The competition at Friendship may have some help in chasing Rock Harris.
As he reached the mid-point of the season, Rock Harris' most formidable competition was Mother Nature. Since we last wrote about him and his domination at Friendship Motor Speedway in Elkin, North Carolina, rain showers interrupted one of the three races on the schedule for the ASA Late Models.
After a week off and a well-deserved family vacation due to an ASA Southern Modified race at Friendship, Harris came back to the track on June 22, fully expecting to be at the front of the field when the checkered flag fell, but things didn't quite work out according to the plan. A new rule that one fan dubbed the "Stop Rock Rule" was put into effect. It states that the winner of the previous week's race can't start higher than sixth in the next event. The way it works is that after qualifying, the top six drivers draw pills for their starting places with the previous week's winner standing by. On the first night the rule was implemented, it was Harris who had his qualifying speed, good for fifth fastest, thrown away.
"It's really not good to have the same guy winning every week," says Randy Myers, promoter at Friendship. "The drivers get upset and some fans stop coming because they think the same thing is going to happen every week. A lot of tracks are going to this type of rule to make the racing more competitive for the fans.
The off-season work by Harris has paid dividends, according to track management.
"Believe me, we didn't put this rule in for one driver. I know Rock Harris has been the dominant car this season, but that's just because he did such a great job in the off-season. He did a good job researching the rules and preparing his car before the season started, and it shows week in and week out."
As you might expect, Harris came away with a different take on the new rule. "They're trying to slow me down," he says. "It's obvious. I don't think they should put in any rule that penalizes a driver for being successful. Besides, when they publish the rule book at the beginning of the season, they ought to stick with it all year. That's the only fair way to do it.
"I know they're trying to get a better car count here, and I under-stand the need for that. It would be good for everyone, but right now I'm the guy paying the price."
The first race with the new rule started with Harris on the outside of the third row and not content to stay there. But he couldn't seem to fight his way ahead on the tight track. A couple of the lead cars faltered and dropped back after 20 laps, and the rest of the race turned into a shootout between Harris and Modified standout Jason Myers for third place. Lap after lap, they battled with Harris able to pull almost even with Myers' car before Myers would slam the door.
A rare occurrence-Harris chasing the competition.
Eventually, Harris had to settle for fourth place in the 75-lap race, by far his worst showing of the year. After the race, Harris wasn't pleased with the race or the new rules.
"That's what happens when you start that far back," he says. "All of the passing is done on the bottom of the racetrack, and if you can't get down there, you can't go forward. The only way I could have moved up is to get into someone else, and I'm not going to do that. I'm not that kind of driver. We'll get them next week. I won't have to start sixth then."
Next week never came for Harris and his fellow drivers at Friendship Motor Speedway, as the rain gods had their way.
Harris proved prophetic when racing returned to Friendship on July 13. He welcomed his new sponsor, Race City Steel, to the Heintz Automotive/Carl Rose & Sons Paving Monte Carlo by winning everything a driver could possibly win at Friendship. First, he not only grabbed the pole, but he also set a new track record at the 4/10-mile speedway with a time of 15.137 seconds. To add insult to injury for the other drivers, Harris then pulled the No. 1 pill, setting him on the inside of the front row for the 75-lapper.
Harris' domination stems in part from his ability to avoid trouble, something this competi
"Everything went perfectly on Friday." Harris says. "Setting a new track record was great, but pulling the 1 pill was the icing on the cake."
When the green flag dropped, it was the Rock Harris show that we have all become accustomed to seeing. He shot into the lead and never looked back, leading every lap of the caution-free race. Ryan Robertson, who followed Harris to the line in Second Place, filed a protest against Harris' engine, and the long post-race inspection process began. In the inspection shed, Harris and his crew had to remove a valve cover so the cylinders could be measured. To no one's surprise, the motor was found legal. Well past midnight, the Harris team members were heading out of the speedway and on their way home with smiles on their faces.
While everyone was happy that the car proved to be legal, a protest is still a painful process. Harris didn't get home until 2 a.m. Saturday, and since Saturday was a work day at the Haas Motorsports shop, he didn't get to put the motor back together until Monday evening.
Austin Harris helping his dad celebrate another win.
"Normally, I try to get everything done to the car on Saturday, but since I had to work on this one, it put my schedule way behind," Harris says. "I don't like to work on the race car on Sunday. That day is for the Lord and my family. So I had to put the motor back together on Monday when I got home from the shop. I decided that since the valve cover was already off on one side of the motor, I might as well take the other one off and go through the top part of the motor. Half of the work was already done, so why not do the rest?"
Heading into the second half of the season, Harris, even with a 114-point lead in the track's title race, is now going to be facing two obstacles at Friendship Motor Speedway. Not only will he have to start sixth every week after winning a race, there's another midseason rule change coming down the pipe.
This change involves the motors. Up until now, crate motors were allowed to use a four-barrel carburetor with 390 cfm, and built motors had the four-barrel with 350 cfm. Under the new rules, however, built motors will be allowed to be at 500 cfm. This change effectively gives the built motors about 40 more horsepower. Harris uses a crate motor in his Monte Carlo. So what is he going to do?
"I don't know yet." Harris says. "I don't want to go to the expense of changing motors if I don't have to. While my gut feeling is that I'm going to need the bigger motor, I'm not going to rush into anything. I'm going to take this combination to the track and run it. I'll assess the situation before making any decisions about changing the motor. If I have to change motors to stay competitive, I'll make the change. I'm not racing to finish second."