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Tim's Corner
ISSUe 163

Race Notebook: IWK 250 Presented By Steve Lewis Auto Body

The marquee race, the one everyone has circled on their calendar every year, lived up to all expectations last Saturday.

If you’re a Donald Chisholm or Nova Racing fan though, I’m sure you want those last two cautions back at the end of the IWK 250 presented by Steve Lewis Auto Body.

Donald Chisholm appeared to be cruising to the win at Riverside Speedway before a pair of late cautions slowed our pace. Prior to the final restart with three laps to go, Chisholm led 218 laps. The #89 Keltic Ford Fusion stormed to the front in the first 25-laps from 10th place, picking off positions quickly and cleanly. After two dozen laps, he found himself positioned on the back bumper of Matt Crafton and made quick work of the reigning NASCAR Camping World Truck champ to take the lead. The first 25 laps had fans on the edge of their seats, cheering and clapping as the #89 glided to the front like a hot knife through butter. It’s a run to the front we haven’t seen out of anyone recently.

Okay, maybe except the run Shawn Tucker made at Speedway 660 a couple weeks ago, but let’s stay on topic with the IWK 250 presented by Steve Lewis Auto Body.

Fast forward to the final 50 laps or so of the race. Chisholm is up front and cruising but behind is John Flemming, beginning to close in on the front runners. Flemming works his way around the battle for what was second to take that spot and is making up serious ground as the race ends.

What happened next was a small replay of what we saw during the Ron MacGillivray Chevrolet Buick GMC 150 last year, where two of the best in our sport at Riverside dueled it out for the win.

On the opposite side, Flemming and the #97 Happy Harry’s Affordable Building Centre Dodge team knew how it felt to lose one of these races on a three-lap dash. He did so in 2011 when Darren Mackinnon edged by and snuck the win away from Flemming after he led 227 laps in that event.

Now he knows how it feels to win one on about the same circumstance.

For Flemming, elation and joy in victory lane. While he was quick to acknowledge Donald and said he wanted him to win it as bad as he did, he was happy for himself, crew and sponsors as they became the first IWK 250 champions to repeat in the modern era.

For Chisholm, it was the dejection of once again being denied a victory in the biggest auto racing event in the region. While he has wins in every other Pro Stock event at the track, and has four wins at the track to his credit in Tour competition, the 250 has eluded Chisholm and with now finishing second the last two years, the fire I’m sure is going to burn with the driver of the #89 even more to get out there and get that illustrious victory.

That’s the great thing about our sport though. We had 29 cars in the field on Saturday night, with them come 29 completely different stories. While the polar opposites, the jubilation and heartbreak of the top two took most of the headlines, there were many behind them that shared similar sentiments, whether it was on one side or another.

For example, the battle for third at the end of the race was as intense as they get. Whether it was Jonathan Hicken, who had spent a majority of the race in the top three, fading in the late laps or it was Dylan Blenkhorn coming to life in the final 50 laps, the two found themselves along with defending IWK 250 champion Shawn Tucker mixing it up for the final podium spot within ten laps to go.

As the story played out, Cole Butcher finished third. While he was fast, if you asked fans in the stands with 50 to go, many probably wouldn’t have had him pegged as a third place car.

Of the group, Blenkhorn appeared to have the strongest car as he drove by Tucker and looked at Hicken for third. Coming off Turn Two with five to go, contact between Blenkhorn and Hicken spun the #5 car out of the top three spot and sent Blenkhorn to the back of the field. Tucker then inherited the third place spot and with the final restart with three to go, it was Butcher who was able to get by the veteran to take third in the biggest race of the season.

The incident was a heartbreak for both drivers. Both Blenkhorn and Hicken had both runs going Saturday and both are going for a championship this season. Once Hicken got sent to the rear, he was caught up in the wreck with three laps to go but still limped it home to a seventh place finish. Blenkhorn became what he described to me as “motion sick” at the end of the race and Colby Smith, whose car was retired from the race already, jumped in the seat and ran the final three laps in the Quinn Flooring Chevrolet and salvaged an eighth place finish for the #67 car. Top ten runs in the biggest event? Nothing to shake a stick at, but was not indicative of how both ran on Saturday.

Like his teammate Chisholm, George Koszkulics ran up to the front after winning his heat race. Unlike the pace his teammate set, going to the front in 25 laps, he paced himself a bit and ran in the top ten all night long. The veteran was rewarded with a top five finish and still showed a lot of the young talent a thing or two on how to get it done.

Darren MacKinnon also had a great run on Saturday night, keeping it within the top ten all night long and was even in the top five in the late race scramble. At the end of the night, he finished in sixth place, which moved him to sixth in points. We’ll talk standings a bit more next week heading into Darren’s home track at Oyster Bed Speedway, but we have a really tight battle within the top ten in the standings. With Mackinnon’s #18 sitting eighth, he is right in the thick of things!

We had six drivers making their first starts with us in the sixth race on the Tour in 2014 and when you look at the results sheet, there are none better than Leonard Boutilier. Boutilier quietly made his way up into the top ten in the second half of the event and spent some time in the long green run in the second half of the IWK 250 swapping paint with the likes of Crafton. Even after being involved in the incident with three laps to go, he still brought the #45 NGH Industrial Services Chevrolet home in ninth and on the lead lap. Considering drivers the likes of Shawn Turple, Craig Slaunwhite and Greg Proude finished off the lead lap and out of the top ten, Boutilier’s seventh career top ten finish is pretty impressive.

On the opposite side, the results sheet will show Brad Eddy finishing in 23rd, but that is far from where he was running throughout the event. Eddy qualified into the King Freight Dash for Cash and ran within the top ten for most of the first 141 laps. When the field was slowing down for the caution on the back straight on Lap 141, Matt Crafton did not get slowed up quick enough and ran back into Eddy. Crafton was quick to apologize to Eddy after the race and even stopped in his pit under caution to apologize.

It’s a tough pill for that team to swallow for Eddy’s team. Eddy sold the car he drove last year to Vance Hanes, and Eddy drove that car as a part of the transaction on Saturday night. Eddy is planning on running the Atlantic Cat 250 with Mike MacKenzie, but that’s it. With no car and no funding, that is the end of the line for the foreseeable future, or until something comes along for Eddy. Eddy is a great talent behind the wheel, one of the greatest to come out of the region but without a car or funding, it’s going to be tough to see him sitting on the sidelines. Hopefully the Atlantic Cat 250 opportunity will open a door for the young man from Lower Sackville.

While Robbie MacLean and Wayne Smith made their first starts of the season on Saturday and are scheduled for at least one more in 2014, the IWK 250 presented by Steve Lewis Auto Body was the “Farewell Tour 250,” as they called it, for Brad Mann. Mann has been running at Speedway 660 this season, which will be his 30th and final season and wanted to run one more Tour race and one more 250 to close off this chapter of his career. The former feature winner on the series chose Riverside and the IWK 250 for that final start and the #35 Coors Light Restigouche Chevrolet will close off with a 14th place finish. The owner of 38 top ten finishes on the Tour has two more point races left at Speedway 660 before he hangs up the helmet. On behalf of all the fans around the region, thanks Brad for all the great entertainment you have provided us over the last three decades!

While Mann was making his last 250 start, Sarah McKay was making her first start. The longest race she has ran so far, McKay came home in 16th place, in one piece and not as fatigued as she thought she would be. While she said she had butterflies pre-race during introductions, the crew seemed loose and relaxed throughout the weekend. If there were any nerves or they were uptight, the rookie team definitely did not show it. From the rained out practice and Boston Pizza Tailgate Party to the end of the race, you could feel the team was having fun. With our series heading back to race tracks for the second and third times in these final six races, McKay will continue to get more comfortable with these tracks and the numbers will continue to improve. First though? Oyster Bed Speedway. We saw last year it cannot be kind to a rookie (where’s the Mike McCarthy photo of Denver and Dylan in the heat race), but Sarah likes high banked tracks and should do okay next weekend.

Let’s close this one with Matt Crafton. As I tweeted Sunday, Crafton, in my opinion, was one of the best guest drivers Riverside Speedway has brought in. From giving fans on pit road time for a picture or an autograph, to working on the race car and being hands on in every aspect of the weekend, he has been one of the best in my book. Matt was impressed by the area, track and I heard he enjoyed the lobster up here too from talking to George and the crew in the tech shed prior to the race and would love to see him return in the future. Good luck in defending your NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship Matt, I know there will be a lot of Maritimers rooting for you!

Before I close off, I need to send a tip of the cap to a few people. As you know, I love food, and I had some great food throughout the weekend. Bill, Alexis and their staff from Boston Pizza Antigonish were great hosts Thursday night at their annual Tailgate Party (and home to one of the best Chicken Club Sandiwches I’ve had in a while!). Jonathan Bull from Veinotte’s Motorsports and Brycon Construction Racing brought me wings on Saturday, which were shared with the Race Time Radio crew. Finally, the VanZutphen family outdid themselves for the pig roast - and I’m not talking just the quality of the meal. The Pig Roast this year raised $38,000 for the IWK Foundation, which is a total they topped from last year and continue to top year after year. They also continue to out due themselves on the meal, which was bar none the best Pig Roast they have put up yet!

And yes, because of all the food, I only got to have one footlong hotdog. We’ll make up for that on August 15th and 16th at Riverside Speedway.

We’ll preview the Parts for Trucks 100 here next week.

Until then, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!