The region’s two big late-model races kick off this weekend with the running of the 23rd annual Montana 200 in Kalispell leading up to the 14th annual Idaho 200 at Stateline Speedway on Aug. 3.
Area drivers heading to Big Sky country for their chance at winning include David Garber, Braeden Havens, Blake Williams, Nicole Behar and Joey Bird. The group looks to return the prestigious trophy to the Inland Empire for the first time since Marc Groskreutz’s win in 1996.
Garber, Williams and Havens all raced in last year’s event, but this will be Behar and Bird’s first attempt to make the 24-car field. More than 40 cars are expected to challenge for the coveted starting positions.
Fans looking for an early favorite should focus on a local driver. Garber won the most recent late model event at Montana Raceway Park on July 6 and has plenty of momentum heading into the weekend.
“The win was huge for me and our Pend Oreille Mechanical team as we’ve had a tough couple of years, what with my car being destroyed in 2011 then again last year,” Garber said. “To be able to go into Montana Raceway Park, beat their locals and the guys from out of the area in the race right before the 200 is big. We know what worked that night and see that as an advantage preparing for this weekend.”
This is not the first time Garber has won the Firecracker 125 and geared up for success in the 200.
Garber earned the 125-lap victory in 2009 and stormed through his qualifying races to make the 24-car Montana 200 field. Putting together a solid run that night netted the Spokane native a top-15 finish. Looking to duplicate the feat would be tremendous for the three-time Inland Northwest Super Stock Association champion.
“To be honest, in 2009 we had to work real hard to make the race and do a lot of adjusting to the car from what we ran two weeks prior to get that (Firecracker) 125 win,” Garber said. “I’m not saying that’s not weighing on my mind heading into this weekend, but you have to go race the Montana 200 wide open from the beginning of practice on Thursday afternoon to the end of Saturday’s main event and be prepared to do some tinkering.”
Garber brings to each race a solid crew, including one person who has connections to the only Spokane driver to the win the Montana 200. Marc Groskreutz’s father, Gary, is a member of Garber’s team and plays a key role in preparing the car.
“Gary has been around this sport for a long time,” Garber said. “He’s always been a big help to me and in racing a little luck doesn’t hurt, so why not have him in our pits to help try and chase the 200 trophy down and bring it back to Spokane?”
The chance to win the Montana 200 requires everything to go in a driver’s favor: a perfect set-up, solid crew and even a little racing luck, Garber said.
“To be successful at the Montana 200, the biggest key is to use patience in working through traffic in the qualifying races so you don’t do any damage to the car,” Garber said. “The best thing a driver can do is lock themselves into the main event through the top-14 fastest qualifiers. Having a car that handles in time trials then turning around and getting it to respond to a race set-up is a big challenge, and the driver along with their crew that beats that challenge will win. Can we do that? I don’t know, but every year our Concrete Cutter’s Pontiac is the best we can make it to try and so far we’ve had some decent runs.”
The Montana 200 begins tonight with qualifying and positioning races followed by the 200-lap main event Saturday night. Fans that can’t attend in person can log onto one of racing’s most popular websites, RacingWest.com, for live coverage.
Follow Doug Pace and area racing news at spokesman.com/blogs/keepingpace