Q&A: Scott Paddock on AMSOIL Championship Snocross at Route 66

All photos: Route 66 Raceway
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Chicagoland Speedway and its sister track, Route 66 Raceway, in Joliet, Ill. are better known for hosting NASCAR, IndyCar and the NHRA.

So as the calendar turns to March, you might be wondering why or how Chicagoland or Route 66 could be used during what’s usually the dead of winter.

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Route 66 comes alive this weekend though with the AMSOIL Championship Snocross series on Friday and Saturday, for the Hollywood Casino Joliet Snocross National presented by Hayes Brake.

It’s the second annual running of the family-friendly event, and provides speed, action and snow racing during the winter months (more information available here and via Route66Raceway.com).

We caught up with track president Scott Paddock for a quick Q&A leading into the event:

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MST: So for a bit of background, explain what this event is and what fans/viewers could expect?

SP: “It’s an amazing event. I think when ISOC, when they looked to expand their footprint to the Chicagoland market, the Speedway was always on their list. As they were looking and surveying the area for a relevant venue, they approached us. We’ve performed some due diligence, and attended a few of their events. We thought, ‘This could be a hit.’

“We introduced it to the market last year. We’re bringing it back for year two because the atmosphere was electric and exciting. The word-of-mouth coming out of the weekend and the feedback was incredible, so we had to bring the event back.

“For the industry, they love the venue. In a lot of their careers, it’s the first time with backdrop of a drag strip there. They’ve contoured a really cool course. There’s some incredible berms, so with action and excitement, it’s a win for our fans and for our drivers.”

MST: How do you put this course together?

SP: “We’ve put a 10-foot base of snow in that we’ve been making since mid-January. It’s about to be there. Last year’s configuration started at south end of the grandstands. We had 15-20 snowmobiles. Hitting it out of the shoot there. They’d go … and intersect. It wasn’t just straightaways. There were plenty of roundabouts and cut-throughs that literally propelled these guys 60 feet in the air.

“We’re literally trajecting the length of an NBA court, 60 feet in the air. It reminded me in some respects of stock car racing, where the field was bunched up or spun out. The analogy was like stock car racing on snowmobiles, however this aerial acrobatics was by design.”

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MST: How do you sell a winter event, since you generally assume there’s no winter track activity?

SP: “You hit on it – it’s a winter event. People have been locked up indoors, for months. Everyone has cabin fever. Local drag racers can’t wait until April. This is a great opportunity to come out with the family, come out to an event that’s indoor/outdoor, where you can have a great time.

“It’s kind of a shiny new toy. The word of mouth is incredible. We’re certainly marketing the event through relevant publications, snowmobile dealers, but we had fans from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan. They came from far distances to come. It’s not unlike a NASCAR audience that will travel 300 miles.

“We were told by ISOC officials that by year three, these events tend to build hold and equity. It’s tough weather in Februrary, so we moved it back to early March. The forecast looks incredible, with high 30s, low 40s… so perfect conditions.

We thought that the early March timeframe was good. You can still make the snow, but it’s comfortable. There’s still plenty of indoor seating. Club seating, Route 66 suites, and a huge warming tent, with other content, merchandise, food and beverage. ISOC does a great job. It’s a great family environment.”

MST: How are ticket sales going compared to last year? 

SP: “It’s ahead of last year’s race thus far, but it’s definitely a walk-up crowd. If you get the awareness out there, it’s similar to NHRA drag racing. If you’ve got good weather and good marketing, you’ll generally get a good walk-up gate.”

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds