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Keeping Pace

FRIDAY, JULY 17, 2009, 6 A.M.

Late-model big purse events arrive

Gary Lewis made history in 2008 as he became the only driver to sweep the Idaho and Montana 200's two straight years.

By Doug Pace

The Spokesman-Review

Inland Empire late-model big purse events kick off this weekend with the running of the Montana 200 in Kalispell, Mont. and wraps up with the Aug. 2 Idaho 200 at Stateline Speedway. For fans it’s easy to know who the defending champion is of each as the same driver has won both events for two straight seasons – Gary Lewis.

Lewis made history in 2008 as he became the only driver to sweep both events two straight years. The 38-year old Snohomish, Wash., native led the ASA Northwest Late Model Tour stop in June at Stateline Speedway until a mechanical issue cropped up in his Sign Factory USA Chevrolet that relegated him to a last-place finish. The last two trips to Montana, which came last summer, resulted in main-event victories.

“We’ve had some tough luck with a few races. Some we were out front and should have won only to be bit by a mechanical issues and a few that we just missed on, but we’re ready to go for both the Montana and Idaho 200s and are hoping to continue with the history and be the only driver to win three straight at each event,” Lewis said. “The key for us to win both races rests with having a good crew and keeping everything under us during those 200-lap races.”

Inland Empire drivers heading to Montana for their chance at the $12,000 winner’s check include David Garber, Shelby Thompson and Kevin Richards.

Richards earned the pole award in last year’s Montana 200 only to suffer an engine problem that dropped him out of contention in the race’s first segment.

Thompson led a majority of last year’s first segment but suffered with an ill-handling car in the second 100 and rode out a third- place finish.

Garber, who won the Fire- cracker 125 at Montana Raceway Park just two weeks ago, is hoping to use that momentum to his advantage. In 2008 the two-time INSSA champion had to race his way into the field with a win in the Montana 200 consolation dash then used that opportunity to come home with a top-10 finish in the 200-lap main event.

Thompson has one victory this season behind the wheel of his Valley Bowl Chevrolet, which came at Stateline Speedway’s quarter-mile. While not running a full-season schedule in 2009, Thompson has circled the Idaho 200 and Montana 200 as potential race victories. Tires will be a factor in those opportunities for victory.

“We just have to have a good set of tires to bolt on in the second half that matches what we have in the first,” he said. “You’ve got to stay out of trouble which is a big key to winning (either 200) and hope the car is there at the end.”

Winged Sprint Cars

ASA Northwest Winged Sprint Car racing invades Spokane County Raceway this weekend and the likes of Matt Hein and Rick Brown will be favorites it might be local driver Tony Berry who comes out on top when the checkered flag flies.

Berry, who just returned from a two-week honeymoon, has won an Inland Northwest Sprint Car Association race on the SCR half-mile and was the INSCA points leader prior to his nuptials that coincided with the series’ July 4 stop at Mission Valley Speedway in Ronan, Mont.

“We’re waiting to get our big horsepower motor back for this race,” Berry said. “If we don’t then we’ll throw in our INSCA motor and get out and see what we can do. This race will have cars with over 800 horsepower that could get out there and turn some fast laps so it will be an awesome show.”

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Keeping Pace

Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.