Pro All Stars Series Super Late Models from nine states and two provinces have converged for one of the most anticipated shows in recent years. With an extended amount of practice time to prepare for 300 green flag laps around the 0.363-mile historic Hickory Motor Speedway on Saturday, teams have taken differing approaches to the time at hand.
PASS South Point Leader Pacing Himself Heading Into Saturday
18-year-old Matt Craig has had a stranglehold on the competition over 2017 with six victories in nine starts. Nevertheless, the Kannapolis, North Carolina resident remains focused on the longer distance compared to this season’s other races, but also knows that they will have to be ready for the final stretch.
“Strategy and pit stops are definitely going to play a big difference among all the races I’ve ever run here,” Craig, who won a 75-lap CARS Tour feature at Hickory earlier in the season, told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I ran 250 laps here before in a Pro Cup car, but that was way different. Usually you set your car up for a long run, but here near the end of the race you might get tires within 75 to go and then you want to set it up for 75.”
Throughout an optional afternoon of practice on Thursday and a full day of sessions on Friday, the defending series champion has been one of the fastest among drivers that elected to run transponders.
“We have just kind of been pacing ourselves,” Craig admitted. “We haven’t really run a lot of laps but we’ve been trying some new things. We learn every time we come to the track. I think our baseline is pretty good.”
Top Five Finisher from April is One of the Fastest
Cole Butcher turned some heads during the running of this year’s Easter Bunny 150 with a fourth place performance. On Friday, the Nova Scotia racer was again among the cars to beat.
“I think we figured something out,” Butcher commented. “Our long run speed was really good. We had a really good mock run, so hopefully come tomorrow at 11:00 (start time for qualifying) we’ll be top five and run it the first 250 and then be there at the end.”
Late last season Butcher paired up with Super Late Model veteran Donnie Wilson and had an impressive outing in the Snowflake 100 at Five Flags Speedway. Fresh off a shakedown for his first Snowball Derby in a few weeks, the team seems to be firing on all cylinders once again.
“The whole Wilson crew is great to work with,” Butcher said. “I couldn’t be more happy with them. They treat me well, just like I was at home. The Derby test went really well. Hopefully we’ll be good come first week of December.”
Meanwhile, immediate attention stays in North Carolina and the 21-year-old remains calm and collected.
“It’s just another race track and just another car,” Butcher added. “Hopefully we’ll be there at the end, but I feel comfortable and I feel like everybody else does too.”
Another Nova Scotia Racer Driving a Proven Winner
Many in the United States may not have heard of Nicholas Naugle before April 2017. Hauling from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, the young racer and team started from the back and quietly worked their way up to an eighth place finish in his first appearance at Hickory. They had planned to run their car again, but tried out a different one with quite the record for the remainder of the weekend.
“Honestly, we were testing the other car and I was excited to race with that thing,” Naugle explained. “Then we decided, hey, why not roll out this one and give it a shot and I was just ecstatic. I can’t wait to get in the race tomorrow and just run.”
The car they had acquired and rolled out has won recently, the Easter Bunny 150 with Preston Peltier in fact. Naugle and crew have been working together on his own driving style to get that little bit extra they need, but other than a few minor adjustments their new ride has been race ready.
Naugle is also no stranger to longer-distance events, running quite a few a year back home in the Maritime.
“I know the mentality and how long the race is actually going to run,” Naugle continued. “You can’t jump in it and think you’re going to win it in the first 100 or even 200 laps. You just have to wait it out and know that the last 100 laps is when the real racing will start.”
Past Oxford 250 Winner Sees Hickory for the First Time
Glen Luce’s name has become one of familiarity the last few years up north; however, this weekend will go down as his first venture south of Connecticut over his entire racing career.
“I like the history,” the Turner, Maine veteran remarked. “That was what we were looking forward to with what’s been going on here for years and what this track has given to the racing community.”
Although the 2015 Oxford 250 winner knew coming in that there would be a learning curve, he has found some characteristics of other tracks he has run to relate, including one in which he took a victory at earlier in the season.
“Some of this is similar to a track in Montmagny, Quebec,” Luce mentioned. “It’s rough, bumpy, and you just kind of get up on the wheel. With that and following some veterans like Ben Rowe and Travis Benjamin and watching Matt Craig’s line, learned a little bit and now we just have to get it to do what I want.”
-Trevor Sanborn expired a motor in a pretty spectacular fashion, as smoke billowed from the frontstretch all the way to the parking lot. Luckily, the East Parsonsfield, Maine driver, a runner-up at Hickory back in 2007, was able to woe it down without doing further damage to the car. The Woodman Racing crew exited the track early and plans to swap motors and return on Sunday morning.
-Another Maine racer, Garrett Hall, and New Hampshire’s Gabe Brown had some of the quicker times in their initial appearances at the facility. Surprisingly, less than 10 competitors on the grounds on Friday will be making their Hickory debut, making it a tall task to familiarize themselves with the facets of the unique track.
Speed51.com Trackside Now will begin at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday with qualifying set to go at 11:00 a.m. The 300-lap Mason-Dixon MegaMeltdown is scheduled to take the green flag at approximately 3:00 p.m.
The North vs. South battle for $15,000-to-win can be watched by fans worldwide who are unable to make the trip via a live pay-per-view broadcast on Speed51.com – http://speed51.com/speed51-tv-pass-mason-dixon-mega-meltdown-hickory-motor-speedway-nc/
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Central NY & PA Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com