By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
SALEM, Ind. – Salem Speedway, a 0.555-mile oval with 33-degress of banking, is a difficult track for seasoned veterans and even more so for rookie drivers. Sixteen-year-old Colby Howard made his ARCA Racing Series debut in the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 behind the wheel of the No. 78 Mason Mitchell Motorsports Chevrolet. When the checkered flag flew after 200 laps on Sunday afternoon, Howard crossed the line in the eighth position.
“Salem is so different compared to anywhere else I have ever raced. It is really difficult to get around,” Howard said.
“It’s mainly a mental thing. You get so close to the wall in turns three and four and really have to back up your entry entering turn one. It’s so unique with turns one and two being completely worn out and three and four having newer pavement allowing for more grip.”
The third-generation racer was able to get his feet wet by testing with the team prior to the race weekend. Howard qualified eighth and moved up a couple of positions in the early stages of the race prior to the first caution at Lap 51. With teams only getting a total of six tires for short track races, tire management is always critical in ARCA competition and the team preached patience during that first run.
Howard benefited by having the voice of team owner and 2014 ARCA champion Mason Mitchell on the spotter’s stand. Mitchell was cool, calm and collected on the radio as he guided his young driver through traffic throughout the afternoon.
The Simpsonville, South Carolina native would keep the No. 78 Chevrolet inside the top-10 throughout the middle stages of the race before hitting pit road for four fresh tires under the fifth and final caution of the race at Lap 146.
Howard would return to the track outside the top-10 after the stop but pick off a few positions during the closing laps to earn the seventh top-10 result for Mason Mitchell Motorsports in the organizations 10th start at the historic Indiana track.
“We had a fast long run car. The first run I was saving our tires and going about 50%. We really had a top-three car. I made a mistake on the final pit stop that hurt our track position but we didn’t give up and battled back to a top-10.”
The race at Salem was announced as just a one-race deal for Howard, but there is hope for more of an opportunity in the future.
“I learned so much all weekend long from Mason Mitchell and my crew chief Mark Setzer. This is a first-class organization and I hope we can put something together to run more races moving forward.”