NASCAR Trucks team staying competitive after shop fire
In this June 13, 2016 early morning photo, firemen battle a fire at the ThorSport Racing company's car fabrication shop in Sandusky, Ohio. It's anything but business as usual for ThorSport Racing Team. (Jilly Burns/Sandusky Register via AP)
MADISON, Ill. (AP) It's hardly business as usual for ThorSport Racing team. Not when, as one of the drivers quipped, the temporary headquarters is a ''Kroger parking lot.''
Results indicate a well-oiled machine in the NASCAR Truck Series, and not one reeling from a devastating fire to the team's 100,000-square foot shop in Sandusky, Ohio, earlier this month.
''We're making it up as we go,'' general manager David Pepper said in a telephone interview. ''The guys have risen to the occasion.''
Rookie Ben Rhodes had a career-best second-place finish in last week's event at Gateway Motorsports Park after winning the pole, and is close to qualifying for the series' first Chase playoff, which begins in September.
Rhodes described last weekend's experience in Illinois as a ''blast.''
''It's a lot more fun racing up front for me, even if I finished second,'' Rhodes said. ''They've been working their butts off to prepare these trucks.''
Pre-blaze, Rhodes compared the shop to the Taj Mahal, pristine and spacious with an elevator to transport trucks. Pepper said the facility rivaled some of those in the Sprint Cup series. ThorSport, run by Duke and Rhonda Thorson, is the longest-tenured team in the series with four trucks in the competition.
''It's a little bit of a charred mess in the back,'' said the 19-year-old Rhodes. ''It's devastating, but at the same time all of our guys are so resilient.''
Two weeks ago in the first event since the fire, ThorSport drivers finished 2-3-4 at Iowa Speedway.
Two-time series champion Matt Crafton, who won in consecutive weeks earlier in the series, led the points race and had been in contention last week before getting knocked out in a collision.
''There's been different challenges each day, it seems like,'' said Kevin Bellicourt, crew chief for Rhodes. ''Nobody's seen it as an excuse and it's been really cool to see.''
Pepper said the June 13 fire started in the basement, destroying the fabrication shop. Flames could be seen shooting through the roof in the overnight blaze. The Ohio fire marshal was still investigating the cause but indications were that it was not suspicious in nature.
The front half of the shop was not damaged but elsewhere the damage, much of it from smoke along with water from the firefighting, is significant. Walls have been torn down to the studs.
Pepper said it will be a while still before a dollar figure can be made and several months before restoration is complete and the shop can re-open.
Pavement outside an abandoned Kroger market about a quarter-mile from the shop was the main location for the temporary shop early on. It remains headquarters of sorts for Rhodes' team, while other operations are scattered across town. Businesses have stepped up to help.
''I can't say enough about those folks lending a hand,'' Pepper said.
Work days are now 12-14 hours instead of the usual 8-10. At the track, those involved say, it's easiest to block out the challenges.
''We've been very competitive, we've led laps, had an opportunity to win races. It's hard to be disappointed at all,'' Pepper said. ''We have not seen a drop-off in our performance in any way, shape or form.''