The 32nd Annual All-American 400 at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville (TN) will be going back to its original roots, with 400 laps for the Super Late Models. But there will be a first for the event, a trio of West Coast drivers have made the cross country trip to the historic Music City facility.
Joining two-time SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series champion Derek Thorn will be NTS Motorsports teammates Blaine Rocha and Christian McGhee.
The NTS Motorsports Team brought two cars to Nashville with a third teammate awaiting them once they arrive. SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series drivers Rocha and McGhee will team-up with four-time All-American 400 Pro Late Model winner, and Rocha’s SRL crew chief, Willie Allen, to compete for the 400 win. Team Manager Gary Collins is happy with the performance of the team this season and is looking forward to the opportunity to compete for the win.
“We’ve run well this season, and have been very consistent race in and race out,” Collins said. “Both Blaine and Christian really wanted to go to Nashville and when we got down to just the two teams, (Parker Stephens competed in the first half of the season with NTS) it made that decision easier. We circled it on our calendar and everyone was on board to make it happen.”
Last season, Rocha and the NTS Motorsports Team made the trip to Indianapolis, to race with the CRA Super Series at Lucas Oil Raceway (IN). In that event, Rocha set fast time and went on to finish third in his first Midwest start. That result has given Collins the confidence that they can compete, and run up front, in this star studded event.
“Yes, we definitely feel that we can go to Nashville, be competitive and put ourselves in a position to win the race,” Collins began. “We showed the strength of our race program last year at Lucas Oil Raceway, and that we can run with the East Coast teams. Lucas Oil Raceway and Nashville are two completely different racetracks, so there’s not a lot we can take from last year’s CRA Super Series race and apply it to the 400. However, with Willie (Allen) being our teammate for the race, and him being from Nashville, it should really help accelerate Blaine and Christian’s learning curve.”
Rocha is coming off his two best SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series finishes of the season. He heads to Nashville with momentum following third and second-place finishes to climb to sixth in the championship standings. Rocha will head to the 400 with confidence gained from recent performances, his success at Lucas Oil Raceway and his affinity for success at new race tracks.
“I feel like I personally do better on tracks that I have never been to before,” Rocha told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I think that is going to help me a lot. Being my first time at new tracks, I feel like I am very comfortable in that, and it will play to my advantage. Nashville is a little bit bigger track than I normally compete on, but from what I have heard about it, it sounds like it will be a blast.”
Another potential advantage for Rocha is having Willie Allen with the team, as well as his conditioning for the 400-lap distance.
“My crew chief is Willie Allen is based right out of Nashville. He has a lot of knowledge about the track and we should have a good read on the track,” Rocha explained. “In preparation for the event, I have also been running, when I have time. I have also been trying to go to the gym. I have been going there every day. I feel like 400 laps will be a test for everyone so I want to be prepared both physically and mentally.”
Christian McGhee will be making his first foray outside of his West Coast roots when the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series Rookie of the Year Leader visits Fairgrounds Speedway for the All American 400. When Christian’s father, Loyd, approached team manager Gary Collins about some additional big races for Christian, the younger McGhee was happy to oblige a trip to Nashville for one of the most prestigious races in the country. He also looks forward to the challenge of running against an all-star field and showing off the talent on the West Coast.
“One of the most intriguing things for me is racing against the guys from the East Coast,” McGhee said. “Everyone says they are so much better back there, so we are going over there to find out. I want to go back there and show them what the West Coast is about. I think when Blaine (Rocha) went over to the CRA race, at Indianapolis, it showed that we could compete with them and that our stuff is competitive. We run with the guys out here like Derek (Thorn) and (Ryan) Cansdale so I’m looking forward to it and I think we will be alright.”
McGhee knows that 400 laps at Nashville will be a huge challenge of endurance and concentration, but his two laps of qualifying may his toughest challenge all weekend.
“I think the most challenging part for me will be qualifying,” McGhee admitted. “You have to make the show and that is my Achilles heel. We just need to make the show and then go on from there.”
Once that goal is accomplished, McGhee hopes that he has prepared for the long distance event properly.
“I have been running every night, for the most part, in the altitude to prepare my endurance. 400 laps will still wear me out,” he said. “It’s going to be rough, but I look forward to the challenge. If those guys, who are a lot older than me, and maybe not in as good of shape as me, can do it, then I should be able to do it.
Helping Christian do it will be NTS Motorsports crew chief, and teammate, for the weekend, Willie Allen. Allen will help the team get up to speed, with his many laps of experience at the facility, but he will also be looking for a break through victory for himself. Allen has four Pro Late Model wins on the 400 weekend, but a win in the Super Late Model is high on his priority list.
“I think we will definitely have our plate full with everything going on there,” Allen explained. “Between the things we have going on locally, our customer support at W.A.R. Shocks, and the whole NTS Team coming out, it will be very busy. I think it will be a lot of fun, however, and I definitely have high expectations for the whole program. I think we have a good program going on at NTS as well as our stuff here at Nashville. If we tie the two together, I definitely think we will have some good cars there.
“Anything can happen in 400 laps, and that is a long race for Late Models, but it will definitely be fun. The 400 race is definitely the coveted race that I would love to win. I have been so close so many times. I got the pole last year and finished second the year before. I feel like I have had the car (Pro Late Model) to beat several years.”
With the return of the “400” to feature the Super Late Models for 400 laps, Allen feels it will only make the race better.
“I think it will make for a better race,” Allen assessed. “There will differences in pit stops this year and that changes things up. There won’t be the controlled breaks, so that will put pit strategy into it, which will make it more fun. I’m glad it’s back to a Super (Late Model) race. I think the big races like that should be with the Supers. I think they listened to the fans and drivers and put it back to what it needed to be. It should be a killer race, and there should be a lot of great competition there, so it should be exciting.”
With a heavy pre-entry list there should be a plethora of excitement and intense competition. With names such as Pollard, Wallace, Majeski, Gilliland, Nemechek and Peltier on the entry list, the SRL drivers will have their work cut out for them. As competitors, in the SPEARS (SRL) Southwest Tour Series, they would have it no other way.
Story By: Kevin Peters, West Coast Correspondent, Speed51.com
Photo Credit: Speed51.com