Wheatland, Missouri (January 27, 2022) – After a pair of part time campaigns with the Lucas Oil Midwest Late Model Racing Association (MLRA), Daniel Hilsabeck is ready to hit the tour full time in 2022. The driver from Earlham, Iowa joins previously announced Trevor Gundaker, as the first two drivers to commit to running for the prestigious Sunoco Race Fuels Rookie of the Year Award.
The upcoming season will mark just the third year behind the wheel of a Super Late Model for the 31 year old driver. A true grass roots racer from the start, Hilsabeck got his first taste of racing in front wheel drive Sport Compacts, before progressing through the ranks into IMCA Modifieds and Stock Cars. His desire to go “open motor” racing however, eventually led him to follow the USMTS Modified tour for a number of years.
Following the 2016 season Hilsabeck stepped back from racing for a couple of years, until returning to the modified ranks for a brief stint in 2019. “I kind of got back into racing in 2019 and Dylan Book was going with me, so I actually had help to be able to go and race. I raced the modified maybe 15 nights and we were still just getting back into things, and it’s like you know what, let’s just go and get a late model,” explained Hilsabeck.
Hilsabeck made his MLRA debut in the 2020 season opener at the Randolph County Raceway in Moberly, MO and acknowledges that the transition was not an easy one. “We just barely made it for 2020 to even race, it’s not that we didn’t want to race more and race bigger races, the timing of it just never really worked out. We didn’t intend to jump right in, we just had the one car and didn’t have a whole lot of spare parts, we’ve just kind of built up to that.”
Fast forward to 2022 and Hilsabeck is much more prepared for a full assault on the MLRA tour. As of this week he is on his way to pick up a pair of new XR-1 Rocket Chassis that he will use in his campaign for Sunoco Rookie of the Year, which will be powered by Mullins Race Engines.
Although he is still in search of his first open late model win, he showed great progress in the 2021 season, bringing home 4 top ten finishes with the MLRA to go along with a most impressive 11th place run at the Diamond Nationals. Hilsabeck is hopeful that he can string together more complete nights like he did last July in Wheatland, MO when he timed in 2nd quick in his qualifying session behind Jimmy Owens, and finished the feature directly in front of eventual LOLMDS Champion Tim McCreadie and MLRA Champion Tony Jackson, Jr.
The upcoming race season will present a different challenge than the past two seasons for the driver of car 22, and that is a higher focus on becoming more of a points racer. “I have never really been a points racer, I always just race to win,” he commented. “In points racing you have got to be able to get back out there, you’ve got to have spares and the people there to help you out with changing tires and things like that. We were going to run for Rookie of the Year last year but we didn’t have a rig all the way up until March, and until we found that I didn’t know if we would even be racing at all. This year we are more prepared.”
While the pursuit of points may present new challenges and added pressure, he admits that is something he is looking forward to. “I love the grind,” he said of the tour schedule. “It’s definitely grueling especially when you have to unload, wash, do maintenance, and go through everything. It’s a ton of work, but I enjoy the whole process of it. I don’t just enjoy the being at the track part of it, so for me this is a passion and not so much work.”
Hilsabeck gained national exposure a year ago when he captured the Non-Qualifiers feature at the I-80 Speedway during the I-80 Nationals. That victory qualified him for his second LOLMDS main event of the year, and with eight MLRA events in 2022 being co-sanctioned with the LOLMDS, it will again give him an opportunity to learn from and compete with some of the nation’s best.
“I’m looking forward to running the large number of races against the Lucas guys. It’s nice to be able to get into a groove and just race,” he explains of the multi-day events such as the Show-Me 100 and Gopher 50. “I want to run top level. I get that we can’t just go do that right away but when they are around here it is always great racing with those guys. You have got to know what you’re getting into. Obviously you go there to do good but you can’t just say I’m going to win those races, but it definitely makes you a better racer just racing with those guys.”
With a couple of seasons now under his belt in the open late model ranks, he is hopeful that experience will pay dividends this season. “I think it will help a ton just having been to some of the tracks that we are going to race at this year. Having seen some of those tracks over east will help for sure, it will at least give us somewhat of a notebook to go back to for this year.”
When the MLRA season goes green at the 81 Speedway in Park City, KS in April Hilsabeck will be ready to chase more than just the rookie title. “We want to win the Rookie of the Year, but I also want to be able to win my first true super late model race. We are going to be shooting for a top five every night. First off we want to qualify good. It seemed like last year we qualified better and we were getting the hang of qualifying. If you can start off qualifying good it seems like you can hang up front pretty easy. It makes it a hell of a lot easier when you can qualify good.”
HILSABECK MOTORSPORTS PARTNERS: Banning Chiropractic, Big Deal Car Care, Finish Line Body & Paint, Hilsabeck Farms, RRP Race Graphics, Performance Bodies, Twenty Two Enterprises.