PEVELY, Mo. - The season at Limaland Motorsports Park might be in the books, but the University of Northwestern Ohio High Performance Motorsports team isn't done just yet. Last Saturday, the Racers traveled west to Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55, and they plan on being back on the road this weekend.
It was the third time the UNOH team has raced at I55, but it was the first time Ryan O'Dette and Dwight Niehoff had been to the track. Third-year driver Kody Weisner wheeled the track during the team's westward trip last year.
"Going into this, I had everything to learn, starting from base one," O'Dette said. "We take it as a learning experience and did the best we could out there."
For the team, the chance to race nearly 500 miles away from campus gives them a great opportunity to spread the word about what's happening at UNOH. In this case, the action on the track is just as important as how the students conduct themselves in the pits and away from the track.
"That's the biggest goal, we get students back, even just a couple, that's going to be big. If we can show we recruit students, we can go back," Weisner said. "That's our tool to recruit. Regardless of our overall performance, our main goal is to go out there and bring students back. When we can do that and prove to Dr. (Jeff) Jarvis, (Steve) Farmer and the Board of Trustees that we're doing our job, recruiting students and making sponsors happy, then that's when we can go and do travel."
First-year driver Dwight Niehoff hails from Lockwood, Missouri, and while it's on the opposite side of the state, it was a thrill for him to race for UNOH in his home state. Niehoff actually found out about the University from their racing in Missouri last year.
"It was more of a recruiting adventure than a racing adventure," O'Dette said. "Focus on racing and when it comes around to it, you focus on recruiting students because it looks good for us."
The team left Saturday morning around 6 a.m. and returned Sunday night around 6 p.m. Within 36 hours, they were traveling for 15 hours and racing for around 10 hours. O'Dette said it wasn't like being in Volusia, Florida, where they compete in the week-long DIRTCar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park in February, but the Missouri trip is taxing.
"It's nothing like Volusia, seven nights of racing, up early every morning and late to bed," O'Dette said. "It's nothing like that, but it gives the new guys a taste of what it's like. It's mellow compared to Volusia."
Fifty cars were in the field at I55, which is owned by UNOH ambassador and motorsports legend Kenny Schrader, so it was impressive when Niehoff, O'Dette and Weisner all made the 24-car starting field for the feature.
Over two inches of rain the night before did little to soften the race track; the drivers encountered what each said was the slickest track he's ever seen. O'Dette made the feature directly from his heat race, and Weisner and O'Dette advanced through the B-main. Weisner finished 14th in the feature, O'Dette was 16th and Niehoff came in 18th.
"At first when I got out there and realized how slick it was, it was kind of nerve racking," O'Dette said. "But I knew we had a completely different set up in the car, knew it was going to be a good set up, so I went out there and focused on being smooth and not driving over my head."
Donnie Jumper of Impressive Race Cars, the company used to supply the University, was in attendance and helped the team with set ups.
"He really, really did a good job helping us the whole night," Weisner said. "I honestly think that's the best those cars have been, with all three of us transferring to the feature."
Weather permitting, the race teams plans on another trip this upcoming weekend. They will also travel to Eldora Speedway for the UMP Nationals on October 5 and 6.