Seeing a Maine driver in the upper ranks of NASCAR has been hard to come by these days.
Strong’s Dale Brackett is hoping to change that.
Brackett attempted to make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut at Martinsville Speedway (Va.) last weekend, only to have rain send him home early. Still, he had no complaints.
“We were supposed to come out of Martinsville with more experience and I think we did that,” said the 30-year-old Brackett. “It was a big confidence builder for us.”
The Biddeford-born, Abbott-raised Brackett has been racing since he was young. He raced mini stocks as a teenager at Unity Raceway and still competes in Maine from time to time, but has spent the bulk of his time down south racing in various super late model series.
Now he’s turned his attention to NASCAR.
Rain washed out pole qualifying on Friday, forcing Brackett and two other drivers out of the show.
Missing the race did set him back a bit. Brackett is only licensed to race on tracks of one-mile in length or shorter. He has to prove to NASCAR that he can race with the big boys in the truck series.
He’ll get more chances to prove himself as he’s planning on attempting Indianapolis, Bristol, New Hampshire and Martinsville in the fall.
“We’re doing as much as funding can allow us,” said Brackett who said his next Truck Series attempt will be in July at O’Reilly Raceway Park in Indianapolis.
Funding is an issue. The team is actively seeking sponsorship, but he admits it’s a hard sell.
“I don’t think a lot of people really comprehend what we’ve done until they see it on TV,” he said.
Despite no sponsor, Brackett said he won’t start-and-park, the act of qualifying for a race only to collect purse money and not running more than a few laps before taking the truck to the garage.
To help him get more seat time in the truck, former series champion Johnny Benson Jr. will help guide Brackett in a test session at Sandusky Speedway in Iowa in late April.
NASCAR isn’t the only racing on Brackett’s plate. He made his Pro All Stars Series debut at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida where he placed 12th. He planned on running for the PASS National Championship before his wife, Valerie, spotted a conflict with the Truck Series schedule.
He and his crew were preparing his car for the PASS Easter Bunny 150 at Hickory (N.C.) this weekend, but instead will take the car and truck to Thompson (Conn.) for an open test session.
The poor economy allowed Brackett to move up the ranks.
“The truck counts and car counts in every division across the nation are dropping,” he said. “I guess for people like us, it’s an opportunity to move up.”
Brackett already had a hauler and the equipment, so he bought two trucks from Tim Bainey Jr., one for short tracks and the other for super speedways. Bainey competed in four races last year.
“I’ve known Tim Bainey for years. We’re good friends,” said Brackett. “We were licensed [by NASCAR] last year and we were going to lease the team and run a few starts to see how it went. For some reason [Bainey] decided he wanted to sell out, so we bought the team from them.”
Brackett has the trucks in his Strong shop he shares with fellow racer Vern Romanoski. Together they share a team and equipment.
Driving for a team with a limited budget, no sponsor and volunteer crew, Brackett embraces the underdog role.
“It’s a process for us. We know what we’re up against,” he said.
The Brackett Family Motorsports team plans on racing full time in the Truck Series in 2011, sponsorship willing.
The experience at Martinsville helped cement his dream of running full time in NASCAR.
“We came back from Martinsville with confidence that we belonged there and can compete at that level,” said Brackett.
The glory of being a NASCAR driver isn’t lost on Brackett.
“Everyday I’m pinching myself,” he said. “I think I’m going to wake up because I think I’m living a dream. I’m just a kid from Maine.”
His first surreal moment came last weekend as he was walking out of the tunnel under the track at Martinsville while wearing his driving suit.
“People started screaming “Dale! Dale! Dale!” I looked behind me thinking Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. was behind me, but they were looking for me,” laughed Brackett.
The lack of Maine drivers in NASCAR is something Brackett is well aware of. He wants to proudly represent his home.
“I want to do my best for my community and our state,” he said. “I think Maine’s the best kept secret in racing. We have a lot of good racers. Wherever they go, they dominate.”