ALGER – In what appears to be the deepest field in years, place Washington driver Jason Solwold as a solid favorite in the Jim Raper Memorial Dirt Cup.
Not only does he know his way around Skagit Speedway – he won 17 of 18 410-class features last season – the Burlington sprint-car driver has spent two months on the World of Outlaws tour.
And although Solwold’s best finish was 12th, he made A-mains in all but two of the 24 Outlaws shows.
“It taught me a lot about racing for a living,” said Solwold, who estimates his team spent between $10,000 and $15,000 in his time with the Outlaws. “Once you’re out there, you have to keep focused. You have to keep your hand in it. You’ve got to pay all the bills. There’s just so much you have to keep up on.”
The important thing Solwold got is seat time, something most of the Washington drivers simply can’t say they’ve had this season, considering the weather.
All of which has to make Solwold one of the favorites to grab the $20,000 first prize for the three-night event, which ends with Saturday’s Race of Champions.
“It’s no different for us than any other race,” Solwold said. “Every race we go to, we’re out to win it.”
Although two-time defending champion Kasey Kahne will not be back for a possible trifecta – he’s racing a Nextel Cup car this season – the 2004 Dirt Cup looks to be the most competitive in years.
Among the principals:
* Jac Haudenschild, on-and-off Outlaw who led the last Skagit Outlaw main event before a crash ended his evening.
* Jimmy Sills, the six-time Dirt Cup champion who’s coming off a victory in the Masters Classic in Knoxville, Iowa.
* Brent Kaeding, the 12-time King of California who has won three Dirt Cups.
* Steve Kent, two-time Dirt Cup champion from Fresno, Calif.
* Tim Kaeding, one of two racing sons of Brent Kaeding.
* Jason Statler, points leader of the Golden State Challenge series.
* Randy Hannagan, two-time Dirt Cup champion.
* Chad Hillier, current Skagit 410 points leader, from Sedro-Woolley.
* Jayme Barnes, Everett driver who spent the off-season racing in Australia.
* Kevin Pylant, 1995 Dirt Cup winner, fourth in the Golden State points standings.
* Peter Murphy, originally from Adelaide, Australia, a consistent contender for the title.
* Shane Stewart, a semi-regular Outlaw who will be driving for Rudeen Racing, which finished fifth last year with Jimmy Carter at the wheel.
Different this year is the way in which the starting positions will be decided. Although positions in the Race of Champions will be determined by points accumulated from the first two nights of racing, the top six drivers will determine their positions via a drawing.
In other words, the top point-getter could begin the Race of Champions as far back as the third row.
“We wanted to mix it up a little bit,” Skagit owner Steve Beitler said. “We think it makes it more exciting for the fans.”