(Aug. 15, 2017) The much anticipated Night of Champions is scheduled for this Saturday night at Speedway 660. The 2017 divisional champs and rookie of the year award winners will be decided in the final point race of the season. In this week’s Conversation we meet several former Speedway 660 champions.
A Conversation with a few champs!
Rick Cashol: My first championship was a long time ago before most of these guys started racing and before some of them were even born. It was 1976 down at Hammond River. The older you get, I think the more they mean to you, because they get harder to get. We haven’t won one at Speedway 660 since 2011 and I sure would like to win another one, but right now the way we’re running, I would be happy just to win a feature.
The competition is always fierce here at 660 and heading into the Night of Champions in 2010 there were five of us who had a shot at the title. “Smokin Joe” Albert and I had some hard fought battles over the years. Mike Francis, Peter Gaddess and I were separated by three points one year going into the final feature. I didn’t always end up winning a championship – I think I lost three on the last day up here. It sure would be nice to get one more because I think I’ve only got a couple of years left in me as far as racing goes, but it will be hard. Rick Cashol has won the Speedway 660 Street Stock championship five times! He sure would like to get number six before hanging up the helmet and ending his Hall of Fame career.
Dave O’Blenis: I think it was 2004 when we won our first championship at Speedway 660. I had been in Pro Stock since 98 and had been runnin a few years without winning one. I had won some Sportsman titles at the old Riverglade Speedway, but winning that first Pro Stock title here was pretty special because at that time we didn’t know if we would ever get one. That’s the most memorable one for me. These things are not easy to win, people sometimes forget just how much competition there is here at 660.
The way the point system is structured it almost always comes right down to the Night of Champions before it is finally decided. And if you have one bad night, during the season, that could be all it takes to knock you right out of contention. On the Night of Champions you have to battle the nerves. It’s always exciting and sometimes it’s better to be the guy leading the points, going into the final race and sometimes it’s best to be the guy with the momentum making up points. My advice for anyone in contention is to go out and have fun, savour the moment if you do win it because it’s a big deal – it’s hard to do and definitely something to be proud of.In 2014 Dave O’Blenis became the only driver in Speedway 660 history to win three championships in a row. Dave, who has five Pro Stock titles here, is tied with Brian Gillespie and Rick Cashol for the most championships in one division.
Bradley Logan: Winning a championship is quite a thing, I mean making a commitment to come race every week and being competitive takes a lot of work. Winning that first championship, I think it was in 96 was huge. Back then we running 26 cars in the features and you had to start at the back every week if you were up in the points. In those days our features were only 30 laps instead of the 40 they run today, so it was tough to come to the front. It was a lot of fun though and it made for great racing. I always hated watching the points because it made me nervous and sometimes that led to mistakes. After awhile I learned to come to the track prepared, race hard and just get what we could get.
These kids today are really good. I have a blast watching my young fella race and maybe one day he’ll win a championship. I’m not putting any pressure on him, but he’s a good young driver and he’ll have a shot at a championship one of these years. Bradley Logan has three Sportsman championship at Speedway 660. These days he supports his son Jacob, who was our Sportsman Rookie of the Year Award winner in 2016.
John Rankin: Winning that championship back in 09 was pretty special and certainly one of the top days of my life for sure. There was a lot of stress and at the end of the day Michael Banks and I were tied in the points, but we had more feature wins and that was the tie-breaker. The competition is intense here at Speedway 660. The Martin’s Home Heating Sportsman division traditionally has been a tough championship to win.
I try not to think about it because it does stress you out a bit, but you just come to the track prepared and go out and race hard every week and see where that takes you. I love to drive a race car but my nerves are so bad that I get sick to my stomach almost every week. I just keep telling myself to do the best I can, but there’s a lot of stuff you can’t control. John Rankin is proud of that 2009 Sportsman championship. It was the closest points battle in the history of Speedway 660 and needed a tie-breaker to determine the winner.
Ashton Tucker: Winning a championship at Speedway 660 is huge, we’ve only got the one Bandolero title but it just boosts your confidence as a driver and the confidence of the entire race team. You try to treat the Night of Champions as just another point race, but that’s hard to do if you are in contention for a title. The same goes for Rookie of the Year awards.
If you’ve got a shot at a title or rookie award, on the Night of Champions, there is a lot of pressure, but you’ve got to stay calm, drive your own race and see what that gets you. It would mean a lot for me, my Dad and everyone who helps us to win a Pro Stock title, but it will probably take a lot of years to get one because the competition here is so tough. It’s never easy to come away with feature wins or championships at this place.Ashton Tucker says the Rookie of the Year Awards are right up there with championships. The 2015 Bandolero champ had a big run on the Night of Champions a year ago to claim the Pro Stock Rookie of the Year Award.
Glenn Rasmussen: That first championship is something I will never forget. Early on in my career I drove hard and usually either wrecked or broke something, but in 2000 everything worked for us and we got the first of four Pro Stock championships here. I enjoyed all of those championships and looking back now, probably that last one in 2007 ranks right up there with the first one because by that time my kids were getting older and could share in the celebrations.
Winning titles never gets old, but they sure are stressful especially on the Night of Champions. Man oh man, I was so nervous during the feature when we won that first title, your mind wants to think of all the things that could go wrong, instead of the things that could go right. It does get a little easier with experience and a good crew chief, spotter and team can help keep you calm and focused.Glenn Rasmussen, who is now a mentor for his son Ian, won four Pro Stock titles at Speedway 660 between 2000 and 2007. The driver from New Denmark and his Big Black Dodge dominated the Pro Stock Division in the early years of the new century!
Kyle McKinnon: The Sharp Shooter division is a lot of fun, but it’s competitive too. There’s a lot of good drivers here and if you can win a championship that’s a big thing. Last year it went right down to the wire and I sure was excited when it was over and we won the championship. I don’t get too nervous, as a matter of fact, when I get around the race car at the track and even in the shop, I just get happy. It’s my happy spot, it’s my hobby, it’s what I like to do.
Those titles are hard to come by. I was hoping this year that I might be able to become the first guy to win back-to-back championships in the Sharp Shooter Division, but the competition is tough. Kyle Boudreau wants the championship too, so I’m going to go out and try to win that last feature and see what that gets me.Kyle McKinnon won the Sharp Shooter championship a year ago. He knows he’s got to have a Big Night of Champions this Saturday to win it in back-to-back years.
Greg Fahey: It’s what you work for all year long and if you have good runs during the season and keep up on the maintenance of the car you can pull it off, but you’ve got to have a little luck too. That first Street Stock title in 2002 was pretty special. My stomach was in knots all day long because the points were so close. We had to finish ahead of Peter Gaddess to win it and we ended up one spot in front of him and I remember we had a big celebration that night.
Winning titles in Street Stock, Sportsman and Pro Stock divisions is a big accomplishment. It’s not just me, all of the teams I’ve worked with over the years deserve a lot of credit for all those championships. There are some great drivers here at Speedway 660 and I am proud to have been able to win one and I guess seven is even better. We’re currently tied with Brian Gillespie for the most championships here and even though it won’t happen this year, we’ll be back in 2018 to try to break the tie.One year ago Greg Fahey claimed his fourth Pro Stock championship at Speedway 660. Combine that with one Sportsman and two Street Stock crowns and Greg is tied with Brian Gillespie with seven titles!
Ryan Messer: It’s pretty special as a driver to win a title at Speedway 660. There are a lot of good drivers and race teams who compete here full time, so to win a title in any division means you’ve had an exceptional season. On the Night of Champions I always just go out and do what I always do. I think it’s important to keep the same race day routine that you always have and for me I always seem to like those pressure situations.
Winning that Martin’s Home Heating Sportsman championship last year, after winning rookie of the year the previous season, was huge for us. I didn’t ever expect to win the title going into last season, because we had only won our first feature on the Night of Champions the year before. So to go from one feature win to five, including the 150 on SpeedWeekend, was pretty crazy. But now it’s a whole different ball game up here in Pro Stock. There’s just so many good drivers and you’ve got to face them every week. But I’m having fun, I’ve got good sponsors and a good team so it’s pretty special.Ryan Messer won the 2016 Sportsman title at Speedway 660 to go with his 2010 Bandolero title. Ryan also won the 2015 Sportsman Rookie of the Year award and he’s poised to win 2017 Pro Stock rookie honours on Saturday night.
Shawn Tucker: It feels great to win a title – it’s a lot of work but in the end if you pull it off the hard work was worth it. It’s not just the driver who deserves credit, it’s the whole crew and sponsors too. It’s a family thing for us so when you win a championship you get to share it as a family.
You try to treat the final point race like any other race, but if you said you didn’t think about it, you’d be lying to people. So it definitely is on your mind, but once you get in the car and the race starts you do what you always do and hopefully when the checkered flag comes out you’ve earned enough points to win a title. Winning a championship at Speedway 660 is really a big deal. The class of cars and drivers is really good. In Pro Stock alone we had six different feature winners in the first six events this season, so that just shows how even the competition is. Shawn Tucker, winner of one Speedway 660 championship and three Parts for Trucks Pro Stock titles, also has won the Pro Stock 250 on SpeedWeekend three times!
Brian Gillespie: Championships mean a lot while you are racing, but I think they mean even more when you look back at them after you retire. We won one Sportsman championship without winning a feature one year and the next year the only feature we won was on the Night of Champions and we needed that to get another title. Brian MacNaughton beat us by two points one year and we beat him by a couple of points once.
Racing takes up all of your time. I didn’t realize that until I retired from the sport. I also didn’t realize there were so many other things to do. I went fishing for the first time in 30 years after I retired and last year I got a moose. Didn’t have time to go to the camp or much else when I was racing.
But I loved my time in the sport. It was a blast. Karen and I still go to the track once in awhile and its nice to see my old racin buddies and all of the new young talent at Speedway 660. Brian Gillespie is a legend at Speedway 660. He won Street Stock titles in 1994 & 95 and Sportsman championships in 98, 02, 03, 07 and 08! Brian and his famous “Nackawic Nite Train” were a dominate force in the Geary Woods for many years.
The 2017 Night of Champions is this Saturday. Racing gets underway at 6:30PM, so make sure you head down to the Geary Woods to check it out!