Preparation for the Upstate Racing League’s 8th Pro Late Model series is in high gear. The Approval Series is in the books and the roster is full. Everyone is eagerly anticipating the Coach’s Corner Lead Off 108 at the Iowa Speedway on October 18th. Let’s take a look at what’s new and some story lines to follow this season!
Perhaps the biggest change for URL will be where you’re able to watch the races! This season will mark a new partnership with MaxSpeedTV. The team of KR Stolfus, Kelly Dahl, and Roger Muth will bring all the exciting action to your devices every Thursday night at 9. Broadcasts will begin with URL’s unique live qualifying session, in which drivers are sent out in groups to lay down a couple of hot laps. The program will then move on to the traditional national anthem, lineup presentation, and start of the event. We are very excited to embark on this new partnership!
The season itself will once again consist of a 10 race regular season and a 5 race Chase. Only 10 drivers will advance to the Chase. Competition for those spots is expected to be the most difficult in the league’s history. This year’s roster appears to be loaded with similarly competitive talent and we could see some surprising names not making the cut. The annual All Star event will be held in mid December at Martinsville Speedway, as voted on by the drivers last spring. This unique event is made up of 3 Segments, with the field being reversed by finish after each Segment. Drivers are assigned points equal to their finishing spot in each Segment. The driver with the lowest score after Segment 3 is the winner. You won’t want to miss it!
Another new feature will be the first Manufacturer’s Championship. Chevy will be represented by weekly contenders Matt Kocher, Shawn Cool, Jake Watson, and Blake Near. Toyota will be deep starting with Stefan Marinak, Kris Stump, and their Empire Racing Team teammates along with Zero9 Motorsports and their four fast Camry’s. Ford suffered an early gut punch when Marinak was lured away by TRD a couple of weeks ago. Ford Performance will be looking for a driver to step up and lead. Will it be the Bossman Al Smith Jr? The veteran Rex Hoyle? The Dodge group has the smallest contingent. Expect dirt track ace Brett Bartels to carry the flag!
Speaking of the drivers, as we mentioned earlier, the makeup of this year’s roster appears to be one of the deepest in recent history when it comes to talent. The number of drivers that could appear in the top 5 on a given week is in the double digits. Last season those spots were dominated by a Fast Five. This season 4 of the previous Fast Five return. Any discussion of the URL’s drivers starts with returning champion Matt Kocher, perennial contender Stefan Marinak, Approval Series Champ Shawn “Rocket Fuel” Cool, and Canada’s Jake Watson. All 4 won events last season with Kocher leading the way with 8 checkered flags. Kocher is well known around iRacing late model circles as an ice cold assassin who can run away and hide in any given event. Marinak has been a beast over the past two seasons winning 5 races last year, including the season finale in which he started last in a race slowed only by 2 early yellows. Cool showed glimpses of his talent last season before a disappointing Chase. After winning a late model championship this spring at Racing For A Cause and mowing down the field in the Approval series, Rocket Fuel has a full tank of confidence and motivation heading into this season. Watson was a podium contender and lap leader weekly last season and has battled Kocher in other series over the summer. He’s back and looking to give the Champ a challenge!
Who can we expect to see challenging the returning Fast Four? Using the available data one would have to start with former ASA driver Kris Stump. Stump arrived at Racing For A Cause 2 months ago and quickly showed he can wheel a late model around a short track. He’s proven to be a smooth customer with top end speed and should challenge for wins. Another top contender from north of the border is Blake Near. Near dominated his split at Thompson in the Approval series and is a well known name among iRacing late model leagues.
Next up on the list are the Empire Racing Team teammates of Justin MacDuff and AJ Hamel. Known as the Bad Boy, MacDuff came to life in the month of August and has only been slowed by equipment failure since. He dominated his Approval series split at Iowa. In his return this past Thursday he “knocked the rust off” with a win from the 7th starting spot at a track he’d never seen before. Hamel is a 2 time Approval series champ who has finished in the top 4 in points the past 2 seasons.
Right on their heels during the Approval Series were members of the Zero9 Motorsports team. Rookie Will Drevicky led the way in the standings with URL vet Guillaume Fortin and fellow rookie Paul Henley right behind. This trio was found near the front much of the time and could challenge for more as they settle into URL life!
Another duo of newcomers that showed speed were Josh Mayeu, and Dillon Canova. Mayeu and Canova will be two more talented URL rookies battling for spots in the top 5. They’ve been consistent and taken care of their cars and that leads to solid finishes. Were they holding back?
There are two more groups which we’ll split into the cagey veterans and the wild card rookies. The vets are led by Al Smith Jr. Al is of course the founder of URL and the only man to compete in every Pro Series event. Al has finished 5th in points the past two seasons and while he calls himself a little rusty after having to take the summer off, we expect to see him assume his usual place in the Chase and challenge for another top 5 finishing position. A sneaky pick to make some noise is veteran Rex Hoyle. There is nobody more smooth than the series elder statesman and former Approval Series champ. When races get that green flag look, look for the 5 car to move to the front.
More returning vets include Mike Holtsclaw, Jimmy McIntyre Jr, Mark Royer, Wayne MacDuff III, Alex Orians, Brian Rogers Jr, Dan Dubuque, and Jay Dubuque. There is no more loyal group than these guys and every one of them will be pushing to improve on last season’s performance.
Let’s talk about the rookie class! Don’t sleep on this group. The battle for Rookie of the Year is going to be intense. Early favorites for RoY are Kris Stump, Blake Near, and Will Drevicky. Bryan Hacker, Brad Carpenter, Doug Wysocki, and Andy Lambert may have an R next to their name but make no mistake these drivers know their way around late models and short tracks. Paul Henley, Josh Mayeu, John Mignacca and Dillon Canova all showed good speed and will be looking to challenge for the rookie championship. How about the Midwest Mafia duo of Brett Bartels and AJ Childs? They know their way around the dirt tracks and are ready to try their hand on the asphalt. Bartels is no stranger to a URL victory lane having won 4 times in the UMP mods.
Last but not least, is the final group of rookies. Jeremy Carpenter, Jeremy Watkins, Tony Rice, Thomas Miteer II, and Matthew Roll complete the rookie roster. Were any of them holding back? Not long ago some of the names mentioned earlier were in this section heading into their rookie seasons.
This season is shaping up to be the best yet and we are so excited for you to join us either on the track or in the MaxSpeedTV audience. See you Thursday!