When the ARCA Menards Series takes to the 2.5-mile tri-oval at Daytona International Speedway for the series’ annual pre-season open test, there will be as many strategies as there are teams entered. Everyone has their own list to work through, from new setups to building communication between a new driver/crew chief combination and virtually anything and everything in between.
One of the drivers coming in with a blank slate is ARCA Midwest Tour rookie of the year Gabe Sommers. An ARCA Road to Daytona participant, Sommers will spend a few hours in one of Andy Hillenburg’s Fast Track High Performance Racing Team entries making his first laps around the World Center of Speed.
“I am really looking forward to coming out to Daytona to test, it really is an honor,” Sommers said. “My goal in racing has always been to do my best, progress, learn, win, do bigger and better. Daytona would definitely fall into each of these categories and I do feel pretty privileged to get the opportunity to test there.”
While it will be the first time Sommers has made laps around Daytona, it won’t be the first time he’s ever been there. A regular competitor in the super late model division at nearby New Smyrna Speedway during the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing, Sommers and his family have attended the last two NASCAR Gander RV and Outdoors Trucks races at Daytona. Sommers is looking forward to applying some of the things he’s seen from the grandstand to the driver’s seat when he straps in for his first laps.
“When racing the World Series of Asphalt Racing at New Smyrna Beach the past two years, we took in two truck races at Daytona,” he said. “I noticed that drafting and the aero package is key at Daytona. I thought there was a significant difference compared to short track racing and it was whole different style of racing due to the size of the track. I was thinking about the learning curve it would take but am confident that I would be able to adapt quickly.”
Sixteen-year-old Sommers, a native of Plover, Wisconsin, doesn’t have any big track experience but he does have connections to a lot of the Wisconsin hot shoes who have made the leap into big time superspeedway racing. He leaned on his late model crew chief Chris Wimmer for some advice before he heads down to Daytona.
“He said that you have to be a good driver, but largely it depends on how good your car is,” Sommers said. “He gave me advice on how and where to run to get the most out of my car. My dad has been to the track a handful of times. He said that it is about survival and being there in the end. He said that Daytona is the SuperBowl of racing and is one of the largest venues in the circuit. There is adrenaline in the air- the place is like no other.”
The two-day open test is scheduled for Friday and Saturday, January 10 and 11 with Sunday, January 12 reserved as a rain date. Live timing & scoring will be available throughout all on-track sessions on ARCARacing.com. The ARCA Road to Daytona program is overseen by 1995 ARCA Menards Series champion Andy Hillenburg and supported by Ilmor, General Tire, Sunoco, Valvoline, Eibach Springs, JRi Shocks, and Tropical Manor Daytona Beach Hotel. Previous participants include three-time 2019 ARCA Menards Series winner Ty Majeski and fourth-place finisher in the final 2019 series standings Travis Braden, both of whom participated in the program in 2014.