The ARCA Menards Series annual visit to the seven-eighths mile Iowa Speedway is, as often the case, part of a double-header with another racing series. Most of the time, the ARCA teams race in conjunction with series that have fenders over their wheels such as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the NASCAR XFINITY Series, the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series, and even short track touring series such as the ARCA/CRA Super Series and occasionally the open wheel USAC Silver Crown Series. But at Iowa, it’s perhaps the most unique doubleheader of the entire season.
The Fans with Benefits 150, scheduled for Friday night at 9 pm ET/8 pm CT, will open the two-day shared weekend with the NTT Data IndyCar Series, which is set to close the weekend with the Iowa 300 on Saturday night at 7 pm ET/6 pm CT.
For drivers in both series, if gives them a chance to see a completely different discipline of racing up close and personal.
While ARCA drivers don’t shy away from speeds at or above 180 miles per hour – pole speeds at Daytona, Talladega, and Michigan routinely approach 185 miles per hour – the IndyCar drivers will reach that at Iowa. Perhaps it’s not surprising that stock cars would exceed 180 miles per hour on tracks that are two miles in length and longer, but when Iowa’s length – just seven-eighths of a mile – is taken into consideration, the speeds IndyCar drivers reach are all that much more impressive. That’s a feat that drivers such as series championship leader Michael Self (No. 25 Sinclair Lubricants Toyota) watches with tremendous respect.
“I definitely like watching them,” Self said. “It’s cool to go see those guys and think ‘what if’ and think back to my open wheel days. I have a little different appreciation for them than some of the other guys because of my open wheel background. It’s great to be partnered with them at Iowa. It’s a little different and a very unique weekend for us.”
For their part, the IndyCar drivers pay attention to what’s going on with the stock cars as well, even if they don’t get to sit, relax, and watch like race fans do. One of the biggest reasons they as a group will observe the action is to see where the bigger, heavier stock cars are running on the track. They need to see where ARCA’s General Tire rubber is being laid down before they take to the track with speeds approaching 200 miles per hour. The IndyCar Series uses a different tire manufacturer and the differing rubber compounds could lead to some anxious moments if they aren’t careful. But the combination of two vastly different types of racing on the same weekend is seen as a huge win for the track’s fans.
“I know for us, the biggest thing is the different rubber on the track,” Ed Carpenter, driver of the No. 20 Autogeek Chevrolet for his own Ed Carpenter Racing team said. “I’m sure it’s the same the other way when we’ve been running with our rubber on the track. It changes the grip level initially, so we need to be aware of how it changes the track conditions. Overall it’s just a great experience for the fans to see different types of racing on the same weekend.”
Self has a lot of experience in various forms of racing, starting in go-karts and transitioning into lower open wheel formulae before making the change into stock cars when he was eighteen years old. That open wheel experience gives him an added level of respect for what the top-level IndyCar drivers can do.
“When I go coaching with the Trans Am Series, there are a handful of races with IndyCar,” he said. “We race at Detroit the same time they do. IndyCar will run after our race on Saturday and Sunday. Usually between practices we’ll go wander the garage. It’s open to the fans and you can walk through and look at the setups and get up close. They put out their floors and these big tents and the fans can see in. We usually stay and watch the races and see them up close. It’s a cool atmosphere. It’s very unique and fun to watch.”
Despite his open wheel and road racing background, Self eventually transitioned into stock cars, for no other reason than he and his family thought stock car racing on ovals would be fun to try.
“It was growing up and watching stock cars,” he said. “I liked watching NASCAR and it was something I always wanted to try. I had fun driving a Focus Midget on ovals and it was something I wanted to try. Don’t get me wrong, I love road racing and I’d like to do more of it, but we tried stock car racing and really enjoyed it. That’s what we decided we wanted to do and we gave it a try.”
Self’s transition into stock cars eventually led him to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. He has eight career NKNPSW wins including two at Iowa Speedway. He has two previous ARCA Menards Series starts and finished fourth in 2017 but was a disappointing 18th last season.
“I need to stop wrecking every time I go there,” Self said with a laugh. “Last year I led a bunch of laps and wrecked us and the 18 (Riley Herbst). We had the two best cars and ended our day early. The year before I wrecked early, then got back up to the lead and wrecked again. I need to put a full race together and run all the laps. That would be a start.”