TOLEDO, Ohio — With more than 30 entries on the way to Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards field for next Saturday’s Music City 200 is shaping up to be one of the most competitive short-track shows since I’m not sure when.
There’ll be more at stake at Nashville this time around too as the event will kick off the Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge and the Bill France 4 Crown championship for the 2017 season.
Cunningham Motorsports, coming with two cars, will be the team most will be attempting to dethrone. Cunningham went back-to-back in both categories in 2015 and 2016, winning the Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge title and the Bill France 4 Crown both years. Kyle Weatherman was the Short Track champion in ’15 with Chase Briscoe following in ’16. Briscoe, who went on to win the overall national championship, also won the Bill France 4 Crown title last year. A mix of Weatherman and Blake Jones secured the France 4 Crown in ’15.
Three-time Cometic Crew Chief of the Year Chad Bryant, another key component at Cunningham, says the bar’s going to get raised again in ’17.
“Competition’s getting better,” said Bryant. “We’ve been so good these last few years…everybody’s had to go to work on their stuff. We’ve been so good on short tracks…we put a lot of pressure on everybody else to get better. But as good as the competition is now, we have no choice but to get better.”
Meaning that Cunningham isn’t exactly sitting on their hands.
“We’re building new cars…trying to advance our program to keep it where it needs to be. Everybody else is doing their homework.
“We’ll be right there in competition for both the Short Track title and the Bill France 4 Crown, and I think both of our teams will compete for it….in years past it’s been one or the other.”
Cunningham teammates Shane Lee (Newton, N.C.) and Dalton Sargeant (Boca Raton, Fla.) are off to great starts in ’17, finishing third and fourth respectively at Daytona. Lee drives the No. 22 Big Tine Ford with former NASCAR Cup champion crew chief Paul Andrews calling the shots while Sargeant drives the No. 77 Big Tine Ford with crew chief Bryant.
No doubt the entry list is loaded up with top-notch talent and quality equipment from several powerhouse teams including Venturini Motorsports, coming with three rookie drivers: No. 15 Christian Eckes (Middletown, N.Y.), No. 25 Raphael Lessard (St. Joseph, Quebec) and No. 55 Zane Smith (Huntington Beach, Calif.). All three drivers tested at Nashville last week.
MDM Motorsports is also bringing more than one car with drivers Sheldon Creed (Alpine, Calif.) and newcomer Vinnie Miller (Ortonville, Mich.). Miller will be making his ARCA Racing Series debut in the No. 8 Fuller Racing Toyota. Creed is a Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series champion.
Ken Schrader Racing entered two cars, one with the team’s 2017 Daytona winner Austin Theriault (Fort Kent, Maine) in the No. 52, and another with newcomer Tony Mrakovich (Elizabethtown, Pa.) scheduled to make his career-first start in the No. 11 Schrader-Hillenburg Toyota.
Joe Gibbs Racing has also filed an entry with rookie Riley Herbst (Las Vegas, Nev.). Herbst announced a full ARCA schedule in 2017 in the No. 18 NOS Energy-Terrible Herbst Toyota; however, age restrictions prevented him from competing at Daytona during the race. Since Daytona, Herbst has turned 18 and is good to go for the full season ahead. Nashville marks his career-first ARCA start.
Other notable entries include Michael Lira (Port Orange, Fla.) in the No. 6 JW Motorsports Chevrolet; Thomas Praytor (Mobile, Ala.) in the No. 9 DK-LOK Ford; Bret Holmes (Munford, Ala.) in the No. 23 Southern States Bank-Holmes II Excavation Chevrolet; AJ Fike (Galesburg, Ill.) in the No. 27 MatrixCare-Consonus-Liberty Village Ford; Gus Dean (Bluffton, S.C.) in the No. 32 GREE Cooling Products Toyota and Chad Finley (DeWitt, Mich.) in the No. 51 Auto Value-Air Lift Company Chevrolet.
Finney Racing is also bringing a two-car team with Floridians Brian Finney (Merritt Island) in the No. 80 Bob Steele Chevrolet and his teammate Scott Reeves (Royal Palm Beach) in the No. 04 Finney Racing Ford.
Other two-car teams include Hixson Motorsports with drivers Eric Caudell (Piedmont, Okla.) and Mike Senica (Doylestown, Pa.); Darrell Basham Racing with drivers Willie Mullins (Fredericksburg, Va.) and Dale Shearer (Chillicothe, Mo.), and Kimmel Racing with Nick Higdon (Big Clifty, Ky.) and Barry Layne (Mims, Fla.).
Rick Clifton (Circleville, Ohio), Brad Smith (Shelby Township, Mich.), Chris Reese (Watts, Okla.) and Cody Lane (Port Richey, Fla.) are also entered.
Former championship team Mason Mitchell Motorsports, although not yet entered, tested with Kyle Weatherman at Nashville in prep for the race earlier this week.
2017 Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge Tracks:
Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, Salem Speedway (twice), Toledo Speedway, Elko Speedway, Madison Int’l Speedway, Iowa Speedway, Lucas Oil Raceway, Winchester Speedway, Illinois State Fairgrounds (dirt) and DuQuoin State Fairgrounds (dirt).
2017 Bill France 4 Crown tracks:
Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, Pocono Raceway (6-9), Illinois State Fairgrounds and Road America.
Discounted presale tickets for the event are available for $25, a $5 discount off raceday ticket prices. They are available by calling the event promoters Track Enterprises at 615-470-5214 or 217-764-3200.
-ARCA Press Release. Photo credit: Speed51.com/Bruce Nuttleman