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RHODES: “This Is One of My Best Performances”

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Through the chaos of the closing laps of Friday night’s season-opening NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, Ben Rhodes came away with one of the best performances of his career.

Rhodes led the way in the high lane racing through Turn 2 on the final lap with defending series champion Johnny Sauter in the middle and two-time series champion Matt Crafton in the bottom lane.

While exiting Turn 2, contact from behind by Rhodes’ teammate Grant Enfinger turned Rhodes and created a mele, collecting many of the remaining trucks in the field.

However, an 12th-place result doesn’t define Rhodes’ stellar performance as he remained competitive and up front throughout the NextEra Energy Resources 250.

“I’d say this is one of my best performances,” Rhodes said. “Absolutely my best performance on a big track.”

Rhodes has performed well on restrictor-plate tracks before. He made his debut at Daytona last February and finished seventh.

He had another impressive performance going at Talladega last October before being caught up in a wreck.

“We had a good performance at Talladega last time,” Rhodes said. “We just didn’t get to showcase it. As we were pushing Grant Enfinger to the lead, we got turned again as I was inheriting the outside row.”

Running up front and running into trouble has been a common theme for Rhodes at restrictor plate races. Had the field not wrecked on the final lap on Friday night, Rhodes likely would have been in contention for his first career NASCAR victory.

“Every time we get to the lead, something seems to happen,” Rhodes said. “I’m glad we were able to run up there for so long tonight.”

As Rhodes enters his second full-time season in the Truck Series, he will look to use his experience to improve and earn his first career playoff spot.

He will now look to carry the momentum from a strong run throughout the race including collecting 12 championship points through both stages into Atlanta where he finished sixth last March.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Trucks

Rhodes Hopes Team Camaraderie Turns Into Results

Last year, Ben Rhodes proved that he could run up front at Daytona International Speedway, running inside the top-five till contact resulted in being caught up in a big wreck, ending his race early.

With the lessons learned, the sophomore driver hopes this year will be a different story, possibly resulting in his first career series win.

“I’m excited for Daytona,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “I think that we can have a good run down there based on how well we ran last year. I feel we should be able to run up front and do well.”

After a solid rookie campaign, Rhodes will once again be driving for ThorSport Racing in 2017, set to build upon last year’s 14th place finish in the series standings.

“I’m really excited about the upcoming season,” he said. “I feel we can build on what we did last year. We’ve got new trucks coming out this year based on everything that we learned last year, so I feel we should run up front. There’s also a good camaraderie within the team as everybody is close. Everyone talks about a good driver-crew chief relationship, but we have that with all the guys so that should help us. Actually, with how close everyone is it’s like a fraternity. I’m excited for the year.”

Last season, Rhodes started off the season with four top-10s in the first 10 races, including a runner-up finish at Gateway Motorsports Park. However, following the fire at the ThorSport Racing shop, the summer saw the results fall off slightly with only one top-10 in the final 13 races.

“I felt last year that we had some good moments, but also some rough ones,” he said. “We faced a lot of adversity with the shop fire and some stuff on track. However, we had some good runs as we ran up front before the fire and you saw that start to happen again near the end of the year.”

Rhodes notes the biggest thing he learned over the season was aerodynamics, and how much the air affects the handling of his truck.

While Rhodes and Matt Crafton remain with the organization, they will have a pair of new teammates in Cody Coughlin and Grant Enfinger. The bonding among the team should go smoothly per Rhodes, as a result of a friendship already there.

“I feel like we have a good relationship with the guys,” he said. “I got along with Cody and Grant last year when we weren’t even teammates so I feel we should all work well together this year.”

Last year not as teammates, he pushed Enfinger up into the lead as part of the strong performance he had.

Perhaps this year, the tables will be turned, and the race can end off in a special way for the Kentucky native.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Trucks

Rhodes, Enfinger Round Out ThorSport Lineup in 2017

ThorSport Racing finalized their driver lineup on Tuesday for the 2017 Camping World Truck Series season.

Ben Rhodes and Grant Enfinger will round out ThorSport’s four truck lineup for this season, joining two-time Truck Series champion Matt Crafton and Cody Coughlin.

Returning to ThorSport for his second season in the NCWTS, Rhodes will drive the No. 27 Alpha Energy Solutions Toyota Tundra. In his first full season in the Truck Series, the Kentucky native scored two top-five finishes to go with five top-10 finishes and one pole which he won at Martinsville in April.

Eddie Troconis will serve as Rhodes’ crew chief this season. Troconis was the crew chief for Cameron Hayley last season at ThorSport.

“This is an amazing opportunity to be partnered with Toyota and ThorSport Racing again for the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season,” said Rhodes. “The 2016 season had a lot of ups and downs, but we have put all that in the rearview mirror, and we’re focused on the year ahead. We have a new team, a new number, and great support from Toyota. With the NASCAR changes to the race and point structure, the No. 27 team will be up front contending for segment wins and race victories to get us into the playoffs and contend for the championship.”

Enfinger will pilot the No. 98 Toyota Tundra while competing for Rookie of the Year honors and the series championship.

He ran a partial schedule last season for GMS Racing in which he scored one win at Talladega in October. Enfinger also had two top-fives, and five top-10’s in just 14 starts. He will have 13-time NCWTS crew chief Jeff Hensley on top of the pit box.

Hensley returns to ThorSport Racing after crew chiefing for Spencer Gallagher last year at GMS Racing. He was atop the pit box previously at ThorSport for Johnny Sauter in 2014 and Haley in 2015.

“I’m extremely grateful to ThorSport Racing and Toyota for the opportunity to drive full time in the NASCAR Camping World truck series,” said Enfinger. “This is a dream come true, and I’m blessed to be able to share this season with some great people. I’m proud to be continuing the partnership with Champion Power Equipment, along with starting new ones with Jive Communications, RIDE TV, and Curb Records. I’m very impressed with the people, equipment, and facility that Duke and Rhonda Thorson have assembled, and I can’t wait to get to Daytona in a few weeks.”

EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Trucks

“They Said What?” Memorable Quotes – Truck Series Part 2

We may have turned a page on the calendar and entered the year 2017, but that doesn’t mean we’re quite ready to leave 2016 behind yet. Even if we were, there’s still a month left till the start of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Back in December, I released the first part of our memorable quotes article, which can be read by clicking here. Now to help pass the time, here are some more memorable quotes that drivers said throughout the season.

 

“When you don’t give a guy a chance, what’s the point of racing? I couldn’t do anything else. He gave me no choice, no chance to do anything, so it’s not racing in my book. He’s shown time and time again throughout the year that he doesn’t have much respect, just through different situations when he’s under people. When he’s loose under them, he tries harder and wrecks into them and ruins their day, when it should’ve been his day ruined. So there’s just no respect in this garage area right now. We had another fight right outside of our truck that didn’t even involve us. It’s just a joke right now, really. We’ll see what happens.”

Cole Custer on racing John Hunter Nemechek for the win at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.

 

“It was a solid day. I had a lot of fun here. It was good to lead some laps. I thought we could’ve gotten a better finish, but John Hunter Nemechek forgot that he had a brake pedal on one of the restarts there.”

Kyle Larson on racing John Hunter Nemechek at Martinsville Speedway.

 

“Just got ran over by a bozo, I guess. I don’t know if the kid is brain dead or he can’t see.”

Johnny Sauter on Ben Rhodes after the pair wrecked while racing for the lead.

 

“We really battled the whole race. They gave me a great truck at the end. That’s why (Busch) is a great Cup driver. I’ve got a lot to learn from that guy. He blocked my every move, and it was all I could do.”

Cameron Hayley on racing Kyle Busch for the win.

 

“It’s been a lot of fun, it’s been a lot trying times, it’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears by both my wife and myself and all these guys that are on this team now and all the people that have been a part of Kyle Busch Motorsports in the years past. We wouldn’t be here without all them.”

Kyle Busch on the success of Kyle Busch Motorsports. 

 

“We had been picking up speed each week and one or two more weeks, we would’ve had one. It sucks not to be in the chase, but we will get a win before its over.”

Tyler Reddick after missing the inaugural Truck Series Chase. His prediction was right, as he won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway later on in the year.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary

THREE TAKEAWAYS: fred’s 250 at Talladega

The final race in the Round of 8 provided plenty of drama for the Camping World Truck Series as they took to the track at Talladega Superspeedway.

Grant Enfinger came home with his first win, while,  John Hunter Nemechek and Daniel Hemric were eliminated from the Chase.

 

GMS Success

When you head to a track as unpredictable as Talladega with a multi-truck team, you have to worry at least one of your drivers will get involved in an accident. That was far from the case for GMS Racing.

Not only did all four of their trucks finish, but all inside the top-seven, with the No. 24 coming home with the checkered flag.

Also, GMS’ Ben Kennedy and Johnny Sauter both advanced to the second round of the Chase with solid runs on Saturday.

 

No Quit for Daniel Hemric

Yes, Daniel Hemric was one of the two drivers eliminated from the Chase following the race at Talladega.

But, the 25-year-old wouldn’t go down without a fight.

Despite being involved in two multi-car incidents and spinning out late, he and his team not only made enough repairs finish the race but would also be able to keep in a position where he could either stay on the lead lap or capture the free pass to remain on the lead lap.

After all was said and done, Hemric finished 11th, on the lead lap, just 13 points short of the cutoff.

 

The Big One Strikes Again

As to be expected with this type of racing, a big multi-truck crash took out several competitors during Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race.

This time, the accident was caused by contact between Timothy Peters, and Ben Rhodes at the head of the pack, sending Rhodes into the wall and eventually spinning into the oncoming traffic.

In total, 14 of the 32 trucks entered in the race were involved in the massive pileup.

 

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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Trucks

Thorsport Lacks Thunder in Bristol Valley

Despite showing speed and looking as though they’d contend, the UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway turned into a night to forget for ThorSport Racing with all four trucks failing to finish in the top-20.

Matt Crafton was quickest of the bunch, poised to score his third victory of the season. Despite qualifying 17th, he was quickly made his way to the front of the field, running in top-five as of Lap 40. However, on a restart on Lap 70, he’d make his way down pit road, reporting a mechanical issue on the radio. He’d make his way into the garage, done for the race and credited with a 32nd place finish.

“We don’t know exactly what happened,” Crafton told Fox Sports 1. “Something happened and broke. The boys will work on it and figure out what happened. I don’t know what happened in qualifying there. We had a very fast truck in race trim today, and that truck was unbelievable at the start of the race. I was looking towards racing for the win.”

Rico Abreu was the next driver to be hit with a problem, having to make a lengthy pit stop at Lap 103 as a result of an issue. The race just added insult to injury, though, as he crashed during final practice and was in a backup truck. Abreu finished the 200 lap event in 28th.

The same problem which plagued Crafton would end Ben Rhodes‘ night at Lap 127, as he’d be forced behind the wall with a motor issue while running in the top-10.

“We had a really fast Regal Cinemas Tundra,” Rhodes said. “It’s just s shame we weren’t able to finish it off here. Something happened with the engine. Not really sure, but it just suddenly lost power, so we brought it in here to diagnose the problem to see what it may be. It’s a shame – these guys worked really hard on the truck all month long getting this thing ready for Bristol, and I really feel like we had a shot to win it tonight.”

Cameron Hayley was the team’s last shot at a solid finish and looked to be poised to do so as he ran in the top-five after qualifying third. However, falling back over the course of a green-flag run, the Canadian had a left front tire go flat at Lap 132. He’d then be stuck on pit road for a lengthy period due to having to replace an upper control arm. Hayley was credited with a 24th place finish.

With only three races till the first annual Camping World Truck Series Chase kicks off, the three-time series champions only have one driver locked in – Crafton. Hayley was poised to make it in by points but now sits 11th in points, 42 points behind Timothy Peters for eighth. Meanwhile, Rhodes and Abreu’s only shot of qualifying is to score a victory.

If the organization wants to find success, though, they need to escape the issues which have plagued them as of late.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Trucks

Shop Fire Does Little to Slow ThorSport Momentum

Shortly after midnight on the morning of June 13, a fire tore through the Sandusky, Ohio headquarters of ThorSport Racing destroying 40% of the shop and damaging much of their equipment. For a lesser team, it might have been the catalyst for disaster.

Instead, ThorSport rose to the challenge and continued to compete for wins and, perhaps, another Camping World Truck Series championship in 2016.

None of the four ThorSport Racing drivers, Matt Crafton, Cameron Hayley, Rico Abreu and Ben Rhodes, missed a race. In fact, the team didn’t miss a beat, competing at the same level they had before the fire.

In three of the five races that followed the fire, Thorsport Racing kept all four drivers on the lead lap, including in the Speediatrics 200 at Iowa, the Buckle Up Your Truck 225 at Kentucky and the Pocono Mountain 150.

While they were not able to grab a win, ThorSport drivers were able to finish runner-up in two races. Ben Rhodes finished 2nd to Christopher Bell in the Drivin for Linemen 200 Brought to You By Altec at Gateway and Cameron Haley finished runner-up to William Byron in Pocono.

Overall, the team garnered five Top 5s and 9 Top 10s.

Regarding average finish, Cameron leads the way with an average finish of 8.4. However, take away his 24th place finish at Gateway where he was running in the Top 5 before contact with Erik Jones and his average finish improves to 4.5 with four Top 10s. Rhodes has quietly had a good run, with an average finish of 10.6. Abreu had a great run at Eldora and followed it up with a strong finish at Pocono to garner an average finish of 11.2.

While two-time series champion Matt Crafton is fourth among his teammates with an average finish of 13th, he has three top 10s and currently sits second in the points standings with two previous wins this season. Crafton has dropped one spot in the points since the Rattlesnake 400 in Texas (the last race of the Camping World Truck Series before the fire), but that is probably due more to William Byron’s outstanding performance.

Meanwhile, his three teammates have risen in the rankings. Hayley went from 11th to 8th and would now make the Chase if the season had ended after Pocono. Rhodes was 16th and is now 12th while Abreu was 17th and is now 13th.

Back in Sandusky, Thorsport received support from the same teams they compete with on the track every weekend and have returned to their race shop. Having weathered what could have been a disaster in fine fashion, the team now looks to cap their season with a good Chase run and a championship.

 

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

 

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Trucks

Rhodes Salvages 11th at Pocono After Wreck

LONG POND, Pa. — The No. 41 Toyota of Ben Rhodes looked like the fastest ThorSport Racing truck at the start of Saturday’s Pocono Mountains 150 but had to settle for an 11th-place finish after an on-track incident with Jordan Anderson.

Anderson, in the No. 66 Chevrolet and Rhodes got tangled up on Lap 39 in the middle of Turn 1. Rhodes had the bottom line, and Anderson was trying to close the gap on him. The two spun, bringing out the seventh caution of the race. Both drivers were flirting with the top 10 before the wreck, with Rhodes running as high as second on the day.

“We had really good speed in the truck, and I think we had something to contend for the win today,” Rhodes told POPULAR SPEED. “We ran second behind William [Byron] in the beginning for a good part of the race, and we were gapping the guys behind us.”

During the fourth caution, Rhodes was penalized on pit road for too many men over the wall. He restarted from the tail of the field and wasn’t able to climb into the top five after. While racing mid-pack, he and Anderson got too close, and neither could save their trucks from getting sideways.

“We came down pit road and had a penalty,” Rhodes said. “Then when we got back out, we got collected with the 66 — he pinched us down too much, and he took the air away. We still salvaged the day with an 11th-place finish, but we’re not points racing — we’re trying to get wins.”

While Rhodes wasn’t happy with the outcome of the race, he knew the skirmish with Anderson wasn’t intentional. But he made a point of what knowledge a driver can learn from running around fellow competitors throughout the season

“I know it was a racing deal, and he didn’t mean to do it, but I’m still really disappointed with the situation,” Rhodes said. “We had a second-place truck, and he knew we had a really good truck, and he chopped us down to the bottom. We definitely had the spot, and he just held me too close to my right side. You don’t have to touch people at such fast tracks to wreck him, just get near him.

“You have to know who you can race around in this series. People have opinions of me, and I have opinions of other people. You just collect facts and take notes and learn who you can race around and what their driving styles are.”

Rhodes sits 12 in the standings, 18 points behind the eighth-place Chase cutoff — currently tied between Cameron Hayley and Ben Kennedy. Anderson, who ran as high as eighth at the Tricky Triangle, finished 14th and is 22nd in points.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Trucks

Social Media Key to Career Growth for Rhodes

LONG POND, PA – Social media plays a crucial role in the careers of athletes in today’s digital age. With many social platforms available, it has become an essential tool for gaining fans and additional exposure.

It has become extremely helpful for young drivers in NASCAR looking to breakthrough. Being able to interact with fans allows these drivers to make a name for themselves in a different manner than how the sport’s veterans did when their careers began.

Camping World Truck Series driver Ben Rhodes has embraced the use of social media to grow his career. The 19-year-old is very active on multiple digital platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

“It’s a fun tool that we can use to engage with fans, but really it helps with getting your name out there,” Rhodes told POPULAR SPEED.

With sponsors crucial to opportunities in the sport, Rhodes uses his presence on social media to approach sponsors and show companies the potential of a partnership.

“Then you can take that and show it to sponsors, and say look, we’re out there, we’re engaged with people, we’re trying to bring fans to NASCAR, we have followers, and we try to integrate our people with their people,” Rhodes said.

When fans follow and interact with Rhodes through social media, it helps grow Rhodes’ career and create the potential for more opportunities.

“When we can do something for the fans, the fans are helping us in return by just following us, and that allows us to go talk to sponsors,” he said.

His favorite social media tool? “Right now, I’m loving Facebook Live. I think that’s a whole lot of fun.”

Facebook Live allows people to broadcast directly to followers and take questions and comments. Recently, the power of his social media use was on display when a viewer joined and began asking who Rhodes is and what he does.

“Yesterday, I had somebody jump on our Facebook live video and said hey, who are you, what do you do, and I didn’t respond back right away, but they kept asking people who follow, what does this guy do.”

By using this social media tool, he can inform people on not only what he does but about the sport and attract new fans. It also allows Rhodes’ personality to shine, and fans can hear about what he enjoys doing away from the track, which can connect him with new fans with similar interests.

As NASCAR continues to evolve, so will the ways for competitors to grow their brand. Social media is one of the most powerful ways to accomplish this task and Rhodes has used it to elevate his exposure to fans successfully.

“It’s proven to get your name out there, and people will join in and try to find out who you are, and you turn them into a fan in the meantime,” Rhodes said.

On-track performance remains one of the most important aspects of growing an up and coming driver’s career. However, now what a driver does off the track is just as important and social media is one avenue young drivers are using as they look to make a name for themselves.

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EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Trucks

Truck Race Draws Mixed Emotions from Drivers

SPARTA, Ky – The Buckle Your Truck 225, for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, did not disappoint when it came to racing Thursday night with three drivers competing for the win on the final lap.

Although, if you ask some of the drivers they may have a different opinion.

The prevalent topic of the weekend is the repaving of Kentucky Speedway and what kind of racing it is going to bring to the table.

Drivers were concerned about widening out the bottom groove, so there could be more side by side racing. One of those drivers was Kyle Busch. He stated he was able to make some passes in the second groove.

“The second groove is a little edgy. It wasn’t as bad as I expected [it] to be. We will just have to see how it goes for the rest of the weekend.” 

Busch made these comments after his night ended early on lap 58 when he spun out and crashed into the wall.

Parker Kligerman substituting for the injured John Wes Townley, came home 19th  and gave the track a 5-star rating.  

“I thought it was great. It is one of the coolest race tracks. It is going to age really cool. I love unique race tracks, and that is what this track is.”

When you’re the race winner, there’s not too much to complain about and William Byron gave some positive feedback about the repaving. He also credited that his win came down to strategy.

“It is so hooked up; you are on the track. If you make one little mistake, it is easy for the next guy to get a side draft off of you,” said Byron, “The key for us was to be able to make quick work of traffic.”

Ben Rhodes, a Louisville, Ky. native had high hopes prior to the race.

“I cannot put into words how much a win would mean to me. I kind of feel like Dale Jr. with all the support,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “It was a limited race as far as passing goes. The groove widens out as the race went on, but it was still hard to pass. We just couldn’t get past people to get that track position.”

A win would of have been priceless at his home track, but he settled for a 13th place finish.

BKR driver, Tyler Reddick brought home a tenth-place finish. His biggest demon was gaining track position.

“Unfortunately, the racing was somewhat like we thought it was going to be. Our group tried really hard to get us some track position. Unfortunately it didn’t play out tonight.” Reddick said.

Eighth-place finisher, defending Series Champion, Matt Crafton came home with an 8th place finish, and was less than impressed with the repaving.

“It’s a shame they dug up this race track. All in all, we survived and got out of here with an average finish at best,” he said, “we knew passing wasn’t going to be anything; it was all about track position.”

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race was the first taste of what fans and drivers can expect for the weekend — and while drivers had differing views, you can never argue with an exciting finish.

Emily Spink is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist.

EMAIL EMILY AT emily.spink@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.