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Doug Pace: Idaho 200 this weekend at Stateline Speedway

Thu., July 31, 2014

The region’s premier late-model event returns to Stateline Speedway with this weekend’s running of the Idaho 200. Known for action-packed racing, locals on equal footing with out-of-town drivers and a little unpredictability, the race has become a fixture on the high-profile regional late-model big-money circuit.

With an entry list highlighted by recent Montana 200 winner and four-time NASCAR champion Garrett Evans and three-time Idaho 200 champion Gary Lewis, the event has the attention of the best drivers in the region.

Evans will be out to win both the Idaho 200 and Montana 200 in the same year. The last driver to accomplish the feat was Lewis in 2010.

Lewis lost an engine prior to qualifying for the Montana 200, marking the first time since 2006 that the four-time late-model touring champion had not competed in the famed event. Getting back on track this weekend has Lewis aiming for success after the recent setback.

“We’ve got our compression motor back together and are ready for the Idaho 200. The team and I had some things we were excited to try for the race in Montana, so we’re looking forward to the weekend to see if our setup is going in the right direction for another Idaho 200 victory,” Lewis said.

Several local drivers will be out to keep the Idaho 200 title in the Inland Empire.

Drivers who call Stateline Speedway home and are expected to contend for the victory include Nicole Behar, Shelby Thompson, David Garber, Braeden Havens, Tom Plybon, Dan Garber, Matt Tarr, Jason O’Neil, Stateline’s late model points leader Justin Popple and Joey Bird

Bird is coming off a Montana 200 weekend that started well but ended earlier than he’d hoped. In only his second attempt to make the prestigious race, the recent University High School graduate posted a time fast enough to be in the starting field without having to run any of the transfer races.

Taking the green flag from the eighth position, Bird was beginning to settle into a racing groove when he was collected on Lap 10 in an eight-car incident. With suspension damage, Bird and his team decided to call it a night and prepare for this weekend, he said.

With the Montana 200 behind him, Bird is humbled at his recent success as he prepares to challenge the best in the business again this weekend.

“Watching all of the top late-model guys since I was a little kid then racing against them now is a dream come true. It’s a big deal for me to racing against them, that’s for sure,” Bird said. “I’m blessed to have the ability and the help from my family, sponsors and fans. They help get me to the races and I’m grateful for that support.”

Earning the Idaho 200 victory will require patience, something Bird has gotten an education on from watching the best late-model drivers in the region, he added.

“I’ve learned that you just have to get through the first 100 laps of these big races,” he said. “If you do that, have some patience and be smart on the track you can be there to compete for the win at a race like the Idaho 200.”

Williams watching

One driver who will be sitting this weekend out will be the defending Idaho 200 champion, Blake Williams. While disappointed to be on the sidelines, the recent West Valley High School graduate is happy to be watching the race at all.

While returning to Spokane over the Fourth of July holiday, Williams was part of an auto accident near Loon Lake that was far more serious than any he’d been involved with on the racetrack.

“A person ran a stop sign, hit my pickup’s left rear tire, which shot me into a pole that then caused me to roll four times down the highway,” Williams explained.

As a result, Williams and his passenger, Christian Bran, were airlifted to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.

Patience will be required over the coming weeks, he noted. Forced to wear a neck brace that has him sidelined from driving or much movement for several months, Williams still has plans to get back to the track sometime this year.

“I do have the brace for six weeks but we’re hoping to race the Las Vegas Bullring Fall Classic (Oct. 25),” he said. “I was looking forward to defending my title this weekend but am more grateful for the support that’s been sent (since his accident).”

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