Sunday, August 2, 2015

Todd Peck Pushes Through in the Pocono Mountains 150

Peck ready for practice at Pocono in the No. 40 Arthritis Foundation/OSS Health Chevrolet, July 31, 2015.
Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs  
When Todd Peck straps into his NASCAR truck, he’s symbolically running for adults and kids who can’t physically put one foot in front of the other on some days. To him, the Arthritis Foundation/OSS Health Chevrolet represents arthritis patients and the doctors who treat them, including Peck’s own physicians.

Peck, a Pennsylvania native, raced go-karts as a young teen, but developed a slew of weird symptoms like swollen toes, hip problems and exhaustion so severe he couldn’t get out of bed. The diagnosis was arthritis, a tough thing for a 15-year-old to wrap his head around.

“When I first started to race, my symptoms were a lot worse,” Peck recalls. “My toes were like sausages. It was swelling and pain and inflammation, just exhaustion. Everything you did hurt and it took everything you had to do it.”

But he pressed on, and at 16 became the youngest racer to start in the USAR Pro Cup Series. Five years later he began running part-time in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, and then progressed to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2011, partnering with the Arthritis Foundation.


On the grid at Pocono, August 1, 2015.
Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs
Thankfully, his arthritis symptoms diminished as he matured, and although some back pain still remains, strapping into the truck -- with its custom-fitted, padded seat that immobilizes his trunk -- is therapeutic and where the 29-year-old feels the best.

Is he sore a couple hours after a race? Sure. But the little ones with arthritis, including kids he met at a recent Juvenile Arthritis Conference, inspire him to push through it and press on.

“Seeing how those kids battle with it when they’re diagnosed at two, three and four years old, and how bad it can be, and they don’t let it stop them,” he said. “They’re the toughest kids in the world. Seeing that makes me feel really fortunate, but at the same time, proud to fly their banner and do what we do.”

Peck is also quick to praise his team of south-central Pennsylvania guys as well as his crew chief of eight or nine years, Keith Wolfe. When Peck was in college, he met Wolfe, who had been in racing for a few years and wanted to get into the asphalt side of things. They joined forces and work full-time in racing now, whether it’s running Peck Motorsports or building cars for other racers or working for other teams.

“I’ve been spotting for the 08 truck and the 45 truck a fair amount this year and Keith has been crew chiefing both of those. We make our living from racing in one way, shape or form.” 

Peck (left) and crew chief, Keith Wolfe.
Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs
Peck, who was the Super Cup Stock Car Series Champion in 2013, ran the Xfinity race this year at New Hampshire, and says he’d do it every weekend if he had the opportunity. But he especially loves running the trucks, because they allow for a more aggressive driving style.  

“You can attack a little harder,” he said. “They’re less aerodynamic, which means when you do get sideways you catch more air to help bring you back. You can just really run the trucks on the ragged edge.”

Speaking of driving styles, Pocono, with its long frontstretch and three turns -- each requiring a different approach – is high up on Peck’s list of favorite tracks. Debriefing in the hauler after final practice, he said the team’s showing this year was their best practice at the Tricky Triangle to date.

“We’ve made progress every year, every race. We’re a small team, we don’t have a big budget, but we have a great group of guys that really work hard and want to be here and do this. There’s probably more in there we could maximize. Let’s get to 21st, 20th, take it one position at a time. I feel like we’re close to where we need to be as a team and where we’re capable of running here this week.”

The driver’s prediction was spot on, as the No. 40 truck made incremental gains all weekend, running 25th fastest in practice and rolling off the grid in 23rd position. Despite having some complications and extra pit stops, they roared over the finish line in 21st.

Peck shares a laugh with crew member Rick Yonek in the NCWTS garage.
Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs
After climbing out of the truck after the Pocono Mountains 150, Peck described the setbacks.

“I think we broke a valve spring, or something in the carburetor let go early. Or it might have been electrical. It was down on power about 15 laps or so into the race. Every lap we were getting faster, until all of a sudden the motor laid down a little bit. It was a funny issue and I couldn’t pinpoint what it was, but something was going on.”

Although he was disappointed about the mechanical problems, Peck focused on the positives.

“All things considered, we’re here in one piece, and we ended up 21st, which is not spectacular, but is solid. So we’ll take it, considering the day we had and the hand we were dealt today. We’ll just move forward.”

Watch for Peck in the upcoming NCWTS races at Michigan, Talladega, Homestead and maybe a few more.

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