Race Preview: IWK 250 Presented By Steve Lewis Auto Body
For most Maritime race fans, this weekend coming is like Christmas.
The IWK 250 presented by Steve Lewis Auto Body rolls around only once a year and it provides an full event experience unique to this race.
Okay, when you go to any Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour race, it is an event, but this one is special. Over 900 camp sites are sold out well in a week advance of the event, the atmosphere is electric like no other race, the VanZutphen’s put on a kick butt Pig Roast that raises tens of thousands for the IWK (and makes my waist bigger by the time pre-race ceremonies rolls around), we have the two-time and defending NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton racing with us.
You get the point, this one is big.
So, let’s start with the two stateside drivers looking to take away the glory this weekend. Let’s call a spade a spade, Matt Crafton, obviously, will be tough to beat. Crafton is behind the wheel of a Nova Racing prepared car. Yes, the same stable that has produced two of the last three winners (JR Fitzpatrick last August, George Koszkulics last June) at Riverside International Speedway. Donald Chisholm was pretty dominant here last year, leading 218 laps and was on his way to winning the Ron MacGillivray 150 before his brakes backed off on him. Crafton has had a great season stateside, winning four of the ten races on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule and running the Daytona 500 for an injured Kyle Busch.
Needless to say, I don’t think it would surprise anyone in the slightest to see a Nova Racing car win this race. George Koszkulics nearly retired when he won in June and a win here Saturday might just put him over the top. Here’s the thing though, not only is Donald Chisholm chasing a win in this event, he’s won everything else at this track and came about as close as you can last year without winning it, it’s not the only big story for Chisholm heading into this race. Chisholm sits second in the points, somewhere he hasn’t been for a while entering the second half of the season. If the #89 team comes out of this race smelling like a rose, oh boy, he’s going to be tough to beat down this stretch drive - mark my words.
Outside the three Nova Racing cars, who else should we watch this weekend?
I like the way Cole Butcher has been performing not only this year but at the end of last year too. Remember, Butcher worked his way onto the podium last year during this race and since we’ve been to Riverside Speedway last July, he has won two Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour at two unique race tracks - Scotia Speedworld and Speedway 660. Without that part failure at Petty in May, he might have been right up there, if not in, the point lead. He’s only 31 points out of the point lead, and yeah, I know, big race, not about points, but it pays the same amount of points that Oyster Bed will in two weeks. If the #53 Atlantic Tiltload/Top Construction Chevrolet leaves here with a top five finish, then it could continue the turning point that Butcher has built the last three weeks.
As hot as Butcher has been recently, Darren MacKinnon is on the same streak as well. You know, this is a Darren MacKinnon type race. It’s essentially twin 125’s (the 250 has a halfway break at Lap 125) with the points paying out at Lap 250. In the early stages of this season, we never heard Darren’s name until the last half of the race because he is saving his equipment. Do not be surprised if the #18 True North Automotive car isn’t heard from in the first 125, but don’t be surprised to see him in the top five, on the podium or even in the lead late in this race. Keep in mind, MacKinnon led three laps here in 2011 en route to the victory. That 2011 season was a career one for MacKinnon, and he had won a race was near the top in the standings heading into this IWK 250 in 2011. The stars all align, and it could be déjà vu for this team after 250 laps on Saturday night.
If there is a race track that is the Achilles Heel of Dylan Blenkhorn, it is this place. Sure, Blenkhorn has a podium here last year in August, but other than that his record here is nothing to write home about. He is going to be doing a lot of racing this weekend, taking part in not only the IWK 250 but both Atlantic Tiltload Maritime League of Legends and NAPA Sportsman Series races on Friday. More laps, albeit in different race cars, could be what the doctor ordered to get Blenkhorn not only in a rhythm at this track but the confidence he needs to drive one, two or all three to victory lane this weekend.
John Flemming is the defending champion of the IWK 250, but his car he won it and the 2012 edition of the race is in the hands of rookie DJ Casey. Flemming has been extremely hot and cold this year with his new car with the glimmer on the season being here in June before he and Greg Proude got into it late in the going. Sure, he finished fifth at Speedway 660 but Wade and I never really spoke much about him during the Cummins 100. Would it surprise me for Flemming to win the race Saturday? Not in the least. But it will be a taller task than the last few years when he came in riding a wave of momentum from the first six races of the year.
Speaking of Proude, they have been busy this week. The team was at the track on Tuesday testing with none other than southern short track legend Johnny van Doorn. Lots has been made about Jeff Fultz making the trip up to Riverside to drive the #13 car, and rightfully so, but I would have loved to seen Johnny race the IWK 250. While Johnny has other commitments this weekend, if he got that car of Proude’s any closer to the front, Proude should be a contender this weekend. After all, he was quick in all of our previous races this year and had a hotrod the last time we visited Riverside.
Jeff Fultz racing the IWK 250 is huge. Maybe he is not a household name to most NASCAR fans around here or even short track fans around here, but those who follow racing to the south of us know how big of a deal this is. He is best known for his NASCAR All Pro Series career with three championships and over two dozen wins. He’s won races with CRA and he has two top fives in the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway.
I’ve said it before, from a fan standpoint, I don’t think Brad Eddy seemed to be the issue with the #13 car. Eddy has proven himself time after time on this series and if he is in the seat of that #13 car, he will win races on this series. It’s a bummer for Eddy to not be in this race, but as a fan, seeing Jeff Fultz in this car is going to be a treat and a half.
We have two visiting drivers from the Pro Stock class at Speedway 660 making the trip down. Greg Fahey, who I believe is one of the most underrated drivers in this region, is getting a shot at the 250 in the #29F car with Doug Knox backing him. The late entry for the race is Paul Gahan and the #16 team, who is coming off a second place run a few weeks back at Speedway 660. These two will add greatly to our show and I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do with us on the high banks.
I’ve mentioned a dozen or so drivers so far, and that just scratches the surface. Our fields are so close on time, with only four tenths typically separating everyone in practice, that it is hard to preview every team heading into this race. We never spoke about Shawn Turple or Jonathan Hicken, who are sure to be players in this race before the checkers fly. Kent Vincent is a former champion of this event who has shown speed this year. Daryl Mahar returns with a rebuilt race car for this race. Sarah McKay is coming off a top ten run in the Cummins 100 at Speedway 660.
Terry Dougay and Shawn Pierce are staples on our series that will look for a solid run in one of the longest races of the year. Craig Slaunwhite will look to make history by becoming the first driver to win all three Maritime 250s if he can pull off the IWK 250 on Saturday night. Jerome Kehoe and Jerry Hayes will look to take the John W. Chisholm Memorial Cup back home across the causeway after Saturday night. Josh Collins is making his first start of the season with us, Robbie MacEwen and Exide Batteries rookie Joel Hickox, along with Dylan Gosbee will look to tow the win home to Prince Edward Island. How cool would it be to see a guy like Vance Hanes or Steve Ross shock the field to win on Saturday night?
The field is stacked, and I hope I didn’t forget anyone, but any of the 28 on the entry list could easily win this thing Saturday. There is no slacker in the field.
If you’re coming to the race, be sure to bring along an FM radio. Joe Chisholm, Gerry Paxton, Brad Mann and myself will be calling the action on Race Time Radio and if you do not have a smartphone with you, you will be able to tune into the broadcast in the grandstand with your FM Radio. If you are not at the track, maybe you are going to another track or a family picnic or something, bring your earbuds and smartphone along and listen in at RaceTimeRadio.com.
I can’t wait to see everyone at Riverside International Speedway this weekend, you guys are in for a great race.
Until then, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track.
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