Tanner Reif dominated the ARCA Menards Series West race at Irwindale Speedway this March. (Steve Himelstein photo)
When the ARCA Menards Series West takes to the track on Aug. 20 for the NAPA Auto Parts ARCA West 150, it will mark the 1,000th time in series history that a field of drivers has lined up for the green flag.
Furthermore, it will happen at a racetrack that has played host to more West races than any other — Evergreen Speedway.
The big five-eighths-mile will be hosting its 60th West race, and one of the series’ most storied teams will be looking to make history of its own. Sunrise Racing, run by long-time team owners Bob and Maureen Bruncati, will be looking for its fourth consecutive win at the track.
Derek Thorn won for the team in 2018, Trevor Huddleston won in 2019 and Blaine Perkins won in 2020.
The Sunrise team will have more than fair odds at making a run at its fourth consecutive series win at the track. Jake Drew, driving the team’s flagship No. 6 Ford, has won the last three series races at Portland International Raceway, Sonoma Raceway and Irwindale Speedway.
Drew holds a dominating 45-point lead over Cole Moore as the season hits the championship stretch. Should Drew earn his fourth straight win, it will also be his team’s fourth straight at Evergreen.
The win would all but ensure he celebrates the series title at Pheonix Raceway in November.
“Some drivers would tell you going to a track you’ve never been to with a team that’s won the last three races there would put a lot of pressure on you, but it does nothing but give me a ton of added confidence,” Drew said. “I know my team is 100 percent behind me and I’ve done my homework. I have a buddy who races there with his girlfriend and they’ve given me a lot of advice.
“It’s a big, fast, flat track and it’s very abrasive. We’re going to have to save our stuff.”
Drew is on an incredible hot streak and it’s one he’s not ready to come off of just yet.
“I am not planning on letting anyone else win one of these races this year,” he said. “I have been talking a lot with Bill Sedgwick and Ryan Partidge and they’ve both been a huge help to me everywhere we go. It would be a huge win for me and for Sunrise Racing to get the 1000th race in West Series history.”
The West Series’ history dates back to March 28, 1954, when it debuted as the Pacific Coast Late Model Division at Oakland Speedway — a race won by Indy 500 veteran Dick Rathmann. Since then, the series has launched dozens of drivers into successful careers in the upper levels of NASCAR racing.
One of those drivers, Chad Little, enjoyed a fruitful career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and later the NASCAR Cup Series. Little won the 1987 West championship and then finished third in 1988 before turning his attention to the national series, a move that led to six career Xfinity Series wins and 217 starts in the Cup Series.
Little is now the managing director, event management and officiate for NASCAR. He won five times in his 33 career West starts. His first win came at Evergreen in a demanding 500-lap event that saw him beat Cup Series superstar Bill Elliott to the checkered by nearly a full lap.
“I was just a young kid then and I certainly didn’t appreciate it as much then as I do now,” Little recounted. “The cars were identical to Cup cars then. My brothers were the tire changers and my best friends were the tire carriers.
“We had the chance to race with the Cup teams a few times every year, but Evergreen was the one time they would truly be on our turf. I didn’t realize it then but beating a guy like Bill Elliott absolutely helped put me on track to make my first Cup start.”
Three of Little’s five career West wins came in the 500-lap marathons at Evergreen over a four-year span. The year he didn’t win, 1987, he finished third. Despite not winning the series’ most prestigious race, he did earn the series championship that year.
“It was no small feat to beat guys like Hershel McGriff, Bill Schmitt and Jim Robinson,” he said. “It’s a huge accomplishment to have my name on the list of West champions and it’s been a huge point of pride of me and my family over the years.”
Another driver who started his ascension to stardom in the West Series is 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick. The 1998 West champion Harvick has gone on to win 59 Cup Series races, 47 races in the Xfinity Series and 14 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Harvick recently won the Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway to secure a position in the playoffs as he pursues a second series title.