There's a role reversal going on today at Toledo Speedway. Longtime ARCA crew chief and very occasional ARCA driver Kelly Kovski is behind the wheel, while his lifelong pal Justin Allgaier has the headset on.
Kovski, who has been employed by Allgaier Motorsport for decades, is testing today on the Toledo half-mile in preparation for his career-first start on pavement - that would be the Menards 200 presented by Federated Car Care coming May 18-19.
Kovski has also crew-chiefed for a variety of ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards drivers over the years, most notably, for Grant Enfinger in 2011 when they ran the full season under the Allgaier Motorsports banner. However, driving a big heavy ARCA car on pavement is all brand new to Kovski.
"It's fast a half mile," Kovski said. "Things happen quick. You go from, got grip, got grip - then you push it, and all of a sudden it snaps loose, so you have to be ready for that. In dirt racing, it's much more forgiving. I still have a lot to learn; hopefully we have the rest of the afternoon to figure it out."
Kovski also races a dirt modified back home out of the Allgaier Motorsports Springfield, Illinois race shop, and typically drives in two ARCA races each season on the Springfield and DuQuoin dirt miles. He and Allgaier have known each other from their earliest days.
"I started out with Justin in quarter midgets, so it's very gratifying to be a small part in helping him get to where he's at. And now, me racing with them - the whole thing is really cool. They're definitely family; they're close to my heart, and I couldn't pick finer people to be with.
"We want to learn as much as we can," Kovski added. "Everybody's looking at me as a crew chief, but it's a lot different behind the wheel. Coming out (of Toledo) with a top-10 finish would be ideal. I just want to keep the fenders on it for Mike and Dorothy (Allgaier), and learn as much as we can. If all goes well, we may have to opportunity to race at Berlin too."
Toledo Speedway has special meaning for Allgaier, who sewed up his ARCA national championship here in 2008 after championship contenders Scott Speed and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. took themselves out of competition via an on-track argument. Allgaier also went on to win the race.
"Anytime I get the chance to come back to Toledo, it's just awesome," Allgaier said. "I love this place. I get lost a lot trying to find all these newer tracks we go to, but I had no trouble at all remembering how to get here.
"I won my first championship here in 2008, so it's a very special place. Kelly's a lifelong friend, and has helped me so much over my career, so to be able to come back and help him check something off his bucket list is really cool. I just want to help any way I can."
Allgaier was one of only a handful of ARCA drivers over the years who had won on all ARCA track disciplines - from paved short tracks to dirt tracks; and from superspeedways to road courses. And he certainly knows his way around Toledo Speedway.
"One of the things we find here at Toledo is that it's really, really fast, especially for the size of it. So for him (Kovski), coming off the dirt where there's not a whole lot of grip and the speeds are not as much; then you come here where there's a lot of grip, and a lot of speed; and it's completely different than what he's used to. I told him that everything you already know, you can almost just throw it out the window because it's going to be a lot different. But he's done a great job of adapting. We're just making fine tune adjustments to get him comfortable; and then we can make bigger adjustments on the testing side of things to get him where he needs to be. He's pretty close. He's doing a great job."
A sign of bigger things to come, Allgaier, in 86 career ARCA starts, won on some of the most challenging tracks on the ARCA tour with eight victories overall between Salem Speedway, Cayuga Motor Speedway, Pocono Raceway, Toledo, New Jersey Motorsports Park, Talladega Superspeedway and the Springfield dirt mile. Allgaier finished fifth at Talladega in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race last Saturday.
Kovski, despite his limited starts on the ARCA Racing Series tour (all on dirt), finished a career-best fourth at Springfield in 2012. He also finished six on three occasions between Springfield and DuQuoin. He has never finished worse than 14th anywhere.
Allgaier and Kovski will both be guests on "Inside ARCA" at ARCAracing.com Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., along with Talladega winner and nine-time champ Frank Kimmel and Toledo assistant GM Casey Wagner.
ARCA Racing PR