Since moving into the Tour-type Modified ranks around 15 years ago, Les Hinckley has become a familiar name, particularly in his native New England while competing on the Tri-Track Open Modified Series and Valenti Modified Racing Series. On occasion, the Windsor Locks, Connecticut driver has also made trips down south, particularly for the North-South Shootout, but not in recent years.
That will change this weekend, as Hinckley makes his Shootout return for the first time since competing in 2010. When Speed51 talked to Hinckley on Wednesday morning, he was already well on his way to North Carolina and Hickory Motor Speedway, site of the 17th running of the North-South Shootout this Saturday, with his No. 06 Modified in tow.
“It has been a while. It just hasn’t worked out in recent years, but this year we were able to put the pieces together,” Hinckley said. “We only raced my car a few times this year. We came out of Oktoberfest at Lee in one piece, so that was kind of the motivating factor. Since we had run Tri-Track with Art Barry’s car, mine is still in good shape and we got some sponsorship together for Delivery Solutions and The Wheel Shop.”
This weekend will also be a career first for Hinckley, who has yet to set foot on the property at Hickory.
“I’ve never even seen the place, today will be the first time. We’ll park, get a look at it, and get on the track for some practice tomorrow.”
While the closure of Concord Speedway, home to the North-South Shootout for 12 of its first 16 runnings, has been a sad subject in the racing community, the excitement of Hickory being the track to carry on the tradition of this race has boosted the enthusiasm of all drivers competing this weekend.
“There’s certainly a lot of history there, probably far more then I’m aware of. But, if you paid attention to anything in southern racing and even Cup racing with the older generation, Hickory was always a part of it.”
While Concord, as well as Caraway Speedway which hosted the Shootout from 2011 to 2014, are both revered for their high speeds and high horsepower, Hickory’s bullring characteristics make it a game-changer for many drivers. As a driver who has racked up wins on New England’s bullrings, Hinckley feels it will give him and a number of drivers an even better chance of taking home the check and trophy.
“It takes the motor out of the equation; you’re not going to get beaten by horsepower there. That’s very beneficial when that playing field levels itself off," he stated. "I’ve heard some comparisons between Hickory and Lee, but it’s just talk at this point, I guess we’ll be a better judge of it by the end of the weekend. It will probably be a tire management deal too, with some strategy to it, which will make things interesting.”
Hinckley is also looking forward to having a chance to compete against a number of southern stars for the first time in a nearly a decade, while also sizing up those who have risen through the ranks in that time.
“With it being so many years since I’ve been down here, there’s some guys I haven’t raced in that time, and also some new faces and names that are more prevalent in the South than when I ran it back at Concord. I guess the same could be said for some of the guys from the North. But, it’s a different makeup of guys who have consistently run it to guys who have got into it recently.”
Despite a tight field being expected, Hinckley knows there is the potential for the No. 06 team to win this Saturday. While just running four races in three events during 2019 with the No. 06, he has finished in the top five in all four races, leading laps in two of those races.
“That would be nice, it would sure be a nice way to end the year, which was short with my car. But, we are certainly prepared, and I believe we are capable.”
Race fans unable to make the trip south to Hickory Motor Speedway this weekend will be able to watch the North-South Shootout live on the Speed51 Network. The live broadcast will be available to both monthly and yearly subscribers. Click here to join today.
The 17th North-South Shootout at Hickory Motor Speedway begins on Thursday, November 7 with a full day of rotating practice for the Tour-type Modifieds, Super Late Models, 602 Modifieds, and 602 Super Limiteds. Friday, November 8 sees the Allison Legacy and Vintage Cars joining the fray for practice; then qualifying for all six classes beginning at 6pm ET.
Saturday, November 9 is the big day with final practice in the morning an on-track pit party at 12:30 pm, with feature racing starting at 2 pm. For the full schedule and more information, visit pratours.com.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51 Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51