Column: Jimmy Phelps Continues To Learn What It Takes To Deliver A Successful Super DIRTcar Series Season
Column By: MICHELINA FRISS / DIRTCAR – CHILLICOTHE, OH – With over 20 years of racing experience under his belt, Jimmy Phelps continues to prove why he is still a force to be reckoned with each year – He never stops learning.
Even though the Baldwinsville, NY native is coming off a third-place finish last season in the points battle, including a fourth-place finish at the Billy Whittaker Cars 200 at Super DIRT Week, he’s still on the hunt to figure out what adjustments need to be made to ramp up his program. Especially with the championship season starting at Atomic Speedway, March 31-April 1.
“I thought that we kind of hit our stride mid-season and we finished pretty strong,” Phelps said. “We won some races, we ran up front in most of the big races, and I thought our program was on track to being where it needs to be. We still need to find some speed to be able to try and take on (Matt) Sheppard and a few others but we’re progressing in the right direction, and it has us excited about this year.”
With a new crew chief that Phelps credits as “helping him progress into the modern era of Dirt Modified racing better than he was doing on his own,” and the addition of Series driver Max McLaughlin as his Heinke-Baldwin Racing teammate, Phelps feels confident he has the tools needed to continue to be competitive. The ability to compare notes to another driver on a race night has proved to be an immensely beneficial asset.
“The learning curve speeds up a little bit at the racetrack,” Phelps said. “He can kind of relay to me what he’s feeling, I can kind of relay to him what I’m feeling, and depending on who seems happier, we can look at each other set up wise and find the best combination to get us through the night. I think that’s probably the biggest thing.”
But beyond the new additions to the team, he remains keenly aware of what he needs to execute on the track to improve his consistency and bring home championships, which is his end goal.
“When we are off a little bit, when we don’t have a top-three car, we can try to get a fifth, sixth, or seventh,” Phelps said. “We’ll have a string of top-fives and then we’ll have a 15th. If you’re going to race for a championship, you have to eliminate those nights. We need to build on our consistency. We started to get there at the end of last year…we’re excited to get another round here, to get going and get a fresh slate. Hopefully we can get off to a good start at Atomic (Speedway) and keep the ball rolling from there.”
Atomic Speedway will not be the first time for Phelps on the track this season, as he made the trek down to Barberville, FL in February to defend his Big Gator title at the Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals.
“We came off a great year and kind of went back there with the mindset that we had a handle on what we needed to do,” Phelps said. “We took a different deal. The track seemed a little different, raced a little different, and I thought that we just missed it. We’re already thinking ahead to next year and what we might have to do to be better down there. But it hasn’t changed our focus going into Atomic (Speedway).”
Phelps and the Heinke-Baldwin Racing team are now shifting their focus on preparing for the first race of the points-paying season at the southern Ohio oval. It will be the first visit there for him as well as many of his competitors.
“We’re just going to go there and hope that we’re good enough right off the truck to qualify well and then make the right moves from there.”