2021 Castrol® Gateway Dirt Nationals

Quick Engine Swap Saves Nick Hoffman's Dome Hopes

Quick Engine Swap Saves Nick Hoffman's Dome Hopes

A quick engine change after time trials paved the way for Nick Hoffman to lock himself into Saturday's Gateway Dirt Nationals main event.

Dec 4, 2021 by Kevin Kovac

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (Dec. 3) — A cursory examination of Nick Hoffman’s Super Late Model results during Friday’s Castrol Gateway Dirt Nationals preliminary program at The Dome at America’s Center would lead one to believe he had a smooth march to a starting position in Saturday’s $30,000-to-win finale.

Fifth-fastest time in his qualifying group. Heat race victory. Solid runner-up finish in the 25-lap feature. | Complete Gateway coverage

But looks can be deceiving. The 29-year-old multi-division talent from Mooresville, N.C., nearly saw his weekend of full-fender action with Scott Bloomquist Racing end following just a handful of circuits around the fifth-mile oval.

“After time trials I came in and (the engine) was spewing water out of it, so obviously there was an issue,” Hoffman said. “We popped the hood and the water pump belt was broke, so we got to fixing that, pulled the radiator and the fan and all that stuff, got a belt on it, and when we were spinning it over I noticed that the pulleys and everything were screwed up. So I was like, ‘We’re gonna have to yank the motor,’ and at this point I’m like, ’We’re done.’”

Hoffman tracked down Cody Sommer, the promoter of the Gateway Dirt Nationals and soon-to-be ex-co-owner of Scott Bloomquist Racing, and asked him, “What do you want me to do?” The injured powerplant in Hoffman’s Team Zero car was Sommer’s personal Baldwin LS engine, and the only backup option available to the team was a newer Baldwin LS motor that Hoffman used in Oct. 12’s Castrol FloRacing Night in America event at 411 Motor Speedway in Seymour, Tenn., but was now on display in the vendor area of the Dome’s pit area.

“We wasted about 20 or 30 minutes just figuring out what we were gonna do, and then we decided, ’OK, we’re gonna yank it,’” related Hoffman, a native of Belleville, Ill., just a short drive across the Mississippi River from downtown St. Louis. “Then it was all hands on deck (to install the display engine). I can’t thank everybody enough who put hands on this thing to make it happen. Obviously all of Scott’s guys, but we had modified guys, my dad … everybody was pitching in. It was pretty wild.

“I would say it was probably 45 minutes to pull one and get the other one in. They were hustling.”

The swap was completed just in time for Hoffman to report to the track and take his outside pole starting spot in the second heat race. He went on to win it, though not without some anxious moments.

“You get in the thing and you hope everything’s tight obviously (on the engine),” Hoffman said. “And we’re rolling straight on the racetrack for the heat race and you have no engine heat or anything in it, so then you’re worried about blowing this one up. It was very stressful at that time to make it out there.

“I was cautious there (to not push the engine too hard in the heat). But man, that’s the difference between probably not even making the show tomorrow and now we’re in the redraw.”

Indeed, the third-starting Hoffman overtook Austin Simpson of Bartonville, Ill, for second on lap 13 of the feature and stayed in the position for the remainder of the distance. He finished 0.863 of a second behind flag-to-flag winner Myles Moos of Lincoln, Ill., to claim one of the race’s four automatic berth’s in Saturday’s 40-lap headliner.

With a spot in the weekend’s big show in his sights, Hoffman didn’t force the issue down the stretch in hopes of overtaking Moos for the $5,000 top prize.

“It started getting pretty treacherous over there in (turns) three and four and me and Myles had a pretty good line going around the whole racetrack, so I just followed his lane there,” Hoffman said. “At that point I was like, ’Just ride and get in that redraw (for the top eight starting spots on Saturday). Anything can happen tomorrow, but the biggest thing is to be locked in.’”

Hoffman gained entry to the Gateway Dirt Nationals Super Late Model finale for just the second time in his career, following his eighth-place finish in the 2016 inaugural at the Dome. The unlikely manner in which he did it left him happy and satisfied.

“It’s just unreal,” said Hoffman, who registered the 40th overall victory of his spectacular 2021 season in Thursday’s open-wheel modified preliminary feature. “It was a very busy night for me running back-and-forth from my midget to the Late Model — the midget was on the other side of the building — but man, it was just so much fun. To be locked in and not have to worry about being in a B-main in any division, I’m just so pumped up.”

Hoffman, who is the only driver pulling triple-duty in the Gateway Dirt Nationals (he finished third in Friday’s 20-lap midget feature), is confident about his chances at Saturday’s 30-grand check with the replacement Baldwin LS engine under his car’s hood. It’s a newer, stronger version of the motor that was in his machine for the start of Friday’s program, and it seems well-suited to the Dome’s hardscrabble bullring.

“It still has the same amount of power (as a conventional aluminum Super Late Model engine), but more parts are available, it’s easier to get parts for the LS stuff, so at the end of the day it’s cheaper,” Hoffman remarked. “They’re trying to push this market to get the cost of a Super motor down, and obviously it’s fully capable of running with these guys. I qualified quick time at 411 with it, I ran third (in the feature) behind J.D. (Jonathan Davenport) and (Jimmy) Owens. It’s a very good motor. Brandon Overton’s run a couple of them before. Shannon Babb has. It’s a very good piece.

“It’s just been about tuning on it and trying to get it exactly how I want it as far as feel. Drivability is my biggest thing. You can have the biggest number in the pit area as far as horsepower but it doesn’t do you a bit of good if you can’t drive it, can’t control it. I like the feel of this one.”