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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Super Late Model drivers from across the United States, and even into Canada, will set their sights on Tucson Speedway this weekend.
The .375-mile Arizona oval will be host to one of the first Super Late Model events as part of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series in 2018. The Chilly Willy 150 will be the fifth annual event at the Tucson bullring, with some of the top talent from the West Coast set to battle for the trophy and $10,000 first-place prize money.
The previous four events have been hotly contested, and have seen four different winners. Most recently, in 2017, Owen Riddle of Naches, Washington, took the checkered flag following a late-race incident that took his brother, Tayler Riddle, out of the lead. In the final stages of last year's race, Riddle had to hold off a charge from NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regular Noah Gragson.
In 2016, it was Chuck Wares who held off a charge from Dustin Ash, while Tayler Riddle found the winner's circle in 2015. The inaugural event saw Las Vegas' Ash visit Victory Lane.
And now, just a few days away from the drop of the first green flag, the race has already drawn a lot from interest from both teams and fans. As of this week, more than 40 drivers have pre-entered for the race, and the roster includes some of the past winners.
For Tayler Riddle, Saturday's 150-lap main event will give him an opportunity to become the first driver to become a two-time winner of the event. He almost was able to accomplish that goal last season, but got caught up in a wreck while leading.
"A car blew up in front of me and I got collected in the oil and I couldn't avoid it, it was just really bad timing," Riddle said of the 2017 event. "More than anything, this is good to be able to get away, travel down there and race with some people you don't normally get to race with. You can really see where your program stacks up. It's always nice when you can race for some money."
Riddle knows that the track allows for multiple grooves of racing, especially once some rubber is put down. But there is more than one challenge that stands in front of him.
"The main thing that makes the track so tough is that it's abrasive and hard on tires, so it's all about strategy, you have to figure out when to go and how hard to go," Riddle said. "You need to position yourself for a run at the end. The strategy and tire wear make it a hard race to drive, but it's a lot of fun. The tire wear makes it challenging for us."
For Riddle, the opportunity to head to Tucson Speedway will probably help set the tone for how the 2018 season will go for his team.
"There's a lot of good cars going and it will be good to see where we stack up out there. I think it's going to be a really good show and there is going to be some hard racing at the end," Riddle said. "It's really the first race of the year for us and it seems like in the last couple of years, it has set the tone for our team. It seems like if you get a good strong run you will have momentum, you can build off it, and it just starts the year off right."
Another upcoming driver expected to compete on Saturday is Brett Yackey. He finished fourth in the 2017 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Colorado championship chase, and he is looking to add the Chilly Willy 150 trophy to his growing resume. He finished 18th last year at Tucson in his first start in the event.
"I'm really excited, it's going to be a great opportunity, we'll see what we have for them," Yackey said. "We're actually heading out there right after one of my basketball games."
Much like all of the drivers, Yackey would love to bring the top prize back to his shop.
"It'd be awesome to bring the money back to our shop, not only for our team, but for the entire state of Colorado," Yackey said. "I think the competition is going to be really tough, there are a lot of great racers and teams heading there, but at the end of the day, they are just another competitor, so I am going in there thinking that I am just as good as them."
And just like Riddle, Yackey sees the possibility of the race coming down to who saves their tires the best.
"The track is really abrasive, so that factors in another problem for us, but it makes it a lot of fun because you have to pick out your strategy," Yackey said. "When the sun goes down, the cars handling will change, so it will really show who is prepared. I feel like it's going to be really important to run well. You will have the confidence and a really good base setup, it can really give you a great place to start."
Other names entered to appear include Chris Eggleston, who scored the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West victory at Tucson in 2017 en route to a second-place finish in the series championship standings. Names like Chris Atkinson, Tom Berrow, Cory Davis, Jeff Wade and Brandon Schilling are also entered. Schilling finished second in the 2017 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Arizona state championship chase.
Although the 150-lap feature is slated for Saturday, race fans won't have to wait that long to see cars on the track. On Thursday, two 50-lap SLM feature's will be held, worth $1,200 to win. Friday, there will be two, 50-lap qualifying races, with each of them worth $1,200 to win. Saturday, the prestigious Chilly Willy 150 takes center stage, with racing scheduled to get underway at 3 p.m.
For more information on the event, including grandstand and ticket pricing, visit www.tucsonspeedway.com. Fans can also view a youtube page with driver interviews ahead of the Chilly Willy 150 by clicking here.
Owen Riddle celebrates the victory in the 2017 edition of the Chilly Willy 150. Courtesy Tucson Speedway