BARBERVILLE, FL: Where It All Begins

First off, let me introduce myself to those of you unfamiliar with me. I’m Rick Eshelman, the World of Outlaws Late Model Series announcer. I’ve been working fulltime for the series – announcing, handling driver registration and doing other jobs such as hanging banners – since July of 2004, but I’ve been going to races since the age of three and announcing for 33 years. I’m now 49 years old.

I’m originally from Waltz, Mich., where I got my start as a young fan and announced my first race (at the paved Flat Rock Speedway). I called my first dirt race in 1983 at River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks, N.D.; I spent three years announcing there while stationed in Grand Forks at the end of my four-year stint in the Air Force.

Going into the 2011 season, I’ve announced races at over 135 different tracks in 30 states and three Canadian provinces. I’ve visited many of those tracks since going to work for the WoO LMS – a job I love. As our series director Tim Christman likes to say, I’m “living the dream.” When you can go to work and enjoy what you do, it’s not a job.

Anyway, with the 2011 racing season right around the corner, the anticipation has been growing for your humble Outlaw announcer. The 40th annual DIRTcar Nationals presented by the University of Northwestern Ohio at Volusia Speedway Park and the WoO LMS are both ready to raise their respective curtains on ’11 – and so am I.

After an off-season that began with our last WoO LMS activities (the World Finals and awards banquet) last November, the time came last Tuesday (Feb. 1) to leave our home base of Phenix City, Ala., and head to the World Racing Group headquarters in Concord, N.C., to load up our equipment in order to get this year underway. Along with my girlfriend, WoO LMS scorer Sandy Holt (who travels the tour with me), we spent a couple days at the office readying the series equipment and getting it loaded in ‘Matilda,’ our nickname for the tour’s venerable 1996 Ford Louisville toterhome that we waltz down the road in all season. The 2011 season begins with just over 293,000 miles on ‘Matilda’s’ odometer.

After getting everything in place and secured down in the hauler and trailer, we fired up ‘Matilda’ and began the journey to Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., last Thursday afternoon (Feb. 3). The trip overall was uneventful with the exception of a decent rain in Georgia and the sighting of seven deer along I-95.

The feeling you get as you cross the state line to Florida is one of happiness just knowing that the weather you left – no matter where you live – is much worse than where you are now. It was cloudy and warm on the way down U.S. Highway 40 heading to the track – and all was right with the world as ‘Matilda’ turned into VSP’s parking lot on Friday afternoon just as the sun appeared from the clouds and the temperature hit a balmy 75 degrees!

On Saturday, we set our tech and registration trailer in position in the Volusia pit area off turn two, unloaded the series ATVs and parked ‘Matilda’ in her resting spot for the next two weeks of the DIRTcar Nationals – inside the go-kart track that sits outside turn four of the big half-mile. The rest of the day was beautiful as we relaxed a little and then I was able to get my two miles of running in – gotta try to stay in shape while on the road! Later, I assisted the DIRTcar UMP officials in marking off and spray-painting the parking spots for the UMP Modifieds in the ‘Gator Pond’ (down the hill from the backstretch) and infield pit areas.

With that completed, it was time to focus on the impending arrival of UMP Modified race teams for tonight’s DIRTcar Nationals opener. On Monday, I helped put up banners on the inside wall of the track and on the speedway’s outside perimeter, and the plan was to also help begin parking UMP Modified rigs. Unfortunately, late in the afternoon the skies darkened, tornado watches were posted for the area and some strong storms blew through; in a matter of minutes, the conditions went from 70 degrees and sunny to 50 degrees, windy and rainy. We took refuge in ‘Matilda,’ and the rain soaked the grounds enough that trailer move-in was put off until today.

So here I am on Tuesday morning, getting ready to go out and help park the trailers. Tonight we’ll be racing with a full UMP Modified program and practice for the Sprint Cars.

The fun is just beginning in the Sunshine State! More to come from me later as I bring you some snapshots of traveling the WoO LMS in 2011…hopefully you’ll find everything interesting. You should, because as I say, “There’s no life like LIFE AS AN OUTLAW!”