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Copyright 2001, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.
Bill Conger, a Novice-licensed road racer with WERA, is racing a 2001 Ford Taurus in the Pork The Other White Meat 400 ARCA race at Atlanta Motor Speedway Saturday, November 17.
"I've been sport riding for a while and doing track days and stuff," said Conger, a 35-year-old GSX-R600 rider. "A buddy of mine, Andy Mueller who works for Performance Honda in Charlotte, they used to sponsor a bunch of track days. He's a racer and he said, ‘Dude, you've gotta come race.' So I did the riders school in July at Road Atlanta and did three races in my first weekend. It was a four-region deal and I started dead-last in all four races of about 40 guys or something. I got up to 18th or 20th, something like that. Then I went to the National at Summit Point. I think I did four races and finished top 10 in all four. I plan on doing a lot more races next year.
"This is only my second ARCA series race. I've been in racing since 1992, though. I used to road race Formula cars. I worked out at Russell Racing School in California. Then I worked at the Jim Hall Racing School in Ventura, California. Then in the fall of '94, I moved to Charlotte because stock car racing's always been what I wanted to do. I started working at the Fast Track stock car school. I worked there almost seven years. I've also done a couple of late-model stock car races. I've probably got 50,000 miles in these big stock cars doing school-type stuff. When it comes to the racing side of the stock car, I'm still a Novice, though."
The field Conger is racing against includes three-time ARCA Champion (including 2001) Frank Kimmell, Kerry Earnhardt (son of the late Dale Earnhardt), Jason Jarrett (son of Dale Jarrett), Justin Labonte (son of Terry Labonte) and, strangely enough, Emerson Newton-John (nephew of singer Olivia Newton-John).
Conger got off to a good start by qualifying 8th out of 41 entries Thursday, November 15 with a lap time of 29.780 seconds, an average speed of 186.165 mph around AMS' 1.54-mile oval. Kimmell is on the pole with a new lap record of 29.356-second lap at 188.854 mph. Earnhardt and Jarrett out-qualified Conger, but Conger was faster than Labonte Thursday. Then in Friday's "Happy Hour", Conger moved up past Jarrett and Earnhardt to fourth-fastest and closed the gap between himself and the quickest driver, Kimmell. Where Conger had been 2.7 mph slower than Kimmell Thursday, Conger was only 1.3 mph slower in the "Happy Hour" session.
"Things are going pretty good so far. I think we have a pretty good car for the race," said Conger via cell phone from the AMS paddock Friday afternoon.
There were rumors going around that Conger, largely unsponsored except for some help from a friend at Crescent Trucks of New Orleans, was running WERA stickers on his car at Atlanta.
"They're the small series stickers that they make you run on the motorcycle," explained Conger. "I've got one of those on the B-post. Andrew (Mueller) was talking to Sean (Clarke, WERA Operations Manager) and we might try to work a deal out and run (a big hood sticker)."
The ARCA Pork The Other White Meat 400 race will be televised live at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time on TNT.
With Conger's experience in road racing cars and bikes, and in stock car racing on ovals, we asked him how the two different disciplines compared.
"It's hard to compare them because I love them both," said Conger, who earns a living doing free-lance test driving for auto manufacturers, including a stint tire testing for Pirelli with Ferraris, Lambouginis and Saleen Mustangs at Homestead last year. "I love road racing and I love stock car racing. It's just totally different. In road racing, it seems like you can make up for an ill-handling car. A driver can compensate for a bad-handling car. Where in stock car racing, a driver makes a car handle well because if it doesn't handle well, it's undriveable.
"People think, ‘Aw, you're just going around in circles.' But people don't realize, if you take the length of a road course that is two miles long and actually map out the turns, the turns on a two-mile road course are probably less than a mile, maybe actually a half-mile. If you look at an oval like Atlanta (Motor Speedway) here, it's a mile and a half but the corners are a half-mile long each and the two straightaways are only a quarter of a mile. So you're looking at a mile of corners and a half-mile of straightaways. So you kind of figure if your car doesn't handle right, you're going backwards in a hurry.
"So when it comes to driving, it's a totally different deal. (In stock cars) You're focusing constantly on making the car as good as it can be. Because if the car's not good you're not gonna make up for it. In road racing, it's easier to compensate driving styles for an ill-handling race car. Yeah, you want to make it the best, but you can compensate it. So there's a different mind set there when it comes to driving the cars.
"But I love them both. I've told people that I wish that I would've gotten into bikes at a much younger age because I think people can get a lot further on their own dime in motorcycle racing because the costs are a lot less. So you can take yourself to a higher level cheaper than you ever could in stock car racing. I'm not setting the world on fire in the motorcycle stuff, but I think I could've done well.
"It's been since November of last year when I was last in a stock car before testing here last week. And actually motorcycle racing helped a lot because I didn't have to get used to the speed. Usually, you have to get your timing up and all that. Even though we're going a lot faster (than motorcycles) and these cars accelerate hard, it still doesn't accelerate as hard as a motorcycle. That rush of being shoved back into the seat, it's no greater in a car than being on a motorcycle. So the bike has actually kept me in shape and kept me going comfortable and used to the speed to get in these stock cars."