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Repeat would cap Hargraves’ year

The defending champion of Yakima Speedway’s Fall Classic has had quite a ride since that fateful day one year ago.

Erick Hargraves has moved from Toppenish, Wash., to Coeur d’Alene and enrolled at North Idaho College; earned a win on the prestigious ARCA West Late Model Challenge Series; finished runner-up to Gary Lewis at the Idaho 200; and become engaged.

With his nuptials to Sandpoint’s Jennifer Allard just two weeks away, planning for that big event has all but been completed, Hargraves said.

Still weighing on the 25-year-old’s mind is a chance to make history this weekend and repeat as Fall Classic champion.

While most teams face the pressure of performing in the region’s biggest late model event – Hargraves finds this year’s race carrying less pressure when coupled with the last 12 months’ worth of success.

“Going into the Fall Classic is more fun because we won it last year,” Hargraves said. “I am not saying that I won’t put any more pressure on myself, but fans in the stands, sponsors at the race and Yakima being my home track all makes this a big race. Heck, anyone who’s won something like this wants to repeat but I know you have to be in the right place at the right time and have a little luck to win.”

With a strong season under its belt, Hargraves sees his team positioned well for a continued breakout year. Already winners at Yakima in a June late model race, the Magic Metals race team has a baseline to work from for the three-day Fall Classic weekend.

“We’re no longer a one-track wonder,” Hargraves said. “When this team rolls into a race, we are mentioned every week as someone who could win. I truly think that going from just running a local division to having success on the traveling series has made our team better at any race we enter.”

Rick Schultz, in 1993, became the only Inland Empire driver to have won the Fall Classic. Spokane drivers Dave Garber and Shelby Thompson also plan to chase a Fall Classic win this weekend. As the region’s newest late model star, Hargraves would like to come out on top of his chief local rivals.

“Having moved to Coeur d’Alene makes me feel like an out-of-town driver heading back to Yakima,” he said. “In years past, we could fine-tune our setup at the track, but with running the ARCA West series and not living there anymore I really haven’t gotten the chance to build an advantage.”

Heading into the team’s final race of 2008, there is no doubt that Hargraves plans to close out the season standing in Yakima’s victory circle one more time.

“I guess the older I get the more I have noticed the years are starting to fly by,” Hargraves said. “You have to enjoy every moment you have in racing.

“It’s a lot of hard work and dedication, and with going to college and planning a future it makes you wonder where all of that leaves racing.

“I don’t know where life is going to go, but I am lucky to have been doing this for the last eight years and I know I don’t plan on quitting anytime soon. You do have to look at the future and wonder which way life is going to go, so a win in this year’s Fall Classic would be a really great way to close out the season,” added the education major.

Support from sponsors has put Hargraves into a position capable of winning races every week and a second Fall Classic.

“To have Magic Metals, Solid Rock Trucking and Rick’s Garage behind me this season has really helped to get our team in the right direction toward being contenders every week,” he said.

“Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do this, so I owe them a lot.”

Yakima Speedway’s Fall Classic weekend kicks off tonight with the Race of Champions, followed by Saturday’s Hobby Stock and Limited Late Model races. Sunday features the Street Stock finale and the 200-lap Fall Classic Super Late Model event.

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You can reach Doug Pace via e-mail: racingnotes