In 22 previous versions of the Intimidator 100 at Kalamazoo Speedway, five drivers have won the event twice. Two of Outlaw Super Late Model racing’s best will have the opportunity to get win number three and become the all-time winningest driver Friday night in the race named after Dale Earnhardt.
Tyler Roahrig and Steve Needles are two of three drivers who have won the Intimidator 100 in back-to-back years, joining Terry Senneker’s triumphs in 2008-2009. Either driver could hoist themselves on top of the ladder with a third win Friday night, which would also put themselves ahead of other two-time winners Fred Campbell and Tom Thomas as the winningest driver in Intimidator 100 history.
Roahrig won his two Intimidator 100s in 2016 and 2017 in two very different fashions. “Rocket” passed Doug True with just 12 laps to go and held off Brian Bergakker and Jeff Ganus to score a meaningful win. His 2017 win came much easier, even after starting in 16th due to setting fast time in qualifying.
Those two wins proved to Roahrig he could win at Kalamazoo, having won the last three Kalamazoo Klashes after that second Intimidator win.
“We were having a really hard time winning at Kalamazoo and we finally got that first Intimidator 100 win, which would have been my second win there ever,” Roahrig told Speed51. “The first one was a pretty good, hard race from what I remember with Doug True and Jeff Ganus. I think I got the lead with ten to go or so.
“Then the second one, my car was really good that night. I didn’t have to work as hard for that one as I did the first one. Anytime you can win a race at Kalamazoo, whether it’s the Intimidator or just a regular show really, it’s pretty gratifying. That place is hard to get your car set up right, it seems like. When you win there, you know everything’s right.”
Needles won his two Intimidator 100’s back in 2012 and 2013 while driving for the late legendary Outlaw Super Late Model team owner Terry Gentry. The two-time Main Event Racing Series champion outdueled 12-time Kalamazoo track champion Andy Bozell over the final 30 laps to score the win in 2012. His 2013 win came in dominating fashion, leading the final 72 laps to take the win over Roahrig.
“It’s been a while ago. We won it back when I was driving for Terry Gentry, I don’t even remember what years it was. It’s a pretty cool race, all the heavy hitters show up,” Needles said. “It was definitely a big deal to win that, I think we did it back-to-back. I don’t really remember much except I was pretty excited at the time because it’s a big win.”
This year’s Intimidator 100 comes under different circumstances. Normally run in April, this year’s event now takes place just two and a half weeks before the Kalamazoo Klash, which is 25 laps longer than Friday night’s race.
Even with the close proximity, the Klash is the last thing on Roahrig’s mind going into Friday night.
“I’m not really going into it with the focus to tune for the Klash, I just want to go there to win. I might run some of the other races there in the weeks between just to prepare for the Klash. This week I just want to go out and have fun, Kalamazoo’s my favorite track to race at, so I always look forward to going there.”
Another twist coming to competitors Friday night will be the temperatures. When the green flag drops for the Intimidator 100, it could be upwards of 30 degrees hotter than it was for last year’s race run at the end of April.
Needles says the race conditions could play an even bigger factor than they usually do, with daytime high temperatures expected to climb into the 80’s.
“It’s certainly going to be a lot hotter, tempers might be a little shorter. Typically, it’s like an endurance race in the spring when it’s cool. Nobody’s in racing shape up here in Michigan yet, so I think it’s really going to be an attrition deal this year being as hot as it’s supposed to be.
“It’s going to be tough on your body, going to be tough on cars,” Needles added. “Guys haven’t had time to fine tune anything yet. It’s going to be a tough race for sure. A lot of laps, hot, humid, a lot of guys that are itching to get racing. It should be a lot of fun.”
Over the years, the Intimidator 100 has become one of the premier Outlaw Super Late Model races in the Midwest due to its star power. With names such as former winners Jeff Ganus, Brian Bergakker, Andy and Phil Bozell, and even East Michigan shoe Frank Jiovani expected to make the trip to the 3/8-mile oval, it has all the ingredients for a major show.
“I’d say it’s a top five or six race. You’ve got the Klash, the Sizzler and Glass City 200, those are probably the three premier Outlaw Late Model shows,” Needles said of the Intimidator. “I’d say the next tier from that, you’d probably put the Intimidator right at the top of that list. It’s a pretty big deal.”
“It’s not quite as big as the Klash or the Sizzler but it definitely is one of the bigger events. Usually when it’s in April in any other year it gets a ton of fans and a ton of cars because everybody’s been cooped up at home all winter, they’re ready to go” added Roahrig. “Kalamazoo puts on such great racing. There’s always multiple grooves there and I haven’t seen anywhere else in the country that’s quite as racey.”
With both drivers admitting recent struggles, Roahrig and Needles would love nothing more than to score a record-third Intimidator 100 Friday night. Roahrig has three previous Outlaw Super Late Model races under his belt in 2020 at New Paris, Galesburg, and Springport Mid-Michigan Speedway, the latter of which saw him make major gains on his No.24. A win on Friday night would ensure he and his team are making progress with the Kalamazoo Klash looming.
“It would be big, we started off pretty slow this year. I haven’t been very good this year, honestly. It would be a nice turnaround to pick up a win Friday night to know I’m at least headed in the right direction with stuff,” Roahrig said. “I know Steve Needles has two of them as well, it would be cool to get to three.”
As for Needles, this will be his first start of 2020 behind the wheel of the Brian Short-owned machine. His fourth-place Klash run a year ago is a bright spot in what has otherwise been a challenge at Kalamazoo since joining Short in 2016.
A win would also show them they are heading in the right direction.
“To be the first driver to do anything is pretty cool, so I’ll take it. That would be awesome. We haven’t run all that well at Kalamazoo these last few years, part of that is we don’t put a whole lot of effort into our small tire program,” Needles stated. “That’s changed a little bit, we’ve really put some effort into that. It’s certainly reared some rewards for our hard effort.
“It’ll be a pretty big deal, and when you have to beat guys like Tyler Roahrig and Brian Bergakker, Jeff Ganus and Adam Terry, he’s too now strong at Kalamazoo these days, it’s a pretty big deal. It would be a huge relief and it would be pretty exciting for us.”
Fans who are unable to make it to Kalamazoo Speedway for the Intimidator 100 can see Tyler Roahrig and Steve Needles go after a record third win live on Speed51 as part of Summer Thunder TV. Click here to become a monthly or yearly subscriber to watch Friday night’s race.
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51 National Correspondent – Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo Credit: Speed51 Photo