Toledo Champion Tommy O'Leary Takes on the ARCA Daytona 200

Toledo Champion Tommy O'Leary Takes on the ARCA Daytona 200

Toledo Speedway division champion Tommy O’Leary took a fast-paced introduction at Daytona International Speedway last month with some racing with the ARCA Menards Series opener - the Daytona ARCA 200. The Toledo and Flat Rock Speedways alumnus competed in a long and chaotic race, taking his Wayne Peterson #06 car to an impressive top 20 finish, on a day he didn’t even know he would be competing.

The journey started on Labor Day in 2023.

“Wayne asked me if I wanted to drive the car.” Said Tommy O’Leary

“I said, ‘Yeah, I would love to drive the car, Wayne! Daytona is the one track I've not got to race at. That's like the one thing I didn't get to check off my bucket list.’ I said, ‘So what do we got to do?” 

Wayne Peterson said, “I need you to lose some weight [laughs]”

From O’Leary “Labor Day weekend was the last time I really got to party and have fun and eat what I want, drink what I want. I started hitting the gym from there on out, and I lost just over 50 pounds just to go to Daytona. I was very dedicated to do that race.”

O’Leary IV is a Toledo Speedway champion, taking home the 2013 X-Car division championship after a hard-fought battle with drivers such as Greg Studt, Dennis Whisman, AJ Padgett, Rich Frantz and others.

O’Leary has competed in the ARCA Menards Series numerously in previous years, racing between 2011 and 2015 with the Wayne Peterson Racing team and Carter 2 Motorsports, however hasn’t competed since a race at Michigan International Speedway with Wayne Peterson Racing in 2015.

About what changed most between his original tour of the ARCA schedule and his return some nine years later, O’Leary says it’s an advancement of safety that comes foremost, even if it means an unexpected trip for full protection.

“I would say safety. They're a lot more picky on safety.” Said O’Leary

“I got to find that out when we went to the test, and I didn't have any fireproof underwear going there because it's never been a rule. They changed it, actually, that year - six days before we were there. So we had to drive to some speed shop down in Florida… We drove and got some underwear so I could test the car! [laughs]”

In terms of being around the organization of ARCA, the driver of the 06 says it comes more to what remained the same, rather than what was amended.

“I would say the professionalism is still there” said O’Leary “In ARCA, I didn't get to experience the jokes before by the media people. So when I was doing my headshot and stuff like that for the beginning of the race season, I pranks with the shock pen and the camera that shoots the water at your face.” 

“That was really funny to experience. Just all the jokes at the beginning.”

“It just goes to show, you can have fun and be serious at the same time.” 

As for the race? The Peterson team certainly had a chaotic race. O’Leary found himself in the pack for most of the race, competing amongst the full field and within the lead pack.

“Oh, it was entertaining for sure. Even in the driver's seat. I mean it. I had to go down pit road to avoid [a wreck on the front stretch]. There were just cars sliding everywhere… It was one of the most entertaining races, I can say I'll remember this one for the rest of my life.”

The 06 would be involved in a wreck on the final lap, ending the day just one turn short for the 06 team, though still good enough for 19th place - a top 20 result out of a field of 40.

Post-race, it was a night of reflection and relaxation for the Cygnet native.

“ I tried leaving the track and so many people were talking to me, telling me, ‘congratulations, awesome job, that wreck wasn't your fault’, stuff like that, and talking to Wayne. 

“The guys were tearing the car apart, and I apologized for wrecking the car to the guys that worked on it really hard. None of them were upset. They said they had a blast. 

“They had a lot of fun being at the track, watching their car run very well. And I feel like I earned a lot of respect from the crew, a lot of the teams that were there. It was just a really good experience of a weekend. 

“When I got back to the hotel, it was almost 4:45, almost 05:00 [AM] and I remember talking to my dad, and we were just sitting on the balcony. 

“We had a hotel right on the beach, Daytona beach. And we just sat there. My dad tried offering me a beer and I was like, ‘you know, I'm just tired. I can't even drink this beer right now. I'm ready to go to bed.’ He laughed at me, and he goes, ‘it was one hell of an experience. I'll talk to you in a couple hours.' We were up, I think by 09:00 in the morning. Just back up and awake and just feeling surreal. Yeah - I just raced Daytona last night. We got to race Daytona at night. That doesn't happen often. 

“It was electric, man.”

O’Leary can be found racing across the region during the 2024 racing season, hoping to run a limited schedule in the R&M Recycling Figure 8 division.

About his favorite memories of racing at Flat Rock and Toledo, Tommy O’Leary looks at his competition in the Salenbien Excavating Late Model Sportsman division.

“My favorite win would definitely be my first Late Model Sportsman win on the half-mile. I had so many slip away, finishing second or leading a race and having a coil pack go bad. 

“I had a lot of just small things that dropped me out of first place. My first win at Toledo Speedway, and I think that was in 2019, the ARCA race was actually there and I got to win in front of all my guys that I used to race with. I think I led the race from start to finish. So that was a really cool first win at Toledo. 

He says his previous competition in the X Car series has him excited to compete in some upcoming racing season at the Level Pebble.

“The championship on the quarter mile in the X-cars was really cool… My first and only championship.”

About his 2013 championship year at Flat Rock, O’Leary says ”The ones that were racing real competitively were me, Greg Studt, and AJ Padgett. We were really close that year. Greg's always a good guy to race with. I would love to race with him again. He was always a fun one to race door to door with.”

“Hopefully I catch him this year on the Figure-8 course. That would be cool. I know he runs the street stock mainly, so maybe I'll catch luck and they'll bring the Figure 8 car the same night we do.”

The 2024 Toledo Speedway season begins on Saturday, April 20th featuring the USAC Silver Crown Series 100-lap Rollie Beale Classic. Alongside the touring divisions include the season opening rounds for the Safety-Kleen Factory Stock and Salenbien Late Model Sportsman divisions.

The 2024 Flat Rock Speedway season begins on Saturday May 4th, featuring action from the Moran Chevrolet Outlaw Super Late Models, the DTS Drive Train Specialists Street Stocks, the R&M Recycling Figure 8 division, and the brand new 100-lap feature event for the Safety-Kleen Factory Stock 500 Series.