Daryn Pittman was just hitting his stride when the World of Outlaws schedule stalled out due to the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Pittman kicked off the season with two podium finishes at Volusia Speedway Park. Though a two-month hiatus would have benefited a lot of race teams, the driver of the No. 83 Roth Motorsports sprint car was making progress with the team he had joined just one year ago.
“I’ve felt better and I’ve felt worse,” said Pittman with a laugh. “We’re just kind of getting going again. We started off strong and consistent—which was kind of the focus we put in over the offseason, to work on our consistency.
“Then we started back up again at Pevely and Lake of the Ozarks and really had a couple of disastrous races back-to-back, which is really what we've been trying to avoid. We just really couldn't get anything going for a couple of nights.”
When the tour returned to racing at Knoxville Raceway on May 8, the former Outlaws champion finished fourth. But the last two race weekends at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 and Lake Ozark Speedway were hit or miss for the 22-year WoO veteran.
Pittman finished 13th and 11th at I-55 in Pevely, Mo. Two weeks later, at Lake Ozark, he finished 13th on Friday and eighth in Saturday’s feature.
“We rebounded a little bit for the final night at the Lake of the Ozarks with eighth, but still definitely not where we need to be,” Pittman added. “We're really working on our short track program. Just trying to get our cars figured out.”
After a mediocre run in the Show-Me State, the Owasso, Oklahoman is hoping to regain his drive this weekend when the WoO rolls into Beaver Dam (Wisc.) Raceway. Pittman leads all active drivers at the one-third-mile oval with four wins. He set the track qualifying record in 2017 with a lap of 11.071-seconds. In 19 starts at Beaver Dam, Pittman has led 123 laps and scored 15 top-10 finishes.
“Excited to go to Beaver Dam,” Pittman said. “Historically, it’s been one of my best race tracks. Confidence probably has a little bit to do with it, but that can only take you so far. You’re still always at the mercy of what your car is capable of doing on any given night. I found success early in my career at Beaver Dam. I’ve always been able to be competitive and have a good feel for the lines and how the lines change throughout the course of the race.
“Confidence is a good thing and a big help. But understanding how a race is going to play out, helps as much as anything. I always enjoy going there. It’s more of a smaller track, so I’m curious to see if we can get things straightened out there and kind of get things turned around and start competing for wins again.”
In his first season with Roth Motorsports, Pittman scored four wins and finished fourth in the standings behind the wheel of the No. 83 sprint car. Trying to find the right chemistry for the team continues to be a work in progress.
“No doubt, the more time you can stay with a team and with people, the better and stronger the team is going to get,” Pittman said. “We’ve changed quite a few crew guys even over the 15-16 months since I’ve been here. So we’re still adapting to some new crew guys. We actually changed two crew guys over the coronavirus break for multiple reasons. We no doubt have the strongest team I feel that we’ve had since I’ve been here at Roth. And my crew chief (Brent Ventura) hasn't changed.
“Definitely, the more time that we have to work together and develop our notebook and what works at certain places—or even at certain sized tracks with our cars is a big thing. The most successful teams out there you can see are the ones that have been together for a long time and have a great reputation of understanding what the driver or crew chief is saying when you are struggling.”
Pittman, 41, has witnessed a lot throughout his career, but 2020 has been a season like no other. After all of his years in racing, nothing could have prepared him for the bizarre atmosphere with the absence of fans at Knoxville Raceway—a venue that holds nearly 25,000.
The experience was one Pittman won't soon forget.
“It was weird, for sure,” Pittman said. “It was definitely a strange environment. Not seeing fans in the stands was weird, but also being kind of confined to your trailer. Down in the pit area, even if you didn’t look up in the grandstands, it was a completely different vibe and a completely different feeling that I don’t think any of us ever wanted to ever get used to.
“We’ve definitely returned more to normal, as far as being able to socialize with other crew guys that are in the pit area a little bit more. So I think that any of us want to be stuck knowing that you’re not supposed to be walking around and having to wear a mask or when you’re racing and doing a four-wide and not seeing the camera flashes around the track or hear the fans.
“Every year I think, ‘Man, I’ve been doing this long enough that I’ve seen it all,’ and then something always catches you off guard and you think, ‘That’s a new one.’ I’ve seen a lot of highs and lows, but this is one of the strangest times of my career.”