Previewing Port Royal’s Tuscarora 50

Previewing The Tuscarora 50
The Tuscarora 50 takes center stage this weekend at Port Royal Speedway. (Dan Demarco photo)

PORT ROYAL, Pa. – The debate has buzzed over the last few weeks and will only amplify as Saturday’s Tuscarora 50 at Port Royal Speedway draws closer: Kyle Larson or Anthony Macri?

One is winning at an absurd clip across various disciplines. The other has won six of 11 features at the track since June. In a field so vast, Larson and Macri have captivated their respective playing fields, between Macri at Port Royal and Larson on his nomadic journey.

The Tuscarora 50, which kicks off with preliminary nights Thursday and Friday before the mega 50-lap, $53,000-to-win main event on Saturday, embellishes any racing resume. For Larson and Macri, it is just that, but with added spice.

A Larson win would continue to crystallize one of the more dominant seasons in recent memory. A Macri win, with the whole racing world watching thanks to Larson, would be an emphatic step on his continual climb in the sprint car ranks.

What separates the two? Their mindsets, for one, seem to differentiate them.

“I try not to think about that stuff and get all wound up,” Macri said. “Obviously, it’s in the back of my head. [Larson] is the best driver in the United States right now. He’s obviously coming for the same reason we’re coming.”

“There’s milestones I want to get to,” Larson said. “I go in five-race chunks, so now I’m at 36 wins, I want to get to 40 and just kind of go from there. Fifty wins would be amazing and that is my ultimate goal, but that’d be a lot to get to.”

In total, Larson and Macri have won nine of the last 11 Port Royal features since June 14. Their styles and paths to victory mirror each other: set a blistering pace along the fence and never relent.

The key is never breaking a heady steam of momentum, and this year Port Royal has formed into the perfect stage for Larson and Macri to showcase that high-paced style of driving.

“One thing this year about Port Royal is it’s all about momentum,” said Lance Dewease, a six-time Tuscarora 50 winner. “You can’t get held up by a lapped car. Even if you pass a lapped car, if you do it too slowly you can lose a lot of time because the guy behind you has momentum. You have to go by them without losing the momentum. It’s a slide-job type passing.”

No one has more Tuscarora 50 titles than Dewease, who also sits second all-time in wins at the speedway with 113. But even he’ll admit, trusty ways that have worked for decades have all of sudden been subdued by Larson and Macri.

Aaron Reutzel, who races with the same edge, won last year’s Tuscarora 50 in similar fashion, too.

“Last year I got beat by Aaron with him running the wall and me not,” Dewease said. “Some of the things we’ve done in years past aren’t working now with some of the speeds they carry.”

Dewease usually excels at running the bottom in Don Kreitz Jr.’s No. 69k, which is known to master races in the slick, but this year he’s been challenged to move up the banking and try to keep pace with Larson and Macri.

“It’s definitely a more top dominant race track right now,” Dewease added. “Especially in [turns] one and two, no matter what the track conditions are like. Three and four, the top is better than previous years with how they changed the banking. One and two is all about momentum. If you pass a car the wrong way in [turns] one and two, it can eat you up going down the backstretch. You’re almost better off following a guy in [turns] one and two.”

Larson and Macri have practically forced everyone to rethink their ways. Some have taken it as a challenge, while others try to stay true to themselves.

Even Macri, in a way, tries to stay true to what has worked for him.

“If we let [Larson] clog our heads, it’s not going to be good,” Macri said.

Larson, meanwhile, has studied Macri and his recent dominance.

“It seems like once [Macri] gets to traffic, he has enough grip to move around and make runs that way,” Larson said. “Lance’s car has a lot of grip in the slick, but Macri seems to move around more and do more with the race car.”

While Dewease has probably spent a few more hours in the shop on a weekly basis trying to make up for lost speed on the race track, Larson and Macri are actually helping him and others like Danny Dietrich.

The spotlight that usually shines on the Posse’s most popular drivers has suddenly shined elsewhere.

“There’s a lot of guys flying under the radar mainly because of Larson and how fast Anthony has been there,” Dewease said. “Danny is probably flying under the radar worse than me and he gets around Port Royal very well. It’s going to be tough, but it’s a much longer race than normal and you still have to be smart.”

The top has been so good at Port Royal this year, but Dewease poses this question: “Is it sustainable for 50 laps?”

It’s always a risk, hauling the mail on the edge of catastrophe for that long. Larson, though, doesn’t necessarily feel that way.

“Running the wall at any race track is sketchy, but at Port Royal, I don’t feel it’s as sketchy,” Larson said. “The track gets so slick and it slows down a lot. Then they have that extra banking right at the wall. The closer you get to it, the faster you go. It can definitely eat you up, but it doesn’t seem to suck you into the wall like other tracks do, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s just the shape of the entry in turn one. It’s a lot of fun to run the wall.”

If Larson and Macri can maintain their torrid pace, it might be a long week for everyone else.

“We’ve had this week circled on our calendars all year,” Macri said. “We’re all focused.”