Friday, April 26, 2013

Looking Back: Andy Archer

I had this ready to post a couple years ago but didn't.  With the Spec Sprint season opener at Antioch this Saturday night, I figured this would be a good time.

Seeing that a #13 Wingless Spec Sprint, driven by Rowdy McClenon, won at Antioch Speedway recently made me think of another #13 car. Back in 1998, when Don O'Keefe Jr. and I were putting together this division for Antioch, we had a game plan. Simple, affordable rules and lots of hype. Don knew the rules and I knew the hype. If a drive sneezed, I wrote about it. Well. maybe not sneezed, but almost every driver to commit early on got a story from me.

Anyway, it was an "interesting" time. The NCMA was there, and people thought we were trying to kill that club. Not at all. In fact, I fought to keep them on Antioch and Petaluma's schedule. They were the ones that blew that deal by double booking elsewhere on top of dates they knew they had scheduled at Antioch and Petaluma.

Anyway, Andy and his wife (Tami) at the time were heavily into the NCMA at that time, and though he pretty much knew what he would be doing in 1999, he had to time things just right, politics being what they were. At the right time, Andy decided to make his announcement that he was switching to the Spec Sprints after his top three point earning and feature winning season. He was definitely the biggest up and coming star the NCMA had, and he continued to run strong in Spec Sprints in 1999, ranking inside the top three as a feature winner again.

I did run a story in the magazine based on this interview, but here is the entire interview.  Andy is AA and DM is me.

A Raw Interview With Andy Archer in late 1998

Andy Archer #13 was a top competitor in the NCMA and in a Wingless Spec Sprint.

DM: What got you into racing?

AA: I've always been involved, in one form or another, with customizing and working on cars. Believe it or not, when I was 19 or 20 years old, still living with my parents, a friend of mind had a car. His dad was a fire chief, and they had an old Dodge, which at that time was a retired Highway Patrol car. We bought it for $10. The fair was coming up in a couple of months, so we took it and welded the doors shut, took all the windows out of it and put together a Destruction Derby car. The adrenaline rush was something that I hadn't experienced since I played football in college.

In one for or another, I've always competed at something. Really, what got me involved is it's just another step in the cycle. My dad, we competed with horses, we competed with football, we competed with wrestling, we competed with livestock animals like sheep and pigs and that kind of stuff. There was always some sort of competition from the time I was six years old until now. I started racing when I was 30. I really, really missed the competitive aspects.

A friend of mine asked me to go out to the track, because we used to go to Antioch, like all these other guys, when I was a kid. We'd go out there and watch them guys. I remember Darryl Shirk. I remember Dana Auger. His car was #101. It was a real beautiful blue car #101. A neighbor kid of our's dad used to crew for him, and we used to be fans. We'd go out there and watch Dana. Dana always went out there and whooped him. So, we loved that.

When I finally moved back into this area, a friend of mine says, "Hey, a friend of mine has a car. They run these old Modified things." It was Bill Hopkins. I went out there and crewed for him. All we did, what we were allowed to do, was wipe the car off. That was the year before Tami was a rookie (1995). He was running the full schedule. I don't know how competitive he was, but he was always in the pack. We went out there and cleaned his car.

I got to know "Hoppy". He's a real nice guy. The next year, I saw him at the track, was talking to him. I went out there and watched the races. Then, Beattie happened to win at Antioch that night. "Hoppy" was crewing for him, and I was talking to him about why he didn't have his car out. Well, he had pneumonia during the off season and was having some health problems. So, I told him, "Heck, I'll be over tomorrow and we'll put you're car back together again."

He had taken it down but didn't get it back together again. "No problem Andy, you can come over and do it." He was probably thinking, "Uh huh, sure you'll show up."

I was there at nine o'clock on the button. We put his car together. It was actually a roller that Beattie had sold him. That #37 that Mark Smith drives, I helped Bill build that car. It had been Beattie's car for a couple years, and we just kind of pieced it back together. We went out that season, 1996. While I was out there, I knew it was something I had to do. I like the competition. I always loved the mechanical aspect. I was very mechanically inclined.

Then, the biggest thing that sold me on it and that I was able to sell my dad on it, was we were reading a program insert on it. We were sitting in the stands and they had that thing in the program. It said, what is an NCMA car? Blah, blah, blah. A car where you can still spend $4,000 or whatever and still be competitive. I showed that to my dad and I said, "Look dad, we can do this for nothing. $4,000 and we can go compete. Let's find a car for $4,000 and we'll go out and race." Little did I know...

I was already into it with "Hoppy". I thought I knew everything, didn't know anything. I sat back and told my dad how we were gonna whip them as soon as we bought a car. We started looking for a car, and I was crewing for "Hoppy". We went down to Merced one night and I was crewing for him. I saw this yellow and orange Sprint Car going around the track, and it was Tim Porter. It wasn't his car, it was Scott Blakeman's car, he was trying to sell it.

So, I saw it going around the track, and I thought, "Hey, that's a neat looking car and a neat looking trailer. I wonder how much he wants for it. $4,000. $5,000 with the trailer and spares!" So, we picked it up Sunday.

My dad said I wasn't going to race this without any practice. I heard about Jimmy Sills. So, we went to Jimmy Sills' School. Jimmy Sills said to buy this, that and the other thing. It was the perfect setup for a sloppy track, like a hot lap track. My car was perfect. I had been watching the NCMA tape that I had, and their best time was a 14.9. That was from Scotty (Holloway). We went out there, and my first time driving it, I turned a 14.3.

My whole thing was, these guys used to go up on the track and I'd see them sitting in their cars. I wanted to be a part of it. I always thought, "How cool." They'd put on their helmets and completely look like a different kind of person out there. Those cars were going so fast, I really held them up high. I never thought that I would be competing with Ed Amador, let alone beating him. Or Scott Holloway. Or any of those guys.

Tami's goal, the year after her rookie year, she wanted to compete with Burt (Siverling). "I want to try to be at Burt's level " that's what she said. One thing that you can learn from Burt, that we accomplished this year, was consistency. He's always there and he always finishes. That's why he's always in the top ten in points. I learned consistency from him. Another one was Bill Wilson.

DM: (We start looking at Andy's photo album of the car when he just bought it and as he transformed it into the Modified. He then shows pictures of his two flips during his rookie season in 1997.) What was your hardest flip?

AA: That was Jim Booth's right rear I went over the second time I flipped. This bent the chassis. The car was never the same after that. I went up over him and landed on the left rear tire. For whatever reason that night, I chose a steel rim, one of my old steel rims, and it completely flattened the steel rim. So, imagine what it did to my chassis, my rear end and everything else. It went up and landed on the left side and then cartwheeled several times. I have the tape somewhere. That was a terrible night.

This (other) one, I took second place. I was behind (Darryl) Shirk the whole race and (Duane) Watson was behind me. This was the best race of my rookie season. And, man, we went to town the whole race. I was doing pretty good ahead of Watson. Shirk took the white flag, and in Turn 1 and 2 he pulled off. I was running second behind Shirk, and when he pulled off the track, being a rookie, I stayed behind him.

By the time I realized what was going on, I saw Watson go by me. I jumped right back up and got on Watson. We come down the front chute to take the checkered, I try passing Watson and I didn't quite make it. He didn't know I was right up on his side, and as soon as he crossed the finish line, he lifted. I climbed over his hood and flipped it. I finished second. It should have been a win.

DM: You were top ten in points in your rookie year. Was your plan pretty much to be consistent and finish like Burt?

AA: Our plan for my rookie year was to go out there and be a part of it. I didn't go out there with the intentions of being "Rookie Of The Year". In fact, do you know who planted the seeds for "Rookie Of The Year"? You. Because, we went out there, and I had already talked to you and you knew Tami. You said something in your magazine. I was the only (Modified) car that showed up for playday. It was me and (360 Sprint Car racer) David Lindt. It was his first year too. We were out there on the track at the same time.

As the playdays continued, we had more cars. You had something about, "This reporter's choice for "Rookie Of The Year"." That set my goal. Then, here come's Warren (Dorathy) on the last playday with a fast car. We were several thousand dollars behind him, in my opinion. We were running steel everything. The car was bound to be slow. We went out there and learned our lesson.

We went out there and we made trophy dashes. It just kept on getting better and better. With our consistency and Warren missed a couple races and we missed a race and things like that, we won. Me and Warren were the only competitive rookies. When I think "Rookie Of The Year", it was me and Warren as far as I'm concerned. We battled pretty good for a little while. Then, when Mike McCreary took the reigns (Of Warren's car), it kind of messed up his hopes.

The one that means the most to me is the "Most Improved Driver" award. That was a vote from my peers. When I was at the track for one of the last races and Ed Amador walked up to me, somebody I thought I'd never be able to compete with, and slapped me on the back and said "Hey Andy, I voted for you for most improved, " it was something I'll never forget. Pretty soon, all I started hearing was most improved. I didn't even know it existed.

I showed up Saturday night at the banquet and I got it. It was a gas. That's really the one that I hold the most dear. We were eighth place, most improved and rookie. I never expected it. All I wanted to do was go out and drive.

DM: You won the Antioch "Most Improved Driver" award this year. In all honesty, I didn't see anybody in the club who had improved as much as you had.

AA: Well, I appreciate that. That's our goal. Every time I talk to Don (O'Keefe), I learn something new. I beg every day to get to the mailbox and get my Open Wheel Magazine and just get the microscope and look at the pictures. Then, I read what the guys say and the way they act and the way they treat things.

DM: You came into this year looking to be more competitive and be a top five runner.

AA: Last year at this time in November, one of the crew had had a few too many to drink, and he sat right here on the couch and says, "You're gonna be in the top three next year, you watch. We're gonna be in the top three."

I thought it was possible, but all I wanted was to be able to go out there and do better. I didn't really take him too seriously. Me and my dad from October on would work hard on this car at the shop. I want that to go down from here on out that my racing career is dedicated to my father. He dedicated a lot to me and my brother. I'm gonna a dedicate my accomplishments in racing to his memory. My dad and I, he was retired and I had a job where I started work at three o'clock in the morning and was done by noon. So, we were there all afternoon everyday, sometimes until 11 o'clock at night working on this car.

We stripped it down to bare chassis, and replaced everything. There's not a bolt on that car that has seen more than this last season. Dad wanted every nut and bolt to be precise. In Concord, there's a place called The Screw Shop where you can get all your nuts and bolts. My dad spent a lot of time going through screws for an exact fit.

We had that motor down at Mike Loyd's, and that motor that my dad put together was dependable. It lasted for two years. Because of the expertise of my engine builder Mike Loyd of Loyd Engineering and the expertise and guidance from Ron Grose Racing. Ron Grose did the machine work and Mike did all the building and tearing apart.

DM: You had three second place finishes during the first half of the season. That had to feel good and frustrating at the same time, I mean, in that you still hadn't won.

AA: I don't know how many top five finishes we had, but we had more top five finishes than most of them. If I had to nail myself on my biggest weakness, well my inexperience overall was a weakness, but it was my inability to qualify as well as Scott and Ed. I think I had the only top five car to see as few dashes as I saw. I was real confident that when we did qualify I would be in the dash, but when it came to just going out and qualifying, I didn't have the confidence to turn the clocks. That's something I need to work on. Still, my long term goal, I've got to learn how to qualify well and consistently.

DM: The race you won, between you Jeff (Pike) and Ed, that was the race of the year.

AA: When we were sitting in staging and I counted the cars, there were seven cars in front of me. I started eighth, and I thought as I was psyching myself up to race, "Well, my goal is to finish in the top four and not to let Ed creep away from me." At that point, Ed and I were in a see-saw battle. I'd be in front one week in second (in points) and then he'd be in second the next week. It was like it was my turn to be in second that week. At that time, Ed was in second and I started to see him slipping away.

So, I got that overall picture out of my mind and I started looking at the cars in front of me. There were a couple of rookies in front of me. I thought that I would come out real aggressive at the start and try to get by them as quickly as I could. Then, on the start, we passed like three cars. We went around and took a lap. I stayed down low. The Late Models were there that night with their big tires, and they dried the track.

The cars in front of me all went high, and I stayed on the bottom. When they went up high, because the Late Models had been doing it, they hit that slick stuff and slowed way down. In one lap, I passed enough cars to be third behind Jeff (Pike). Then, when (Stan) Cargo flipped, I had already passed Pike, who had gotten up high and got loose. I passed him down low.

I was in second place behind Ed at the time the flip happened. When the flip happened, I was psyched. I was saying, "I'm not gonna let them win Charlie (Kight). Tonight is my night." Charlie is leaning up against the fence with Tamrah. My dad and my brother were watching the flip. Charlie and Tami start whispering amongst themselves. I was psyched, "Let's go racing. Let's go racing. Ed's not gonna beat me."

Charlie says, "Andy, just go out there and keep your head and be real smooth. Your right shock is broken." I don't know how long it had been that way. That scared me. I don't know what was going through my head. I was just out there kind of feeling it out and the car was sticking. It was working, so I just stayed with it. You can feel it and you can see it on the tapes. It was jack rabbiting on the tapes, just sort of bouncing around.

I followed Ed around. There were a couple times that I know my car was handling better than his. I was jumping on the breaks, instead of pushing Ed out of the way and running into the back of him, dirty pool like that. I remember hitting the breaks and thinking, "Come on Ed, Let's go. Let's race."

I was waiting for something to open up. By that time, we were in traffic. When I saw him in traffic, I thought there was no was he was gonna beat me. That was it. It was a matter of time and me being patient and not making any mistakes. There were a couple of guys that I showed my nose to, that I knew would jump high and out of my way. It was Mark Smith and Larry Teixeira. They saw my nose coming through and moved up to the outside. I just got ahead of them and that got me ahead of Ed. Those last seven laps were the fastest seven laps I ever ran, mainly because of my adrenalin level. When I saw the white flag, that being my first win and all, I was screaming the entire way around. I wasn't gonna let anybody by. Until I saw the film, I had no idea it was that close.

It's cool being able to compete with these guys. That's one of the things I want to say. Though I am moving on to bigger and better things, I'm still very proud to have been able to race with the NCMA. I'm not taking anything away from them. For a couple of years, those guys were my heroes.

DM: Winning that race and moving into second with your dad there to see it had to be the highlight of the season.

AA: We were second in points and then my dad died the next weekend. That was a complete shock. He was there to see me win. It's really amazing how it worked out with my dad. Having my dad be able to see that meant a lot. I don't want to dwell on that one win, though it was my first win and will always be like a first kiss. You always remember your first kiss.

I never was able, because of the way I was brought up, to call my dad and say, "I love you." I told my mom that I'd give anything to be able to have five minutes with him so I could just tell him just one time, just one time that I love him. My mom tells me, "You know what Andy? You did not need to have told him that you loved him, because in that one race, you were out in the middle. You were in the middle and he was on the sidelines. You raised your hands and said, 'We did it dad. We did it.'" My dad took that as I love you. I love you. My mom saying that to me, that meant a lot.

DM: What is your goal for next season?

AA: My goal for racing in 1999 has nothing to do with points or winning. My big goal for next year, whether it's me sitting at home watching it on TV or out at the track enjoying it, is just that, enjoyment. These last two years, we've had some pressure trying to make points for "Rookie Of The Year" last year and going back and forth between me and Ed Amador and Duane Watson this year. That would be tough for the most experienced racer. Here I was just a shade away from being a rookie.

DM: You had Charlie Kight on your crew this year, and he's been involved with pitting for other Modified teams in the past.

AA: Charlie was a big part of our success this season and we got him a trophy to match ours. There were people asking him questions this year. They wouldn't do that in the past. In the past, the shooshed him away. This year, he pitted with us. We were winning and winning in part because of his commitment. A lot of it was his commitment. People saw that and recognized that and gave him the respect and credit that he has long deserved.

This year, with Don O'Keefe's help, we have learned how to really set up a car. Last year and at the beginning of this year, we were lucky in that the track came to us. This year, Don has taught me and Charlie also, how to make a car go to the track. Of course, that's half of winning the race. You've got to beat the track before you can beat the competition. Don O'Keefe has showed us how to do this.

DM: Who are some of your favorite guys to race with?

AA: I wish that I could say I enjoyed racing with Scotty, and I did last year. I was able to race with him then, because he didn't have the quality equipment that he has this year. We were able to keep track of him and I learned a lot competing with him. He's a good teacher, watching him at track level.

This year, I didn't enjoy racing with Scott at all. Most of the time I couldn't see him, because he was so far in front of all of us or he'd had problems. The man who I enjoyed racing with the most, and certainly I have learned patience in racing and dedication is Ed Amador. Ed Amador and Don Hicks are two people that if I could build the perfect racer, I would take 50% Ed Amador and 50% Don Hicks.

Ed Amador, even with his level headed attitude, which is very important, if he needs to, he can be dangerous. Whereas, Hicks is more dangerous than level headed. Maybe that would be a good goal for me to set, to compete with Hicks. If you can compete with Hicks, I feel I could compete with anybody else. The man has raced for a lot of years. When he puts on that helmet, he's a force. He's aggressive. That's why I picked both of them. Ed is the perfect level-headed speed, while Hicks is aggressive speed.

I also enjoy racing with Jeff Pike. Jeff and I both compare notes. We can go out there, me, Jeff and Ed, and run all out, full-throttle and race wheel to wheel and have the confidence in each other's ability that we aren't going to have any major problems. There are some drivers out there who you've got to give a lot of space to, because you never know where they're gonna be or what they're gonna do. Every lap is different.

DM: You mentioned you came in under your racing budget for this season. How does that effect next season?

AA: Our season last year was so without flaw, knock on wood, that the money that we had set aside to continue to run to buy us whatever parts we needed to repair the car, I now have at my disposal for next year. We're gonna be buying spare parts and stuff like that. Hopefully, things will work out my way with this other car we're looking at. If it doesn't, I have a tried and true car in the garage that is a contender. We have all the parts sitting in the garage. We have the tail tank sitting out in the back yard with the nerf bars. I can go either way. That's another thing I've learned from Don (O'Keefe), take care of your equipment. He's been preaching baby steps, finish races and keep the car in one piece.

DM: What is the five year plan?

AA: My father had a specific plan. We used to have what we called the five year plan. It was two years with the NCMA, a couple years with Petaluma Sprints and the off to San Jose. We didn't want to just go down to San Jose and race their bank account. That's what we felt. The plan has kind of changed, and one of the reasons why is Don O'Keefe has made an incredible, positive impact on our racing program. Instead of taking big steps and throwing away a lot of money, he's calmed us down and taught us to take baby steps.

So, he's changed the five year plan in that now we're gonna be doing wingless stuff. It is a move up and we're gonna be going a lot faster. It's going to be more realistic to what a real Sprint Car is.

DM: Anything else you would like to add before we wrap this up?

AA: We're really excited about this All Pro Series Wingless Spec Sprint class. We sat on the fence and didn't want to burn any bridges or make anybody mad. But, the bottom line is my wife, my mother and I and the rest of my family is gonna do what's best for Archer Racing. That about sums it up.