TUCSON, Ariz. – In a classic shootout to the finish, a driver that had gone winless in recent time did everything he needed to do in order to take home the eighth annual Chilly Willy 150 trophy and prize at Tucson Speedway Sunday afternoon.
Christian McGhee proved he had a fast car under him since the gates opened a few days before, winning a 50-lap feature on Friday night and then setting the No. 71 fielded by Garcia Racing on the outside front row for the 150-lap main event.
He had to contend with the only driver that out-qualified him throughout the entire distance, and it was not an easy task.
Tyler Tanner paced the field for a torrid initial pace of 50 laps completed without a yellow flag in less than 15 minutes.
The North Carolina resident, originally from Washington, continued leading the way following a few cautions and a 10-minute halfway break where teams were permitted to change up to two tires, add fuel, and make any necessary adjustments.
As the second half of the race carried on, a change began to occur. McGhee got closer and closer to the No. 65 ride and at the completion of lap 126, by .007 seconds, the Californian led at the line.
It was still another few circuits of hard racing between the two before he cleared Tanner, but ultimately McGhee’s masterful job on a final green-white-checkered restart sealed the deal.
“I was crying on the frontstretch, and I don’t ever cry,” a relieved McGhee admitted. “It’s been a long time since I won, so it feels really good just to run a clean race and have everything perfect. I did everything exactly how I set out to do from the beginning. I was stressing and shaking before the race trying to figure out if my strategy was the right way to do it and it paid off.”
McGhee, who has an assorted schedule of a few Spears SRL Southwest Tour races and other major shows mainly on the west coast but perhaps a handful further east planned with the team, described in detail the intense battle up front that saw some contact.
“I tried so many times to get by him and there was just no drive off on the bottom,” McGhee recalled. “I knew it was going to have to come to a bumper, but we were clean. He hit me a little harder than I hit him. We kind of slid into each other when I was on the inside, but I would have done the same thing if the roles were reversed.
“When there’s 10 grand on the line and 150 laps, that’s going to happen. Nobody is going to get around this place without a scratch on it for the win.”
The result provides significant momentum toward McGhee’s future endeavors, momentum that was slightly broken up in November when he was forced out of the seat during Turkey Shoot weekend due to feeling under the weather.
“We’re finally gelling,” McGhee remarked about his relationship with the Garcia team, which has numerous years of expertise behind them. “My crew chief Steve Teets and I, the crew and everybody are starting to work together really well. We have been so close so many times, to finally have it come together was really rewarding.”
On the other side of the coin, Tanner was somewhat subdued, but satisfied with their performance.
Considering upon arrival on Thursday the team, composed partly of his father Kelly Tanner who won at Tucson in 1997, was left thinking critically how to overcome some of the struggles they were encountering with the track and tire, a second-place finish was something to be proud about.
“Honestly we had the car to beat for the first segment, controlled the race and ran fast when I needed to and conserve tires the best I could,” Tanner noted. “We’ll have to evaluate things. I don’t know if the stagger on these right side tires opened up a little bit, but the thing just got real free on entry right off the bat that second stage. It gave him a couple opportunities and then I guess he got antsy enough and used us up pretty hard there getting into one, but both of us kept it going and ran a clean race.
“He had the better car the second segment, so he deserved to win, I guess.”
Coming home in third was the defending Turkey Shoot winner at Tucson Speedway, a 125-lap event on Thanksgiving weekend. Brett Yackey started further back, ran mid-pack early on, and even spun to avoid a multi-car wreck on a restart.
Then, out of seemingly nowhere, the No. 32 was battling within the top five.
At one point late in the going, he did see an opportunity to peek briefly for the lead when McGhee and Tanner made some of the aforementioned contact.
“At the beginning I dropped to like 12th and three quarters of the track behind coming from that far back was just hard on tires and equipment,” the Greeley, Colo., driver noted. “But once I got up there I kind of hung out there, got loose in the middle, got loose off, and fought it. Honestly the car wasn’t that good but made the most of it and can’t complain with a third place finish.”
The showing was a good baseline for the season to come. Yackey plans to leave a car down in Arizona and commute to compete for the track’s super late model title.
Multi-time track champion Brandon Farrington came across the line in fourth, but was disqualified for a rev limiter infraction. That moved veteran Bruce Yackey to fourth and track regular Vanessa Robinson to fifth in the official finishing order.
The Legends feature winners were an exact replica from Friday, with Minnesota’s Tristan Swanson earning the trophy in the 40-lap Semi-Pro/Young Lions race and New Mexico’s Jason Irwin taking the 50-lap Pro/Masters accolades.
The NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series tentatively begins at Tucson Speedway on Saturday, March 13, including a 75-lap super late model feature.
Christian McGhee, Tyler Tanner, Brett Yackey, Bruce Yackey, Vanessa Robinson, Kody Vanderwal, Bob Cramb, Rudy Vanderwal, Tanner Reif, Joe Paladenic, Chris Eggleston, Austin Thom, Edward Vecchiarelli, Dean Thompson, Michael Scott, Bryce Bezanson, Scott Graf. DQ: Brandon Farrington.