Strictly Hydraulics 50:
More Than Just a Race
Sure, the Strictly Hydraulics 50 is big. For most of our drivers, they will be gunning for the checkered flag and valuable championship points. For some though, it is much more than a race, it is their ticket to the INEX Asphalt Nationals in Anderson, South Carolina.
The event, taking place at Anderson Motor Speedway from November 11th to 14th, is the final chance to accumulate points towards the national championship for Legend cars and is one of the best measuring sticks when it comes to Legend car talent across the globe. INEX, the global sanctioning body for Legend and Bandolero cars, breaks up Legend car racing into four divisions, three of which are based on age (Young Lions is 16 years of age and younger, Semi Pro is for ages 16-40 and Masters are drivers aged 40+) and the Pro division, which is a division drivers can apply for or be moved to based on talent. All four divisions have races at the Asphalt Nationals, including a “Race of Champions” featuring champions from across the globe.
Last season, Cole Butcher was the top Pro division driver at our INEX Asphalt Qualifier, and he took the trip to Asphalt Nationals, provisional in hand and finished 12th in the final. Not to mention, Butcher won the Pro division Race of Champions, and has a cool slot machine trophy from the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to show off for his win. Butcher has two wins this season in a Legend car at Scotia Speedworld and if he shows up Friday night, he will be a contender for another win and Nationals berth.
Nicholas Naugle won this race last year but opted not to make the trip to Nationals. With his connections he has in the Carolinas, it wouldn’t surprise me one iota if Naugle wins the guaranteed provisional into the Nationals final on Friday that he would take advantage of it. The Semi Pro division is one of the most hotly contested at the track though, with drivers like the leading Tim Hortons at the Airport Rookie Cory Hall (and current Canadian INEX Semi Pro championship leader), current Scotia Speedworld point leader Jarrett Butcher, Emily Meehan, Scott Cunning, Jordan Pirri, Richie Nicholson and Tylor Hawes within it.
The Young Lions class is unique in the fact that INEX gives the choice to 16 year olds whether they want to stick with the Young Lions category or move to the Semi Pro division. When Adam Meehan and Cole Tanner filled out their applications, they decided to stay with Young Lions, meaning those two will duke it out Friday night for a spot in Asphalt Nationals, should they decide to take it.
Paul Goulden is the reigning Canadian INEX Masters champion and it wouldn’t surprise me if the 50 year old wins this chance on Friday that he would toy with going down to Anderson. Goulden was involved in a scary rollover last weekend at Riverside International Speedway in an Atlantic Tiltload Maritime League of Legends race but has a car put together and ready for this Friday’s show. If he plans on winning his guaranteed provisional to Anderson Motor Speedway, he’ll have to beat the likes of Jeff Cruickshank, Arnie Spinney, Danny and maybe even Cy Harvey.
Not to mention this race also counts towards the Scotia Speedworld Strictly Hydraulics Legends championship standings. Only 20 points is the gap between the top four (Butcher, Naugle, Goulden and Hall), with only 12 points between fifth and ninth in the standings (Emily Meehan, Danny Harvey, Adam Meehan, Tanner, Cruickshank). These 50 laps have a huge bearing on the championship chase for the coveted track title at Scotia Speedworld.
In other words, to sum it up, there is a lot on the line for these Legend car drivers in the field on Friday night.
If anyone has anything for Deven Smith, they best get to steppin’. Smith is trying to become the third Smith brother in six seasons to win a Chickenburger Lightning championship and while with four races to go the trophy is far from engraved, a 38 point lead is pretty comfy up top in the division. The best thing I’ve seen in the last few weeks has been Marc MacMillan and Steve Matthews both bringing themselves up to the front to join Richard Patrick, Darrell Sullivan, who struggled last week, Scott Thibodeau and Smith as contenders each week. While Patrick has suffered with some mechanical problems this season, it has seemed like Smith, Thibodeau and Sullivan have been the three surefire contenders each week. MacMillan has turned his program around the last few weeks and drove by Matthews, besting him by inches at the stripe for the third place spot in the 50-lapper last week. Will we see anyone else step up to the plate and can Smith step closer to clinching a championship? We’ll quickly find out Friday.
Speaking of comfortable leads, that is what Dan Smith has with a 46 point advantage heading into a 35 lap feature on Friday. Kevin Clark, Cory Leonard and Matt Vaughan have quite the battle on their hands with seven points between them while Megan Parrott sits fifth and leads the Tim Hortons at the Airport Rookie of the Year standings following a third place finish the last time out. That last race got ugly at the end between Leonard and Adam Carter, so let’s hope the two have put their differences aside and can be cordial for 35 laps instead of head hunting each other like they did at the end of the August 7th feature.
You have to feel for Dave Matthews and the struggles he has had in the Chickenburger Thunder class. His 37 point lead three weeks ago has dwindled to a mere two points after motor issues have plagued the team. As a race fan, you hate to see a driver stomp all over the field and win by a mile in the standings, but you also don’t like to see the collapse that we have seen out of Matthews. On the other side, it is far from over. He is racing Matthew and Andrew Warren and the #31 car, a car he had to battle with to win his two championships in this class and this battle is sure to be one of the ages heading down the stretch.
The #31 car has won the last two races, including the Big Money 50 where Andrew and Kyle Gammon swapped the lead a handful of times in the last ten laps of that race. The race previously, Matthew had to edge out Stevie Lively on a photo finish to win the Atlantic Cat 250 feature. The #31 car is going to be tough to deny, but if anyone can do it, you best believe it will be Matthews!
Watch for the Darkside Racing teammates on Friday night too. The two, Gammon and Drew MacEachern, only have a single point between them and both were on the podium last week for the Big Money 50.
Before we close, a tip of the cap to Chris Hatcher. Hatcher had taken a few seasons off from the Chickenburger Thunder division before returning in 2015 and while he has had some strong runs, Friday is something he can hang his cap on. Hatcher won his first heat race of 2015 last Friday and ran up front for most of the race. He has two top ten finishes this season and only sits 27 points out of seventh in the standings heading down the stretch to finish the season. Keep your eye on the #11 car this Friday!
This is going to be a big night, but be sure to also keep your finger on the pulse here next week with the 21st Annual Shriners Classic for Sportsman on deck. That race is going to be huge and we’ll preview it here next week.
Until Friday, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!
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