Pace car ride at Loudon always a joy for NASCAR director

Childress turns on the two Toyota Camry TRD’s, but doesn’t get in yet. He cracks the windows and pumps the AC because even in New Hampshire, where the racers and officials have preached “milder” temperatures, a black interior bathed in the sun needs a little time to cool off.

The pit road speed limit is 45 miles per hour. The pace cars are tested because the speedometers on most cars aren’t exact.

He takes a lap and crosses the yellow pit road line at 45 m.p.h., but his speed is measured lower. On his next run he turns cruise control up to 46 m.p.h., which measures just right.

With the speed set, it’s time for some fun. He takes a lap and cranks things up, hitting 90 m.p.h., just a fraction of what the Cup racers hit on the course.

“And people still say these guys aren’t athletes,” he laughs.

Childress has done this for 14 years. He watched Cup racers such as Chase Elliott and Bubba Wallace rise in the ranks.

“To see those guys that I’ve been able to work with since ‘08, ‘09 and beyond, to today, where they are battling for wins? . . . It is a testament to what we see from the younger ranks,” he said.

Childress has made many trips to Loudon with NASCAR and said coming to the course has “always been fun.”

Patriots center David Andrews will be Sunday’s honorary pace car driver. He will be the seventh Patriot to drive the honorary car.

“I can’t think of a better way to celebrate my 30th birthday,” Andrews said in a press release. “I’m a big NASCAR fan, but I never dreamed of driving the pace car. Leading the field to green at ‘The Magic Mile’ is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I can’t wait to get behind the wheel!”

Landauer making Xfinity debut

Julia Landauer will become one of just two women to race in the Xfinity Series since 2019 when she makes her debut this weekend.

Landauer, 30, finished fifth in the 2020 NASCAR Euro series. She raced in NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series West in 2016-17 and the Pinty Series in 2019.

It’s been 18 months since Landauer has been in a stock car, but she said she prepared with simulation work, heightened training and watching videos.

“I’m jumping in the deep end a little bit,” she said. “I’m feeling really excited and very nervous.”

Landauer has raced at NHMS before with the Pinty Series.

“It’s a lot about momentum and rolling speed into the corner,” she said. “This will be a very long race, one of my longer races I’ve ever done, so gearing up for that.”

Landauer will race in Car 45 with Alpha Prime Racing and team general manager Tommy Joe Martins. Natalie Decker is the most recent female to compete in the Xfinity series, running once this year and five times last year.

“The more we have representation, the more little girls can think ‘Oh, I can do this, too,’” Landauer said. “I’m excited to represent and I hope to make everyone proud.”

In Friday’s Xfinity qualifying, Josh Berry won the pole. Driving Car 8, Berry sped through his last lap and clipped the car on the wall after his run. He expects the car to be fine for Saturday’s Crayon 200 at 2:30 p.m.

“If you hit the wall it’s going to tweak it a little bit,” Berry said. “That was a really good lap for us and I’m excited for tomorrow.”

Welcome to Next Gen

While Xfinity and Wheelen Modified racers geared things up for practice and qualifying rounds, Cup series drivers had a slower day.

The Cup series begins practice and qualifying Saturday and some teams did not even take the cars out of their haulers after they arrived Friday.

Although NHMS is familiar territory for many veteran Cup racers, the series is using new NextGen cars this season that could change the dynamics.

The Next Gen car, which replaced the Gen 6 used since 2013, aims to be more similar to cars you’d see at dealerships. It will be cheaper for the teams and is symmetrical, which puts a bigger emphasis on driver skill.

“It will be interesting to see how our new car reacts to this track,” Childress said. “Everywhere we’ve been for the first time has been interesting to see how that car takes to the track. The drivers, they’ve all had to change their driving style so I’m anxious to see how well the car acts, behaves, preforms because it is a car that is built for, in my opinion, a flat track.”

Crew chief Rodney Childers has plenty of success at NHMS with driver Kevin Harvick, who is going for a record fifth win at the track. He hopes the new car will adjust easily to the things they know about NHMS.

“The key this year will be switching over to the Next Gen car and figure out what makes it go fast,” Childers said. “Hopefully some of those things that we’ve learned in the past will adapt to the new car so we can go out there and have some speed.”

Qualifying for the Cup series is at 12:20 p.m. Saturday. The Armbetter 301 starts at 3 p.m. Sunday.