Race Weekend Central

Former Flat Rock ARCA Winners Reminisce, Talk ARCA East Race

The ARCA Menards Series East is visiting a racetrack for the first time in its history.

The racetrack, Flat Rock Speedway, is new to the East series but it isn’t new for ARCA. Owned by ARCA President Ron Drager, the quarter-mile short track hosted 40 ARCA Menards Series races, most recently in 2000.

With the 23-year gap, only two entrants for Saturday’s (May 20) Dutch Boy 150 have competed there in ARCA before: Smith Brothers Racing brothers Brad and Jeff Smith.

Of the 21 different winners, Frontstretch spoke to three of them, and two will be at the East race Saturday as team owners.

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Not only will Bill Venturini Sr. be there to watch his driver Sean Hingorani, but he’ll also be there watching his son Billy Venturini climb back into an ARCA racecar for the first time since Oct. 5, 2007.

This track is on Billy’s bucket list. The key reason? Bill Sr. won there three times and amassed nine top fives and 12 top 10s in 18 starts.

“Out of curiosity I looked at the records and I ran there 18 times,” Venturini told Frontstretch. “My average, when I didn’t get wrecked, was 5.5. Jerry Churchill wrecked me once on lap 2, I broke on one race. Out of the 18, I finished in the top five 10 times. I won three, two in a row. I liked that track; I don’t know why. Really tight short track.”

From Chicago, Venturini began his racing career at another quarter-mile short track, Rockford Speedway. His success there made him a threat to win at ARCA short tracks, capturing nine of his 12 ARCA victories on them.

“Short tracks were my forte, I really liked them and I had to learn how to drive speedways because I never raced at them,” Venturini said.

In fact, Venturini’s first ARCA win came at Flat Rock in the first ARCA race there in 1983.

“I remember we had to pit in the infield, but we never really had to pit,” he noted. “We weren’t doing pit stops back then. I remember it was a tiring race because it’s like a circle. Ron Drager was the one who presented me with the trophy. He was just out of college.

“I got my first ARCA win there and that’s why Billy wants to go there. I got a picture. He was 7 years old and my daughter [Wendy] was 4 or 5 [years old]. He saw me win there a few times and he loved it. When he was racing, they didn’t schedule it, so he never got to race at Flat Rock and he always said it was on his bucket list. I’m glad he wanted to do it. It’ll be a fun weekend.”

Bill Sr. has no aspirations of racing again. The self-admitted semi-retired 70-year-old is looking forward to Saturday night more as a fan than as the team owner, adding, “I may even go into the stands and have a beer.”

Venturini Motorsports has won quite a bit in ARCA competition in 2023, notching five wins in the 10 races across all three series. Still, Bill Sr. will be admittedly emotional watching Billy compete at the famed short track. When those emotions will hit is still to be determined though.

“Ask me that Saturday night when they throw the checkered flag,” Bill Sr. said. “Or when they have driver introductions, I’m sure it’ll be very emotional for me. I’m just going to be the dad watching him race. I’m not the car owner and I’m looking forward to it.”

If Billy wins, will his father give him his famed kiss in victory lane? “Oh, hell yeah!”

VMS is glad Flat Rock is back on an ARCA series schedule, so Billy can compete, but Fast Track Racing team owner Andy Hillenburg is also glad Flat Rock joined the East schedule.

The 1995 ARCA champion has been looking forward to the Flat Rock event all year, adding, “I lobbied Ron Drager for this for 10 years.”

The 60-year-old likes The Level Pebble partly because of its tight size so that “you don’t need horsepower or tons of tires to do well there.

“I really believe, in my heart, that I could run well there in a Suburban. The racetrack makes the racing there exciting. The crowd there is exciting, too. The announcer really gets them going to get a little Flat Rock thunder going and they start stomping their feet. It’s really a neat place.”

Other than some similarities to Madera Speedway, Hillenburg couldn’t think of any other comparable racetrack to Flat Rock. Or, as Bill Sr. said, “Flat Rock is Flat Rock.”

Hillenburg ran well at Flat Rock himself, winning his first time there and he accrued finishes of first, 11th and sixth in his three starts there.

When he won the first event there in 1995, he won by learning from a mistake.

“I drove about the first 50 laps there out of control, couldn’t go anywhere and spun out,” he said. “I restarted, and when you restart at the back of a 27-car field, there’s not a lot you can do other than try not to get lapped. It gave me a little bit of patience and I felt like I learned a lot. Then after a few laps, I was able to zip right through using stuff I learned from being stuck. It was neat.”

Hillenburg will field four entries at Flat Rock, including his full-time East driver Zachary Tinkle. Tinkle is currently sixth in the standings with a top 10 in all three races. More impressively, Tinkle has piloted the same racecar all season. Knock on wood it continues to be that way after Saturday night.

“Zachary has been improving all year long,” Hillenburg added. “He’s working well with his crew chief, Todd Parrott. It’s a good pairing. They’re getting faster each race and that’s really fun to be a part of.”

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Entry List: 2023 Dutch Boy 150

Hillenburg and Venturini both won at Flat Rock, but not as much as Dave Weltmeyer. Owner of 13 career ARCA victories, Weltmeyer won five times at The Level Pebble, second-most in series history.

“We always qualified really good there,” he said. “Every driver has got their track; that was one of my tracks that I was really good at. I enjoyed running there and I was lucky enough to win a few races.”

His secret to success at Flat Rock? Another short track, one near his hometown Dyer, Ind. – Raceway Park in Blue Island, Ill.

“I grew up there and it was a really small bullring,” Weltmeyer stated. “Flat Rock was just like it except maybe a little bit wider. I grew up there [at Raceway Park] in the late ‘60s-early ‘70s. Once you raced there, it helped you on the smaller racetracks.”

Although Weltmeyer hasn’t competed in ARCA since a single start in 2002 – he has no desire to return to racing by the way – he still follows the series.

His prowess at Flat Rock hasn’t been forgotten though. In an interview with sports reporter Casey Campbell, Billy Venturini referenced Weltmeyer’s driving style.

“That’s really a compliment,” Weltmeyer noted. “Billy was a young guy when I was racing. He’s doing a great job with Venturini Motorsports.

“He’s right. Back in the day, the seats allowed you to lean a little bit to the left so I could look where I was and there were some good marks on the bottom. Once you got a rhythm at that place, that’s when you made up good time.”

You can still see Dave Weltmeyer at a racetrack though as nowadays, he helps his son DJ Weltmeyer race. DJ won the 2022 late model championship at Grundy County Speedway.

Dave will watch the East race. The 150-lapper has no scheduled competition cautions. Theoretically, after the green flag waves, the next flag could be the white flag. Bill Sr. and Hillenburg promised there will be action.

“It’s going to be rough on the drivers,” Venturini continued. “They’re going to be worn out when they’re done. It could be over in about 45 minutes. But you have to realize, they’re never going to be stopping. Their foot will be on the gas, then the brake, gas then the brake. They’re going to be always turning. They’re going to use more muscles this week than other tracks that they’ve gone to.

“There’s very little banking and it’s really narrow too. The groove is about a one-and-a-quarter car groove. By the time you come off the corner, to get to the next corner, you’re going for the wall by the start/finish line. Then once you get to the wall, you have to turn right back down. It’s going to be hard to pass. To get some good passing, you’re going to have to use a bump-and-run.”

“I think this is a throwback to the way racing was 20 or 30 years ago which will be neat to see,” Hillenburg added. “It’ll be non-stop action as well the whole way.”

About the author

Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.

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Been there many times and drove there quite a bit. A short track you can pass on.

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