With a new paint scheme and whole lot of attitude, Thomas “Moose” Praytor began his 20th Season of Racing at Daytona International Speedway in the Lucas Oil 200 presented by General Tire.
“Our car has been bad fast since the very first composite body test at Talladega last year and we’ve been waiting on February 10th,” said Praytor.
The DK-LOK Chevy quickly drew notice at Daytona with the return of the Moose’s “Black & Yellow” Paint scheme rolling through the garage. It got even more attention when it made its first laps in the draft.
“Practice confirmed what we felt like after testing and our Chevy would just go wherever I wanted to put it. We worked on a gear and a few other small items before putting the car cover on it and getting ready for qualifying.”
Group qualifying was supposed to a pretty straight forward affair until 6 drivers brought their own agendas to the table and let’s just say the Moose ended up on the short end of the buddy stick. “We get hosed every year, don’t even know why we make a plan it never works out.”
Praytor wasn’t the only veteran to find himself in the middle of the field, 8 time Daytona winner Bobby Gerhart would line up right -behind him. “Having Mr. Bobby back there made me feel a little better but I really wanted to get up to the guy who hosed us in qualifying.”
With the drop of the green flag the Ironman of the ARCA Series didn’t show any rust as he quickly started drafting towards the front.
Praytor and Veteran Cup Spotter Tab Boyd are in their third season of working together and the duo were as smooth as peanut butter and jelly. “Having Tab on the roof really gives me a lot of confidence in gambling on tricky moves.”
Praytor and Gerhart quickly made up 10 or 12 spaces when the first caution flag of the day flew. Things were about to get interesting.
The caution was for teammate Ronnie Osmer’s Ford that had gone up in smoke off of turn 4. While the leaders including Praytor lined up to come to pit road for fuel bad stuff was happening in Praytor’s pit box.
Osmer brought his car to rest in his stall, which was one behind Praytors. The team started to push Osmer’s car to the garage when an official stopped them in Praytor’s pits, leaving the Moose nowhere to go.
While the elder Praytor argued with the officials the team pushed Osmer back into his stall, allowing Praytor to back up into his stall and other cars along pit road to do the same. Since the Moose wasn’t in his stall the domino effect hit everyone at the beginning of pit road. “It was just a cluster, I could hear my Dad through my earpieces and over the motor yelling at the officials.”
When Praytor returned to the racing surface all of the gains he had made were wiped out and then some. The effect was like waving a red cape in front of a mad bull or in this case a mad Moose.
Back under green Praytor was a man on a mission led by his eye in the sky, Tab Boyd. Praytor was picking off competitors in wholesale fashion, he even found his way up to the driver who hosed him in qualifying. The radio conversation went like this-“Did you just tell him he was number 1?” “Yep with both hands while I was driving with my knees.”
Within 10 laps Praytor had gained back all the ground he lost and was on the back bumper of Bobby Gerhart.
“That section of green flag racing was a lot of fun. Our DK-LOK Chevy was getting big runs and we were able to move lane to lane. Tab was calling out positions 2 or 3 ahead of me we were gaining positions so quickly.”
With so much success picking up spots, a mid-race caution let Praytor come back to pit road to top off and ensure himself enough fuel to go the distance and into overtime, little did he know.
With the laps winding down the level of intensity was picking up with give and take turning into take only. Praytor seemed to be at the epicenter of every big wreck leading to the finish.
The first big one happened in turn 2 with the Moose sweeping to the outside to use a hole that closed behind him, collecting more cars.
On the first final lap a car ended up on his side sliding down the backstretch. Praytor dove low launching his DK-LOK Chevy in the air over the grass somehow landing on all fours and still pointed straight.
Praytor was now 5th with an overtime lap to settle it.
The top four cars had been pushing and shoving on each other for a while so a single lap was probably a good time for them to really lean on each other. Praytor dropped a couple of car lengths back on the restart and going into turn 3 the leaders did just what he expected and they started wrecking. “It played out perfectly for us and we got hammered from behind.”
The melee set up another single lap for the finish.
Praytor’s once shiny new car was now a mangled mess but all it needed to go was 1 more lap. The Moose got a push to pit road and the taping, pulling and shoving started. Several times through the Moose returned for the final lap. A final lap that didn’t go as planned.
On his way to take the green flag, Praytor’s Chevy must have had some body parts still hanging loose and a piece get into the right front tire, blowing the tire and taking out the right front fender. Instead of making a charge to the end Praytor limped home to a 14th place finish.
“Really a great effort for our race team, it’s a shame it didn’t work out all the way to the end but we had a bad ass race car, we were in the hunt with all weekend. Can’t say enough about Tab (Boyd) making calls from the roof, what a great job in helping me get around. Way too many people to thank for getting this car ready and here to Daytona, our guys back in Mobile, Bruce Shakespeare who dropped in from Iowa and our UNOH kids did a nice job in their first outing. I wish Ronnie (Osmer) had been able to make all the laps but I’m glad he is OK, that’s pretty wild. We can’t go fast without all of our marketing partners, DK-LOK along with AQUASALT and Wade Distributing really stepped up for Daytona. We’ll get her fixed back home and be ready to be back home in Alabama at Talladega.”
Watch Thomas Praytor and Randy Patrick Saturday night on WKRG TV 5 Special “Countdown to Daytona” at 6:30 CST.