A Chilly Willy record 44 cars on hand unloaded on Friday morning each with varying goals, but many looking for the same success. Only half of those competitors would be locked into Saturday night’s fifth annual 150-lap event by the time the night ended at Tucson Speedway (AZ).
The first two competitors to lock themselves into the $10,000-to-win event were through single-car qualifications. Preston Peltier, now a resident of Brighton, Colorado, showed magnificent speed throughout the two days of action already. He continued that momentum by setting the fast time with a blazing lap of 15.543 seconds.
While the front row starters had the option to compete in one of the two 50-lap qualifying mains that followed as a potential for fine tuning their race setup, Peltier and team showed that they did not want any part of it. Almost immediately when qualifying had concluded and being officially named the fast qualifier, the team loaded the car up in the hauler and departed the pit area for the day.
Earlier in the afternoon, Peltier did remark to Speed51.com powered by JEGS that the 3/8-mile shares some likenesses to Orange County Speedway. The former PASS South Series champion and winner of numerous major Super Late Model events in recent years has two wins at the Rougemont, North Carolina facility which also presents competitive side by side racing.
The second fastest competitor was another Coloradan, Chris Eggleston. The Erie native and 2015 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion was satisfied with his qualifying run, but was confident that the car could be even better when presented with 150 laps of racing on Saturday.
“Preston’s got really good short run speed,” Eggleston noted. “A lot of times when we race with him in Colorado it’s kind of the same, but the way we have our car set up it’s really good on the long run and I think we’ll race a lot better than we qualify. You can’t get much better than second, but hopefully we’ll be sitting in victory lane at the end of the night.”
Eggleston brought his family run and operated team to the Turkey Shoot 125 at Tucson in November and came away with a win, but factors are drastically different in January.
“The Turkey Shoot was a completely different race,” Eggleston continued. “They switched the tires on us and threw us for the biggest curveball ever. I don’t have a single spring that I had on at the Turkey Shoot that I have on now. I was so excited to capitalize on the speed we did in such a short amount of time.”
While Eggleston in some ways wants nothing more than to hoist the Chilly Willy trophy on Saturday evening, he knows that they have to proceed carefully. As a result, he also decided to sit out of his qualifying main.
“I think we’re the only guy here taking the same car from the Chilly Willy to the Winter Showdown,” Eggleston said. “We have one car; that’s it, and there it sits safely in the trailer and hopefully it comes off and back into the trailer tomorrow night just the same with no scratches. It would make our week a little easier.”
The qualifying mains, which set the next 10 rows of competitors for the main event, featured an incredible amount of excitement and with that came some hurt tempers and damaged equipment. In front of it all in the first race was Californian Christian McGhee, who led flag-to-flag.
“We kind of struggled yesterday and we made some really good adjustments this morning,” McGhee analyzed. “I can't thank these guys enough, they busted their a---s all weekend; really appreciate that.”
The deal came together very quickly for the 2016 SRL Spears Southwest Tour Rookie of the Year whose immediate future is up in the air.
“Jim Putman gave me a call about two weeks ago, asked if I wanted to do this, and I jumped off my couch and said I'll be there tomorrow,” McGhee explained. “So we got my seat in the car, I helped the guys work on the car in the shop so it's pretty bittersweet.”
The second race saw red flags and even some flames, but on the positive end there was a spirited battle for the win throughout the green flag laps from two relative unknowns in the Super Late Model world. Colorado’s Jace Hansen and Wyoming’s Chris Atkinson were side by side at the line for countless circuits with Hansen ending up on top when the checkered flag waved.
“It was tough; Chris drove a really hard race,” Hansen said. “He was coming for us and we didn't really have a good long run car. The late cautions really helped us to let the tires cool off and we just had to think about a little strategy. We knew he was good down there on the bottom, so if I could clear him I had to stay down there to take his groove and it worked out in the end.”
Despite the victory, the 2017 Colorado National Speedway points runner-up knows there is more to do in order to have a contending car over the longer distance.
“We'll see what we got tomorrow,” Hansen added. “We still have a lot of work to do to get this thing to stay under us for 150 laps. This was only 50 and we nearly lost it.”
Atkinson would have to settle for second on this night, but believes he has a good shot for Saturday.
“I was able to use that inside and it hung underneath me,” Atkinson commented. “I did it last night too. Hopefully nobody else can do it too because it's nice to race down there.”
The remarkable part was that both teams had to overcome adversity to even get where they were at the conclusion of Friday night.
“We blew the rear end up the second lap of practice this morning and we got that changed out,” Hansen noted. “During the race tonight we had a vibration turn up in the transmission so we have to deal with that.”
“We had issues today too,” Atkinson added. “We ran a screwdriver through our brand new radiator out here hot lapping today, but we had come back and had a good run and are very happy.”
The remainder of the field will be set on Saturday afternoon with a last chance race that will transfer at least six more drivers. Speed51.com will have Trackside Now coverage of all the action from the first practice of the morning through the Chilly Willy 150 checkered flag.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Central NY & PA Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
5th Annual Chilly Willy 150 Current Lineup
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