BALCAEN MAKES HISTORY
Winnipeg native becomes first Canadian female to win a NASCAR-sanctioned race in U.S. – JW Martin
For Amber Balcaen, victory lane at Motor Mile Speedway was foreign territory.
A 24-year-old dirt racer from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Balcaen was pursuing an unprecedented feat in her first season of NASCAR-sanctioned competition: to become the first Canadian-born female racer to win a NASCAR-sanctioned race in the United States.
Saturday night, Balcaen was in the winner’s circle…and in the record books.
“I’m going to be smiling all week,” Balcaen exclaimed. “I’ve dreamed of this all season. Last [race], I thought it was going to happen. But sometimes you have to lose before you can win.”
Balcaen had been compiling an impressive resume in her rookie season in the Collision Plus Limited Sportsman division at Motor Mile Speedway, boasting ten top-five finishes in 11 starts. Although the checkered flag remained elusive, a career-best runner-up effort in the division’s most recent contest on August 13th placed Balcaen on the brink of an historic breakthrough.
Balcaen started the 50-lap dash third in the seven-car Limited Sportsman field, and after maneuvering past Richard Caldwell’s no. 13 on lap 7, she was tasked with reeling in pole-sitter Karl Budzevski.
A five-time winner in 2016, Budzevski was aiming to capitalize on an opportunity to regain ground in the division points race with championship counterpart Scott Lancaster starting sixth per the “Two-Wins-in-a-Row” policy. Separated by 18 points in the track standings, a victory was critical to Budzevski’s diminishing title hopes.
After pacing the race uncontested through the opening 27 circuits, Budzevski became embroiled in a spirited duel with Balcaen for the top spot. From the bottom groove of the .416-mile oval, Balcaen methodically edged alongside Budzevski, sparking a two-lap, side-by-side battle for first.
Balcaen eclipsed Budzevski as the duo sprinted out of turn two on lap 32, completing the move down the backstretch. It proved to be the pass for the win.
“I knew I had to pass him as soon as I could. When I saw the opportunity to make the pass, I did,” Balcaen said. “The no. 26 is a hard competitor, but I was so hungry.”
Balcaen constructed a comfortable advantage in the waning circuits, capturing the checkered flag by .508 seconds over Budzevski. Lancaster placed third.
“I really wanted the win. If I’d had another five laps, it would have been interesting,” Budzevski stated. “But hey, congratulations to [Amber].”
Balcaen is the second female to make history in Motor Mile Speedway’s Limited Sportsman division. In 2015, Julia Landauer became the first female to win a Limited Sportsman track championship at the New River Valley speedplant. Balcaen has been piloting Landauer’s Lee Pulliam Performance entry during her 2016 campaign. And like Landauer, who currently competes in the K&N Pro Series West, Balcaen has unbridled aspirations.
“I’ve wanted this win so bad, and I knew that I needed it to be able to make the next step in my career,” explained Balcaen. “I gave up everything back home to come here to try and be a NASCAR driver. Not having the financial backing, being female and Canadian… to be able to put the pieces together and have an awesome crew and to get the sponsorship I needed to come here— it really is a dream come true.”
IN OTHER DIVISIONS
The Motor Mile mavericks ride again.
Returning from a disqualification on July 30th, Mike Looney and the underdog contingent from Catawba, Va., orchestrated another dramatic upset win in the nightcap Michael Huffman/Michael Snyder Memorial TWIN 75s presented by A-1 Heating & Cooling, MemberOne and WFXR News.
It was a statement race for Looney, who carried the banner of race sponsor A-1 Heating & Cooling and the memory of a friend into victory lane Saturday night.
“This race is for Michael Huffman and Michael Snyder— it’s in their memory. I want to dedicate this to their families,” Looney said. “This means a lot on several levels. When you get disqualified for something, whether it makes a difference or not, everybody [questions] why you’re running good. We came here to shut ‘em up tonight.”
Looney wrangled the lead away from Lee Pulliam following the lone caution of the latter feature on lap 50. A non-factor through the majority of the contest, Looney’s no. 87 out-paced Philip Morris’ no. 01 in the closing circuits, amassing a .928-second margin of victory at the finish to claim his second win of the 2016 season.
Morris tallied second after notching a dominating win in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model division opener.
Pulliam placed third after wrestling a loose left-rear wheel through the final 25 circuits.
“It sucks to lose one like that,” Pulliam acknowledged. “The car was shaking— I couldn’t hardly drive it. I just prayed every lap that it wouldn’t fall off, because it would’ve cost me the track championship. It’s tough. We gave one away.”
Chucky Williams collected his second consecutive win in MOD-4 competition Saturday night. Doodle Lang placed second in his bid to sew up the 2016 track championship. Cory Dunn, piloting a back-up car for the second straight race, rounded out the podium.
Photo Credits: Shane Green