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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The 2016 season served as a return home of sorts for 40-year-old Justin Creech.
The veteran racer from Anchorage, Alaska, started his racing career on asphalt, but after the track he started on shut down he and his family race team transitioned to racing sprint cars and Legends cars on dirt.
However, when Alaska Raceway Park officials announced the addition of a third-mile paved oval to the facility that would be a part of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, Creech knew it was time to return to asphalt racing. It was a decision he didn’t regret as he became the first NASCAR track champion in the history of Alaska Raceway Park in 2016.
“When they announced they were opening this track up we were all on it. It was a pretty big deal,” Creech said. “What a great experience being connected with NASCAR. It was just a wonderful deal. We worked hard last season for that championship. We came back from a couple of bad crashes. My crew did an awesome job. It means the world to me with it being the first year the track was open and to come out and win the championship the first year. It kind of puts me in the history books, being the first champion.”
Creech won four times and never finished outside the top-10 in the 10 points paying events held at Alaska Raceway Park. That success not only allowed him to win the track championship, but also earned Creech the Alaska state championship.
U.S. state and province champions are determined by the best 18 finishes at tracks within the respective state or province.
It was actually a family affair for the Creech family at Alaska Raceway Park. Justin bested his brother, Aaron, by 323 points to win the track championship in the late model division. Creech Motorsports also won the track championship in the Baby Grand division with Alex Schwochert and Justin’s father, Willie, was third in the Legends car division.
Creech credited his crew, which included Mardy Dunn, John Robarge, Ty Clapper and his girlfriend, Kirsten Johnson, for keeping the Creech Motorsports team running smoothly throughout the inaugural season at Alaska Raceway Park.
“We were just consistent,” Creech explained. “My setup guy Mardy Dunn, we communicated well together and he knew the car inside and out. We built it in my garage so he knew everything and it was just a matter of getting that thing to stick. I think that was what put us over the top more than anybody else, which was having a crew chief that knew what he was doing. He was getting that car set up and we were there every race.”
Creech said that racing at Alaska Raceway Park was good enough, but said the scenery around the venue makes it one of the most scenic race track locations he has ever seen.
“It’s the most beautiful scenery you’ve ever seen in your life,” Creech said. “You are surrounded by nothing but mountains. Snow capped mountains all the way around the whole race track. Just a beautiful race track. One of the top race tracks in the entire United States, hands down.”
This year Creech said he plans to expand his horizons to racing outside of Alaska. He has purchased a few more late models and plans to keep one of them housed on the West Coast so he can do a little bit of racing elsewhere when he isn’t competing at Alaska Raceway Park, where he plans to defend his track championship this year.
“We’re going to be there (at Alaska Raceway Park). Everybody is gunning for me this year,” Creech said. “What we’re going to do is ship one (late model) to the United States and we’re going to do some traveling around and go make some other races down here. We’ll probably hit the West Coast area, maybe Vegas, Arizona. I think that’s what the plan is this year.”
Alaska Raceway Park, located in Palmer, Alaska, will open their NASCAR Whelen All-American Series season on May 26, with nine days of racing scheduled during the summer months through Sept. 1.
Established in 1982, the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series is NASCAR’s national championship program for weekly short track auto racing.
NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I drivers are ranked by their best 18 NASCAR points finishes in series-sanctioned events. Drivers receive two points for every car they finish ahead of – up to 18 cars – and three points for a win, with an additional two points available if the driver starts 10th or lower.
Connecticut-based Whelen Engineering is the series’ title sponsor. Whelen Engineering is a leading manufacturer of automotive, aviation, industrial and emergency vehicle lighting. NASCAR tracks and pace cars across North American are among many showcases for Whelen products.