By Shawn Brouse
For The Daily Item
The 28th annual Jim Nace Memorial National Open for 410 sprints slated for Saturday night at Selinsgrove Speedway is going to be special, in many ways.
A stylish format that will see the race broken into a pair of 22-lap segments, each paying $6,000, with another $14,000 payable to a driver that sweeps both parts, is special in itself. The total 44 laps, $6,000 segments and sweep amount of $26,000 are all meant to symbolize five-time track champion Nace of Thompsontown, and that’s special.
And for Chad Layton, just the chance to get back to Selinsgrove, where he made his name as a driver in the 358 sprint ranks when the track put the division on the map in the early 2000s, is special as well.
The Harrisburg driver won 21 of his 25 career oval 358 features during the 2001 and 2002 season and took track titles in 2001, 2002 and 2003.
And anytime you have that much success at any one place, something special happens.
“There’s definitely some specialness to that place in my heart that maybe only a few people have experienced or know about, like Jim Nace probably did, along with some other guys,” Layton says of Selinsgrove.
“When you run a place like that for a long time and have the kind of success like I did, you always think and feel differently about it, even like when you walk in and first look at it, you just feel different.”
Layton is unquestionably the banner carrier for what the oval’s weekly Selinsgrove 358 ranks can produce, having moved up to the 410 divison several seasons ago, and made good, currently driving the potent Middleswarth Chips No. 7 mount.
He’s won big races this season — the Tommy Hinnershitz Classic at Williams Grove Speedway as well as a trumping of the World of Outlaws, and $15,000 in the Nace Dream Race Extreme at Port Royal Speedway.
“If the year were to end next week, I’d say we had a good year. We’ve won some big events, the ones people eyeball, so we’ve done all right there,” he says. The team took the 2010 Port title.
But 34-year old Layton wants to do all right in the Nace Memorial Open as well.
“We roll in and time trial good and set the tone right from the doorway, I think we’ll be a big factor in that race,” he says.
“If we time all right, heck yeah, I think we’ll be there!
“I can really meander my way around people on that track,” he says of the prowess he gained racing weekly years ago.
“But you can’t solely win races on that either.”
Indeed, Daryn Pittman won each of the previous two appearances by the 410s at the track this season and is a favorite once again.
No matter what the outcome, Layton will always hold the oval dear.
“That place played a big role in my career. After that, it blossomed,” he admits.
“Racing there every week, that place gave me a way to fine-tune myself and open up possibilities and have things happen that I’d never think would have happened.”
Layton moved from the 358s in those days to drive the Apple Motorsports No. 12, which he took to a victory in the Open back in 2006. He also drove the Postupack No. 25 aside from his familiar No. U1.
“That place is always going to be special to me. That place has treated me kinder than any other racetrack in my career,” Layton adds.
As far as his team coming into the race, Layton shoots straight.
“There’s not really too much I would change, other than the same thing that every single other driven racer wants to, and that’s to do better,” he says.
“I’m driven to do better. We don’t hunger for anything. The owners don’t put any pressure on us. We have plenty of motors and they’re always fresh.”
“Driving for them (Middleswarth) is like driving for my dad’s deal (referring to former rides owned by his father, Jim), in the pressure sense. I don’t feel like I’m ever on the hotseat. Our owners couldn’t be better. They are great. We all feel the same way, we want to win.”
He’ll get his chance Saturday night at 7 p.m.
— Correspondent Shawn Brouse covers motorsports for The Daily Item.