Roller coasters can make for fun ride and a great experience when at an amusement park. But when that roller coaster ride is reflective of a race car driver’s season, it may not exactly provide the best of sensations.
Kyle Strickler has been on quite a roller coaster ride so far during the 2021 racing season. After beginning the campaign with PCC Motorsports in Rocket Chassis cars with the intention of running a national touring series, the results were not what had been hoped for. However, a switch to the driver’s more familiar Longhorn Chassis equipment brought improved finishes and left the No. 8 team looking like a potential contender on the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series after he won two of the first three points-paying races.
However, a string of poor finishes followed those early wins as Strickler began to fade from contention. Then, crew chief Vinny Guliani parted ways with the team leaving a void in terms of both the number of team members and experience. Ultimately, PCC Motorsports owner Craig Sims opted to change directions and retrieved his equipment from Stickler’s North Carolina shop causing the 38-year-old driver to search for another opportunity.
“I think they’re making some jokes on Twitter that ESPN could do a 30 for 30 on just my 2021 season,” Strickler quipped in an interview with InsideDirtRacing.com. “It’s been crazy. I feel like it’s been a five year period with how many things have happened. There have been so many ups and downs after it started out really good then we lost my crew chief, Vinny, and that really set the ball in motion for us to struggle. It just seemed like no matter what we would do there for a while I either broke a motor or destroyed a race car every time we went out on the race track.”
The driver known as the ‘Highside Tickler’ would eventually pair up with National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame member Scott Bloomquist to drive one of his cars as he did this past weekend in the North-South 100 at Florence Speedway. But that pairing has required some adjustment for the driver whose Modified wins have been plentiful over the course of his career.
Bloomquist’s cars are designed to suit his style and they come with a few unique features.
“I’ve been working with Scott trying to get the feel I’m looking for because everything is so different on these cars so we’ve just kind of got to start from scratch,” Strickler explained. “He’s the polar opposite of the driver I am but he’s the greatest of all time as far as I’m concerned and any help he can give me or any advice he can give me in the long run will help me win crown jewel races and the races that I want to win. We’re gaining on it and just trying to get comfortable in the cars. I mean, you get in these Bloomquist cars and the pedals aren’t what I’m used to, the clutch is different. Scott’s just kind of out there on his own program. He likes stuff his way and it was tailored around him.”
Strickler has been in three different chassis types so far in 2021 but the Bloomquist cars have required a special type of adjustment. Unlike most other race cars, the Team Zero machines have the foot pedals arranged differently with the clutch actually as the middle pedal and the brake on the left.
“The cars I’ve been in- Rockets, Longhorns, and now these Bloomquist cars- they’re all great race cars and they all build a really good piece, it’s just kind of a driver preference,” he pointed out. “The Longhorns fit me very well but then I’ve always wanted to do this deal with Scott and the opportunity came up. I have so much respect for Scott that I was trying to make it work the way he does it but that just didn’t work for me. I put the pedals back so they’re just like all the rest of my race cars then I got the shifters like they’re normal. The foot box in these cars are so narrow.”
But the comfort level is rising with each trip onto the speedway. Evidence of that came in the North-South 100 preliminaries when Strickler earned enough points in that race’s passing points format to lock himself into the feature on Friday night, and thus, not have to worry about running in a B-main. That came after a disappointing first night(Thursday) at the Kentucky track that saw him fail to make the feature race.
“We’re getting the crew built back up and finally getting some consistency here,” Strickler noted. ” The guys we’ve got now, Perry Strickland and Trey Weaver, have been working their guts out. We’ve been trying to get to the race track and not tear stuff up. When you don’t tear stuff up, you can actually work on your race car to make it faster.”
Strickler had to employ patience during the Friday night Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series heat races at Florence in order to give himself a chance to keep making gains.
“Last night in that second heat race I was more timid because I didn’t want to tear stuff up because I knew we had won that first one, and if I could just maintain, we’d make the show,” he said. “She’s in one piece and we’re locked in the show. Normally, we would be not really happy with being locked in but starting 14th, but the way things have been going here lately, it’s definitely a plus. Thursday night I think we were probably the slowest car here so to get things rolling the right way and to get locked in with a heat race win was good.”
Strickler’s dedication to the sport and his desire to succeed are obvious. As an example, he was scheduled to race one night earlier this spring in Brownstown, Indiana when that event was postponed due to weather. Instead of simply packing up and heading home, he found a way to make it to the Bristol Motor Speedway where he eventually won a Modified feature in the Karl Kustoms Bristol Dirt Nationals.
“Absolutely,” he emphatically replied when asked about his desire to succeed in this sport. “I’ve wanted to do this my whole entire life and I finally made it to this level. I really do enjoy the Modified stuff too so if there’s an opportunity for me to race and go win races, that’s what we do this for. I was fortunate enough with that Bristol deal that Paul and John Leach had their jet at Bristol watching Steve Arpin so they flew out to Brownstown and picked me up and got me back to Bristol in time. That’s something I wouldn’t have been able to do myself so it was awesome for them guys to help me out. To go there and win that race was really cool. I want it just as much if not more than everybody else here. It’s been a long time coming and I feel like now that we’ve got to this level, I really appreciate the opportunity and I’m going to try to make the most of it and keep digging.”
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