Tuesday, October 1, 2019

FEATURE: Lou Goss carving his own identity in long line of Wisconsin drivers

Goss and his truck in the race shop.
PHOTO: William Soquet, @WilliamSoquet
by William Soquet
LASTCAR.info Guest Contributor

While Wisconsin is known as somewhat of a racing hotbed, the names that roll off the tongue tend to be higher-profile drivers. Sam Mayer and Derek Kraus lead the K&N Pro Series East and West standings, respectively. Ty Majeski has claimed multiple ARCA checkered flags this season. Moving up the ladder, Johnny Sauter and Travis Kvapil are Truck Series champions. Paul Menard kissed the bricks in 2011, and Matt Kenseth has two Daytona 500 victories and a championship.

Tucked away, however, are past and present drivers who espouse the workingman’s mentality of the state. Rich Bickle still barnstorms in late models after his Cup career. Lowell Bennett ran Busch Grand National races from 2002 to 2004 with his own late model team. Dexter Bean, Frank Kreyer and Nathan Haseleau all made lower-level runs in the sport in the 2000s; Bean still competes part-time in the XFINITY Series with DGM Racing.

Enter the first driver from Green Bay to make it to NASCAR since Scott Hansen, who won Truck Series Rookie of the Year in 1999 driving Ken Schrader’s #52 entry - Lou Goss.

Goss comes from a racing family. His father Dean was originally a drag racer and later raced in the Mid-American Stock Car Series. Growing up in the pits, it was only natural for Lou to follow in his father’s footsteps. His first race car, a super stock to be raced at nearby Wisconsin International Raceway, was purchased during Goss’ sophomore year at Green Bay Southwest High School.

The track, about a half-hour south of Green Bay, offered a solid proving ground for a couple seasons, driving on both the quarter-mile and half-mile versions of the track as he moved up the divisions. Later, Lou made it two generations of Goss drivers to compete in the Mid-Am Series, driving full-time from 2007 to 2009 and racing sporadically after that. He also became the second Goss to campaign the #74 in that series, following in his father’s footsteps. Along with that, Goss attended University of Wisconsin-Stout and University of Wisconsin-Green Bay before finishing his education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Fast-forward nearly a decade, when Goss was looking to get approved with NASCAR. A work connection through his brother John got them connected with B.J. McLeod Motorsports for the August 2018 XFINITY race at Road America. While they expected to help on a McLeod crew that is usually understaffed, the weekend had different plans for them. “It turns out B.J. had plenty of help that weekend. We got in touch with Mike Harmon, his PR person reached out to his. We figured we’d just be showing up and hanging out, pushing the car, because what do you do with race cars other than working on them? You push them,” Goss said. “Well, we went through tech about four times last year. We were gassed. And then we found out we were going to be doing over-the-wall stuff.” From there, a relationship was kindled that included going to Indianapolis Motor Speedway the following week to help out the Harmon team, an opportunity that was unfortunately quashed by the weather. However, Goss was approved for tracks 1.25 miles and under in the fall of 2018, leaving him a driver with the proper license but no seat time at all in any series in 2018.

In the early part of 2019, Harmon was short on funds to get through SpeedWeeks, and knowing that Goss was a driver without a truck, offered a short track/intermediate rolling chassis to Goss at a price that made his racing dreams take a large step closer to reality. As part of the sale of the chassis, Harmon also leased an engine to Goss, checking another box in a long list to get the truck NASCAR-ready. The team circled Iowa as its debut race as the first short-track race that they could have the truck ready for. Lou quit his job and brother/team manager John took the week before Iowa off to prep the truck for both Iowa and Gateway, the week after.

“We didn’t know until Iowa even the questions to ask [in the garage].” Going was rough for the team. Despite the fact that Goss made inroads in the garage, like with Josh Reaume, the weekend wasn’t quite where it needed to be, as the truck arrived without a fuel cell and a carburetor and did not manage to make it through tech once it had those parts. Besides that, qualifying was rained out, and being 33rd in owner points in a 32-truck field was the final blow for the weekend.

A week can make a large difference, however. For the following event at Gateway, the team was able to get the truck through tech and while a mechanical issue ended the race early for the group, it was still a valuable experience. Merely going through qualifying and the race was another hurdle for the team, as it presented another set of circumstances that the team hadn’t faced before. The 74 truck fell out early in the Gateway race, and Goss joined the long list of drivers to encounter mechanical difficulties in their debuts.

With Goss only approved for tracks a mile-and-a-quarter and under, the team’s next opportunity was Bristol, one of the most competitive races to make in recent history. With a complete Gateway weekend under their belt, the team went into Bristol with their heads held high.

In between, however, a #74 truck showed up at Eldora with a different driver – Darwin Peters Jr. Peters and Alan Collins had a truck but no owner points. They called Harmon, who referred them to Goss. A lead-lap 17th-place finish and significant owner points later, the Goss team rolled in to Bristol.

The team’s weekend almost came to a glaring halt right before qualifying, as a NASCAR official found that the team was missing valve caps on the tires when the 74 machine was first in line. Luckily, the truck was allowed to be pushed back a couple spots in line, and GMS Racing lent the team a set for qualifying. It was not meant to be, however, as the truck was chattering tight through the turns and Goss went for a slide down the frontstretch, though he luckily kept it off the wall.

Despite that, the weekend on the whole was a plus. “The way we operated at Bristol, you could see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Goss reflected. Goss was happy that the way his team – centered around himself, his brother and team manager John, and his father Dean – operated. They were also confident in the speed of the truck, noting that it was likely one adjustment to fix tightness away from running markedly better than before.

After Bristol, the Goss family took a moment to reset. The team’s engine lease with Harmon was up. The next short track, Phoenix, was months ahead on the calendar. The truck, however, was still race-ready, as it sustained no damage in the Bristol side. What, then, was there left to do?

“Networking.” The livelihood of all NASCAR teams is sponsorship, and with the truck almost race ready, the one thing left to do was to go find the money to race it. Goss also went back to work, noting the benefits of having steady income coming in on a regular basis. He also noted that while the truck itself is race ready, the team needs to acquire auxiliary equipment like a pit box in order to be more successful on track.

As for future plans, the next obvious races are Martinsville and Phoenix, as those are the tracks Goss is approved for. That plan, however, is very fluid. The chassis is good for everything up to intermediates, and when a new motor is found, the truck is ready to go for potentially another driver if they have funding and it is the right situation. The flip side is also true – if it’s not feasible for Goss to bring his own truck out to a race, he’s not opposed to stepping in somebody else’s truck for a weekend, especially if it means a guaranteed starting spot.

As for 2020, the plan right now is to gradually scale up the operation, choosing races that make sense and aiming in the “you can count it on two hands” ballpark, somewhere in between 5 and 10 races. It’s a logical scale factor for everything from sponsorship targets to crew logistics and everything in between. Beyond 2020, however, the possibilities remain wide-open for everything up to a full-time run in the Truck Series, where he will look to put his name among not only Hansen’s, but other grassroots Wisconsin drivers who have made it past the local level into the bright lights.

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