RPM Roundtable on the upcoming Hell Tour
What storyline are you most likely to follow during the Hell Tour?
Trevor Gonzales - The biggest storyline to me is who is going to attempt to run the 2019 tour. Of course it is a grind so you have to make sure you have all the equipment and funding. Last year's champion Brian Shirley has already indicated that he does not intend to run the full tour. It is still up in the air if Shannon Babb will run as well. Last year, drivers such as Timothy Culp and Nick Hoffman ran the first half of the tour before dropping in on select races later on in the tour. It should be interesting to see who will be on the tour after the first week.
Ryan Roberts - The point’s battle will come down to if anybody can consistently run with Pierce each night of the series. You will have some WoO guys come in and compete against Bobby but won't run enough to take the title.
Tyson Graves - There are always several story lines to follow during the tour, but I would have to say the top story will be who will follow the whole tour? Some start off with hopes of running the whole tour but often times don’t finish and some drivers who started out only commited to running a few races stay on for the whole tour if they find success in the first few races. Will Babb, Shirley or Moyer stay on to give Pierce a battle for the title?
What effect with Bobby Pierce return to the Hell Tour have on it?
Trevor Gonzales - The return of Bobby Pierce is huge. With the way he has ran this year, he is capable of winning up to three to four races a week. He has the potential to sweep a week of racing if he keeps racing like he has all season. If Babb and Shirley do not run the tour, then it's Pierce's series to win.
Addison Blair - While I like Bobby and what he does for the sport, I'd like to see another driver come through. I am an underdog fan first and foremost.
Ryan Roberts - If Bobby jumps out to an early huge point lead will it hurt the weekday $5,000 shows? With Ciara dating Kyle Bronson will it bring him into the series to run some tracks he's never raced a late model on before.
Tyson Graves – The whole Summer National field will be gunning for the #32 car most of the tour, his past success is undoubtably the best over the past 5 years. Bobby is one of those drivers who can get on a roll and win multiple features on the tour before you know it.
What track do you look forward to the most during the Hell Tour?
Trevor Gonzales - Belle Vegas! Definitely Belle-Clair Speedway in Belleville, Illinois, the 1/5 mile bullring with wooden boards as walls and the flagman on the track. It is as old school as you can get. Last years race was rained out and the track gives small teams a chance to race up front.
Addison Blair - I don't know why, but I am partial to Farmer City Raceway.
Ryan Roberts - Since I won't be traveling out of state this year on the Hell Tour I look forward to Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt,IN the most. Tommy Helfrich constantly works on the track for the drivers and fans. I wish I could make it to the race at Belle-Clair. I went last year for the first time and only seen qualifying before Mother Nature came in and forced them to cancel the rest of the show
Tyson Graves – I am torn between a few tracks this year. I am anxious for my first time visit to a couple of tracks. Excited to take in the race on opening week at Sycamore Speedway, one race that produced a great finish in 2018. Also ready to finally see a race at Belle-Clair, everytime I have been able to go it has rained, including last years rainout after qualifying. My all time favorite Hell Tour event is the Hearld & Review 100, been going to that race since I was a little boy and has a place in my heart.
What is the key ingredient to winning a grueling tour like the Hell Tour?
Trevor Gonzales - The key to success is most importantly having the equipment to run the whole deal. Racers running the tour tend to be conservative with their cars at the very beginning and more aggressive in the later races. Tearing up equipment in the first few races can cost a driver dearly later on. Ask Shannon Babb, that's what ended up happening to him last season.
Addison Blair - Adaptability. This tour sees all forms of dirt tracks and you better finish consistently well at all to stay atop the Tour.
Ryan Roberts - The key to winning the grueling series comes down to having equipment and hard working crew. Have to have spare parts and a crew willing to sacrificing sleep and time away from their family. Long hours preparing the car and going from race to race.
Tyson Graves – One word “endurance”, the Hell Tour is the most grueling tour in all of dirt racing in my opinoin. Nights we little sleep, long miles on the road and racing night after night can take a toll on the faint of heart. As a fan I find myself getting wore out by halfway through the tour,I cant imagine working on a car and all the other things that come along. The team that can limit the misfortunes at the track and keep their equioment fresh night after night will have the best shot at the title.
What will be the surprise race or driver on the tour this year?
Trevor Gonzales - The surprise race could either be the first-time series track that has not been announced yet on July 3rd as that race was previously scheduled for LaSalle Speedway, which is now currently closed. Another race is the $10,000 to win race at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 in Pevely, Missouri. That race is normally co-sanctioned with the World of Outlaws Late Model Series however, the race was pushed back a week to July 6th. The track swapped with Highland Speedway with a $10,000 show on June 29.
Addison Blair – I think Jacksonville will put on some good racing for sure.
Ryan Roberts - I think when they go into Michigan you will see a new name win or someone who hasn't won a Summer Nationals race in several years. Allen Weisser could continue to impress everyone on the late model side. Would like to see him travel around and make a run for possibly a double title with the mod as well but that's a lot for a driver and team to take on.
Tyson Graves – The surprise race of the tour will happen at Clarksville Speedway, we will see a possible first time winner on the tour or a regional driver drop in to spoil the party at the red clay bullring.
What is your favorite Hell Tour Memory or driver from years past?
Trevor Gonzales - Living in the southeast, I am limited to my exposure to the Hell Tour. I can think though of many drivers who have won Hell Tour races that came out of nowhere. Who expected Billy Drake to win opening night at Peoria last year? Chad Zobrist at Highand? Zack Dohm sweeping Oakshade? The unpredictability of not knowing who is going to show up and who will win on a given night is what I love about the Hell Tour.
Addison Blair – My favorite driver growing up was and is Shannon Babb
Ryan Roberts - Being a teenager in the 90's when dirt late model race was filled with future hall of famers like Moyer,Blomquist,John Gill,and Don O'Neal battling each and every night and for the month long title it was definitely my favorite moment of the Hell Tour. It was nothing to have 30 to 40 good cars battling to make the field each night. Those days are long gone and I will always cherish them memories traveling to race to race with my parents in our camper seeing these guys before the days of toter homes and double stacker trailers. Only a few had them back then and I remember seeing teams at car washes Wal-Marts and motels working on their cars in parking lots
Tyson Graves – My favorite Hell Tour moment of all time has to be the 1997 Herald & Review 100 at Macon Speedway. A 1st lap caution set on a series of events that would change the outcome of this race. Three time winner Bob Pierce has a flat tire on the yellow and pulls to the infield for a tire change, I was dishearted as a little boy who loved watchng the #32 car. But also at this time Shannon Babb a young phenom pulls to the infield and looks to be done for the night. But local driver Virgil Bilbrey pulls to the infield and gets out of his car and motions for Shannon Babb to come get in it. Shannon Babb drives this local driver’s car with a lower budget from the tail to the lead. Shannon Babb took the checkerd flag and looked to have won his first ever Herald & Review 100 but was light at the scales and disqualified. Even though Shannon Babb did not win that night, he put on a show that will live on forever.
Who are your dark horses that could make some noise this year, Mods & Lates?
Trevor Gonzales - I am going to dig deep a little on a dark horse who may not even be one. I am going with "The Highside Hustler" Jason Feger. Feger normally runs the whole tour and he has not had the success that he has expected to have, especially this season. After recently purchasing a new MB Customs Race Car, Feger will look to turn around his rough 2019 racing season with a few wins on tour and contend for many more.
Addison Blair – I'd like to see the likes of Kevin Weaver make some noise, or family man Ryan Unzicker for the Lates
Ryan Roberts - My dark horse pick for the late models is Allen Weisser. He has impressed me with limited starts in that Kryptonite. On the mod side my choice is Ledford if he runs the tour enough.
Tyson Graves – He might not be much of a darkhorse because of how hot he has ran lately but in the modified divisoin I have to give the nod to Allen Weisser. The guy has been lights out in the late model and the modified both. If he can string several good mod runs together he could be the man to knock Mike Harrison off the throne at the PDC in July when the Summit Modified Nationals champ is crowned. On the late model side I have to be on the watch for Frank Heckenast Jr. He finished second last year in points and he has shown some speed this spring. If he runs the whole tour he could be one to watch.
Who is your pick to win the Summit Racing Modified portion of the Hell Tour?
Addison Blair – The way Mike Harrison is running so far this year, he will be a contender.
Ryan Roberts - My choice for the Modified champion is Mike Harrison. The multi UMP national champ is so hard to beat but Kenny Wallace is picking up wins across the Midwest and can challenge him for the title now that he's solely concentrating on racing instead of traveling to cover NASCAR. Mike McKinney is another driver to watch if he runs the series
Tyson Graves – It would be hard to bet against Mike Harrison. It seems like year after year Mike is able to string together several wins and put himself in position on PDC weekend. Even when you think he off his game he rises to the occassion.
Who is your pick to win the Summer Nationals in 2019(Lates)?
Trevor Gonzales - It is so hard to go against Bobby Pierce. He is my pick. it will be exciting to see who will battle with Pierce throughout the tour but I think he will pull it off again this year.
Addison Blair - Brian Shirley
Ryan Roberts - I don't see anyone knocking Pierce off. With him not following a national series and running an "outlaw" schedule he will be your 2019 Hell Tour champion. As a driver he knows all of the tracks and the family owned team knows what it takes to win it
Tyson Graves – It is impossible to think of anyone else to take the crown home this year other than the Smooth Operator Bobby Pierce. The kid is tough to beat on the Summer Nationals tour. All the Illinois bullrings fit right into his wheelhouse. It will take quite the feat to take the title from him this year.
What is most intriguing to you as a fan to the Hell Tour?
Trevor Gonzales - The variety of tracks and drivers. Fans across the Midwest will have the chance to see some of the best drivers in the world and there is no other series like the Hell Tour.
Addison Blair - I like that the Hell Tour brings drivers that would normally never come to a local track, to that track. It also gives fans a chance to experience racing other than what they are used to for their local track.
Ryan Roberts - As a fan you just want to see Mother Nature cooperate which of course the tracks can't control but one thing the track can control is the speed of the program. The weekday races you have fans that are going to sacrifice sleep to see a race. Don't drag the program out but don't be afraid to do some track work. Fans and drivers don't want a rubbered up one groove track.
Tyson Graves – The Hell Tour is a fans ultimate dream, racing nearly every night. Bullrings nearly every night, you get a chance to see drivers you might normally not get to see race. Since I have been a little boy every summer the Summer Nationals get me excited. I cant wait to see what the 2019 edition will have to offer us.