DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. — Zipping through the high-banked turns at the Daytona International Speedway -- that's the dream of every stock car racer.
Few even come close.
Many are able to rationalize not making it to Daytona: They have neither the money nor the sponsorship to make a serious go of it.
But that didn't stop Frank Fleming, a Taneytown resident.
The 32-year-old driver is a determined man. He didn't make excuses about a shortage of money or sponsors. He just went ahead and pursued a dream.
Last weekend, part that dream came true. Fleming found himself racing his 1989 Oldsmobile around the 2 -mile speedway as one of 16 rookies trying to make the field for the Automobile Club of America's ARCA 200.
Being a rookie in any NASCAR division is tough. First, Fleming had to be at the speedway early for rookie orientation, which wasfollowed by a car inspection.
The inspectors and race officials tend to be even tougher on rookie drivers, picking the cars to pieces.Some things that may pass on a veteran driver's car may not get through for a rookie.
Fleming and his two crewmen -- Woodbine residentBrian Warfield and Roger Brown of Hagerstown, Frederick County -- underwent several inspections before officials approved the car for racing. Valuable practice time was lost.
"It was tough on the three of us," Fleming said. "It was a lot for us to do in such a little bit of time. Having a skeleton crew takes a lot longer to make the changes. It took us two hours to put on the decals."
Once the car passedinspection, Fleming had to pass the rookie driving test. In four laps, he had to take the car above 150 mph and keep it on a straight line. He passed without difficulty.
"The car was up to 167 mph and I didn't have my foot to the floor," Fleming said when he came into thepits.
That's when things started going badly.
After the driving test, Fleming practiced with other cars on the track. Less than four laps into that practice session, the car's motor began to vibrate. Fleming cut the engine and drifted back into the pits.
"I knew themotor was going to go, so I cut it off before it blew," he said. "I didn't want to blow it and have oil go on the back tires and send me into the wall."
The blown motor wiped out any chance the Carroll racer had of making the field. He had brought another motor, but it was much smaller than needed for the ARCA 200.
Though frustrated, Fleming said he was commended by speedway officials for his ability to handle his car under the circumstances.
With more than 20 teams having engine trouble, Fleming decided to try to make the field with the smaller motor.
Fleming also held out hope that he could use another team's motor if a driver were to crash during practice. But he was not to profit from another's ill fate.
"I could have packed up and gone home," he said. "But who knows? I could have gotten home and found out that only 39 cars were able to qualify, and I would have made the field.
"I would have been upset if that would have happened. This way I stayed and tried against the odds."
The crew worked long hours changing motors to participate in time trials Saturday. After running a few practice laps, Fleming knew it would be difficult toqualify with the smaller motor. He just wasn't running fast enough.
"A couple of guys thought I was crazy putting my Sportsman motor in the car, but I just wanted to run," he said.
He finished forty-thirdout of 67 hopefuls in the time trials, just three shy of the cutoff.Again he got the car up to 167 mph. But it wasn't good enough this time around.
"It is going to be hard to keep on running," he said. "Ilost a motor, and I guess all told I have been set back $2,000."
Itwas a long week for Fleming. He failed to qualify and blew an engine. But he made a giant step in his racing career and did not let the lack of sponsorship keep him from trying.
Perhaps now a major sponsor, having seen Fleming's determination, will provide him the much-needed capital to make him faster on the track.
"We got here," Fleming said. "I learned a lot about aerodynamics, motors, how to get through inspection. I learned that you have to come out to the track early and work non-stop, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m."
As he boarded his truck for the 15-hour tow home, the Taneytown racer waved and exclaimed, "We'll be back!"