Seasoned short-track stars, young guns and a host of champions — including Kyle Busch, the 2015 NASCAR Cup Series champ — are part of an impressive field of drivers for the Fourth Annual Spears Winter Showdown.
From top-to-bottom, the 52-driver roster is the strongest yet for the $147,000 race, from which the winner of Saturday’s 300-lap race at Kern County Raceway Park will earn $30,000.
“The quality and depth of drivers and teams keeps getting better and better,” said Larry Collins, managing partner of the Spears Southwest Tour. “When we started this we wanted to build a national event. But you just can’t say this is a national event and expect everybody to show.”
While the number of teams showing up has stayed around the same each year, the quality has improved annually.
“We’ve got drivers from the hotbeds of short track racing here,” Collins said. “That’s why we hold it February, try to get in in before Speed Weeks at Daytona. There are so many quality teams with quality drivers. I think it’s going to be a crowded top-half of the field.”
Of course the headliner has to be Busch, who just loves to race and is coming off a Super Late Model win at the Snowball Derby in Florida in December. He’s back to try and wash away the taste of a third-place finish here last year.
Also back to see if he can recapture the sweet taste of victory is Bakersfield’s Derek Thorn, who set fast time in qualifying and led all 250 laps last year for his biggest win.
And looking to get back in victory lane is Bubba Pollard of Senoia, Ga., who won the first two editions of the race.
For the first time ever, Wisconsin will be represented with two top-notch competitors: Ty Majeski and Derek Kraus.
Kraus, 16, is not a stranger to KCRP as he he raced to his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series West victory at the track last November.
Majeski is a four-time ARCA Midwest Series champion, has numerous major Super Late Model wins to his credit, and will be running a partial Xfinity schedule this season for the Roush Racing Driver Development Program.
Noah Gragson, who has competed in West races at KCRP, won his first Camping World Truck Series race for Kyle Busch Motorsports last season and has to be considered a top contender. He won his first major Super Late Model race last year, the Winchester 400 in Indiana.
Veteran Preston Peltier, who left Frazier Park as a teenager two decades ago for North Carolina, has shown he can win major events, driving to victory in the Summer Showdown in Washington last year. He is coming off a runner-up finish last Saturday night in the Chilly Willy 150 at Tucson Speedway.
Heading into KCRP with some momentum is Chris Eggleston of Colorado, who passed Peltier late in the race to win the Chilly Willy 150. Eggleston has four wins in the West series and is very familiar with KCRP.
And then there is North Carolina’s Daniel Hemric, who finished fourth in points as a rookie last season for Richard Childress Racing, and is racing at KCRP for the first time. Hermic has a wealth of Super Late Model experience and will be a teammate of Bakersfield’s Buddy Shepherd on the Wilson Motorsports team.
As for Shepherd, he has three Late Model titles to his credit (one at KCRP and two at Madera) and won his first Southwest Tour race last year.
Other notables include three-time West champ Eric Holmes, Jeremy Doss, former SWT champ Craig Raudman, and Bakersfield’s David Mayhew.
The youngest driver trying to crack the 36-car field — 30 advance through qualifying Friday evening, four through a B-main and two via provisionals — is 15-year-old Austin Herzog. Herzog won the Junior Late Model title at Madera last season.
And perhaps the best news is the weather: Sunny skies and temperatures that could creep into the low 70s by Saturday.
“It looks like perfect weather for a race in February,” Collins said.