Caleb Holman nearly achieved a defining moment in his long and varied racing career last August at Bristol Motor Speedway.
With Bristol, Tennessee, native Chris Carrier serving as crew chief of the Abingdon-based Food Country USA Chevrolet, Holman qualified eighth for the Camping World Truck Series UNOH 200 and charged to fourth in the opening 10 laps.
Just when it appeared that Holman would post his career-best NASCAR finish, the Food Country truck was seriously damaged in a crash on lap 112. Holman was running sixth at the time.
Instead of sulking, Holman has focused on the bright side. He’s even watched a replay of that Bristol race a couple times.
“We had a terrible ending after we wound up in the wrong place at the wrong time, but that was the most fun I’ve had in the truck series,” Holman said. “Yes, the crash is tough to think about, but that’s just racing. We came away very excited with the speed we had.”
Since Dec. 1, Holman, Carrier and a handful of loyal assistants have toiled and tinkered at least eight hours a day six days a week in the Henderson Motorsports shop in Abingdon preparing for Saturday afternoon’s truck series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Three hours of practice are scheduled for Friday, with the race set for a 4:30 p.m. start Saturday.
“We feel good about the way things are shaping up,” Holman said Thursday. “We’ve put a lot of time into this truck.”
Holman has made 27 truck series starts since 2012. In seven races last season, he recorded an average finish of 20.3 with a career-best finish of eighth at Martinsville Speedway.
“We missed some opportunities, but we feel good overall about year,” he said. “No matter how we finished, we had speed and that’s vital.”
The Food Country team opted not to enter last week’s truck series opener at Daytona, but team owner Charlie Henderson has mapped out a 10-race schedule. Additions include the Sept. 16 event at Chicagoland Speedway.
There is a never-ending chase for speed at all levels of NASCAR. For Atlanta, Holman said his team will use a Joe Gibbs Racing engine.
Like all the small teams in the truck series, Holman is eager for the introduction of NASCAR’s new spec or “Delta engine” program before the May 20th race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
According to Holman, the option of leasing a spec or crate engine will cut costs in half for teams compared to the old method of piecing together a leasing program with a NASCAR mega operation
“That’s why we’re able to run three more races,” Holman said. “We were having to pay $30,000 per motor.”
The cost of leasing spec motor will be determined by the number of miles in each race. The underlying idea is to level the playing field between large and small teams.
“The average cost of a spec motor would be around $13,000, but for Bristol the cost would only be around $8,000,” Holman said. “Late models have been doing programs like this for years. NASCAR has been slow to adapt in this area, but something had to be done because we’re seeing fewer and teams, especially in the truck series.”
Teams in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series currently use spec engines.
As for the biggest change in the truck series, the so-called 20-minute shot clock, Holman is in favor. Basically, race officials will use a 20-minute timer that begins at the start of each green-flag run. If no caution period occurs before the 20-minutes expire, the yellow flag will fly and teams will have opportunity to make pit stops and adjustments under caution.
“The idea sounds contrived, but it is a way to create excitement and other sports are doing the similar things,” Holman said. “As a race fan, I get it. It takes a long time to cover 20 miles anyway. The only worry would come if everybody decided to pit right before the caution.”
Several truck series drivers have expressed mixed feelings and confusion over the caution clock idea, but Holman said he can rely on his veteran crew chief for guidance
“I’m not real worried,” Holman said. “Chris is always on top of things. We will just simply race as usual and wait until the caution flag comes out.”
The truck series will also a feature a Chase playoff format for the first time this season. Due to a lack of funding and manpower, the Food Country team will not be able to run a full a 23-race schedule.
“We just don’t have the people to run enough races to be eligible, but the Chase should be interesting,” Holman said. “I think about every change NASCAR has made this season is good for the series.”
One of the primary storylines in the truck series continues to be the invasion of young drivers. NASCAR Next members such as a Cole Custer, 18-year-old William Byron, Austin Wayne Self and John Hunter Nemecheck will make their series debut on a 1.54-mile track Saturday at Atlanta.
“There are a lot of guys in the pits that I don’t recognize,” the 31-year-old Holman said. “I feel older when I’m around some of these kids. It’s kind of like going back to Little League, but there is a lot of money and talent in this series.”
The Food Country operation has landed an associate sponsor deal with Lay’s for Saturday’s race, which figures to have 34 entries for the 32 starting sports.
“We have really good stuff and we’re well prepared,” Holman said. “We’re ready to get our season started.”