Wednesday, August 31, 2022

ARCA: Milwaukee a learning experience for Amber Slagle and Mandy Chick

Amber Slagle's #24 after receiving repairs at Milwaukee
PHOTO: William Soquet
by William Soquet Staff Writer

A week after the NASCAR Cup Series made headlines for its diverse field featuring drivers from seven countries, the ARCA Menards Series and ARCA Menards Series East rolled into the Milwaukee Mile touting a unique field of its own – six of the 28 drivers were women. Much ink has been spilled about how each of the drivers wound up in this exact race, but the stories of two of these drivers shared many similarities: Amber Slagle and Mandy Chick.

Both drivers originally hail from the Midwest - Slagle from just outside of Detroit and Chick from De Soto, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City. Both eventually worked their way into the late model ranks, Slagle first in the Champion Racing Association (CRA) and later the NASCAR Weekly Series. Chick began late model competition at I-44 Speedway in Lebanon, Missouri and also later raced in the CRA. Chick’s family also previously owned Team Chick Motorsports, which competed in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck and Busch Series in the early 2000s.

But that is where their paths diverge. One of Slagle’s late model teams was Bruce Cook Racing, which also made her the crew chief of the team’s ARCA operation. That led to a full season as crew chief for Parker Retzlaff in 2021, plus a couple ARCA West starts under the McGowan Motorsports banner, a team that has an affiliation with Cook. The 2022 season has also seen Slagle make sporadic West starts with MMI.

For Chick, 2022 signaled the start of her spring semester as a sophomore at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. She then spent the summer interning with Toyota Forklift. Her family purchased some racing equipment from Visconti Motorsports, and set their sights on running ARCA instead of super late models. Her debut race wound up being at Indianapolis Raceway Park, which was cut short when Colton Collins missed a shift directly in front of Chick on a restart, resulting in a crash.

Both Slagle and Chick continued to face adversity in Milwaukee. The sole practice session was so hampered by rain showers that it was cut short, a significant loss for two drivers with minimal experience on mile-and-above tracks. Slagle's #24 Sun West Construction / MMI Services Chevrolet clocked in 16th, just ahead of 17th-place Chick in the #74 Dynamic Drivelines / JRC Tax Toyota.

An incident suffered in practice forced Slagle’s Cook Racing Technologies team to replace a body panel over the right-front wheel, and the crew was under the hood for so long that they missed qualifying. Hours later, the car passed inspection and was pushed to the grid during a super late model race that preceded Sunday's main event.

With Slagle starting last on the grid, the Sprecher 150 promised to be a struggle. However, an early restart played into both car and driver’s strengths. “We were pretty good the first few laps, got through traffic pretty well,” Slagle commented after the race. Instead, it wasn't inexperience but changing conditions that threw a curveball in Slagle’s race. She finished 28th, two laps behind Cook teammate Christian Rose. “It progressively got plowing tight on me to the point that it was pretty uncontrollable. We worked on it on both stages and we got it pretty good at the end, but this is a big track for me,” she explained.

Meanwhile, Chick qualified fourteenth and finished sixteenth, three laps down. Milwaukee was a relatively quiet race, and she preferred it that way. “It was really nice to be able to finish the race and have a car in one piece, and learn a lot.”

Both drivers emphasized how much they had learned. 

“This is my first mile, and it’s the biggest track I’ve ever been to," said Slagle. "So it was a learning experience, learning aero tight and all that. I think I learned [a lot] the last few laps, we got the car a lot closer. I want to learn more, and I hope to run more of these bigger tracks to be able to do that." 

“I had a lot of really good time behind other people and just learned a lot from other racers," said Chick. "I’ve been able to talk to a lot of them as well. 150 laps will definitely do big things for our program, and I’m excited to take this forward to Salem.”

As for what’s next? For Slagle, the path forward is uncertain, at least behind the wheel. “Seat time is important in these things, and it takes sponsorship to get that, and unfortunately we just don’t have that – I can’t thank Sunwest Construction and MMI Services enough for their support this weekend.” For Chick, she said her team will finish out the season by running Salem and Toledo before gearing up for a potential full 20-race schedule in 2023.

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