(July 18, 2017) The Firecracker 150 is up next at Speedway 660. After a weekend off, everyone is pretty excited to get back to the Geary Woods, especially the Martin’s Home Heating Sportsman drivers. The Firecracker 150 is always an exciting race and this year will be no exception. In this week’s edition of the Conversation, we talk with several Sportsman drivers who are looking forward to the race.
A Conversation With….
I feel pretty good heading into the Firecracker and am really looking forward to it. We struggled the first couple of weeks of the season, but changed the set-up on the car and have improved quite a bit since then. That feature win, last time out on July 8th, really gives our team confidence going into this weekend. After a bit of a slow start to the 2017 season Alexandra O’Blenis is finally hitting her stride. A Martin’s Home Heating 40 lap feature win, a couple of weeks ago, has this young lady hoping for another checkered flag in the Firecracker 150 on Saturday night!
I like the longer races because they are more of a momentum race and you don’t have to be up on the wheel the whole time, you can kinda sit back and ride around and wait for the race to come to you. It seems like some guys think you can win the Firecracker on the first lap, so I sit back a bit and let them go. Sometimes they wreck and sometimes they wear their stuff out too early. For me it’s a strategy race where you save your stuff for the last 25 or 30 laps and then see what you can do.
This is my second year in the Martin’s Home Heating Sportsman division, so this will be my second Firecracker 150. I’m pretty excited heading into the race, very excited actually because last year we didn’t get to finish the race so my goal is to finish this one. The competition in Sportsman is very strong this year. John Rankin is back in our division and he is a former champion who knows how to win. We’ve now got two O’Blenis cars and Drew Greenlaw is always strong too.Ryan Raynes had a lot of success in the Street Stock division before moving up to Sportsman. He’s anxious to run his second Firecracker 150 and hopes to get a good finish in the race.
Everyone running in our division right now is a good driver and is very competitive. The biggest lesson I had to learn in Sportsman is that you just can’t be over aggressive. In Street Stock being aggressive is part of the game, but up here there’s a lot more respect among the drivers and you just can’t beat on each other like they do in Street Stock.
I’ve got mixed feelings going into the Firecracker 150. Definitely excited to get out there and show a little bit of what I’ve learned as a driver, but it’ll be a little intimidating too because it’s pretty tough jumping from a Sharp Shooter to a Sportsman. In Sharp Shooter you take the green flag and just go as hard as you can until the checkers fly, but in Sportsman you’ve got to manage your tires and brakes and make sure you don’t use up your stuff too early. I’m hoping this race will be a learning experience and help me build on to what I’ve learned so far.Curtis Collins got his very first podium in a Sportsman car just two weeks ago. This young first year Sportsman driver knows his biggest test will come this weekend, when he buckles up for the Firecracker 150.
I’m very fortunate to be in an unbelievable driver development program with backing from Lonnie Sommerville Racing and support from Bob at Pub’s Drive Thru Bottle Exchange. I’m really glad to be where I’m at now because it’s the ride of a lifetime and I’ve got the best of equipment under me and the best teacher and mentor anyone could have. It’s pretty amazing when you look at Lonnie Sommerville’s background and what he’s accomplished in our sport. I am fortunate to work alongside him and have the opportunity to listen and learn from one of the best guys in racing.
I’ve learned a lot running these big Sportsman races over the last few years. The big thing is to be patient early in the race, keep the car clean and push through at the end for a good finish. I’ve had some pretty good runs in these races, but have never won one of them yet, so I’m a little past due. I’ve had some bad luck the last couple of times out in these races, so hopefully I can pull one out this weekend.Drew Greenlaw has been in the Riverview Ford Victory Lane before, but has never won one of our long, extended lap races. The kid from Eastport, Maine hopes to finally earn a win in the Firecracker 150 on Saturday night.
As far as strategy I think I’ve learned a lot and it all comes down to where you are, at different stages of the race. I’ve started up front in the past and went wide open until I wore out my tires and then faded late in the race. If I start up front and lead some laps that’s OK, but I want to save something for the end of the race. If I’m a bit deeper in the field I can ride around for several laps and try to make a move with 20 to 30 laps to go. But there will be lots of competition in this race and it will be hard to win, but we’ll give it our best shot.
I’m a little nervous because this is my first Firecracker 150. It’s a pretty long race and the Sportsman car is a lot different than the Street Stock that I drove the last two years. Things happen a lot quicker in the Sportsman and the cars are a lot more powerful. You’ve got to feather the gas a little in the corner or else you’ll spin the tires.Courtney O’Blenis is one of the great young stars of our sport. She was awesome in a Street Stock for a couple of years before jumping into a Sportsman. On Saturday she’ll run her first-ever Firecracker 150. Courtney admits to being a little nervous, but fans know she’ll give it her best shot when the race goes green.
I’m still getting used to the Sportsman because its challenging and a pretty steep learning curve, but I’m trying my best and hopefully will soon start running where I should be. This car got wrecked the end of last season and we had to rebuild it during the winter, so we’ve struggled early in the 2017 season, but we’re starting to get a handle on it and hopefully we’ll be good this weekend.
I feel pretty good going into the race. We’ve got some work to do on the car this week to make sure we’re ready. We had a pretty good car a few weeks ago when we won the Martin’s Home Heating 100, but it still wasn’t where we wanted it to be, so we’ll try to make a few more adjustments to help make it a little quicker. I’ve never been a real confident race car driver so even though we won the hundred lapper, I know we’ll have to work real hard to be prepared, race smart and hope for a chance to get a good finish at the end. You don’t have to have the fastest car at the start of the race, but you need to have a good car for the long runs and give yourself a shot at victory lane.On Father’s Day John Rankin won the Martin’s Home Heating Sportsman 100. On Saturday night John knows he’ll have to be at the top of his game to win the Firecracker 150 and take the second of our three big Sportsman races of the season.
I don’t know what the magic strategy is, because it changes from race to race depending on where you start. If you start up front you’ve got to save your tires and brakes, but if you start at the back you’ve got to make moves early on to pass some cars, keep the leaders in sight and stay out of the wrecks. I’m having a lot of fun in a Sportsman car this year. There’s a little less pressure than driving a Pro Stock, but you still want to be successful and do your best every week.
I’m pretty excited to get back in the Sportsman car for the Firecracker 150. My brother Andrew and I are switching things up a little bit. I’m going to run the Sportsman car this weekend and he’s going to make his Pro Stock debut next week in the Best of the Best 150. The biggest difference between the Pro Stock and Sportsman is you’ve got so much more power and brakes in a Pro Stock. It won’t take me long to make the adjustment because I ran a Sportsman car a lot before moving up to Pro Stock.Matt Rodgers had lots of success in a Sportsman car before jumping up to Pro Stock. On Saturday night Matt will take another shot at winning the Firecracker 150 at Speedway 660.
150 laps is always tough, I’m not sure if Dave O’Blenis is going to run or not but I’ve finished second to him something like four times and sure would like to beat him once. The Martin’s Home Heating Sportsman division is very competitive this year. There are a lot of good teams and the racing has been fast and very close all season long. The best thing about it is that they are running hard, but they aren’t tearing any cars up. They’re running clean and respecting each other out there.
*Note: the Firecracker 150 is scheduled for this Saturday, July 22nd at Speedway 660.