive at each track hosting a tour event. “I thought just running a few shows at Orange County and following a dozen Series races would be easier but trying to pick up five good finishes has kept me in Middletown most Saturdays. I didn’t think it was going to be this grueling.”

“The biggest challenge has been getting help to come along. So I try to make it fun, arrive a day early to work on the car and have a nice dinner with everybody, then usually leave for home the next day. Seeing all the divisions available to race out there I wouldn’t change anything. Pro Stocks look great, they’re not super fast and not super technical. This is where I plan to be for a while,” figured Carlson, who has scored 20 feature wins since his Pure Stock debut in ’02.

Immediate plans call for Carlson to arrive at Rolling Wheels Raceway this weekend for his now annual stop at the ‘Fast Track’ in autumn. Carlson settled for runner-up laurels sandwiched between first-time tour winner Don Barnes and current Mr. DIRTcar points leader Pete Stefanski when the Series last visited the spacious 5/8-miler in July.

“The difference right now is that Pete has seven top-5s and my best finishes are in the top-10,” added Carlson, who stands fourth on the overall Mr. DIRTcar Championship points chart with three front-five finishes in those same seven extra-distance events. “Now I’ve won at Canandaigua and Syracuse where he hasn’t and Rolling Wheels would be a first for either of us. Pete has won at Orange County, though, so I’ll try to get even when he comes to my place.”

“But all the tour drivers are fierce competitors just like Pete, and they also drive you clean when you’re out with them on the road. I can race together with any of them all night long and that’s the best part about this series. It might be tough to squeeze some information from them when you’re at a new track but they’re a great group to travel with. I wouldn’t trade the experience or race another class for all the money in the world,” Carlson added.

For Saturday’s portion of World Series Weekend, including the Advance Auto Parts Big-Block Modified Super DIRTcar Series BPG National 200 plus a Mr. DIRTcar Sportsman Championship Series 30-lapper, adult general admission grandstand tickets are $25 each, Senior Citizens (65 yrs + over) $23, Students (10-14 yrs) $8, and Children (9 yrs. + under) Free; all reserved seats are $2.00 extra per event. Pits are unlocked Saturday at 1 p.m. and the front gates swing open at 2 o’clock with practice beginning at 3:30 for all divisions.

For additional tour information, please contact Pro Stock Series Race Director Brian Mulligan (613/938-6751) or Cory Reed, DIRTcar Racing NorthEast Director of Competition & Track Sanctioning, at the Weedsport office (315/834-6606) during normal business hours. More about the entire circuit is posted on the DIRTcar homepage at www.dirtcar.com.

Further material can be found at www.rollingwheelsraceway.com or by phoning the DIRTcar NE office (315/834-6606) or the track (315/689-7809) on raceday. Rolling Wheels Raceway Park is located West of the village of Elbridge on NYS Route 5 just five minutes east of the city of Auburn; also 10 minutes from exit 40 of the New York State Thruway.

Headquartered in Roanoke, Va., Advance Auto Parts, a leading automotive aftermarket retailer of parts, accessories, batteries, and maintenance items in the United States, serves both the do-it-yourself and professional installer markets As of April 19, 2008, the Company operated 3,291 stores in 40 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Additional information about the Company, employment opportunities, customer services, and on-line shopping for parts and accessories can be found on the Company’s web site at www.advanceautoparts.com.

The Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series for Big-Block Modifieds is brought to fans across the Northeast by several sponsors and partners, including series sponsors Advance Auto Parts and Hoosier Racing Tire. Rite Aid Corporation is a promotional partner and the contingency sponsors are Bars Leaks, Bert Transmission, Bicknell Racing Products, Bilstein Shocks, Brodix Cylinder Heads, Crane Cams, Dig Safely New York, Holley HP Carburetors, Integra Shocks, Intercomp, KSE Racing Products, Motorsports Safety Systems, Penske Shocks, Rislone Oil Stabilizer and Wrisco Industries.