Saturday’s Montana 212 for the stars of Super Late Model racing has attracted a stellar entry list, with Inland Empire drivers among some being considered as contenders for the $5,000 winner’s check.
NASCAR K&N Pro Series driver Cameron Hayley is the defending race winner, but with a race scheduled in North Carolina this weekend he will not be back to defend the Montana late-model title.
Drivers to watch who call Spokane home include Nicole Behar (the first woman to qualify for the Montana 200), David Garber, Shelby Thompson, defending Idaho 200 champion Blake Williams and Braeden Havens.
Held on the high banks of Kalispell’s Montana Raceway Park, the race runs the distance of the more famous Montana 200 with an extra 12 laps thrown in. It includes a halfway break near Lap 106. Strategy and setup play an important role in winning the event, Havens said.
“The approach to the (Montana) 212 is not much different than the Montana 200,” he said. “You need to qualify up front, keep the car under you when you roll through those high-banked corners, negotiate traffic and try to keep it all in one piece as the night goes on. It’s funny because that’s really what our focus has been as a race team, and this season the results show it’s working.”
Havens has posted back-to-back top-three finishes in his two most recent events and has not finished outside the top 10 running order during the 2014 late-model season. Several of those races were held on quarter-mile racetracks, just as the Montana 212 will be.
“I grew up running the quarter-mile at Stateline (Speedway) and it’s a familiar layout for me,” the 20-year-old said. “We’ve got a good late-model program for the bigger tracks where we’re getting strong results there as well. I think the key to the improvement for me as a driver has been getting more experience each year and the runs we’ve had since joining the NASCAR K&N Pro Series (in 2012).”
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series features cars that weigh more than 3,000 pounds, have steel or composite bodies, have engines producing more than 700 horsepower and often have been built by elite teams such Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports, who built the Chevrolet that Havens races. Havens’ No. 82 was built for Danica Patrick before he acquired the car in 2012.
By comparison, late-model cars weigh in at a maximum of 2,900 pounds, are covered by fiberglass bodies and have engines producing close to 600 horsepower.
The NASCAR experiences will be important as Havens prepares for the late model- based 212 this weekend.
“NASCAR races are always filled with the best drivers from across the country,” he said. “When you unload at a K&N event, you have to be ready to challenge from the moment practice starts to the drop of the checkered flag. The big late-model races we compete at here on the West Coast are no different. If you’re not ready to go when the day starts, it could make for a long weekend.”
Havens’ summer will require focus on both his late-model and K&N programs.
Scheduled to begin his K&N season in July, that date is wrapped around by appearances at Monroe’s Evergreen Speedway for their late-model Summer Showdown, a return to Montana for the 200, Stateline’s Idaho 200 on the first weekend of August while also going back to Evergreen for the track’s K&N event in mid-August.
“It’s a busy time for the team and me with so much going on this summer,” Havens said. “We’ve got all of the preparation of the K&N car entering the final stages so we can get it onto a track and shake it down, since it hasn’t been on track for six months (November in Phoenix). Our late-model cars are ready to go and the tracks we’re heading to have produced some of my best finishes. Evergreen is where I posted my best run ever on the K&N Pro Series (third place) and I’ve gotten a good feel for it over the last two years.”