Going into the NASCAR Nationwide race this weekend, Canadian road course ringer Ron Fellows has only one thing on his mind: a win.
And with his history of success at the 3.94-kilometre, 11-turn Watkins Glen road course, Fellows will put his helmet on knowing he’s got the right stuff to get the job done in Saturday’s Zippo 200.
“I feel very good about it,” he said. “It’s a track that suits my driving style. Yeah, it’s like a second home: really enjoy racing there, really looking forward to it.”
In 11 starts at the New York State track, Fellows has three career Nationwide wins and eight top 10 finishes. He has started on pole twice and led a total of 189 laps. He has also finished in the top five three times in 14 Sprint Cup starts at The Glen, including a phenomenal second-place in 2004 after starting 43rd and dead last on the grid.
In his first 2012 Nationwide race at Wisconsin’s Road America track, Fellows started third and finished in the same spot, although it wasn’t an easy day. A flat tire early in the going essentially ruined his day and forced him to play catch-up for most of the afternoon.
As he clawed his way back to the front, Fellows pulled off what has to be one of the best passes of the season with a daring overtake of his JR Motorsport teammate Danica Patrick around the outside of the long, sweeping, right-hand turn known as The Carousel.
While his No. 5 Chevy team remains the same, the sponsor on his car switches to Canadian Tire, as he begins a two-race stint with the red shield logo on his hood.
Fellows will also have his work cut out for him since the two tracks he is racing at back-to-back in the span of a week – Watkins Glen and Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – couldn’t be more different.
“It’s kind of like comparing a mile-and-a-half speedway to [the tight 0.526-mile oval at] Martinsville,” he said.
“Watkins Glen is long, fast corners. I think the minimum corner speed in turn one is probably 90 miles per hour [145 km/h], upwards of one of the fastest corners in Montreal,” he said.
“Montreal is heavy, heavy braking from high speed for 45 mph [70 km/h] chicanes, and a 35 mph [50 km/h] hairpin. Up through the esses at Watkins Glen, you’re 150 mph [240 km/h] through the corner. Just very different.”
In addition, the car set-up is very different. On the flowing New York track, the car needs to be a stable platform, and having the right aerodynamic package is critical. On the other hand, Montreal’s lower speeds means that the aero dependence is reduced and maximizing mechanical grip from the tires moves to the top of the list.
And that’s where being a guy who jumps into a Nationwide car a few times a year gets dicey. While the driving part is never an issue, Fellows said the most difficult aspect of the process is getting down to the details of car set-up.
“Where I feel like it takes a little bit longer is in terms of the really precise feedback when you’re getting down to fine tuning. That takes a little bit longer, especially with these cars,” said Fellows, who won three American Le Mans Series GT class titles racing Chevrolet Corvettes.
“When I started doing just a few NASCAR road races, not doing any sports car racing, my concern was the race craft. That seems to come back fairly quickly. It’s primarily being able to, in the short amount of practice time, get the JRM crew ... the quality details they need to get the car to do what I need it to do for me.”
While he’s concentrating on racing this weekend and next, Fellows will still be keeping an eye on the fans.
That’s because he is now a co-owner of the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ont. after buying it with partners last year, and he often finds himself getting distracted a bit by the things that the track is doing to give fans a better experience.
“Yeah, whether I like it or not, I’m there to race, but it’s hard not to go drive through the gates at Watkins Glen, for instance, and look around at the way things are presented [and think] yeah, we can do that; yeah, we need to do that,” he said.
“Usually I get a quick reminder from my wife: ‘You’re here to race.’”
Fellows has made no secret of the fact that the track’s new management wants to convince NASCAR to bring Nationwide racing to the venue.
Fans also should remember that they still have time to enter the Fellows Five contest at http://www.fellowsfive.com.
Contestants must answer five questions related to his performance in the races at The Glen and Montreal. Prizes include signed memorabilia and die-cast cars, with the overall winner getting a three-day package at the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School at Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club, near Las Vegas, which includes a hotel for three nights and a US$400 Visa Gift Card.
And, added Fellows, getting the chance to experience high-performance driving in the school’s Corvettes is well worth the trouble of filling out a ballot.
“You never go wrong going to a driving school,” he said. “You always pick up a few items and some techniques that are going to help.”
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