The original plan for Braden Rogers this weekend was to make his Solid Rock Carriers CARS Late Model Stock Car Tour debut with Lee Faulk Racing at Hickory Motor Speedway, where he would compete against drivers such as Corey Heim, Bobby McCarty and Layne Riggs.
Instead, Rogers has decided to run at Tri-County Motor Speedway on Friday evening as a way to learn about different racing conditions for Late Models, but he believes that a strong test session on Thursday can be parlayed into a race-winning effort.
“I want to get more experience under my belt and get more comfortable in the car,” Rogers said. “Hickory is probably the hardest track to race on in North Carolina, as it features some of the best competition out there, but I’m looking forward to going back to Tri-County and getting some confidence built up.”
Although Rogers said that his car was strong enough to run inside the Top 10 at Hickory, he stressed that experience is imperative for him right now after the COVID-19 pandemic briefly shut down auto racing around the United States and cut down the amount of races Rogers was supposed to run.
To complicate matters for Rogers, his home state of California was one of the first to completely shut down in an effort to combat surging COVID-19 cases, which meant that Rogers was initially unable to reunite with Lee Faulk Racing once short tracks began to resume operations.
“It was nearly impossible to get all the way out [to the East Coast] without the travel time being over 30 hours,” Rogers said. “It sucked, because we should have already had six races under our belt at Hickory and Tri-County combined. Tracks were also scheduling races a couple of days beforehand, and you needed at least a week to schedule a flight.”
After COVID-19 cases decreased nationwide in May, Rogers and Lee Faulk Racing began to plan out their schedule for the rest of the 2020 season, with the first race on their calendar being Hickory’s first race back since the beginning of the pandemic in the ParamountAuto.com Twin 51s on May 16.
With Josh Berry, Corey Heim and several former Hickory Late Model track champions in the field, Rogers struggled to find his way to the front and settled for finishes of 22nd and 17th in the two 51-lap features. Rogers’ other two starts at Hickory on July 25 did not fare much better, as he finished 17th and 19th in those respective events.
Rogers wishes that his limited appearances between Hickory and Tri-County had ended in better showings, but he added that logging laps around the abrasive surfaces of both facilities has helped him understand the importance of patience and how to observe changing track conditions.
“Racing at Hickory really teaches you to adjust your line as your tires start to go away,” Rogers said. “Tri-County is the same way, as we were on the bottom during the first 20 laps in a 60 lap feature before moving up to the second or third groove. All of this has really taught me how to race at tracks that are tough to pass on.”
Rogers admitted that he still has several things to learn as he transitions from Legends to Late Models, but he credits everyone at Lee Faulk Racing for their guidance and is looking to drive one of their cars into victory lane before the season concludes.
“I want to get comfortable running up front with the best Late Model drivers out here,” Rogers said. “I’m not going to let other guys push me around just because I’m new, but you can’t go out there and make mistakes. Late Model racing is extremely different than Legends cars, so I’m still figuring out how aggressive I can be and how I can conserve my equipment until the end.”
Along with his regular schedule at Hickory and Tri-County, Rogers still wants to make his CARS LMSC Tour debut in 2020 and is currently talking with Lee Faulk Racing on which events to run.