Five former champions are back, some of the top drivers from the Flathead Valley are entered and a host of hopeful winners grace the super late model lineup for the 27th annual Coors Light Montana 200 auto race this weekend at Montana Raceway Park.
Drivers had a chance to test and tune on a hot Thursday afternoon in preparation for tonight’s qualifying. Temperatures are expected to heat up over the weekend, making for some hot action and fast times on the high-banked, quarter-mile asphalt oval.
“It’s slimy, loose, it’s greasy,” raceway manager Ted Cummins said during the test and tune.
“It’s the same for everyone. At night it cools off and it’s a completely different race track.”
The 200-lap main event Saturday concludes Montana’s richest auto race, which has a total purse of more than $50,000.
The Montana 200 winner will pocket a nice check worth $15,000.
Racing begins tonight at 6 p.m. with super late model qualifying at 7 p.m. Hobby stocks, Legends and Bandoleros will also be sharing the track.
Saturday’s schedule will begin with opening ceremonies at 7 p.m. followed by a 40-lap main event for Hobby Stocks.
Introduction of Montana 200 drivers is set for 7:30 p.m. with the main event starting at 8:30.
Looking to become two-time winners of the Montana 200 are Jeremy Doss (2016), Owen Riddle (2015), Garrett Evans (2014), Shane Mitchell (2011) and Christian Roeder (2004).
Doss, of Upper Lake, California, became the first driver from the Golden State to win this event.
Riddle, Evans, Mitchell and Roeder are all from Washington.
Evans finished second last year with Tayler Riddle of Naches, Washington, third.
Ryan Wells, of Hingham, was fifth a year ago and also returns.
Kalispell drivers who will give it another shot are Agni Howell, Alex Lessor, Brock Denney and Don Staggs.
Howell finished 13th in 2016.
Bodie Morton of Kalispell was seventh, but the fan favorite was not entered as of Thursday, which has 18 total entrants listed.
Snohomish, Washington, driver Gary Lewis has the most Montana 200 wins with four straight from 2007-1010.
John Jefferson (2012, 2006) of Naches, Washington, and Mark Groskreutz (1996, 1993) of Spokane, are the only two-time winners.
Tom Sweatman of Cosmopolis, Washington, is the lone three-time champion (2002, 2000, 1997).
Only four Montana drivers have taken the checkers here — Ken Kaltschmidt (2003) of Marion, Mark Owens (1995) of Libby, Cory Wolfe (1994) of Ronan and Bob Schweigert (1992) of Kalispell.
Mitchell, who pilots car No. 99, already has one victory under his belt at the raceway this summer, winning the Late Model Miller Lite 100 back on June 17. He also broke the track record that night during qualifying with a lap time of 12.866 seconds.
Owens held the old mark of 12.87.
“It could have been a little bit faster,” Mitchell said Thursday of his track record time.
“It can always be better.
“This might be it (final race) this year,” he said of racing in 2017.
“I have lots of things to do in life. We’ll see.”
It could also be his final Montana 200. Mitchell has been racing since he was 14. He turns 42 on Tuesday.
The year he won the 200 it was on his birthday.
In addition to his win here last month, he has two additional victories this season at Pacific Northwest events.
Nicole Behar, who became the first woman to qualify for the Montana 200 main event, is back and is coming off a win at the Freedom 200 last weekend at Stateline Speedway in Post Falls, Idaho. She was 16th at the Montana 200 in 2016.
Behar moved to Moorseville, North Carolina, last year to focus on her racing.
This race was delayed for a day last year because of rain and hail. That marked the first time the Montana 200 was postponed by weather since 2005.
27th Annual Coors Light Montana 200
Entry List After Thursday’s Practice
15 Tayler Riddle, Naches, Wash.
9 Clint Habart, Cranbrook, British Columbia
10 Owen Riddle, Naches, Wash.
48 Preston Peltier, Frazier Park, Calif.
75 Jeremy Doss, Upper Lake, Calif.
53 Alex Lessor, Kalispell
99 Shane Mitchell, Orondo, Wash.
24 Joey Bird, Spokane, Wash.
64 Garrett Evans, East Wenatchee, Wash.
26 John Newhouse, Twin Falls, Idaho
1C Christian Roeder, Ephrata, Wash.
1 Agni Howell, Kalispell
1K Mitch Kleyn, Quincy, Wash.
11 Ryan Wells, Hingham
82 Mike Keogh
33 Nicole Behar, Moorseville, North Carolina
64 Brock Denney, Kalispell
14 Don Staggs, Kalispell