Race Preview: IWK 250 Presented By Steve Lewis Auto Body at Riverside Speedway
The weekend we have all been waiting for all season is finally here.
The weekend we have all been waiting for all season is finally here.
The IWK 250 presented by Steve Lewis Auto Body is the biggest race of the season. It’s not only because of the fact we have current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Brad Keselowski and his protégé Austin Theriault visiting but when you add in the big payday, big car count, the huge number of campers and a huge crowd of fans set to flock to one of the greatest gems when it comes to short tracks in North America, it all adds up to a fantastic show.
The ambiance it all creates is indescribable. For those that have ever experienced an IWK 250 live will know what I’m talking about. The electricity in the air, the nerves of those drivers looking to make their first start in the event and the excitement of those drivers that think they have enough car and talent to drive it to the top make the grid prior to the race one of the coolest places in Maritime Motorsports to be.
Let’s look at the entries and as of press time there are at 34 on the pre-registration list. The 34 entries boasts a Who’s Who of the Maritimes best talents, so let’s get to who is on this fabulous list. Wayne Smith, John Flemming, Shawn Tucker and Shawn Turple are all former Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour champions that are on the entry list. Smith, Flemming, Kent Vincent and Darren MacKinnon each have IWK 250 wins to their name in the last five years. Donald Chisholm, Dylan Gosbee, Tucker and Flemming each own wins on the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour in the current season with Chisholm winning the last time we were at Riverside.
There are eight names that you can look at as drivers to watch. To add to that list, George Koszkulics, Mike Stevens, Greg Proude, Craig Slaunwhite and Mike MacKenzie are all former Pro Stock Tour winners at Riverside Speedway who will be in the field on Saturday night. In the case of Stevens, he won twice here in 2012, missing the IWK 250 for the hat trick on the high banks.
Riverside Speedway is called “Bristol of the North” for its modeling after the Tennessee short track. While some of the characteristics between the two tracks are different, if anyone can transfer success over from Bristol, it would be Keselowski. Brad is a three time winner at Bristol, twice in the Sprint Cup Series and once in the Nationwide Series. Speaking of the Nationwide Series, he also has two wins in that series this season. After last week’s Cup race at New Hampshire, the blue deuce sat on the pole and finished fourth, vaulting the team back into the top ten in the Sprint Cup Series standings. Though it has been nearly ten years since Brad has slid in the window for a Super Late Model race, I don’t think it’ll take long for him to knock the rust off come Saturday, especially with momentum from the Cup side working for him!
One of the hottest up and coming talents in the south will also be joining us in Austin Theriault. Originally from Fort Kent, Maine and now calling Mooresville, North Carolina home where he works for Crooks Racing, Theriault has been lighting it up as a developmental driver for Brad Keselowski Racing. He’s competed in many of the big events when it comes to Super Late Model racing in the south, for example, the World Crown 300, Snowball Derby and even grabbed a top five last year at the Snowflake 100. That’s in addition to racing, and winning, features on the PASS South Tour. Keselowski even told Joe Chisholm on Race Time Radio that he wouldn’t be surprised if Austin beat him and the rest of the field on Saturday. Bottom line, these two are coming to win and with the knowledgeable Gary Crooks in their back pocket, BKR could be leaving with two trophies on Saturday.
We’re going to see the return of part time drivers such as Daryl Mahar, Brad Eddy, Jason Carnahan, Steve Halpin and Lonnie Sommerville, each of whom have ran three or less races with us this year and have had success by running up front in their appearances on the Tour this season. In the case of Sommerville, he chases history as he tries to become the first ever driver to win all three marquee 250 races in the region, already picking up major victories at Scotia Speedworld and Speedway 660. While Mike Rowe, Ben Rowe and Flemming each own an IWK 250 and Atlantic CAT 250 title and Cassius Clark and Johnny Clark each own an Auto Value 250 and Atlantic CAT 250 crowns, nobody has won all three. Could this be the night history is made?
The Exide Batteries Rookie of the Year chase has tightened heading into the big race on Saturday. Dylan Blenkhorn only leads Cole Butcher by ten points after Butcher locked down a seventh place finish at Petty. Denver Foran, who raced at Auto Clearing Motor Speedway in Saskatoon on Tuesday night, is only 22 points out of Blenkhorn for the lead in the freshman chase. Foran isn’t the driver that will be racing this week prior to the IWK 250 as Butcher and Blenkhorn will be taking part in the Maritime League of Legends Tour event at Riverside on Friday evening. Butcher and Blenkhorn both won races in Legend cars at Riverside in 2012.
Jerry Hayes is scheduled to make his first Pro Stock Tour start this weekend at Riverside while Josh Collins will be behind the wheel of a Pro Stock car for the first time since the World Series at New Smyrna. Oyster Bed Speedway owner and Pro Stock veteran Robbie MacLean will be making his first start of the season. Colby Smith has run four races this season with us, as has Leonard Boutilier.
They will be joined by full time drivers on the Tour in Steve Ross, Terry Dougay, Shawn Pierce, Brad Mann and Jerome Kehoe, who will look to put up some big numbers on the board on Saturday. Pierce has had a couple top tens in this race in the past, Dougay and Ross put up stout top ten runs at our opener at Scotia Speedworld while Mann and his team have also had great runs. Kehoe is a master at these high banked race tracks and is one of only two drivers who owns six top tens in the six races at Petty Raceway.
Not to forget Jonathan Hicken either. I left Jonathan down here for a reason though. The Brudenell, Prince Edward Island driver is one of the most successful active drivers at Riverside in the Tour era that does not have a victory at the track.
Hicken has two podium finishes, four top fives and 11 top tens at Riverside, but a 0 in the win column. Hicken fans, think back to two years ago though when Darren MacKinnon scored his first, and currently only, win at Riverside Speedway in the IWK 250. Looking to put a friendly wager down around the campfire heading into the IWK 250, the Castle Building Centers Impala may be a good one to take as a darkhorse pick, especially after a top five run here in June and a runner up effort last weekend at Petty.
I think I’ve mentioned everyone on the pre-entry list here and if I missed someone, I apologize. With 34 on the list, there are a lot of names to rhyme off. Here’s something else to think about, this is a full blown point race for the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour. With the way the points are set up, if you qualify for the main feature, the minimum amount of points you can get is 150. The most points you can get in a feature is 210, 200 for winning the race, five for leading a lap and five for leading the most laps. With Flemming having a 73 points lead on Turple, given they both qualify for the feature (and with point provisionals, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t both qualify), Flemming cannot lose the point lead Saturday, even if he finishes last in the feature. With six races to go though, including a few that are expected to see big car counts, anything can and likely will happen as the #97 team has some stiff competition.
I say this every year as well, but if you are at Riverside, be sure to head out to the P3 camping area after 12 noon on Saturday to take in the VanZutphen family pig roast in support of the IWK. Last year, they raised $14,000 for the cause and will look to top that this year. Not to mention, the pig roast is the best food you will have at Riverside Speedway this weekend bar none. Trust me, I know, I love my food.
Enjoy the IWK 250 - this one is going to go down in the history books as a race to remember.
Until then, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!
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