Race Weekend Central

Who Will Shine in the 2023 ARCA West Season?

Phoenix Raceway bookends the 2023 ARCA Menards Series West season, which begins with a 150-lap combination race with the ARCA Menards Series.

According to ARCA Communications Manager Charles Krall, there are five drivers who should be viewed as favorites. Overall, series officials are expecting around 18 full-time entries.

Sean Hingorani will be very competitive,” Krall told Frontstretch. “He’s obviously running for both [ARCA Menards Series] East and West championships for Venturini Motorsports and he’s going to have Jerry Pitts helping him in the West so I think that’ll be a very good solid combination. Tanner Reif is sliding over into a Bill McAnally Racing car and I think that’ll make him an immediate championship contender. He won twice last year so I think he’ll pick up where he left off.

Trevor Huddleston has won before and he has the remnants of Bob Bruncati’s team. Young Bradley Erickson with Naake-Klauer Motorsports will be competitive right away. You can never count out Todd Souza. Todd only has one win but he has been extremely competitive the last couple of years with a bunch of top five and more top 10s. Every year, it seems like there is one bad race that takes him out of championship contention.”

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Reif and Huddleston are the only two full-time drivers with a West series victory on their resumes.

“Oh yeah, we 100% have our sights on winning as much as possible but also focusing on the main goal of carrying that big trophy home at the end of the year,” Huddleston said.

Huddleston bought retiring West champion team owner Bob Bruncati’s equipment. As such, Huddleston will compete for his own team, High Point Racing, in the No. 50 Ford. The team will also have Ford manufacturer support.

“It’s actually a deal that we’ve been working on for a few years now with Bob Bruncati at Sunrise [Ford Racing],” Huddleston continued. “He was planning his exit strategy so he could spend a little bit more time at home, and we were looking to move up into a different division.

“Our relationship with Bob through Irwindale Speedway and me racing for him for a couple of years formed this partnership where we, in one smooth transition, bought the racecars. Nothing is really changing as far as who is working on some of the cars. The cars are all his championship-winning ones from last year and we’re going to try to ride the momentum to this year.”

Jeff Schrader will serve as Huddleston’s crew chief. Schrader guided Reif to two West series victories in 2022. Overall, Schrader has won over a dozen West races as well as guided three drivers to runner-up points finishes. Most importantly, Schrader and Huddleston have a good relationship, key for chasing a championship.

Huddleston has won at Evergreen Speedway and Irwindale, both of which are on the 2023 schedule. With 53 career starts, Huddleston is eager to compete at all racetracks.

“No doubt I’m looking forward to those two tracks because of past experience,” Huddleston said. “I’m pumped to go to Phoenix. That’s one of my favorite tracks. I’m looking forward to going back to Portland [International Raceway] for one of the two road courses. That’s what I like about the ARCA series, is the tracks are very versatile with so many different styles of tracks. You go to big and small short tracks and road courses. Every race we’re going to, I’m ready for it.”

Huddleston has his eyes on several drivers vying for the crown.

Hingorani will be one of two drivers seeking to win both the West and East championships in 2023.

“I think it’s going to be a pretty busy year,” Hingorani told sports reporter Casey Campbell. “It’d be great to win both.”

Hingorani will pilot the No. 15 Toyota in the West races. After competing in five events in 2022, he is eager to use his experience to his advantage.

“I’ve been to a lot of the tracks on the West here and that’s going to increase our chance of winning,” he continued. “Just having experience at these tracks and I’m excited to do it. I think it’ll be a pretty good run at the championship on the West.”

His Venturini team is seeking to earn drivers and owners’ championships in all three ARCA series in 2023. Hingorani is hungry to earn two for the organization.

“I think it would mean a lot,” Hingorani said. “You know, if the team can win all three championships, it would be huge and I don’t think any driver has won the ARCA East and West championships in the same year. So, I think that would also be pretty huge so I’m looking forward to it.”

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Tyler Reif, Tanner’s younger brother, is also seeking both the East and West titles and has high expectations.

“He’s looking for podiums and above, extremely high expectations,” father Travis Reif told Frontstretch. “He follows through pretty well. Tyler has a fire that is undeniable.”

Reif will have RJ Smotherman as his full-time teammate driving for team owner Chris Lowden. The duo are friends, beneficial for the two-car team.

“Me and Tyler have always been friends,” Smotherman said. “We raced at Madera [Speedway] together, we’ve raced at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway together and so we’ve had a great friendship. We’ve raced each other side-by-side for 20-30 laps and never had any run-ins. We respect each other and we always have a lot of fun together.

“Having teammates allows us to relay information to each other because he’s been to racetracks on the schedule that I’ve never been to and vice versa. As great friends, we work well together with the whole team.”

The team wants trophies in 2023, too.

“The goal is a championship, obviously it’s high standards for my first season but I think we have the capabilities and equipment to do it,” Reif said.

“I think we are going to be a force to be reckoned with,” Smotherman echoed. “We have a great team here. Our goal for this year is to rack up points for Rookie of the Year. I’m going for a couple of wins. We have awesome cars, awesome resources, terrific crew members, [and a] great crew chief and spotter.

Driving the No. 46, Smotherman will have Rip Michels as his crew chief and Matt Jackson as his spotter. The experienced Jackson has helped Ron Hornaday Jr., among other West series drivers.

“Roseville, Irwindale, we have great chances,” Smotherman said. “I love road course racing. I’m pretty strong at road course racing, so I feel like we have a chance to do well at the road courses as well. We just have to put it all together. Fight, fight, fight, and I believe we can get some wins this year.”

Smotherman debuted in the West in 2022 with four starts, including a seventh-place showing at All American Speedway.

“It was a fun track,” Smotherman added. “The car for that track was built for that track. It drove good, it handled good and I’ve always been good at the really short, short tracks like that. Track position was huge there. You can also run the outside at that track.

“The outside lane is a strong lane to run and that’s where I made some moves as well. If you can make it stick, you can dig and make it fast.”

Smotherman is eager to parlay his acquired knowledge from his 2022 slate into a successful full-time campaign.

“I definitely learned some new things about the cars and how they drive,” Smotherman added. “They’re nothing like a pro late model like I’m used to driving. These cars are big, heavy, boxy, [with a] lot of horsepower and tire under them. They don’t slow down as well. They’re a big car and they drive like it, but they’re a lot of fun.

“I learned a whole new aspect of racing cars with these ARCA cars. There’s so much competition in this class. I love the competition that everybody is out there to win. Nobody is fine finishing second and that makes it fun, that makes it intense.”

Reif will drive newly acquired racecars from TRICON Garage. Smotherman will wheel a Ford and Chevrolet. The Chevy is the short track car, but the team intends on converting it into a Ford as well. Under the hood of his Ford is a Stewart-Haas Racing chassis, so Lowden Jackson Motorsports will have good equipment for the 14-race West season.

Krall noted the entry list for the West season opener is expected to consist of at least 30 cars. That race will take place on Friday, March 10 at 8 p.m. ET with TV coverage provided by FOX Sports 2.

About the author

Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.

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