Student makes ARCA debut at Daytona International
by Tom Speicher, writer/video editor. Photos courtesy of Scott D. Hubler, except as credited.
Scott D. Hubler receives final instructions from his crew. Slowly, he steps into his gray, fire-retardant jumpsuit, sprinkled with the logos of various sponsors. He pulls his white helmet past his ears and secures it a few inches from the top of his shoulders.
With the bright Florida sunshine reflecting off his sleek black stock car, Hubler slides in the opening above the vibrant white No. 7 adhered to the driver's side. Once strapped in, he takes a deep breath and starts the Chevy Impala. Soon he is navigating the world's premier super speedway with 39 other drivers, pining for the dropping of the green flag.
The Pennsylvania College of Technology student is ready to chase his dream.
It's February, and Hubler is driving in the ARCA Racing Series' season opener, the Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona International Speedway. It's the first time for him behind the wheel in the ARCA circuit, a professional proving ground a step below the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Surrounded by a collection of colorful cars, Hubler is coasting at 55 mph during the final warm-up lap. He hears the comforting voice of his spotter through the earpiece tucked inside his helmet. Reliance on the spotter will be crucial since a restraint system limits Hubler's head movements, and the car has no rearview or side mirrors.
But Hubler can see a welcoming sight straight ahead: the starter waving a green flag. The nationally televised 80-lap race is beginning. Hubler feels a rush of excitement and accelerates. Instincts are taking over.
He navigates Turn 1 with just his left hand on the wheel because his right is occupied shifting the car into fourth gear. Hubler adroitly positions himself just above the double yellow line marking the bottom of the track. He is drafting competitors and advancing from the 20th position.
"I was driving a race car before I could ride a bike without training wheels."
"It's happening," Hubler thinks to himself.
Midgets and legends
The Coplay native began dreaming of this moment after attending his first race at the age of 4. On his fifth birthday, shortly after he blew out the candles on his cake, Hubler and his dad drove to Indianapolis, where they purchased a quarter-midget car straight from the factory. Soon, he was driving the 250-pound, dune-buggy-like vehicle 30 mph in races throughout Pennsylvania.
"I was driving a race car before I could ride a bike without training wheels," Hubler said. "I was like a pitcher who picks up a ball for the first time and throws it over the plate at an impressive speed. It's a natural calling. For me, my calling is to be put in a car and drive."
And win. Hubler took first in more than 100 midget races.
At 14, he switched to legends racing. "The cars were more sensitive to drive and easier to upset," Hubler said about the motorcycle-engine-powered vehicles that have body shells reflecting cars from the 1930s and '40s. "I was not as comfortable with how the cars handled."
Eventually, he became quite comfortable. From 2009-12, Hubler captured three track championships at Sundance Vacations Speedway in Hazleton and won 33 of 48 starts. His dominance pointed him to the next step in racing. His maturity directed him to college.
"School is one of those things that you don't want to put on the back burner," said Hubler, who, like his father, followed a vocational track in high school focused on electrical technology. "You hear about too many people who take a year off and they end up with a family or have money problems, and they never go back."
The decision about where to go to college was an easy one for Hubler.
"Penn College is respected. It's well-known. It's affiliated with Penn State," he explained. "One of the biggest things that impressed me was the number of diverse companies that come here looking for skilled employees. You get a good degree."
Or in Hubler's case, three. He has earned associate degrees in electromechanical maintenance technology and electrical technology and is on track to graduate in May with a bachelor's degree in building automation technology.
"I like to have a lot of paper to back me up," he said with a grin.
Hubler isn't contemplating multiple diplomas as he exceeds 160 mph at Daytona. He's focused solely on his car, a former NASCAR vehicle. A simple lapse of concentration could put him in harm's way. Stock cars are built to sustain crashes, but Hubler doesn't want to personally vouch for that safety attribute.
As he goes full throttle, Hubler realizes his crew chief's prediction that he would feel comfortable after a few laps has come true. In fact, Hubler compares driving on the straightaway to handling a Cadillac at 45 mph on the highway. He only has to slightly adjust his wheel. However, the sharp turns on the tri-oval do remind Hubler that he is traveling at breakneck speeds. The G-forces give his upper body a workout.
The car's extreme heat, exacerbated by his jumpsuit and helmet, taxes Hubler's entire body. But he's not complaining. His strategy of remaining low on the track is working. Hubler methodically passes several competitors.
By lap eight, he has moved up nine spots to 11th place. Emerging from Turn 4 on lap 13, he is primed to crack the top 10 and draw praise from the FOX Sports 1 TV commentators.
Their attention, though, shifts to near the front of the pack.
It appears that Chase Elliott has nudged the rear of Buster Graham's No. 99 car. Graham veers to his left before sliding back into the path of dozens of other racers, including Hubler.
Racing means juggling
Hubler enjoyed a clear Daytona track in December following finals at Penn College. Bobby Gerhart, a team owner and eight-time ARCA winner at Daytona, invited him to participate in a three-day test session at the hallowed speedway. Gerhart knew Hubler's father and was impressed with the rookie's racing resume.
Hubler lived up to his billing, despite no previous experience driving a stock car. He easily handled the 180 mph speeds and tested in the top seven of 73 drivers. The result? ARCA approved him as a driver for its 2014 season, and Gerhart offered Hubler the opportunity to drive one of three cars he planned to enter in the Lucas Oil 200.
Scotty Hubler Racing was born.
Family members established a website (scottyhublerracing.com), designed personalized racing attire and helped secure sponsors to offset the rental fee for Gerhart's car and crew. In the midst of this whirlwind of activity and excitement, Hubler returned to Penn College for the spring semester. The opportunity of a lifetime was just a few weeks away, but assignments were due within the next few days.
Three months after his Daytona debut, Scott D. Hubler competed in his second ARCA race: the International Motorsports Hall of Fame 200 at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Hubler completed the 76-lap race, finishing 24th out of 36 drivers.
"At the beginning of the semester, I made all my instructors aware of my upcoming absence due to the race," said Hubler, who would miss five days of classes. "The week before I left, they allowed me to come into different lab sections so I could get ahead. I focused on getting my schoolwork done first. After that, I would watch Daytona races from years past. It's a juggle between school and racing."
Hubler has juggled fairly well, according to Wayne E. Gebhart, assistant professor of electrical technologies/occupations. "He is hardworking. You show him how to do something once and he has it," Gebhart said. "His situation is unique in that he is involved with something, auto racing, that is very popular. We've had other unique students, just not on such a big stage."
Of course, Hubler's stage has inherent risks. Daytona alone has claimed the lives of more than 20 race car drivers since its opening in 1959. "You take chances with anything that you do," Hubler said in downplaying the danger. "If something would happen, I have faith that the big man upstairs has a plan."
Hubler has mere seconds to devise his own plan to avoid the collision unfolding approximately 100 yards in front of him at the Lucas Oil 200. He doesn't want to be a crushed cog in a chain-reaction accident that will be replayed for perpetuity on YouTube. He responds by letting up on the gas.
Mark Thompson has T-boned Graham's car, sending a chunk of side panel through the air seemingly destined for Hubler and his No. 7 car. The debris whizzes past, missing the front driver's side by inches. Hubler has a shot at evading the unfolding mess.
He sees a clearing near the bottom of the track. Hubler cuts in front of one competitor and heads toward his possible escape route, pit row. There's just one more car to avoid, an out-of-control Ford driven by Justin Allison. If Hubler makes it through the gap to the right of Allison, he could be in fifth place.
Hubler accelerates to 150 mph. Allison slides toward him. The gap quickly shrinks. A second later, there is a loud pop. Allison has smashed the driver's side of Hubler's car. Rather than refuge on pit row, Hubler is left spinning until coming to rest on the bright green infield grass. His race is over.
His back is slightly tweaked, but any physical discomfort is camouflaged by heartache. "It's shattering," Hubler said. "It crashed my self-esteem."
The road ahead
A week later, Hubler is back on the Penn College campus. He's traded his jumpsuit for jeans and helmet for a baseball cap. He's also changed his perspective on his 33rd-place finish at Daytona.
"To be there and drive where the legends do on Sunday was just incredible," he said. "I think we turned some heads in the 13 laps. Everybody who saw the race saw how quickly I edged up and that the accident wasn't my fault."
Racing fans certainly noticed. In the days following the Lucas Oil 200, Hubler received positive messages and autograph requests from Canada, Tennessee, North Carolina and his home state of Pennsylvania.
"I'm so focused on the next step," Hubler said. "What do I have to do next to get where I want?"
Hubler wants to be a "Sunday star" in the pinnacle of stock car racing, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. To get there, he plans to compete in ARCA until hopefully offered a spot in a NASCAR team's driver development program.
"When you do what you're supposed to do, good things happen," he said.
That's also true of his Penn College education. For the second consecutive summer, Hubler interned for the Tri-M Group, a full-service electric solutions company. In 2013, Huber worked for the company's electrical construction division. This year, he interned for Tri-M's building automation division at the Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown.
Those internships, coupled with his classroom and hands-on lab experiences, should open another rewarding lane for Hubler upon graduation. During the past seven years, 100 percent of Penn College's building automation technology graduates have secured employment in the field. The majority had jobs lined up long before receiving their diplomas.
"You want a job? You study what is in demand," Hubler said. "With building automation, you can walk out of here employed by a good company. What more could you ask for?"
In Hubler's case, taking a spin in victory lane. ■