In the second part of my interview with former Truck Series driver, Randy Tolsma, he talks about some of his favorite tracks, remembers his final race and the difficult decision to leave the sport as he began the next chapter of his life.
In its early installment, the Truck Series competed at a variety of tracks such as I-70, Portland, Tucson, Colorado, Topeka, Evergreen and Flemington, just to name a few. Tolsma identifies which tracks were his favorite and why.
“I most certainly loved Portland, Oregon and Monroe, Washington because of being from the Northwest and these were somewhat close to home,” he said. “I also liked them, along with Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Loudon, New Hampshire because they were flat and worn out, lacking grip, which put the driver more in control than aero or horsepower. Richmond, Virginia and Phoenix, Arizona raced well and I always found comfort at them. Clear choices for favorites were Bakersfield (Mesa Marin) California and Nashville, Tennessee because of my wins. I liked having multiple road courses, superspeedways but never found the speed I needed at the 1.5-mile tracks that are so popular today. ”
One of his favorite tracks is now the track that holds the Championship 4 for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, which is Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“One of my most favorites was the second to last iteration at Homestead, Florida,” Tolsma said. ”
“This track became a special one because it was flat, but it became the track that I finally felt what I needed in the truck to be fast. We went to test and I remember being at the hotel when the owner called after the first day of practice asking how we were doing. We were about 3/10ths off and could not seem to find the extra speed. The next morning my Crew Chief Dave Fuge said he was making a significant change and just to be open with feedback. I went out and as I went through the corner I remember being on the radio commenting that this was not the right choice, it felt super slow.”
“Dave’s reply was quite the opposite because we were the fastest truck by about 3/10ths of a second. The funny thing was, it was easier to drive and provided much more comfort. I never forgot that feel and realized I needed more security on entry, making sure to put more input in the wheel, allowing the truck to roll through the center so I could be turned in the center and using more forward grip off. This changed how I drove the truck and had a huge impact from that moment on, making that track very special to me.”
Unfortunately, his last full-time start came back in 2002 at Martinsville Speedway, where Tolsma placed 18th. He had a feeling that it was his last race.
“I had a very good idea it was my last race,” Tolsma said. “Months earlier I was driving the in the Busch Grand National race in Rockingham, North Carolina, at the conclusion of the race I stopped as we all did on pit road, I took off the gloves, helmet and crawled out half way. One foot in the car and one of the pavement and I saw the crew walking towards me and knew for some odd reason that it was all over. One week later, I was the third driver fired from that car after running the worst I ever had in my career. It’s a long story and a long time ago, lots of hurt, pain and frustration.
“Sam Rensi who was a very good friend and part owner of the team that fired me wanted to give me one last shot. We went to Martinsville with a team made up of extreme talent, but couldn’t put it all together to be competitive in one race.
“That day at Martinsville I walked across the stage for driver introductions with my then three-month-old son Elijah. It saddened me that he would never know his father the racer, he would never see someone ask for an autograph; he would always only know me as Dad. That took some time.
“As I mentioned before, I gave the sport everything, not because of glory, money or fame, but because it was all I thought of, all I dreamed about and it was my passion, healthy or not. A few years later I was asked to speak about racing and my career and it was then that I found closure. I realized that if, when I was 9-years-old racing Go Karts and someone had asked me if I would be satisfied with all that I ultimately did and achieved, yet never making it to the ultimate goal, I would have been thrilled and said an emphatic yes. Remember earlier when I said I didn’t even have dreams that lofty when I was that age, so how could I be disappointed?”
“Why was it my last? Long story but lots changed in a short time. The sport became so popular that drivers began coming with deep pockets and owners focused more on entertaining drivers with money, more than focusing on talent. I was also not a superstar and had just come off the worst races of my career. It was only smart business, especially on the heels of 9/11 and sponsorship had dried up. I put together a few truck deals, Busch deals, but they all fell apart. I was also now responsible for a family, and eating cold cereal for dinner no longer was an option. It was time to focus on making a living, providing for my family.”
The final installment of my interview with Tolsma, to be published next week, will focus on his life after racing.
You can follow Randy Tolsma on Twitter at @rtolsmaamci.