August 26, 2013 – By Jacob Seelman for Speed 77 Radio and RaceChaser Online – Erie, Penn. – In just a couple of weeks’ time, the town of Erie, Pennsylvania will undergo a weekend facelift, going from a typical metropolitan city of just over 100,000 people to becoming the hub of grassroots racing for a four-day period.
All eyes in short track racing will turn to the four-tenths mile Lake Erie Speedway on September 12th for the 22nd Annual US Legend Car Asphalt Nationals, the most prestigious event in Legends Car racing. And when you go the Asphalt Nationals, every driver has one goal, and only one goal, in mind: To win, on the biggest stage in Legend Car competition.
As many as 75 drivers are anticipated to turn out for the national championship race that will play a pivotal role in determining the 2013 US Legend Car National Champions, but could also produce some surprises before all the action is said and done. Here’s a look at the picture right now across the four divisions:
In Young Lions, the battle for the national points lead has only in the last couple of weeks begun to subside with William Byron of Charlotte, NC, carrying a 36-point advantage over a tie for second in the standings. Byron, who over the weekend notched his 19th full-field win of 2013 at Concord Speedway, is confident that even though his team has been lacking just a little bit in recent weeks, that they will have him ready for a chance to win Nationals.
“We’ve just been down a little bit on speed the last couple rounds when we’ve raced up north, but I’m not concerned about it. Dennis Lambert and my team are working on the car and we’re going to be ready to roll at Erie. I think we’ll have a great shot to win it.”
The picture looks largely similar in Semi-Pro, with Canadian Ryan Mackintosh holding a 29-point margin over Georgian Riley Thornton with two weeks to go before the big show. Mackintosh has been consistent all season long, with 13 full-field wins to his credit in 2013, and comes off a recent class win on August 10th at Concord Speedway. The Canadian will be looking for the Nationals win to cement his case for the 2013 Semi-Pro National Championship.
In the Masters division, Louisiana’s Chris Freeland carries the points torch headed into the month of September, on the strength of nine full-field victories in 2013. Freeland has raced primarily at the Texas Motor Speedway in 2013, winning six times there this season, but preps for Nationals with his last Texas triumph coming August 3rd. He’ll look to hold off fellow veterans Carl Blandina (Connecticut) and Dewayne Irwin (Texas) as well as a host of other challengers for his first career Nationals checkered flag.
The only division with a truly-defined outlook is the Pro category. While others still have a chance to take the titles in the former three divisions, 16-year-old Jason Irwin (New Mexico) has silenced all comers in the Pro class, notching his 25th full-points win July 27th at NAPA Speedway and maximizing his points total for the 2013 season. All he has to do to ensure the championship hardware at the end-of-season banquet is win the Pro feature at Nationals. Doing so, combined with his 2500 point total, automatically clinches Irwin the 2013 championship.
However, any driver knows it’s never that simple, and Irwin will have to hold off a host of hard chargers to claim the Nationals checkers, including Baiden Heskett (Texas), his chief championship rival, Clayton Green, also out of the Lone Star State, and Floridians Jordan Black and Joey Padgett, who have put up solid numbers this season for the FAB Specialties racing team.
Of course, with so much intensity in the air and prestige on the line, you can never count out a possible surprise winner from the normal points contenders. In Young Lions, keep an eye on Michael Torres. The Florida native shocked the masses by winning the Summer Shootout title as a rookie this season, and heads to Nationals with a lot of confidence after proving that he could withstand the intense pressure this season at Charlotte.
In Semi-Pro, look for Jay Coen to be a contender for FAB Specialties. After scoring the biggest win of his career earlier this year at the Summer Shootout at Charlotte, he followed it up with back-to-back wins at Atlanta, and added a fourth win at Bowman-Gray Stadium to close out the Summer. He thrives on the big stage, and he’ll have something to prove before moving up to the Pro class.
And in Masters, if Carl Cormier makes the trip to Erie, he could be a dark horse after thriving in this season’s Summer Shootout at Charlotte. He finished top-five in points there, and knows how to get to Victory Lane under pressure
So, with all the storylines to follow, who will take home the trophies at weekend’s end? That’s a question that no one has the answer to right now. But one thing is certain. Every driver converging on Erie, Pennsylvania in three weeks time will be doing so for one reason: