When the local racers were invited to join the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series warriors at Tucson Speedway (AZ) last September, many regional enthusiasts may not have even heard of Sean Bray before or considered him as a threat for the win. While some of Super Late Model racing’s best such as Derek Thorn and John VanDoorn set a torrid pace, the hometown driver used patience to accelerate from a 16th starting position to the lead with two circuits remaining in the 125-lap distance.
With a few months passing for the surprise victory to sink in, Bray and his No. 51 team are set to contend once more against invaders from up and down the west coast and Rocky Mountains during the fifth annual Chilly Willy 150.
Bray is a relative newcomer not only to the Super Late Model world, but also on the asphalt side. His win last autumn was earned with nine months of experience. After a few seasons competing in a Dirt Late Model, he noticed how track general manager John Lashley had been revitalizing the 3/8-mile oval best known nationally for its Winter Heat events in the mid-1990s.
“It’s pretty awesome to see them put up a big purse and see how much John has put into the place,” Bray commented. “It’s a fifteen minute drive versus four or five hours to some dirt tracks and I enjoy racing the out of town guys from places like Colorado and Washington.”
Bray’s first full season in the Super Late Model ranks resulted in a fourth-place finish in the standings and runner-up in the Rookie of the Year chase to track champion Brandon Farrington. This will be his second career Chilly Willy 150 start. Unfortunately, the 2017 running did not conclude well as his car went up in smoke, also ending the night for leader at the time Tayler Riddle.
Nevertheless, the team has made it certain they will be more prepared to make it to the finish and be in contention for the $10,000-to-win paycheck at the checkered flag.
“Last year we didn’t have the time to go through everything as we had just purchased the car from Ohio,” Bray mentioned. “We have already sent our McGunegill engine and other parts back to be looked over and we’re turning every nut and bolt making sure nothing is unturned.”
The most recent major event at Tucson was the Turkey Shoot 125 in late November, won by former NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion Chris Eggleston. Bray hung around toward the back before driving up to a sixth-place finish.
The 28-year-old driver indicated that circumstances could be different for the overall competition this month, as the track will be switching to the Hoosier F80 rubber. Although there was an open Tech Day held on Sunday, January 21, testing prior to Thursday on race week will not be permitted. This could keep an already close display of parity even tighter as teams will be required to figure out the abrasive track surface with their weekend allotment of 16 tires.
Meanwhile, Bray remains optimistic going into the 2018 season, as he attempts to be only the second driver (2016 winner Chuck Wares) to keep the Chilly Willy trophy in Tucson.
“We are a small team with big dreams,” Bray proudly noted. “I’m the owner and mechanic, with some friends at the track and in the shop. We learn on our own and I’ve been told we’re one of the cars to watch.”
Speed51.com will have live Trackside Now coverage of the Chilly Willy 150 from Tucson Speedway throughout the weekend of January 25-27.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Regional Editor (Central NY & PA)
-Photo credit: Speed51.com