Race Preview: Atlantic Cat 250 @ Scotia Speedworld
Halifaxís biggest stock car race of the year is finally upon us - welcome to Atlantic CAT 250 weekend!
While you can check out my preview for the undercard action at ScotiaSpeedworld.ca, weíre here to discuss the big dance on Saturday night. Not only is the Atlantic CAT 250 a big race carrying a $10,000+ payday to the winner, it is a point race on the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour. We have guest drivers making appearances, the race will be carried live on Sirius/XM Channel 157 and a full field of over two dozen cars are expected to vie for the win. What are we waiting for? Letís dive in.
What better way to preview this race by looking back at last seasonís event. Two things stand out at me about 2011 - one, is that the race went 125 laps at the start consecutive green. Name me another predominant short track racing series that can go 125 laps consecutive green without blinking with two dozen cars on the race track without one dull moment in that span?! Exactly what I thought. We had side by side and close quarter nose to tail racing throughout the field in those green flag laps last year that impressed many throughout the grandstand and pit area. The second thing I took from that was Ben Rowe capturing his third Atlantic CAT 250 crown. Rowe held off charges from Wayne Smith and Shawn Tucker to take the win in 2011, exhibiting his talents as one of the best drivers to ever slide into the window of a late model in the north east!
While Ben will not be in the field on Saturday night, his father Mike will be. The racing legend from Turner, Maine will look to take his third CAT 250 and tie his sonís current record Ben set last year. He will be in the seat that his son drove last year within the #10 Dexter Construction/Municipal Group Impala, so Iím sure there will be some conversation between father and son if Mike canít repeat the same performance that Ben could in the same car. Joining Mike Rowe from Maine is Cassius Clark, who makes his fourth appearance at the helm of the #13 King Freight Lines Chevrolet this season. Clark has a busy schedule this weekend as he will be running the Height Chevrolet Sunday on the PASS North Tour at White Mountain in New Hampshire, and would love nothing more to go home with his second Cat 250 trophy to go with the one he won while driving for Hicken/White Racing in 2010.
Speaking of Hicken, Jonathan Hicken carries a truckload (no pun intended) of momentum heading into the Atlantic CAT 250 on Saturday night. After a win at Oyster Bed Speedway in the Advance Rentals 150, he moves into the co-point leader position with former Atlantic CAT 250 winner John Flemming. This point battle we have shaping up is a race enthusiasts dream come true! We have four drivers who are very good at the final three venues (four races in total) on our schedule, then we have five others that if the top four stumble a tiny bit that they will be there to bust the door wide open. You have Hicken and Shawn Turple, who have shown strength in 250s in the past (Hicken was second at the IWK 250 in July), but have yet to take a victory in a 250 (both have PST victories in 200 lap events). Flemming and Shawn Tucker have won 250 lap races, Tucker is a multi-time winner of the Auto Value 250 at Speedway 660 while Flemming has an IWK and Atlantic CAT 250 to his credit. Turple is just five points behind the co-leaders while Tucker is 13 back of Flemming and Hicken with four races to go.
Positions five through seven in the point battle are made up of drivers who are still in the championship picture, but need to be on their game in the next four events. Donald Chisholm had a tire fall off his car during the Advance Rentals 150 and that tire has placed the #89 car 40 points behind the leader. Chisholm has had good runs at Scotia in the past and will look to find some of that magic for Saturday night. Kent Vincent admitted after the 150 last weekend that he has some homework to do for Scotia and will have to study quick, with 49 points behind the co-leaders with four to go and two Scotia appearances in there, he has his work cut out for him. The upside for Kent is that the meat in the Scotia sandwich includes appearances at Riverside and Petty, two tracks he has won at before on this series!
The trio is rounded out by Mike Stevens. Stevens has run strong at nearly every single race we have been at this season, with the exception of last week where he told me prior to the race that they were chasing something in the car that wasnít quite right. Stevens first Tour win came at Scotia Speedworld and his career on the Tour includes a near win at the Dartmouth Dodge 200 a few years back. Stevens sits 52 points behind Hicken and Flemming with four to go.
The eighth and ninth place cars in the championship hunt really have to get going if they want a shot at the title. Though 70 and 73 point deficits with four races to go arenít impossible to make up, with seven cars in front of them all with a shot at the title, they will need to be on their game but will also need some help when it comes to winning the $10,000 payout at the banquet in November at the Crowne Plaza. In eighth and 70 points behind the leaders is Craig Slaunwhite. Slaunwhite has everything going for him when it comes to racing at Scotia Speedworld. He has history - a former winner in extended races at the track and even won the season opener here back in May. He is a former Auto Value 250 winner, so he knows how to get it done in big pressure, high stakes races and maybe the most important thing is that he has the hometown crowd on his side. When it comes to the crowd making noise during intros at ďAtlantic Canadaís Action Centre,Ē the applause for Slaunwhite is right up there with any of the two dozen plus drivers on the grid. Weíve already mentioned Clark and his history with this event and if he wants to give Rollie MacDonald a chance at a second Tour title, he will have to get up and gain some points for the #13 car, as it sits 73 back in ninth.
Though they are not eliminated from the point picture mathematically, the regulars on the Tour from 10th on back will need lightning to strike to have a shot at the top spot in the standings. While Steve Halpin, who sits 10th in the standings, looks to have a firm grasp on the rookie battle, it is far from over with four races to go and Dylan Gosbee and Terry Dougay still firmly in the hunt for the Exide Batteries Rookie of the Year Award. Returning this week is Frankie Fraser, who has sat out a few races with motor issues. Motor issues also plagued Leonard Boutilier and prevented him from attending the Advance Rentals 150. Keep in mind the #45 team was running well within in the top ten during the Lockhart 100 before a wreck in the second half took him out of contention for a top five run.
Jerome Kehoe and Greg Proude are coming off top five finishes at the Advance Rentals 150. Shawn Pierce is expected to return to the #21 car after work commitments kept him out of the South Shore Speed and Sound Toyota Camry. Brad Mann enjoys the longer races and will look for a good run at the helm of the #35 Canadian Tire Auto Service Impala. Brad Eddy will also rejoin the Tour after a week off, as will Steve Ross. Completing the entry list for the race include veteran and former Dartmouth Dodge 200 winner Mike MacKenzie, Barringtonís Dave Heino, Fall River fan favorite Marty Prevost, quick qualifier Daryl Mahar of Hubley, former Hobby Stock champ at Scotia Speedworld Pete Miller and ďThe King of the RoadĒ Roger Miller.
As Iíve said before about these big races, if you havenít been to a 250 yet, you owe yourself to get out to one. The atmosphere alone is worth the trip out to the track on Saturday afternoon. The electricity and anticipation as those cars sit on the grid getting ready to fire for 250 green flag laps with a payday of $10,000 plus lap and contingency monies on the line for the winner is inspiring. I sit here typing this getting goosebumps just thinking of those moments leading up to the green flag, from intros, to the command to those pace laps and the wave off. It is a feeling like no other and those who were at the IWK 250 this year know exactly what Iím talking about.
Qualifying will be paramount on Saturday, so you will want to be at the Speedworld for what could be the most important Atlantic Tiltload Time Trials of the season beginning at 4:10pm. Remember, this race went green from start to halfway break without a caution. The pace was rapid and those near the back got lapped quickly. With Time Trials now determining the top starting spots in the field, it is critical that these teams lay two clean and quick laps down on the track, or they could be starting midpack. On the other hand, a dismal starting position, and you are in the ďhornetís nestĒ in the middle of the pack and could be swept up in something if a wreck happens. Qualifying racing begins with the Fast Eddie Racewear Dash for Cash at 5pm. Also on the card for Saturday is the Maritime League of Legends Tour in their fourth of seven races on their season and the Hydraulics Plus Bandoleros from the Scotia Speedworld Weekly Racing Series. The Bandolero ranks have produced us with many great talents including Brad Eddy and you will see the future crop of potential Pro Stock drivers on the track on Saturday afternoon prior to the Atlantic CAT 250.
There is racing Friday night at the Speedworld as well with the Dartmouth Dodge Sportsman 100, the longest race for Sportsman cars at the Speedworld this season. While I wonít spill all the beans here, after all, thatís what my Scotia Speedworld Timís Corner piece is for, I will mention that Dartmouthís Dean Clattenburg is coming home for the first time in over a decade to race at Scotia Speedworld! Action on Friday, which also features the Jack Danielís Trucks, kicks off a 7:30pm. Tickets for the weekend are available at TicketAtlantic.com, charge by phone at (902) 451-1221, participating Atlantic Superstore locations or at the gate on raceday.
If for some reason you cannot be at the Speedworld on Saturday, tune in to Sirius/XM Channel 157 to listen to the call of the Atlantic CAT 250 beginning at 7pm Atlantic. Joe Chisholm, Joe Jr and myself will be calling all the action of the 13th Annual event. For those without Sirius/XM receivers, you can listen online at racetimeradio.com. At the site, you can also find out information on how you can listen on your smartphone.
It is going to be an event you will not want to miss. A point picture, a father looking to tie his sons record, and a $10,000 payday to the first driver to complete 250 green flag laps, what more could you ask for?
Until Saturday night, keep the hammer down and weíll see you at the track!
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