COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho The defending champion of Yakima Speedway’s Fall Classic has had quite a ride since that fateful day back in the fall of 2007. Former track champion Erick Hargraves has moved from his Toppenish, Wash. home to attend North Idaho College, earned a win on the prestigious ARCA West Late Model Challenge Series and gotten engaged to be married.
Still strong on the 25-year old’s mind is a chance to make history and repeat as Fall Classic champion. While most race teams face the pressure of performing in the region’s biggest late model event–Hargraves finds this year’s race carrying less pressure when coupled with the last 12 months worth of success.
“Going into the Fall Classic is more fun because we’ve won it last year. I am not saying that I won’t put anymore pressure on myself but having won it makes this weekend a little more relaxing,” Hargraves said. “Fans in the stands, sponsors at the race and Yakima being my home track all make the Fall Classic a big race. Heck, anyone who’s won a race like this wants to repeat but I know you have to be in the right place at the right time and have a little luck to win races but I wouldn’t say there’s anymore pressure this year than last.”
With a strong 2008 season under their belt Hargraves sees his team positioned well for a continued breakout year. Already winners at Yakima in a June late model race, the Magic Metals race team has a baseline to work from for the three-day Fall Classic weekend, he noted.
“We are no longer a one-track wonder. When we roll into a race we are mentioned every week as one of the teams who could win or be hard to pass. I truly think that going from just running our local division to having success on a traveling series has made our race team better at any race we enter. Having moved to Coeur d’Alene makes me feel like an out of towner heading back to Yakima Speedway. In years past we could fine-tune our set-up but with running the ARCA West series I really haven’t gotten the chance to build a home track advantage.
“This season with Mike Longton having run all year at Yakima Speedway and getting the chance to get his set-up right makes him a wildcard this weekend. Longton has run well all year not just at Yakima and Gary Lewis had two strong second place finishes there on Labor Day so he’ll be tough. (Lewis) was tough all weekend at Yakima in last year’s race and had a great car early in the Classic and I know we’re just as fast as those guys but it really will still boil down to having some luck in order to pull out the win.”
Heading into the team’s final race of 2008 there is no doubt that Hargraves would like to close out the season standing in Yakima’s victory circle one more time.
“I guess the older I get the more I have noticed the years are starting to fly by. You have to enjoy every moment you have in racing. It’s a lot of hard work and dedication and with building a family, going to college and planning a future it makes you wonder where all of that leaves racing. I don’t know where life is going to go but I am lucky to have been doing this for as long as I have and know I don’t plan on quitting anytime soon. You do have to look at the future and wonder which way life is going to go so a win in this year’s Fall Classic would be a really great way to close out the season.
“Plus, there are $12,000 reasons to go out on top come Sunday.”
Support from sponsors has put Hargraves’ Pontiac GTO into the position capable of winning races every week and a second Fall Classic, he explained.
“To have Magic Metals, Yakima Implement, Solid Rock Trucking, APEX Anodizing, All Phase Electric and Rick’s Garage behind me this season has really helped to get our team in the right direction towards being contenders every week and without them I wouldn’t be able to do this so I owe them a lot.”
Yakima Speedway’s Fall Classic tradition returns beginning Friday evening with the Race of Champions followed by Saturday’s Limited Late Model Race and Sunday’s 200-lap finale. To learn more log onto www.yakimaspeedway.us for tickets and other information.