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Race Preview: IWK 250 at Riverside Speedway

Handicapping the IWK 250 Field

For some Atlantic Canadian race fans, this weekend is likely more anticipated than the December holiday season.

The IWK 250 presented by Steve Lewis is one of the three Maritime crown jewels and in recent years it has drawn the most cars of any extended distance Pro Stock race in the region.

With that fact, how do you identify a winner pre-race on a 37 car entry list?! It’s difficult but let’s try to scratch the surface a bit on this one.

Before we look forward, let’s look back to Oyster Bed Speedway two weeks ago. It was a wild race to say the least, with Cole Butcher and Jonathan Hicken battling it out in the last third for the win. As Jonathan told me post race, that race came down to restarts and who was able to gain the advantage on the green flag. That is how most Oyster Bed races play out, we saw it last year when we had Butcher, Dylan Blenkhorn, Greg Proude and Shawn Turple battle it out.

The last restart on June 30th gave Cole Butcher the upper hand over Jonathan Hicken. Butcher drove to the win while Hicken kept him honest behind. Greg Proude, who had to rally from the back, finished third with a clutch that wasn’t exactly cooperating with him through the 150-lap feature.

Say what you want about Oyster Bed Speedway being different in configuration from Riverside International Speedway but a lot of drivers who have had success in Oyster Bed Bridge have seen hardware at James River. I think the trio that were on the podium at our last race probably should be considered as favorites for Saturday night.

But, as you know, I am a stats guy and Butcher and Hicken have yet to win a race at Riverside International Speedway. Sure, Butcher has come as close as anyone to winning at Riverside and Hicken has been within a step or two from the top spot multiple times, but it is hard to ignore that stat. If we are going to have a first time winner at Riverside in the IWK 250, I’d put these two at the front of the line. Dylan Gosbee also fits this criteria. He is hungry and fully capable of pulling off his first Riverside win in the big show. Keep in mind, it can happen, ask Darren MacKinnon.

Greg Proude has been so strong at Riverside in the past but small mechanical issues have sidelined him in the past. Proude seems to have his new VanDoorn car figured out and if he and the crew can keep the Red Rocket under him for 250 green flag laps, he’ll be tough to beat.

How about that other new Vandoorn car on the Tour this year? No, I don’t mean DJ Casey, but it would be nice to see him fly that purple, gold and black No. 94 to the front.

Dylan Blenkhorn is the reigning IWK 250 champion, won the Season Opener at Petty International Raceway and has broke while in the lead on the other two high banked races on the Series. A lot of eyes will be on “Black Betty” as she tries to duplicate what “Black Amber” did last year, that is win the race and pick up some beer money for the crew every lap the car leads.

The downside is there are 36 drivers just as hungry as Blenkhorn and want to meet their beer money quota at the end of 250-laps.

Looking for some even money to long shot selections? How about guys like the Reid brothers, Kyle and Chris, Nicholas Naugle, Jarrett Butcher, Robbie MacEwen or Steve Halpin. Here are a handful of drivers who have yet to win a Maritime Pro Stock Tour race in their careers, have varied experience in a Pro Stock but have seen tons of success on the ladder up the ranks. These 250s have a ton of strategy and with the right calls, they could be there at the end. Heck, throw a guy like Josh Collins into that category as well. Remember the run he had last year in this race? 

We haven’t spoken about guys like Donald Chisholm, John Flemming or Shawn Turple yet either. Here are three drivers who own nine Maritime Pro Stock Tour championship trophies between them and 48 feature wins. Of those 48, 16 of them have come at Riverside International Speedway. You’ve got to get by these three, especially with the way they’ve been running recently, to hoist the John W. Chisholm Memorial Cup on Saturday.

Like Chisholm and Flemming, you have Kent Vincent and Darren MacKinnon who are in the field that have previous experience with winning an IWK 250.

Two drivers, Craig Slaunwhite and Cassius Clark, will look to become the first driver to complete their unofficial Maritime Triple Crown with a win here. Both drivers have won the Toromont Cat 250 at Scotia Speedworld and the McLaughlin Roof Trusses 250 at Speedway 660 but are missing this event.

Three of Speedway 660’s top drivers will be making the trek to the IWK 250. Current point leader Dave O’Blenis and Greg Fahey have both seen top ten runs in this event in recent years while Ashton Tucker will make his Riverside International Speedway debut as he is pre-entered in the Brad Silliker Motorsports entry. O’Blenis has won three races in the RE/MAX Pro Stock division at 660 this year, Fahey and Tucker have both won once. Chris Duncan, a former Speedway 660 Pro Stock titlist, is also entered in the IWK 250.

Russell Smith Jr will be unveiling his own car for the IWK 250. Smith Jr has had podium finishes on the Tour driving for Slaunwhite Motorsports and DM Motorsports but will race this weekend in his own race car. From the pictures we’ve seen on social media, it is bright and will be hard to miss on the race track.

Round out the field with Nevin Scott, Stevie Lively, Terry Dougay, Shawn Pierce, Sarah McKay, Chris Hughes, Allison MacKinnon, Exide Batteries Rookies Braden Langille and Waylon Farrell along with newest Maritime Motorsports Hall of Famer George Koszkulics and you have a stout field looking for 30 spots in the IWK 250.
Oh wait, I saved three of the best for last.

Three drivers are making long hauls and/or flights to be at Riverside International Speedway this weekend. Of the three, J.R. Fitzpatrick is the only one who owns a Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour victory at Riverside International Speedway and returns to take home a second but this time he is bringing his own car. Plain and simple, Jason Hathaway has had the worst luck any driver has had on the Tour in recent memory and will hope to better his 12th place run in the IWK 250 one year ago. If anyone is due, it is Jason Hathaway.

Last but certainly not least, Kenny Wallace will have a lot of eyes on him. Sure, he is the guest driver for the event in the 18w for Nova Racing, but the man can wheel a race car. He just came off the DIRTcar Summer Nationals Tour where he won a race at Terre Haute Action Track and finished second at Macon Speedway.

Kenny will add extra exposure to this race as he has a huge reach on social media but he can wheel a race car like no other. I’m sure his NASCAR on FOX teammate Regan Smith will be keeping an eye on this race Saturday as his title of “only guest driver to ever win the race” could be in jeopardy.

So there you have it - thirty eight drivers with a drive, determination and hunger to win one of the biggest races of the year. This race has played out in so many different ways in the past and this one could be wild, especially if someone misses a shift sometime in the race.

Victory lane is only big enough for one car, so who will win it? If you are playing our Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour Pick the Winner challenge, you know I am one for five on the season but I came close last week with Jonathan Hicken. My mind says Dylan Blenkhorn, but if I am making up points I have to go with Dave O’Blenis, especially with the way he has run here in the past.

Until Saturday, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track.