TOLEDO, Ohio (Nov. 11, 2017) -- By the time Thomas "Moose" Praytor packed up and headed for the hills, all the other teams were already loaded up and driving out the back gate. The only one left in the garage was the person dragging the broom you see in the cover photo…that, and one "very, very happy" Max Force Racing crew.
"We were very, very happy with the results," said Praytor. "I'm really proud of our effort. There were a lot of people in Mobile that made it happen. Even got my boss from the truck driving school to help us. He came to Talladega…I think he's hooked now."
Apparently Praytor is hooked too. On a shoestring budget, his Mobile, Alabama-based team is planning to be at Daytona for the season opener in February.
"Really looking forward to Daytona and see what that brings. A lot of people ask us, 'are you running the whole season?' I don't know…I was only supposed to run three races five years ago and here we are."
Here they are indeed. In fact Praytor, with his ragtag volunteer mob, travel farther to and from ARCA events than anyone on tour. He's also been a top-10 championship finisher in each of the last five years, including his career-best fifth-place championship run in 2016. The test at Talladega was his first attempt in a composite body car.
"We had a lot of help from people in Mobile…Craig Pickering, Brad Wallace, Adam (Lowe/Crew Chief), my dad and me worked all hours of the night. We really never knew for sure if we were going to be ready to test. We didn't have a body yet, but we were getting the car ready just in case."
The "just in case" part arrived in the nick of time, about "four or five days" ahead of the test.
"My dad went up and got it (the composite body) in North Carolina and came back with the body in one piece. We literally picked it up and put it on. It was fairly easy…like mounting a late model body. At the same time, it was really tough because we never done one before, and we didn't have anything to go off of. We ended up guessing pretty good."
But before the body even arrived, it's worth noting that the team had no car or engine either. Family friend Mike Abrams ferried the team’s superspeedway chassis to North Carolina where Billy Hess raised the halo in order to accommodate a composite body. In another stroke of good fortune, an ARCA team loaned the team an ARCA Ilmor 396 engine.
"Me and Adam put the seat and motor in, sort of hoping the rest would all come together."
And quite fortunately it all did come together with not a moment to spare.
"We worked on the car till 3:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, loaded up, went home and showered and drove up to Talladega. We got to the track about 9:30 (a.m.) and unloaded…we still had a lot of work to do on the car. Worked all day on it…made it out at the end of the day…about 8 or 9 laps."
After all that, you might think they'd be ready to go right out of the gate Wednesday morning.
"We actually spent most of the day Wednesday getting through tech. We figured that'd be just as important as getting on the race track. We were surprised coming through tech when "Gadget" (ARCA official Alan Sheppard) told us everything was where it needed to be…we were just guessing. Really appreciate Gadget and Tony (Ortega/ARCA official) spending so much time with us in tech. We had a few little issues but nothing too bad.”
Fortunately Praytor had a lot of good help in the garage.
"Gotta give props to the Ilmor guys. We hadn't even cranked the motor when we left the shop. Everyone at Ilmor really helped us out and made sure everything was good, and it was. Everyone really banded together to get us out on the race track."
ARCA racer Dick Doheny was also on hand to help.
"Dick Doheny really helped us out. We love him…he makes problems go away quickly."
After all that hustle and bustle, wouldn't you know it…it started to sprinkle again on the final afternoon. Despite only getting out for a few rounds, Praytor and crew still felt like they conquered the world.
"We only got four laps in Wednesday, but we did good…very, very happy with the results. The whole experience was awesome…everything really paid off for us. We would have liked to have made more laps but to accomplish all we did in the time we had...we couldn't be happier."
If Praytor wasn't a big believer in the newer composite bodies, he is now.
"I've been told it can't be done…you can't mount one of these bodies by yourself…you gotta pay someone. We did it…it can be done. Really happy with how it drove. We were concerned about the change…everybody gets freaked out about change; but after one or two laps, it was just like everything else.
"It was kind of weird, I had been inside the car working and we set the seat without the body on, so it was the first time I sat in the seat with the body on. I couldn’t believe the room...at 6'2” I have to squish down in the old car…the new car felt like I could have a party inside there.
"At the end of the day, these bodies are all good. There's the initial cost of the body, which is big deal for this little team but they look awesome and we already know they make for great racing…just look back over the last few years."
Praytor was already back to work in Mobile Thursday morning. In addition to working full-time in the shop, he's a truck driving instructor at a local college.
"Back to work this morning already. We're halfway through the semester at Bishop State Truck Driving College. Just getting ready to go out with some students."
With a keen eye on Veterans Day, Praytor ended the conversation with a question.
"When are you going to publish this?"
"Saturday, Veterans Day," was the answer.
"That's real good…I was hoping you'd say that. Can you do me a favor? Can you thank all the veterans on behalf of our team?...that we appreciate all their service and sacrifices. Tell 'em that nobody on this Max Force Racing team will ever take a knee at the track or anywhere else. Didn't know if you can fit that in, but that's the most important thing we want to say. Can you say that?"
I think you just did, Moose.