Friday, July 30, 2010

SPORTS>>Joslin savors second shot

Leader sportswriter

Cabot driver Todd Joslin started his career 15 years ago in the hobbies and won the Beebe Speedway track title in 1999, but the growing cost of racing became too much for him, and by 2002, he was out of it completely.

Enter the Bobs.

Joslin’s second shot at racing has come in the E-mod class driving the No. 81 machine. The car is co-owned by Bobby Merkel and Bob Howard, and the trio works on the car out of Howard’s shop in Beebe.

“We’re about to get it figured out,” Joslin said. “We got crossed up there in the first part of the year. We didn’t have everything just right, but we’re about to get it lined out now.”

After sitting out half a decade, Joslin, 47, is content to be where he’s at right now, back behind the wheel of a competitive race car.

The 81 team started in what was still a growing, economy-modified class during the 2007 season. Joslin, who guesses his number of career victories to be somewhere around 50, describes himself as “the old man of the group.”

Young drivers such as McCrory’s Robert Woodard, Blake Jones of Beebe and Greenbrier driver Lane Cullum give the class a young-gun vibe, but it’s Joslin’s experience and maturity that has lent credibility to a class notorious for rough driving and frequent cautions.

“I’ve been trying to help some of them, because it’s beneficial to us not to have so many cautions,” Joslin said. “I’ve been trying to help some of these guys, because people helped me along the way to get me where I’m at. I’m trying to pass a little bit of it on.”

Jones holds a narrow lead over Joslin and Woodard in the points standings. Woodard looked like the driver to beat before he began to struggle in late May, right about the time Joslin got his first of two feature victories this season.

Jones has been on a tear in recent weeks but has faced frequent challenges from Cullum.

While those four cars make up the bulk of the top five on a weekly basis, there are a host of other competitive drivers, such as Searcy’s Joey Gee and Beebe’s Ryan Redmond.

“The competition is tough. I mean, it’s a lot tougher now than it was even 10 years ago,” Joslin said. “There’s just so much more information on the Internet and things of that nature.

“It’s just a lot easier to get information to set your car up. There use to be only a handful of fast cars, now it’s quite a few more people.”

The “Big Red 81 Machine” has its share of sponsors such as Old Cow Fence Company and Ace Signs out of Cabot, along with Bob Underwood Construction and Howard’s own Slow Bob’s Bike Shop. But there are a couple of more peculiar ads on the door panel.

One of them is for Bob’s Bunny Ranch, which claims to be home to “Some fine bunnies,” but perhaps the most humorous ad is a pitch for faux cosmetic surgeon Emerson Biggins, with the motto “size matters.”

“You’ll have to ask these guys about that — it was all their doings,” Joslin said of Merkel.

Merkel is regarded as one of the more colorful characters on the local racing scene, and said the slightly off-color ads were meant only as a joke.

“Just making it fun. It’s all about having fun,” Merkel said. “I was sitting around playing. Like I said, it’s all in fun; that’s all we wanted to do.”

Away from the track, Joslin works railroad construction, is a six-handicap golfer and enjoys other activities like hunting.

He has raced most of his career at Beebe, but Joslin makes the occasional trip to other tracks in Arkansas.

One such trip paid off big for Joslin and crew when he won a $1,000-to-win E-mod race in Centerville back in late May.

“It’s just the benefit from all the hard work,” Joslin said. “You put in all that time, and when you can come away with a victory, it’s all worth it.”