Sports

Delaware Speedway defending champ unleashing wild side in bid to catch frontrunner Joe Windis

By Ryan Pyette, The London Free Press

Rick Verberne No. 88 truck (Delaware Speedway photo)

Rick Verberne No. 88 truck (Delaware Speedway photo)

There is almost zero chance of anyone catching Joe Windis for the Delaware Speedway trucks track title this year.

So Rick Verberne is ready to unleash his wild side.

"When you're running close in points, you don't do anything crazy," the defending division champ said ahead of Friday's green flag. "But now that we're away in points, we're going to take huge swings and try every set-up to to see if we can make it competitive with Joe.

"It'll work out either good or bad."

The best part?

The Otterville racer is plugging away on his No. 88 truck with the assistance of Windis, who hails from Cathcart, only about 25 minutes away from his shop.

"He's helped me a whole bunch and we've been working weeknights together," Verberne said. "I've been good friends with Joe for a lot of years."

Though there is no official agreement, they consider themselves trusted truck teammates. There is a story behind that, too.

A year ago, Windis was dominating the local half-mile oval in his No. 65 truck. But he was suspended, surrendered points and money for penalties found during inspection, forced to post a $1,000 bond to continue competing and put on racing probation for a build-up of infractions.

His shot at a championship was lost.

"The infractions they found were very minor," Verberne said. "Delware suspended him because it was the third one of the year. On one of them, he had a Rev limiter that malfunctioned and it is our responsibility to make sure it's working. He's going to be fast no matter what you put in there. That's actually my crate engine in that truck, so he wouldn't have any troubles.

"Joe bought that truck the year before and never had any issues, but didn't really know it that well (at the time)."

After the discipline, Windis didn't have much funding to keep running the rest of the season. But Verberne's sponsors, including McRobert Fuels and Ron O'Brien Re/Max, stepped up to support him.

On championship night last fall, Verberne's truck suffered internal engine failure after the first heat race.

His crown was in jeopardy. If he didn't at least start the feature, he wouldn't have enough points for the season title.

Windis, out of the points hunt because of the tech infractions, offered up his ride and cemented his friend's championship.

"At that time, there was a rule in place that you could borrow somebody else's truck to earn points," Verberne said. "That rule had been in place for 30 years. You know the rules when you're running for a title, so we took advantage of it."

That rule has been scrapped this season.

If a driver breaks down in practice, he or she can still borrow a truck. But there can't be a switch from heat to feature anymore.

"Joe's truck is incredible," Verberne said. "I know the feel I'm looking for. Last week, we went the wrong way and finished fifth, but I have no doubt we have a second-place truck. Kevin Lay is fast and so is Brady Smith, who isn't racing a full schedule.

"If we have a solid next five races, we'll be second in points and that's why we're trying to catch Joe. If you don't try, you don't get faster."

And the first step, of course, is to put on a good show. It's been difficult with everyone at Windis' back most races.

"There are a lot of built-up trucks sitting in barns and all we can do it try to rally these guys together," Verberne said. "You look at the super stocks getting 20 or more out every race and it's great to watch.

"I don't know if it's funding or what. I know it's a big-time commitment to race."

Verberne is fortunate to have an array of solid sponsors. He has a cause close to his heart, too.

A couple of years ago, he took his truck on display at the Teddy Bear Picnic in support of the Thames Valley Children's Centre. He ignited a fundraiser for the foundation that gained some traction during his title chase.

"We raised some money," he said, "and every little bit helps. We've left the logos on and are looking at doing a one-night fundraiser with them again this year."

The championship magic is on empty -- thanks to his buddy Windis.

But together, they are aiming for best of the rest.

rpyette@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/RyanatLFPress

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AT THE TRACK

(Friday's lineup at Delaware Speedway)

Vintage modifieds, trucks, V-8 stocks. Spectator gates open at 6 p.m. Racing starts at 7:30 p.m.

More info: delawarespeedway.com