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Saturday, April 11, 2015

A Lap Around the Track with NASCAR’s James Bickford: Irwindale Speedway

On April 11th, Interstate Plastics sponsored no. 6 Team Bickford took on Irwindale Speedway and closed off the night with an unprecedented 17th-place finish. Having entered race day with high expectations, Bickford sat down with me to reflect on the factors that potentially led Team Bickford to their unfavorable loss.

Friday, April 10
9:00am: James’ pit crew (Sunrise Ford racing) intended to drive Team Bickford’s truck to the track, but woke up to find that over a dozen tires on their two NASCAR haulers had been slashed and stolen overnight. “Some people actually came to our shop and cut off the outside tires and…the valve stems [on the haulers]…Our crew actually had to deal with that and buy all new tires before they came to the track,” James said.

Saturday, April 11
7:00am: James woke up at his aunt’s home in Long Beach, California. He headed for Irwindale Speedway, the spot where he first tested to ride for current car-owner Bob Bruncati and broke the track record on his first lap.

1:40pm – 2:10pm: The radio signal dropped between James and his spotter Bill Sedgwick during the first round of practice. “That’s where the bad luck started: it was a radio malfunction that almost caused a crash in practice … [The radio] went out, and we got on the track and almost destroyed our car,” James said.

2:10pm – 2:40pm: “Going into the second practice we were looking pretty fast. We were still having problems with long runs, but we kept trying different things and we went out to make a mock qualifying run where we put on sticker [brand new] tires…We’ll also go and tape off our grill.” Taping off the grill keeps air from entering the car, making it more aerodynamic and giving the driver a usual 0.10 second advantage over the field.

He added, “We went out for our [practice] qualifying run and we were the only car on the track. And then a car decided to pull out right in front of us. So we never got a lap to see how fast we would be in a qualifying session…It was a huge waste of time.”

3:00pm – 4:00pm: James participated in a Snapchat Takeover for NASCAR Home Tracks. Snapchat is a social media platform that allows users to “snap” 10-second images to their friends—before the images disappear. James said, “Me, Noah Gregson and Gracin Raz, we all took the phones and started interviewing drivers and doing fun stuff…We also had a pull-up challenge…on my trailer.” James won the pull-up challenge with a total of nine pull-ups.

5:00pm – 5:25pm: James drew a ‘two’ in qualifiers, which he described as “almost the worst position you could draw.” Other cars lay down rubber on the track that doesn’t sit well with many of the cars. “It takes a couple laps [a few cars] to lay down the Good Year rubber versus their American Racer or Hoosier rubber. It gives you a little bit more traction…when you draw a one or a two [in qualifiers], you’re the guy who has to break in the track,” he said. This draw led James’ no. 6 car to ride more slowly, subsequently affecting his qualifying run. “We qualified ninth: about a 0.105 [second] off from first place,” he said. “Almost a blink put us ninth,” he clarified. But even with a ninth place qualifier, James was still optimistic for the race.

8:30pm – 10:00pm: James’ car was affected by a misread spring throughout the entirety of the NAPA Auto Parts 150 race. “I was hanging on for dear life on every lap,” he said.

James clarified how a spring works in a car: “So, I always pictured my car like it was on ice. If you…make [the spring] really big on the right rear side of the tire, the car will want to turn to the left…So, imagine on ice, you’re just going to be sliding, like this, to the left,” he said as he turned his hands to the left. If you put in the same direction spring on the left rear of the car, then you’d be pivoting toward the right. “What a spring adjustment does, is it makes it really hard on the right, so it rotates more to the left…more going into the corners. Since oval [racing] is all left-hand turns, you want your car rotating, but if it over-rotates then it’s really loose and you’ll have to correct it,” he said.

He couldn’t leave the track during the race to make another adjustment to his spring, however, because his car had no clutch. James said, “One of the bearings in the clutch went out… So if we would’ve stopped it would’ve been a likely chance that we couldn’t start again and we couldn’t take that risk.” James and his crew chief Bill Sedgwick tried to do “damage control” but they knew they wouldn’t be able to pull out a top-five finish. Team Bickford finished in 17th place.

About his low finish, James said, “It was a humbling experience to have a car that couldn’t compete for a win, and maybe that was something I needed [in order] to move forward…If I do have a good car, I’m going to make the best out of it from now on.” James recognized that this race affected his contention for the Championship, but has many races to improve his standings. “We plan to make this our worst finish, and we’ll see how it goes at Tucson!” James said with a smile.

Preparing for Tucson Speedway, he’ll be taking one of his favorite cars with him. “Car nine” gave him a second-place finish at Roseville Speedway (Roseville, Calif.) and a championship at Stateline Speedway (Post Falls, Idaho) during his rookie NASCAR K&N Pro Series West season.

Get ready for a major comeback, Bickford fans!

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