Thompson knows up, downs of Montana 200

Shelby Thompson has experienced the highs and the lows of the Montana 200.

Bolstered by his win of the inaugural Spokane 200 last September, Thompson and his Spokane-based team have high hopes heading into the 22nd annual Montana 200 Saturday night at Montana Raceway Park in Kalispell. The region’s best will race for a $15,000 payday and more than $50,000 in total purse in what is widely considered the most prestigious late model stock car event in the region.

Thompson has finished as high as third and has also failed to qualify. He missed the race last year because of car damage in the qualifier.

“There are so many good drivers that come to compete in the Montana 200 and they make the qualifying times so close on Friday night that it means if you have one slip you could be outside the locked-in 16 positions and have to race your way into the show,” Thompson said. “If you’re having to race into the 200 itself that means going hard while avoiding a wreck that can end your night and thus your weekend.”

Thompson bounced back last summer in his Don Williams-owned Chevrolet, winning the first Spokane 200. The allure at history is the biggest reason he competes in the Montana 200.

“You want to win this race and be on the list of guys who’ve done it and get their name on the back of the T-shirt the tracks does each year commemorating the race,” he said.

Being in the field of 24 is something Thompson knows he is capable of doing. Strong driving skills, great equipment prepared by Newman Lake’s Kevin Richards, a solid teammate in Blake Williams and some good breaks are what’s needed, Thompson said.

“It takes all of those things in combination with a little racing luck to make the 200, let alone win it,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to run in the front of a 200 a time or two and know we can do it again this weekend. You just need a fast car and the racing luck on your side to make it happen.”

The race crowned a new champion in 2011 with Shane Mitchell dispatching Gary Lewis, who had won the event four consecutive years.

Expect to see plenty of familiar faces from the area, including defending ICAR Late Model Series champion Blake Williams, reigning Spokane County Raceway champion Erick Hargraves, defending Inland Northwest Super Stock Association title holder Braeden Havens and multiple INSSA champion David Garber.

All bring interesting story lines to the 200 and each looks to add their name next to Marc Groskreutz, the only driver from Spokane to win a Montana 200.

Williams qualified for the Montana 200 on his first attempt in 2010 and set the record as the youngest driver to make the race (15 years old). That was broken last summer by Calgary’s Cameron Hayley, who turned 15 one week prior to the Montana 200 and now competes on the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. Havens, another K&N Pro Series driver, will join Hayley on a brief break from NASCAR. Havens earned a pole award in a late model start at Montana Raceway Park in May.

Garber returns in Dan Yonke’s Pontiac. Last fall the Spokane native and 30-year veteran was in the thick of the track’s late model championship when he was involved in an incident that damaged his race car beyond repair. Yonke stepped up and offered Garber his race car and the combination went onto finish in the top three points standings at MRP while also running near the front of the pack all night in the Spokane 200.

In June, Garber again made contact with the MRP retaining wall and again lost his car for the remainder of the season. Yonke was there ready to help and stepped up with his Pontiac for this weekend’s event.

Fans can keep track of their favorite late model driver through Montana Raceway Park’s website, which will offer live timing and scoring along with an app that can be downloaded to a mobile device.

Follow The Spokesman-Review’s motorsports coverage online at Email Doug Pace at racingnewssource or follow him on Twitter @racingnewsource.

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