The fourth annual Chilly Willy 150 featured all kinds of strategies that played out on the abrasive surface of Tucson Speedway (AZ), but perhaps it was luck that decided the winner on Saturday night the most.
Owen Riddle became the benefactor late in the going after misfortune struck the leader, his younger brother Tayler Riddle. The Naches, Washington racer had to then fend off a hungry Noah Gragson in the closing laps.
“First of all, I feel bad for (Tayler),” Owen Riddle told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “He had a good race car tonight and I don’t think I was going to be able to catch him. He snookered me a little bit on the (lap 115) restart and got out about six or eight car lengths and that’s about where we kind of evened out from there on out. He got collected up in that oil and it was pretty touch and go when we went through there, but we ended up inheriting the lead.”
Tayler Riddle took the top spot for the first time on lap 83 from veteran local driver Ron Searle Jr., who made an enormous charge from 25th starting position to the lead in the first half of the race. Searle’s night ended with a black flag for leaking oil.
Ironically, the same issue did Tayler Riddle in on lap 136, but not of his own doing. Another car in front of the leaders put down fluid entering turn one during green flag conditions. The yellow flew, but it was too late for numerous competitors, including the 2015 Chilly Willy winner.
“I was trying to count the laps down and went in there into one and saw smoke and then everyone sliding towards the wall,” Tayler Riddle recounted. “About that time I tried to turn low and I had no choice. I stepped on the throttle just trying to spin out from hitting the wall, and as I was spinning down a car was coming sliding into me and we just collided.”
Despite the sudden change of events, Tayler was one of the first to congratulate his brother Owen in victory lane.
“I just hope our luck’s not turning though; I don’t want his run of bad luck,” Tayler Riddle joked. “I’m really happy for him. He deserves it and his whole crew deserves it. They’ve put in a lot of work.”
Owen Riddle’s second half of the 2016 season was disastrous. It began with issues that forced him to not start the Evergreen Speedway (WA) Summer Showdown, which Tayler went on to win. Then he was shaken up in a vicious accident after starting from the pole and leading early at the Montana 200.
“Last year was a rough year for us,” Owen Riddle explained. “We had good race cars, but we didn’t have anything to show for it at the end of the day. This is awesome. This is a great way to start the year for us for sure.”
Gragson came oh so close to his first major Super Late Model victory, but had to settle for the runner-up position despite quite an effort.
“I knew that I saved my tires quite a bit at the beginning and Owen Riddle was running them pretty hard,” said Gragson, who driving for 2014 Chilly Willy winner Dustin Ash. “We got a restart with about 13 to go and I wasn’t too good on the topside, but I was really good on the bottom. I started picking them off one lap by one and started running him down little by little. Finally got to his bumper and I tried to make a move to the outside of him coming to the checkers, but it didn’t end up happening.
Owen Riddle noted further what he needed to do in order to add another big paying event victory to his list of accomplishments.
“I didn’t have a very good restart and spun the tires and luckily I kept the lead and the caution came out shortly,” explained Riddle, who is now $10,000 richer. “With 12 to go, I tried a different approach just lugging it so I didn’t get too much to the rear tire and with Noah coming hard I just had to protect the bottom. Thankfully he’s a respectful driver. He didn’t lay the bumper to me and didn’t do any of that stuff, and I really appreciate that.”
Rounding out the podium finishers was a driver making his Chilly Willy debut and now is a name known to many more fans and competitors, Kyle Ray.
“We fell to the back just trying to stay on the lead lap because we knew there were going to be a lot of yellows with 36 cars in the field,” the ninth place starter, who was running comparable laps to the leaders as the laps wound down, mentioned. “We were running pretty fast. It felt like Days of Thunder when it’s got more tires than everybody else. At the end I probably had more tires than the first two, but I got caught on the outside on the last restart and nobody had enough to run on the outside at that point in the race.”
Looking ahead, Ray, a five-time winner at his home track of Colorado National Speedway in 2016, looks to his Winter Showdown debut at Kern County Raceway Park (CA) where he will be bringing a new Port City chassis.
“I’m glad to know we can compete with such high caliber drivers because that’s where we want to be,” Ray continued, regarding the momentum heading into next week.
1990s Tucson Winter Heat race winner Garrett Evans led early from the pole, but as the car began to fade, further contact bent the right front suspension and the team decided to pull pit side.
Some Chilly Willy competitors look to head up the road to California in a few days, while others will wait intently for their regular weekly seasons to get started. One lucky team enjoyed the warm February Arizona temperatures and will head back to the snow in the Northwest with a trophy, preparing for more big shows to come when the weather warms up in their region.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Central NY & PA Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
4th Annual Chilly Willy 150 Results
|20||21||39||Brian Harrington Jr.||142|
|31||25||71||Ron Searle Jr.||102|