Newly crowned Inland Northwest Sprint Car Association champion Justin Popple relishes one more chance to run his sprinter and close out the season on a stronger note than when it started in May.
The first annual Northwest Sprint Car Invitational will be held at Columbia Motor Speedway in Hermiston, Ore., on Saturday. Popple, a Spokane native, along with fellow INSCA drivers Tony Berry and Cole Tupling will be among the favorites to take the first 50-lap main event. Also expected in the 24-car starting field will be Ephrata Raceway Park star Mike Fought and Craig Deaver of the Northwest Sprint Car Racing Association.
For Popple to finish Saturday’s race he’d have to see the checkered flag – something he did not take in at the end of his first start of 2009.
“This season has really been somewhat of a challenge,” Popple said. “We have definitely had our ups and downs as a team. We started off by blowing a U-joint at Spokane County Raceway on the first lap of the main event after we’d qualified this Spokane Pump sprinter second quick and showed we’d have a car to beat in the main. … It was an uphill battle from there, and we had some valve train issues in the engine and other minor mechanical things come up over the year.
“All in all it was a decent season, and we know heading into this first-ever Northwest Sprint Car Invitational that we’ll need a little luck on our side to continue to do what we’ve been doing to be successful in our run to the INSCA championship.”
Popple got his start in winged sprint cars by running dirt mini-sprinters across the Northwest and said there is a big difference between running asphalt and taking on the clay ovals of the region.
“The main difference is probably the suspension in the cars,” he said. “Most dirt cars are a torsion bar suspension and the asphalt (sprint) cars are generally coil-over (shocks and springs), which tends to react much quicker and seems to be more responsive to changes.
“An asphalt car will carry speeds much higher through the corners then what they’re doing on dirt. All I know is the asphalt sprint cars can really fly around the race track.”
Running in quarter midgets then transferring to motorcycles and go-karts led Popple to many successes along the way. Taking some time off before returning to sprint car racing in a family-run operation has been enjoyable over the years, he said.
Having the opportunity to put everything together en route to a championship in only his third INSCA season has been rewarding, Popple said.
“I have only run the INSCA series since 2007 where I finished second to Tony Berry then struggled the next season with a sixth-place run in points, so to be the 2009 champion is something I am very pleased with,” he said. “I know my father (Larry, who died last season and was a big INSCA supporter) is looking down right now on me with a big grin on his face.”
Some of the region’s best sprint car drivers take the green flag in Hermiston at 3 p.m. Saturday for the inaugural running of the Northwest Sprint Car Invitational. The race is one of the final circle track events in the Northwest and features a full program of action. For ticket and other information, go to www.columbiamotorspeedway.com