After a solid campaign throughout the 2018 season, Paul Pepper is ready to get back at it for 2019.
“Entering the season we are really excited about 2019,” he told SHORT TRACK MUSINGS. “The car is getting some much needed updates on it to make us more competitive for this season. Really excited to get behind the wheel and start testing in May.”
The current focus has Pepper at Sauble Speedway on a weekly basis competing for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division II Track Championship.
“Our goals this year are to be a top-three to five car at the start of the year and hopefully by the midway point we can be competing for heat and feature wins,” he commented. “We’re running for a track championship and believe if we can be consistent and stay out of trouble, we’ll have a good shot at competing for a title.”
Pepper will do some traveling, though, as he plans to be attendance for the Velocity 250 weekend at Sunset Speedway, as well as a couple other possible dates.
“Right now we could potentially do as many as 17 races if we can secure the proper sponsorship,” he commented. “If we can’t, then we’re going to focus on the eight races at the beach as well as two select high profile races at Sunset. The 17 races would include all the races at Sauble, a race at Jukasa (Motor Speedway) and various races at Sunset.”
Looking back on the 2018 season which saw Pepper score a pair of top-10’s in regular competition at Sunset Speedway, he feels the most important thing he learned was how important it is to relay information back to the team about the car’s handling.
“Chris Ruigrok at CARFAB is a great set up guy when it comes to thinking outside of the box,” Pepper said. “Last year was figuring out what the car responded to when it would come to spring rates and chassis adjustments as well as what fit my driving style.”
Pepper feels if he can improve his feedback to Ruigrok, they can have a successful season as it’ll give him the right tools to put the right set-up underneath their Super Stock.
“I think we need to do a better job as well as recording our “notes” at the track and test sessions on what is working and what isn’t working,” he added. “Last year was such an information overload for myself. I didn’t allow enough time for that but it’s something I’m committing to this season. Our beer drinking skills are pretty on point so there isn’t much room for improvement there.”
Being able to run up front in the super stock class is no easy task, as evident by the steep pool of talent across the province. That should once again be showcased at Sauble Speedway, as many drivers will be returning for 2019 despite the shortened schedule.
“There’s a lot of great teams in our division that have been doing this thing for many years and having notes to go back on for track set ups which makes it a challenge for a second year team like ours to keep pace,” Pepper admits. “But with the information we gained last year and the improvements we’re making in the off season, I’m really looking forward to going door to door with the best of them.”
For Pepper, his start in racing began behind the wheel at a computer after watching action on the track from a young age, beginning with going to Merritville Speedway with his family.
“I was hooked from the first time I stepped into a track when I was seven/eight years old,” he recalled. “I knew I always wanted to get into it but wasn’t sure how. I have to give a huge shout out to Kris Lewko and Andy Kamrath who let me kind of be a pit grunt for them when Andy was in the APC (Series) tour in 2017. That just got the juices flowing more and more and I knew I had to get into racing somehow on some level. Through hard work and a lot of pennies saved, I was able to get our team up off the ground last winter. Last season was the first time actually racing anything that wasn’t on a simulation though.”
Despite only having one year under his belt, he admits it’s hard to pick out a single memorable moment from the 2018 campaign, whether good or bad.
“The major one away from the track would be getting to know Chris Ruigrok and his Wife Ashley and their two little girls,” he commented. “Those two are the kindest people you will ever meet. They went above and beyond anything I could have imagined in helping me last year and I’m not even talking about on track support. Me coming from North Bay to travel to Sauble and Sunset is a bit of a jaunt and those two couldn’t have made that easier.
“As far as on track, it would definitely be leading laps in one of the Great Lakes (Concrete) Series races at the beach. When I took the lead and went down the straight away for the first time leading the pack, I could barely keep the throttle to the floor; my leg was shaking so much.
“With the help from Chris and CARFAB Motorsports this year, I can’t wait for that feeling again.”