Every trip the Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour makes to Hickory Motor Speedway is always eagerly anticipated by both fans and drivers alike.
One of the oldest and most cherished short track facilities in the southeast, Hickory has been a staple on the CARS Tour schedule since its inception in 2015, where short track veterans and young prospects have engaged in some of the most memorable on-track battles in the brief history of the series.
Saturday’s Tuff Shed 250 will be the first of two visits the CARS Tour makes to Hickory during the 2023 season. The drivers of the Late Model Stock Car Tour are looking to halt the momentum of defending champion Carson Kvapil, while the Pro Late Model Tour returns to action following a month-long break from their opener at Southern National Motorsports Park.
Track: Hickory Motor Speedway
Location: Hickory, North Carolina
Length: .363 mile
Laps: 150 (LMSC) / 100 (PLM)
CARS LMSC Tour races: 17
CARS PLM Tour races: 2
LMSC Hickory winners: Josh Berry (4), Bobby McCarty (3), Anthony Alfredo (2), Brayton Haws (1), Deac McCaskill (1), Justin T Carroll (1), Taylor Gray (1), Ryan Repko (1), Corey Heim (1), Chad McCumbee (1), Connor Hall (1)
PLM Hickory winners: William Sawalich (2)
LMSC Entry List (41 cars): #00 Jody Measamer, #03 Brenden Queen, #04 Ronnie Bassett Jr., #08 Deac McCaskill, #09 Riley Gentry, #0 Landon Pembelton, #1 Andrew Grady, #2 Brandon Pierce, #2W Ryan Wilson, #4 Dylon Wilson, #5B Bryant Barnhill, #6 Bobby McCarty, #8 Carson Kvapil, #8B Chase Burrow, #8F Tate Fogleman, #9 Ashton Higgins, #10 Kaden Honeycutt, #14 Lanie Buice, #15 Ryan Millington, #16 Chad McCumbee, #19 Jessica Cann, #20 Josh Dickens, #22 Cale Gale, #23 Kade Brown, #24 Mason Diaz, #32 Zack Miracle, #42 Carson Brown, #43 William Sawalich, #44 Conner Jones, #55 Isabella Robusto, #57 Connor Zilisch, #59 Blake Lothian, #67 Cameron Bolin, #75 Landon Huffman, #77 Connor Hall, #77G Tyler Gregory, #81 Mini Tyrrell, #95 Jacob Heafner, #97A Jason Kitzmiller, #98 Cody Kelley, #99 Layne Riggs
PLM Entry List (29 cars): #03 Kyle Campbell, #2 Hudson Canipe, #5 Zac Fowler, #5B Gavan Boschele, #6 George Phillips, #7 Tristan McKee, #7T Tyler Church, #8 Rusty Skewes, #9 Ashton Higgins, #13 Austin MacDonald, #15 Brett Suggs, #15B Luke Baldwin, #24 Brent Crews, #24D Jaydn Daniels, #25 Connor Zilisch, #26 Dawson Sutton, #27 Lee Tissot, #28 Isabella Robusto, #43 Nick Loden, #43H Josh Horniman, #44 Justin Whitaker, #44L Michael Lichtfeld, #48 Jeff Batten, #49 Luke Morey, #54 Matt Craig, #77 Logan Jones, #81 Katie Hettinger, #96 Caden Kvapil, #97 Dylan Garner
Chad McCumbee ready to defend Hickory win
Last year’s Tuff Shed 250 at Hickory produced a long-overdue victory for Late Model Stock veteran Chad McCumbee.
That race remains McCumbee’s only triumph in the CARS LMSC Tour to date. Despite this, McCumbee is confident he can shake off a year-long winless drought this weekend if he and his team learn from the shortcomings that hindered them in their second trip to Hickory for the Throwback 276.
“As good as we ran in the spring race, it seemed like we were just bad in the fall,” McCumbee said. “Hickory is a place where you’re good until you’re not, but we were one for two [last year], so hopefully we can rekindle that success on Saturday.”
McCumbee has plenty of experience on abrasive tracks in South Carolina like Florence Motor Speedway and the now defunct Myrtle Beach Speedway, but he admitted Hickory possesses only a few similarities to those facilities.
Along with being much slicker and bumpier compared to the South Carolina tracks, McCumbee believes Hickory changes slightly with every race, which he said was a main reason why he excelled in the 2022 Tuff Shed 250 but struggled in the Throwback 276 just a few months later.
The competitive depth in the LMSC Tour also presents a small margin of error for McCumbee to work with. He added that Saturday’s Tuff Shed 250 featuring one of the largest entry lists in the history of the LMSC Tour is only going to put more emphasis on nailing the setup and securing stellar track position in qualifying.
“It’s going to be like this the whole year,” McCumbee said. “With that, your mindset stays the same week in and week out, with the goal being to stay competitive and have the best results you can. As car counts continue to increase, we have to make sure we stay on the top of our game. You can’t get comfortable because everyone else is trying to make their program better.”
Ronnie Bassett Jr. finds comfort zone in the CARS Tour
During the early 2010s, Ronnie Bassett Jr. was one of the most recognizable names in Late Model Stock competition.
The 2013 Thanksgiving All-Star Classic winner now finds himself back in the discipline as a full-time competitor in the CARS LMSC Tour, where has some much-needed confidence on his side after coming home third in the division’s most recent outing at Florence Motor Speedway.
“We had a really good car at [Southern National] but didn’t get to show it after we got torn up,” Bassett said. “To go to Florence and have another solid car that the team put underneath me was pretty cool, especially with how strong the CARS Tour field is right now. Coming from 20th to 3rd was awesome.”
Adversity has dominated Bassett’s career during the past several years. He had planned to race full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series alongside his brother Dillon in 2021, but temporary COVID-19 protocols ultimately prevented their team from qualifying for most of the season.
Following another disappointing campaign in 2022, Bassett elected to go back to his roots by participating in the LMSC Tour. Bassett admitted Late Model Stock racing has changed tremendously since his last race but felt his experience would allow him to enjoy a much smoother transition back into the discipline.
With two solid races under his belt, Bassett is cautiously optimistic he will factor into the LMSC Tour title fight at the end of the season, adding the Tuff Shed 250 presents an ideal opportunity for him to score his first series victory, as his past accomplishments at Hickory include winning the Bobby Isaac Memorial back in 2012.
“I’m really excited about going to Hickory,” Bassett said. “We tested [last week] and the track hasn’t changed much compared to when we ran there ten years ago. There’s tire falloff at Hickory, but it’s nowhere near as bad as [Southern National] or Florence, so I’m looking forward to racing more. I’ve had this one circled on my calendar since we got started.”
Isabella Robusto balancing hectic LMSC, PLM schedules
No driver will be busier in the CARS Tour this year than Isabella Robusto.
The Toyota development driver has full seasons lined up in both the CARS LMSC and PLM Tour. Robusto’s first outing at Southern National in the two divisions was far from smooth, but she came away from the weekend having gained plenty of experience, especially when it came to racing a Pro Late Model.
“The weekend [at Southern National] went pretty well,” Robusto said. “We had some motor trouble with the Late Model Stock, so we couldn’t finish that one, but with that race being my first time in a Pro, I felt pretty good [about finishing sixth]. I’m looking forward to Hickory and getting back in both cars.”
While Robusto is back with Lee Faulk Racing for her rookie LMSC Tour campaign, she is teamed up with Super Late Model veteran Donnie Wilson in the PLM Tour, who fielded a car for dirt track standouts Buddy Kofoid and Brent Crews in the division last year.
Being able to lean on both Faulk and Wilson for advice has been crucial in helping Robusto overcome the learning curve of balancing out two different cars. She added the two have encouraged her to separate the Late Model Stock and Pro Late Model from one another so she can get comfortable with each distinct driving style.
Robusto hopes spending extra preparation time with her veteran car owners translates into a successful weekend in the Tuff Shed 250. Hickory has been one of Robusto’s preferred tracks in her brief Late Model Stock career, but she plans to be methodical when it comes to figuring out her car for the Pro Late Model feature.
“I feel confident about the Late Model Stock each week because that’s what I did last year,” Robusto said. “With the Pro, I’m still on the learning side since it’s my second race, but I want to learn more about how the car races and how the tires wear out. Hopefully we end up competing for the win.”
With such a large Late Model Stock field expected for the Tuff Shed 250, race day procedures will unfold differently compared to previous events.
For qualifying, 26 cars in the Late Model Stock field will lock in on time, with two spots being reserved for provisionals. The remaining four positions on the starting grid are being determined by a last chance qualifier that will start at 7:15 p.m. ET.
The PLM Tour has the opening race for the Tuff Shed 250 with their 100-lap feature at 8 p.m. ET, which will be followed by the LMSC Tour drivers battling it out for 150 laps. FloRacing has coverage of all the on-track action at Hickory.
For more information on the CARS Late Model Stock Tour and the CARS Pro Late Model Tour, visit www.carsracingtour.com. Be sure to stay active and social with the tour by liking “CARS Tour” on Facebook, following @CARSTour on Twitter and scrolling through photos on Instagram cars_tour.
Additional series information can be obtained by calling the CARS Tour series office, located in Mooresville, NC, at 704.662.9212.
-CARS Tour Press Release