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I-5 Tour's tripleheader highlights big weekend

July 2, 2009, 2:38 pm
By Kevin Kovac
DIRTcar Racing

Another holiday weekend means another big tripleheader for the Northwest I-5 DIRTcar Late Model Tour.

Silent since its magnificent 2009 debut over the Memorial Day holiday, the series roars back into action this weekend with an Independence Day celebration of speed. Three consecutive nights of racing in Oregon are scheduled, beginning Friday (July 3) at Southern Oregon Speedway in Medford and continuing on Saturday (July 4) at Willamette Speedway in Lebanon and Sunday (July 5) at Cottage Grove Speedway.

Each track is hosting the Northwest I-5 DIRTcar Late Model Tour as part of special holiday-weekend programs, adding more momentum to a series that already has plenty of good vibes flowing around it. The tour opened on May 22 at Cottage Grove with a 39-car field, then drew 47 and 44 cars on back-to-back nights (May 23-24) at Willamette.

“There's a lot of talk on the West Coast about the Northwest I-5 DIRTcar Late Model Tour after the opening weekend of the season in (late) May had such great car counts and exciting racing,” said Chris Morgan, the director of DIRTcar Racing's operations out West. “We're off to a very positive start and we're expecting to continue the momentum with more great turnouts for this weekend's three races in Oregon.”

The Beaver State swing kicks off Friday with the Firecracker 50 at Southern Oregon Speedway. The third-mile track's annual extra-distance, holiday-weekend event will feature dirt Late Models for the first time this season.

“The Firecracker 50 has traditionally been our biggest event of the season and we're really delighted that the Northwest I-5 DIRTcar Late Model Tour is part of it this year,” said Richard Barney, who in 2009 is operating Southern Oregon Speedway with Ric Donnelly under the banner of B&D Racing. “We're expecting the largest Late Model car count in the 13-year history of Southern Oregon Speedway, so we're definitely excited to bring a show of this magnitude to the valley.”

The Friday-night card at Southern Oregon — a cornerstone track for UMP DIRTcar Racing-sanctioned Modified racing in the Northwest — will also include a spectacular fireworks display set to patriotic music.

On the Fourth of July, the series moves just over 200 miles north to Willamette Speedway for a scheduled 40-lap event. Well-known as the Northwest's weekly hotbed of dirt Late Model racing under the direction of veteran promoter Bill Arnold, Willamette's first Northwest I-5 DIRTcar Late Model Tour event of '09 drew the largest field of any Dirt Late Model event held this season on the West Coast and could even top that turnout on Saturday night.

“It's no secret that this is Late Model country,” Arnold said. “We have a real talented bunch of drivers that race here every week and we're expecting some teams from California to come up and make the field even stronger.”

The busy weekend concludes on Sunday with the second I-5 event of the season at Cottage Grove. A quarter-mile oval located about 60 miles south of Willamette, Cottage Grove's 30-lap event will close out a huge three-day weekend of racing at the track promoted by former sprint car driver Brian Crockett. The 360 sprint car division headlines the Friday and Saturday shows before the Late Models take center stage.

Jeremy Shank of Salem, Ore., sits at the top of the series points standings entering the weekend after sandwiching a victory on May 23 at Willamette with a pair of runner-up finishes. He holds a 32-point advantage (476-444) over John Duty of Portland, Ore., who finished second to Shank at Willamette.

Positions 3-10 in the standings entering the weekend are Mike Miller of Springfield, Ore. (422 points), Rick Wyatt of Salem, Ore. (403), Ryan Gerig of Lebanon, Ore. (400), Justin Dittman of Turner, Ore. (366), May 24 Willamette winner Brett McCutcheon of Sweet Home, Ore. (359), Mark Carrell of Redmond, Ore. (330), Paul Culp of Springfield, Ore. (325) and Russ Sell of Brownsville, Ore. (323).

Several California-based drivers who compete in Western Allstars DIRTcar Late Model Series events are also expected to haul north to challenge the Northwest I-5 Tour stars, including Matt and Ken Michelli of Live Oak, Calif., Nick Bartels of El Segundo, Calif., and Clay Daly of Watsonville, Calif.

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