MONROE – NASCAR racing returns to Western Washington this weekend, with a familiar face part of the season opener and a state championship the ultimate prize for the top-echelon drivers.
Evergreen Speedway, the only track in Washington or Oregon to be part of the new NASCAR Whelen All American Series, begins its 2007 season Saturday with the return of Busch Series driver Kevin Hamlin and a 125-lap Speedway Chevrolet super stocks race.
Hamlin, a Snohomish native and a three-time champion in the NASCAR elite division at Evergreen, is part of the Chip Ganassi Racing Team, but has yet to compete in the Busch series this season. He shares driving duties in the No. 42 Dodge with ex-Formula One star Juan Pablo Montoya. Hamlin is slated to open his Busch season April 7 at Nashville Superspeedway.
Hamlin will participate in the 125-lap opener at Evergreen, which has a $10,000 purse – $2,000 for the winner. Also expected to be in the field are two-time super stocks champion Shane Harding, former champion John Zaretske and up-and-coming challengers Naima Lang and Darin Stordahl.
The winged sprint cars of the American Sprint Association also are scheduled to compete opening night in the Doug James Memorial. Weather permitting, gates open at 3:30 p.m., with racing set to begin at 7 p.m.
Evergreen, which has been affiliated with NASCAR since 1985, is one of just 50 short tracks in the country to be part of the new Whelen All American Series. In previous years, top-tier drivers were ranked by regions, but in the Whelen Series, one of Evergreen’s super stock drivers will be crowned the first-ever NASCAR Washington State Champion in addition to earning the track championship.
“Each state with NASCAR tracks will produce track and state champions,” Evergreen track manager Terry Buell said. “In states with more than one track, drivers can travel around to earn points. … We are that one crown jewel in Washington state that holds the NASCAR banner.”
The Whelen series’ point system also allows local super stock drivers to compete for a national championship. Drivers at Whelen tracks around the country will be ranked based on their best 18 finishes of the season, with the top driver at the end of the season earning the national title.
“We think our track will produce more than one highly ranked driver,” Buell said. “If not the national champion.”
Drivers in the bomber and mini-stock classes – the second- and third-tiers respectively of the Whelen All American Series – will compete for the title of track champion beginning April 14.
Figure Eight racing also returns on April 14, and should be bigger this year as the FEAR club has combined with the Stinger 8 program. The 60 Minutes of Fear race is May 19 and the Figure Eight Nationals are set for Aug. 25.
For more information about Evergreen Speedway, visit www.evergreenspeedway.com.