Close to 80 drivers are now prepping for the biggest Super Late Model race of the season at North Wilkesboro Speedway (NC). "THE RACE" Is a true wild card race as drivers are running on a track that most of them have never seen or not been on for a while. The focus is on speed to lock yourself in the show in the top 15 spots to avoid those crazy heat races. Then the focus switches to endurance over 300 laps and a few pit stops which will make for an exciting afternoon.
This week, despite the weather, has had some eager teams in the North Wilkesboro area looking to test the historic short track.
Johnny Clark has been to North Wilkesboro, but it's been a few years. He got to take part in history back in 1991 when Harry Gant, a local favorite, came to town riding a four-race win streak. Gant dominated the event, before some guy named Dale got by him late in the race.
"This is where my dad to my brother and I to our first Cup race in ’91 and of course Earnhardt went to Victory Lane," said Clark. "It was pretty cool to see him go up on the lift. To be here for the second time behind the wheel is just pretty cool."
The Key is Qualifying
With qualifying being so important for positioning of the heats and locking in drivers, we wondered if drivers where going to focus only on going fast.
"Qualifying is always important, but you need the car to handle throughout the race and stay stable, without changing," said Gus Dean. "If you have to sacrifice a little bit to get that, to be there in the end, that’s what you have to do sometimes,"
The veterans don't seem to be looking toward qualifying being the all end all.
"I don’t think anybody is going to be good," said Mario Gosselin. "It’s going to be a matter of who’s better than everybody else. It’s not quite as bad as Pensacola, but it’s a handful out there."
Dealing With The Big Bucks
Not for several years has there been a race at the asphalt short track ranks for as much money as this one. Maybe the check will go North of the Mason-Dixon Line. Or maybe it'll go even further North into Canada.
Canadian Kevin Roberge was one of the guys taking laps earlier this week, he was one of the several racers from North of the border who will be looking to make the race.
"I hope one of us Canadians can win it, said Roberge. "Patrick (Laperle), Martin (Latulippe) and John Flemming is here testing. I don’t know what the exchange rate is yet (laughs), I didn’t check it. I guess it’s a little bit more with the transfer."
Some guys are going for much more then we realize. Johnny Clark has won a bunch of the big money shows in the North.
"I’m eligible for all the bonuses, so if we win it’s $100,000," said Clark. "That can’t ever enter you mind. It’s enough that you’re just at North Wilkesboro. The money certainly can’t play a factor or it’s going to mess with you too much."
Advantage In Any Way
Gus Dean has an Allison Legacy win at North Wilkesboro and that could play into his advantage as lots of the Super Late Model practices session where rained out this week. Those extra laps could be what could get him into the field and leave the rest wishing they had made it.
"We run a slightly different line," said Dean. "I know where the bumps and cracks are which really helps us out a lot. I feel like we have a little bit of an advantage."
A First for the Family
Ross Kenseth has been down south a bit this year racing at Lanier and of course several stops last season leading up the Snowball Derby. Kenseth ran very well and could have won a couple of events, but he's put that all behind him as he focuses on THE RACE.
"I think for this race it will be a lot of who keeps their nose clean the most," said Kenseth. "As long as you don’t tear it up too soon, I think you should be in pretty good shape."
This also marks the first time for Ross at North Wilkesboro a track his dad, a former Sprint Cup Champion Matt Kenseth, has never seen himself.
Longest PASS Event Ever
The Big Dawg challenge was 400 laps in 2003 at Wiscasset Raceway, but the total distance was measured out to a distance of 150 miles. The 300 lapper at North Wilkesboro will be 187.5 miles making it the longest race ever for the PASS Super Late Models.