Church Ready To Defend Home Turf

Tyler Church celebrates after winning the PASS South Over The Mountain 150 at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway last September. (PASS Photo)
Tyler Church celebrates after winning the PASS South Over The Mountain 150 at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway last September. (PASS Photo)
Tyler Church celebrates after winning the PASS South Over The Mountain 150 at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway last September. (PASS Photo)

HICKORY, N.C. – The best short track racers from across North America will once again be descending on Hickory Motor Speedway this weekend as they prepare for the ninth annual Easter Bunny 150.

Racers flock to the legendary speedway nestled in the North Carolina Piedmont as the Easter Bunny 150 has become an Easter weekend tradition for the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) South Super Late Model division. Likewise, fans of short track racing recognize the Easter Bunny 150 as one of the sport’s premier races, thanks in large part to the star studded field of drivers the event attracts year after year.

Names like Rowe, Lawler, Williams, Naase and Grissom have all visited victory lane in the Easter Bunny 150 at Hickory. And, until last year’s win by Preston Peltier, no driver had achieved victory in racing’s ultimate Easter egg hunt more than once. But, even with the best the sport has to offer coming to duke it out against one another, it is a home grown product of Hickory Motor Speedway that some have circled on their entry lists as the early favorite.

Current PASS South points leader Tyler Church is actually from Hickory, N.C. He started out as a fan attending races at Hickory Motor Speedway and, after becoming a race car driver, became a top contender in the track’s Limited Late Model division. Eventually Church joined forces with Peltier and began competing on limited basis with PASS South in 2013.

But, despite only making sporadic starts with the series, Church became an immediate front runner scoring an emotional win in the Over The Mountain 150 at Hickory late last season. A win made even more special in that it came in front of longtime fans, family, and friends that had supported his journey up the racing ladder. And, by the fact, that his late mother is buried in the cemetery which overlooks the historic speedway.

“It was huge to get that win at Hickory last September,” said Church, who went on to capture his second career win just weeks later in the Mason Dixon Meltdown at Southern National Motorsports Park. “I’ve had a lot of help since I began racing with PASS and being at home, it was just huge. I’m just very thankful and then to win the Meltdown was just a bonus.”

Despite not winning so far in 2014, Church and his Church’s Carpet team have been the model of consistency. The young season has seen steady improvement for Church, including two top five finishes, a third at Dillon Motor Speedway in March and a runner-up finish in the most recent PASS South event at Orange County Speedway. Now as one of the biggest races of the season approaches at, of all places, his home track, Church is brimming with confidence. All that despite the stellar field that will try to keep him from reaching victory lane at Hickory Motor Speedway for a second straight time.

“Going to Hickory, it’s gonna be tough for sure, but I think we will be okay,” said Church. “I was hoping to have a win by now, but this year was my first time at Greenville. And, at Dillon and Orange County, I was tickled to get a couple of top fives with the competition we had at those two tracks. But all I want is that Easter Bunny, that’s it.”

Church will certainly have his work cut out for him though this weekend as the strongest group of Super Late Models of the year will assemble at Hickory Motor Speedway. Fellow PASS South points contenders Cole Timm, Jared Irvan, Trevor Noles and Tyler Dippel have filed entries.

As is usual for the Easter Bunny 150, a strong contingent of Northern drivers will be making the trip down to Hickory including Ben Rowe, D.J. Shaw, Joey Doiron, Austin Theriault, Trevor Sanborn, Ryan Moore and Canadian Steve Laking. Jay Fogleman returns to the driver’s seat at Hickory along with his son, Tate, as they carry the banner for Bull City Race Cars and Speedco Truck Lube & Tire.

Daniel Hemric returns to PASS after winning the first two events of the season as well as two-time Easter Bunny 150 winner Preston Peltier. Harrison Burton and Gus Dean will also be back as they make their second attempts in PASS for 2014. Former PASS South winner Clay Rogers returns as well for the first time since South Boston in 2013.

Veteran Randy Gentry will be looking to bounce back after a tough run at Orange County along with fellow South Carolina drivers Ted Mickelson and Clete Caywood. Veterans Jody Measamer, Brandon Ward, Joe Heigl, and John Batten hope to get their seasons turned around. Florida’s Patrick Staropoli will be stepping in to the Jimmy Doyle owned No. 71 and will be joined by fellow Sunshine State driver Joey Padgett in making their first Easter Bunny 150 attempts this weekend. Local favorite Brandon Setzer will also be making his first attempt at qualifying along with fellow rookie Tanner Rumburg.