EDITORS NOTE: This is part two of a three part preview series for the eNASCAR Road-to-Pro Series. Part one can be found by clicking here.
The old aphorism goes, ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again’.
The fight to the top of the mountain is hardly ever an easy one, and there are quite a number of hopeful iRacers out there that have tried before, but they haven’t given up.
Besides the group of drivers mentioned in Part One that are trying to make their way back to the top level, there are plenty of drivers who have tried to make it before, falling short, but will try again in 2020.
These drivers are all more than determined to learn from their past experiences in the Road-to-Pro and Pro Series, and have their sights set on one goal – making the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series roster for 2021.
TRY, TRY AGAIN
Liam Brotherton got closer than most did in the 2019 season. Brotherton advanced through to the Pro Series, but came up seven spots shy of the cutoff to make the eNASCAR Coca-Coca iRacing Series roster at season’s end, earning a pole position and a Top-10 in the seven race stint.
Brotherton, 20, was born in Phoenix, Arizona, grew up in Kingsport, Tennessee, and currently resides in Charlotte, North Carolina where he’s attending The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, studying up for a Major degree in Operational Management.
“I’ve been on iRacing ever since I came back to the service in 2017, with the help of Bryan Blackford, a fellow RTP driver, and I have attempted ever since to make (the Coca-Cola Series),” Brotherton said.
“I originally started sim racing at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, just like Garrett Lowe, and found a lot of success racing there. That’s how I met Bryan, and how he eventually felt lead to getting me on iRacing for real. There are several drivers currently racing there we may see succeed into (the Coca-Cola Series) once they get iRacing for real as well.”
Brotherton has had a bit of a journey since his last stint in the Pro Series last year, jumping from team to team, trying to find the right group for him to not only succeed, but to also make lifelong friendships within. As of now, Brotherton identifies himself as an independent driver, but says there might be something in the works.
“Last year was a wild journey, and after finishing fourth in Road-to-Pro points (in 2019), I was extremely confident I would make the Coca-Cola Series,” Brotherton stated. “Unfortunately, I made a few mistakes, namely Atlanta, and I had some horrific luck in others.
“I learned a ton during the season and by the end of the series I was a lot better off… now it’s just about executing every race like I know how to, and running to my numbers.
“Spending time with some of the veterans of the series during (iRacing) Media Day (in Charlotte) really helped get my mind ready to make it this year.”
— 🅻🅸🅰🅼 (@Liam_Brotherton) March 9, 2020
With new sponsorship in tow from Grit Motorsports Marketing, the #TeamAll4Christ driver is weary of the virtual trucks he’ll be driving, yet still confident in his ability to produce the results he needs to advance. “Overall, Road-to-Pro is an enjoyable format, and truly, I’ve always been good in the truck,” Brotherton said. “Unfortunately, driving the truck also has it’s negatives of being wide open, or nearly so on a lot of 1.5 milers for 10 to 15 laps, and that creates a lot of wrecks typically.”
“Oddly, Homestead has typically not been a good track for me, but last year during Pro, it wound up being my best result. This year, looking at the schedule I have Atlanta, Richmond and Martinsville circled with the most confidence, and then last year I finished 5th at Mosport so I am also looking toward the two road courses for a nice consistent run as well.”
The team aspect is more important than it’s ever been in the top levels of the iRacing Pro series. The 40 Coca-Cola Series drivers are all signed with one of the 20 official teams, but it’s the backend teams, such as LockDown Racing, that brings groups of drivers together to work on setups and prepare for each race week.
LockDown Racing currently includes the defending eNCiS champion, Zack Novak, his Richmond Raceway eSports teammate, Jimmy Mullis, and the Renegades’ Corey Vincent. A pair of teammates on LockDown Racing, Briar LaPradd and Michael Fenlason, both working in part with the Coca-Cola Series effort of Vincent’s No. 27 Renegades Ford Mustang, will be attempting to advance through the ranks themselves.
Excited to get the Road To Pro season underway! Thanks to @JDRGraphics for the 2020 scheme. It’s going to be a big year for #eNASCAR and it’s time to prove I belong in it. Good luck to all the others competing this year!
Lockdown Racing x Ledford Billiard Supply pic.twitter.com/UG1MUWgVRz
— Briar LaPradd (@PatriotBriar) March 9, 2020
LaPradd is only 17-years-old, and still attends High School in Manchester, Tennessee. A Twitch streamer, his channel by the name of PatriotBriar, LaPradd is not only working with three of the top eNASCAR drivers out there, but is also working with a few teammates that have both made it to the top, and have not made it after things were all said and done.
“Taylor (Hurst) and Will (Cooley) give very good advice on doing good in Road to Pro races,” LaPradd said. “Taylor has been on the service for a while, so he has a lot of experience with all of this.”
“Last year was my first year attempting to go Pro, and it is a lot different than I thought it would be,” LaPradd added. “Testing with Michael, Taylor, and Will is a great thing to have, because we bounce ideas off of each other and are able to help each other gain some speed in the trucks as we test.”
“One good thing about being a part of LockDown Racing is the driver talent that we have on the roster,” Fenlason adds. “Jimmy Mullis and Zack Novak are carrying the flag for us already in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series. Taylor Hurst was just in the series last year, and it’s been great to test with him the past few weeks along with Will Cooley, who both have that experience of being at the top level. Racing alongside Taylor and Will during this Road-to-Pro season should be a blast.”
Fenlason, 19, hails from Connecticut, and works a full-time job after recently graduating High School himself. After joining LockDown Racing recently, Fenlason hopes that he can not only get back to the Pro Series like he did in 2018, but also break through into the Coca-Cola Series for 2021.
Ready to drive this beauty for the next six months with a great new team in LockDown Racing! Really looking forward to potentially making Pro again and eventually the @CocaCola @iRacing Series in 2021!
The road begins Tuesday! pic.twitter.com/v435zQAFCs
— Michael Fenlason (@MikeFenlasonJr) March 8, 2020
“This is the first time that I have felt really comfortable on an iRacing team, and I am so excited to see what 2020 brings,” Fenlason said. “I think I’ve had some struggles the past few years just based on my positioning and real life work. During the Pro Series in 2018, I was working near 60-hour weeks, and usually just getting home in time for the race and during the week not having much time to test and experiment with things. Having a better work schedule now is already allowing me to test and do more things so I’m really looking forward to making the jump this year and hopefully making the big-time Coca-Cola Series next year.”
Both Fenlason and LaPradd seem to have the right mindset heading into the 2020 Road-to-Pro series, knowing that learning from the past will fuel their desire to place themselves in the Top 20 at season’s end.
“When I started last season I feel like I wasn’t ready enough to even make the Top 20,” LaPradd included. “I’m still surprised to this day on how I finished that high. The first half of the season I didn’t finish one race clean besides Atlanta, and my one win at Dover. This year is very different. People probably look at me and say I will be one of those in the top 20. I think it will be survival of the fittest. If you can avoid those wrecks and keep the truck in one piece until the end, you’ll have a great season ahead.”
“I would say the biggest thing would be to appreciate the effort these guys in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series put in for every race… There are a lot more similarities between the virtual and real-life side of racing competition at the top level than most would realize at the surface.”
Another 19-year-old hopeful, Blade Whitt is wise beyond his years, knowing the level of commitment it’s going to take to even have a shot to be the next Coca-Cola Series regular.
Whitt currently lives in Roanoke, Virginia where he’s studying for a degree in Computer Sciences, and used to race go-karts during his childhood. Now one of the top talents on the iRacing service, he’s looking have more consistency in his upcoming bout in the 2020 Road-to-Pro Series.
“I think, first and foremost, I need to finish races more consistently,” Whitt said. “I think ways I can move towards that goal is by qualifying better overall, and avoiding some high-risk, low-reward situations on track. Some of the events that happened to me last season were out of my control, but others were in my control and I should focus on rectifying what I can change.”
A partial competitor in the previous two Road-to-Pro iterations, Whitt still claimed at 48th place overall finish in the 2019 season having missed a couple of races. The current format isn’t something he necessarily loves, but Whitt still believes it, along with the 2020 schedule, gives him a fair fight in his quest to making the top level.
“I’ve been a critic of the Road-to-Pro format at times over the past few years, but overall I think the format is good,” Whitt said. “This format requires a high level of commitment spanning many months, as well as a high level of consistency over that time. I think that’s a good thing.”
I’m excited to showcase my new paint scheme for the 2020 Road to Pro season! Thanks to Justin Rowden for his brilliant work on this truck! pic.twitter.com/lpZDkKqd9j
— Blade Whitt (@Blade_Whitt) March 10, 2020
“I’m looking forward to the short tracks on the schedule like Martinsville and Richmond, as well as some of the low grip 1.5 mile tracks like Homestead and Atlanta. I’m not looking forward to Daytona as pack racing isn’t my preferred type of racing at all. I still believe I can get a good finish and will need one to start the year right.”
Whitt will participate this season with Lowline Racing, and has a teammate in Jeremy B. Davis who was able to make it out of the Road-to-Pro series to compete in the Pro Series in both 2018 and 2019.
“I’ve been good friends with Jeremy for about five years now, and we’ve been on the same team together for about the same amount of time,” Whitt said. “I was his spotter and crew chief for both of his Pro Series efforts in 2018 and 2019.
“I feel like looking at his ability to finish races is something I need to look at going forward into this season. Being able to make the best out of sub-optimal days will be important to lock myself into the Pro Series this year.”
20-years-old, but making his fourth attempt at making the Pro Series this season, Dallas Pataska has a little more experience than most of the others that I spoke to in Part Two, and that gives him a little more to learn from entering the 2020 Road-to-Pro season.
Racing online in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Pataska works part-time in a warehouse, and goes to school online, hoping to one day become a Data Analyst.
Pataska finished 60th overall in the Pro Series in 2017 before iRacing and eNASCAR made changes to the series by adding the Road-to-Pro in 2018. This season, he’s confident more than ever that he’s going to be able to advance up the ranks, stating the inexperience from most of the field will be his advantage.
“There’s always usually a few people you never expect that end up being very competitive, but I think most people would agree that the competition this (year) isn’t what it’s been in past years, because most of the field is made up of young talent that’s unproven. Even though I’d classify this season’s drivers as being ‘easier’, it’s still difficult because I don’t have much experience racing against many of the drivers that are expected to participate.”
You can catch all the action LIVE on the SARA FB page at 10 PM EST. pic.twitter.com/nrFJNZzphi
— Dynamic Autosports (@DynamicAutoTeam) February 8, 2019
Pataska is in his third year racing with Dynamic Autosports on the NASCAR side of the iRacing service, and works together with Christian Challiner, driver of the No. 37 for JTG Daugherty Racing in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series. Pataska says the amount of testing they all do together on a weekly basis is pretty much par the course.
“I’ll typically spend about 30 to 40 hours a week testing, with 18 to 25 hours being put towards the truck,” Pataska said, noting his involvement with Challiner’s efforts in the Coca-Cola Series.
Pataska is also one of the top American drivers on the Road side of the iRacing service, sitting 32nd among drivers from the USA with over 6000 iRating on his Class A license, complimenting his over 6800 iRating on the Oval side.
Looking on the surface alone, this guy is just an iRacing machine, and that’s most likely why his name kept coming up in my Twitter mentions the other day.
“I’m looking forward to the two road courses the most because I finished second at MoSport last season, and I already feel miles better compared to where I was as a driver and a setup builder alike,” Pataska said. “Daytona is easily the track I’m most concerned about, because so much is out of the driver’s hands, so there isn’t much you can do but watch your car get destroyed or find a magical hole to fit through.”
At the end of the day, and at the end of the season, Pataska believes that if the luck goes his way, his veteran status will help him make it through the gauntlet.
“I’ve had the pace to run inside the Top 10 most weeks in top split, I’ve just ran into too many wrecks, so this year is about being more prepared and outworking my opponents in order for me to put myself in the best positions possible to finish more races,” Pataska said. “With this being my fourth year going for Pro, I feel like I’ve become somewhat of a veteran compared to a lot of the younger guys coming into this season, and that helps a lot because you have an idea of what to expect and how to plan your race accordingly.”
EDITORS NOTE: This is part two of a three-part series previewing the eNASCAR Road-to-Pro Series that will kick off on Tuesday, March 10th, 2020. Part three, “Fast Firsts, plus what to watch for”, will be released on later today, Tuesday afternoon.
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