22 years after his last appearance at Tucson Speedway, Garrett Evans set fast time for the 4th Annual Chilly Willy 150 during Friday night’s qualifying session. A winner back in the Winter Heat days in the mid-1990s, the East Wenatchee, Washington driver among others mentioned that the biggest adjustment is going from daytime to nighttime conditions at the 3/8-mile oval.
“It pretty much feels the same,” Evans told Speed51.com. “It’s a pretty nice place. When we ran here before we ran in the daytime. They didn’t have lights, so that’s the biggest difference is adjusting to the lights a little bit.”
After the completion of qualifying, teams were given a 45-minute session to shake down their cars in conditions that will be similar to Saturday night’s $10,000-to-win event. Evans was one of the teams that chose to participate and try some different options.
“We’re working with a new setup this year and we tested with it last fall a little bit,” the 61-year-old, who mentioned he was “tickled pink” to be competitive his first race after a surgery on his spine over the winter time, said. “We tried a different right front shock to see what that would do. We’re just trying to make the car better. Most of the time you don’t, but you keep trying it and once in a while you hit on something.”
California’s Trevor Huddleston, a feature winner at Tucson during NASCAR Whelen All-American Series weekly competition in 2016, will start from the outside of the front row. The High Point Racing team elected to pack up for the night almost immediately following qualifying and did not take part in the practice session.
Continuing with the Northwest theme, Naches, Washington driver Tayler Riddle made the trip down from the snow to compete as well. The 2015 Chilly Willy winner, a 100-lap event that year, qualified third fastest, but was fastest overall in both the practice sessions held before and after.
Tayler’s brother Owen Riddle completed the top 10 with another Washington racer, Brittney Zamora, right behind him in 11th.
Colorado Contingent Strong
Four competitors from the Centennial State represented the top 13 fastest times, but the fastest of them was a young up-and-comer. Brett Yackey turned in an impressive fourth place qualifying effort for his Chilly Willy 150 debut.
“The car is running really well,” Yackey commented. “My crew chief, Tyler Reedy, has got this baby dialed in. We had a little mishap in practice where the oil pump belt came off, but we got that fixed, got it all tuned up, and got a good lap there.”
The Greeley, Colorado teenager, who won a feature in his rookie season in Super Late Models at his home track of Colorado National Speedway a year ago, has an incredible talent to lean on. His father, Bruce Yackey, has years of experience in lengthier races such as these.
“I’ve gotten a lot of advice from him,” Brett Yackey continued. “I’m starting towards the front so I’ll have to just let some of the competition go, save my tires, and see what we have towards the end of the race.”
Locals Struggle with Speed Friday, but should be a Factor Saturday
Missing from the top half of the lineup were several names with numerous years and laps around their home track. Ron Norman was the only home state driver in the top 13, qualifying in fifth.
2016 track champion Brandon Schilling did not have the day they wanted on Friday, only ending up 27th fastest on the charts. Nevertheless, the Tucson native remains optimistic.
“We didn’t exactly do our project like we needed to in order to get better results,” Schilling, who pointed out their lack of practice time earlier in the day, summarized. “I think we’ve got it figured out. We got some more laps on it tonight, got some more rhythm in it, and I think we will be okay.”
The driver that is defending the Chilly Willy victory, Chuck Wares, qualified 23rd, but did not show speed right from the get go a year back either. Schilling attributed it to the strategy that Tucson presents for a 150-lap distance.
“The biggest thing is trying not to run the tires off this thing,” Schilling said. “Our track is abrasive and it’s really not tire friendly as a whole, so you really have to be patient with it to see how you can do and keep everything all together all night.”
Gragson Tries It All Throughout Practice at Night
Before he’s off to Daytona to kick-off his rookie campaign in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Noah Gragson is running a couple weeks back at his roots starting with Chilly Willy weekend.
The Las Vegas rising star was seen on a few occasions out on the track during the final 45-minute session for the day. It should be noted that it was held around the same time that the feature will be run, in which the temperatures can drop 20 to 30 degrees after the afternoon sun goes down.
“The characteristics at night are way different with the grip and everything,” Gragson, who will line up in eighth on Saturday night, explained. “We were trying stuff in qualifying with the right rear bump stop and my guys have been working really hard.”
Gragson is driving for the inaugural Chilly Willy winner Dustin Ash and also has Brandon McReynolds helping him out for the weekend. He went on to praise the racing product that the facility has to offer.
“This place, I think, is probably the best, raciest track in the nation,” Gragson noted. “Simply because you can go to the topside and you can go to the bottomside and run the same exact lap time. With the topside you have a lot of momentum and on the bottomside it’s a little more smooth and you can shave off a little bit of the distance through the corners. You have to give and take and see where you are better off and how the car handles.
“I guarantee you tomorrow night for the race it’s going to be 150 laps of two and three wide racing. 100 percent guaranteed, so you’ve got to be where the others aren’t.”
Two Teams Make Engine Swaps
It didn’t take long for Ricky Bogart’s weekend to become interesting. After setting a fast sub-16 second lap in practice early in the day, the engine immediately locked up.
Bogart went back to Phoenix to pick up a backup motor, which he admitted will not be as strong as the primary one. Still, the veteran racer is not a stranger to these events, formerly competing during Winter Heat in the 1990s and in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. He plans to let the attrition from the field filter itself out and be there at the end despite starting from the back after missing qualifying.
Trent Phillips made the long tow from Nebraska only to have issues under the hood. His team will be using a 604 crate engine from a local competitor, something they have never run with before. The team will be working through the night to make the swap and hope to be ready to go for 150 laps on Saturday from the rear of the starting order.
The Super Late Models are scheduled for two one-hour practice session during the daytime. Officials elected to forego heat races and a last chance race, and plan to start all competitors able to make the green flag. There were 38 different drivers on hand on Friday, the biggest turnout in the Chilly Willy’s young history at “The Action Track Built for Speed”.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Central NY & PA Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
4th Annual Chilly Willy 150 Qualifying Results
|21||39||Brian Harrington Jr.||16.064|
|25||71||Ron Searle Jr.||16.129|
|37||4||Ricky Bogart||No Time|
|38||5||Trent Phillips||No Time|