Feature Article, Open Wheels, Washington — March 24, 2005 at 4:47 pm

Joe Lambert (issue 63)


By Craig Murphy

The Camaro that Shelton’s Joe Lambert bought for $150 at a junkyard following the 2003 season has paid for itself.

Before the car even hit the renovated Grays Harbor Raceway in Elma last year for Hobby Stock competition, the investment had paid off: Lambert sold his old car for $200 and got to keep his parts. Lambert and crew chief Kris Asche, the Shelton driver who won the 2003 Hobby Stock title, quickly got the new car ready.

“I got a call from Shelton Auto Parts to look at a car,” Lambert recalled. “I wasn’t expecting too much. It was on a roll truck in impound. We discussed the price, then I called Kris to see what he thought. Kris remembered it as an old Super Stock in 1997 or ’98 with Dan West Jr.

“When I got it, it was just a skin with a roll cage,” Lambert continued. “Three hours later I paid $150 for it, then sold my old one for $200 – I made $50 plus kept all my parts. We didn’t touch the body. We put stickers on it and put running gear under it. It turned out to be a good car.”

Just how good was this junkyard special? Good enough to win the 2004 GHR Hobby Stock title. Not that it was easy, mind you.

Before the season started, Lambert spun and blew his engine while practicing at South Sound Speedway near Tenino. He blew the engine again before Elma’s season started in May.

After finishing second to Jim Oien Jr. on opening night, Lambert crashed and recorded a DNF in the second race. That DNF, combined with Oien’s torrid pace early in the season, left Lambert playing catch up most of the year.

“I was never really worried (about Oien),” Lambert said. “If he kept doing what he was doing, I wasn’t going to catch him. Then the same things happened to Oien and Zack Simpson.”

Lambert rebounded from his early DNF with consistently strong runs, including his first ever main event win on mid-season championship night, which he called “the start of good things.”

While Lambert surged, both Oien and the rookie Simpson had problems a couple of times late in the season. Heading into championship night, Lambert led Simpson by seven points and Oien by 13.

“In the stands I had time to figure out the math,” said Asche, who raced a Modified in addition to being Lambert’s crew chief in 2004. “If the 9 (Simpson) won, we had to finish within two positions. We had sat down, and had about every situation drawn out.”

Things didn’t go as planned for any of the frontrunners. Oien had problems prior to the trophy dash. He got his car fixed in time for the main, and quickly charged to second before dropping back with a mechanical problem. Simpson, meanwhile, ran away and hid from the field.

Simpson’s dominating run forced Lambert to speed up. “I started out being over conservative, then I lost my rear brakes,” Lambert said. “I had to pick it up so I figured the car would go on the trailer a winner or in pieces.”

When Simpson was black flagged for a loose water pump that was causing heavy smoke, the path was cleared for Lambert to win the title.

Having won the same title a year previous, Asche drew on that experience throughout the season. “It was more relaxing,” Asche said of watching. “I had almost as much fun helping Joe. I was giving him advice.”

With a laugh Asche added, “I don’t know if it helped or not.”

According to Lambert, it did. “It was a major thing to know he had already been there and done that,” Lambert said. “He’d come down and talk to me while I was staged. That really helped me.”

Often the information shared on the staging line was based on Asche’s observations. “I kept a close eye on the track, how it was changing, and what changes were needed,” he said. “I would pay close attention every night to what was working and what wasn’t, and make the necessary changes to the car.”

Also helpful was Asche’s setup experience from previous seasons, especially 2003. “We knew what would work, so we did it to Joe’s car in 2004,” Asche noted. “Once you figure out what works, it’s much easier. You spend several years figuring out what works, and it took until 2003 for me. You start out with junkyard parts, then build up good parts and equipment. A lot of us can’t afford to do it in one shot.”

Essentially transferring setups from one Camaro to the other worked. Despite a new track configuration, a new engine and a new car, the only main change was the left front spring.

“We always have helped each other out,” Asche said. “If he needs tools and help I give it to him, and vice versa. We can always count on the other guy. The 2003 season was the first year we really started working on each other’s stuff.

“It started because when we started racing, we were pretty much the only Hobby Stock guys from Shelton,” Asche added. “We had to team up to stay afloat. We can borrow parts, and it works out pretty good. We try to keep most stuff to where we can swap and trade parts. What we learn from one car can apply to the other.”

For 2005, Lambert and Asche would like to race at more tracks. “After six years at one track, it would be nice to go to other tracks and not run for points,” said Lambert, who nearly won a race at Yakima last fall. “We like to go to different tracks, meet a lot of people and ask a lot of questions.”

Asche drove his Modified a few times last year, and would like to run it some more this year. “It was fun,” said Asche, who hopes to run his Camaro at least in this year’s Hobby Stock Shootout. “Everything happens quicker, the corners come up quicker. By comparison it seems like with the Hobby Stock you have all day on the backstretch.”

Lambert wouldn’t mind stepping up a class. “I want to try a Modified,” he said. “You always want to try something faster. It would be nice to be in the same class as Kris again.”

Asche said he would go back to Hobby Stocks if Lambert moved up. Besides, by running in a different class Asche would still be able to spot for Lambert and signal his gap to other competitors.

“On midseason championship night, he was signaling someone was right behind me,” Lambert said with a chuckle. “We got the video, and I had a half-lap lead!”

Responded a laughing Asche, “Hey, I didn’t want him to let his guard down. Even after the race, I told him the guy was right behind him the whole time.”

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