Ken MacIsaac’s (KM) popular ‘KenZone’ series continues with Andrew Hicken (AH), the team manager at King Racing in Pictou, Nova Scotia. King Racing is undoubtedly the highest-profile race team in the Maritimes with long roots reaching back into the 1960s when team owner Rollie MacDonald started his racing career as a driver evolving to team ownership with the late Scott Fraser at the helm in the early 2000s and most recently with Maine’s Cassius Clark at the wheel. The team has several championships to its credit along with wins in the Maritimes biggest races and impressive runs in the biggest races on the eastern seaboard.

Last month, after 40 years of its team hauler crossing the U.S. border with no issues whatsoever, King Racing made headlines off the track when its hauler was delayed at the border for over three days as the team completed form after form after form, getting the green flag to proceed into the U.S. in barely enough time to make it to Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina where they were scheduled to race. In this in-depth interview, Hicken talks about that experience in hopes of helping other teams avoid a similar time, as well their races at Hickory and at the Snowball Derby as well as the team’s plans for 2018, with a great photo gallery following…

KM – With all the border crossing problems you guys encountered last month, I want to hear how it all transpired.  I know you had plans months ago to go to the PASS Meltdown at Hickory.  So let’s start there.

AH – We did.  We put that race on our schedule a few months ago. So we were all loaded up and heading out on the Tuesday before the race.   Rollie and I left around 7 AM.  Greg and Barry left around 10 or 11 AM with the truck and trailer.  We took Rollie’s personal truck down and we’re going to pick up Cassius in Maine.

When we were just about to Cassius’ place, I got a call that they were having issues at the border.

KM – What kind of issues?

AH – They basically told us that we needed more than we normally travel with for documentation and what not. I didn’t know how serious it was going to be. Not like it was a life or death situation, or someone was going to jail – it was just that they wanted certain paperwork.  For instance, they wanted a certification on the motor for emissions. In order for them to do anything, we had to get an EPA rating on the motor.  I worked on that and I got it. And that took a day to get. So I thought, after I get the EPA we’ll be all set. No. That led to 2 or 3 other documents they needed.  Then, they needed full manifests, parts breakdown, and country of origin on the tools and parts. It was just painful.   We’d give the guy 3 documents of paperwork, he’d pass it on to his supervisor, and he’d come back with 3 more. At the end, no word a lie, there was 38 or 39 pages of documents.  But first off, they said we needed a broker. So we called around, and there were only 2 brokers who would ‘broker’ stuff into Maine. Neither would handle it. Finally, we found a broker on the west coast in Washington state that would handle it. So they started working with us and they got us the EPA and all our manifests.  But they (border agents) also wanted a parts breakdown and a list of all the tools. I didn’t have a list of tools with me so I generalized, which the broker said was a risk. I put an overall value on the toolbox which included the tools.  They were alright with it.

KM – So you’re doing all these phone calls and all this paperwork on the drive down to Hickory?

AH – I had my head down in Rollie’s truck most of the trip. I was buried in paperwork and emails and phone calls. I don’t remember even looking at the highway between Pennsylvania and Mooresville.

KM – So the border was happy with the manifests and the inventory list?

AH – Well, finally they were like, “ok we got everything we need except  a D.O.T. number.”  They said, “this is a commercial entry and you need a D.O.T. number for travelling into the US.”

KM – Rollie would certainly have that, right?

AH – Not for King Racing. For King Freight he does. So then we had to apply for a D.O.T. number.  A lot of what we were applying for could take up to 90 days. Some of it took 24 to 48 hours, some of it they said 30-60 days.  We were able to get a lot of that stuff extradited to us including the D.O.T. number.

KM – It had to be quite a relief when you saw the hauler pull into the track?

AH – We were there most of the day just preparing for them to arrive. It was crazy with all the hype that was behind it.  It was funny to me actually. But our truck drivers, Greg and Barry, are awesome. It was 19 hours from the border to Hickory.

KM – You really didn’t have much time to work on the car before race time?

AH – No word of a lie, they shut the gates for time trials and the guys arrived shortly after that. We had maybe 10 or 15 minutes to spare by the time we got our shocks and springs installed for the Last Chance race.  We got the car started, warmed up, and rolled it through tech.  Then basically had to roll it up to the rear of the field for the Last Chance race.  We had zero practice.

KM – How did the Last Chance race go?

AH – I set up for live pit stops during that race because we had 10 new tires. Everybody else had a chance to scuff their tires, and we had none scuffed.  So during that race, it was more important to me to have the tires scuffed.  I wasn’t worried because everyone was in the feature. They had 33 cars I think, and PASS was starting everyone.  So we pitted a few times and ended up going down a lap or two.  But the car worked great.

KM – So now, you’re ready for the 300.

AH – We started at the tail for the 300and took off from there.  It was a good race. The car was fast.  We drove from last to 5th in the first 70 lap run, and I elected to pit for tires. There were 3 or 4 other teams who pitted then too.  Went back out and we were around 9th.  Cassius took off again, and a few laps later coming out of turn 3, the left rear tire went flat.  So we pitted next time by.  We ended up going 3 laps down.  Got back out, and got 1 lap back the old fashion way – by passing the leader. And then the cautions after that just killed us. PASS has a rule where they kill the lap traffic in the top 5.  So we had to restart in 6th probably half a dozen times.  We passed 2 or 3 of them every lap, and they’re the lead cars.  But when the caution came out, we still had to restart 6th.  It just killed it for us.  He did get 1 lap back, but all those guys who were already a lap down wound up getting the lucky dog. Not us.  We were too far back in that running order. When we were 1 lap down, we got squeezed into the fence coming out of turn 2 by one of the lead cars.  It knocked the track bar mount off and he ended up spinning around in turn 3.  He got hit pretty hard on the left side.  It tore it up pretty good. We parked it after that.

KM – I was surprised to hear you were going to the Snowball Derby after that.

AH – The agreement Rollie and I had when we left home was,  If we win Hickory, we’ll go to the Derby.  But with the speed that we had at Hickory and the way the car worked, not to mention all the trouble we had at the border to get here, Rollie decided to keep the momentum going, and head to the Derby. Rollie saw that we were plenty fast so he was pretty excited to try it.

KM – What about the damage from Hickory?

AH – We talked about that after the race for 2 or 3 days.  I unloaded in Mooresville on Monday after Hickory to assess the damage and see where we were at. There was quite a bit of damage.  I knew it was going to take me 4 or 5 days to fix it. So I went to Jeff Fultz’ shop to work on it.

KM – Exactly how much damage was there?

AH – Tore up the back of the car pretty good.  The whole left side body and rear.  The right side track bar mount was torn out of the frame.  The rear end tube was bent.  The left rear shock.  Trailing arm mounts.  Left front upper A-frame perch was knocked off.  Bent 3 wheels. Wrecked the driveshaft.  A lot of damage spread all over the car. It was kind of in every corner.  So once I told Rollie everything that was wrong, he said “may as well head for home…but if you really want to run the derby, do it”. I said, “we’re this close, may as well go”. I mean, we’re down here anyway, I got to get all the parts and pieces and fix it, whether it’s here or home. So he said, “well get to it and see how far you can get with it”.  I called him on Friday and told him it would be done that evening except for a transmission that was arriving Saturday morning.  We installed it and then headed to Florida on Sunday.

KM – Did you have any of the crew helping you with the repairs?

AH – It was just myself and Greg left in Mooresville.  I had pretty much the whole crew down with me at Hickory, but after the race, they all flew back home since we were up in the air about the Derby. But once we committed to it most of them were able to make it to Florida.

KM – You really have a great crew and it showed at the Derby.

AH –  The guys I have on our crew make race day the least stressful day for me.  Everyone has their job to do at the track.  It’s just like clockwork. A machine. Everybody does their job. I don’t have to tell anyone to do anything.  If I want to make an adjustment, I just do it and don’t have to worry about anything else.  I attribute a lot of our success the last few years to building the crew we have. It’s phenomenal really.  The great job they do.  90% of the work is in the shop, and it becomes routine with the guys.  It really makes it much easier for me so I can concentrate on the things I need to do.  I always say there may be someone who will out think us, but they won’t outwork us.  We work hard at it, and try to stay ahead of the curb.

KM – And you and Rollie get along well?

AH – Rollie and I get along so good. He pushes me. He always questions as to why I do certain stuff. And it keeps me sharp. You don’t get complacent that way.

KM – So back to the Derby. Your brother Jonathan (Hicken) crewed for you and so did Chris Hughes?

AH – Jonathan came down – we needed a gas man, and he’s the right size for it. Chris Hughes messaged me a month ago, wondering if we were going to run the Derby, to see if we needed any help. As it turned out, I was short, so I did need him.  He was a great help too.  Everyone was excellent.  We worked like hell.

KM – So you arrive at the track in Pensacola.

AH –  Got there Sunday night and we tested all day on Monday.  We tested right into darkness.  We did our mock (qualifying) run.  There were maybe 10 other cars there.  Ty Majeski was there – we were within a 10th of him on mock runs.  We thought we practiced really well.  In long runs he (Cassius) was really happy with so we just played around with different things for short-run speed.  We got it to where we thought we were in pretty good shape.

KM – I was surprised you didn’t time trial better?

AH – We were actually better in time trials than I thought we’d be.  That track changes so much both temperature wise and weather wise. We just squeaked in. I felt we were going to struggle to make the top 30 but I knew we had a great race car. The 5th lap is always it’s best.  It doesn’t matter where we go.  Scotia, Petty, 660, Oxford…it’s always the 5th lap that has the best speed.  So I really wasn’t worried.  We made a few small changes before qualifying and it helped.  So we went out from there and ended up 29th out of 54 or 56 that took time. So that was a pretty big weight off our shoulders knowing we were locked into the show.  We could now concentrate Saturday on race run stuff.  But even Saturday we chased a set of tires that didn’t have the speed, so we just took them out of the equation.

KM – Do you pick your own tires there?

AH – You do. Just like the bigger shows.

KM – So now it’s time for the feature.

AH – In the first 70 lap run, we drove from 29th to around 11th.   It was pretty impressive considering the cars he was driving by.  I’ve been to about 10 Derbys, and I felt this year was one of the most stacked fields yet.  So between 2:30 and 3 PM it was still pretty hot.  In that first run, a lot of guys’ stuff freed up, and our’s didn’t.  We still had good forward bite and could turn off the corner.  In the second run, I gave him my worst 2 sets of tires.

KM – Your worst 2 sets?

AH – Because you want to start on your good sets, and finish on your good sets.  We gave up a little bit in the middle of the race.  We lacked a bit of speed with that set of tires.  But we made some small adjustments and just let it all play out.  Cassius avoided some pretty big wrecks, and he just bided his time like he always does.  He’s pretty methodical about how he goes about racing.  So we’re sitting around 13th with 100 to go.  We had now taken our 3rd set of tires, and we still had another good set left. The caution came out with around 60 laps left.  We pitted. All the other big teams had cup crews pitting their cars.  We were one, if not the only one on pit road, changing our own tires.

KM – The other teams use Cup guys for pitting?

AH – Oh yes.  Obviously, we didn’t have the speed of those cup guys, who do it week in and week out, but then again, you didn’t see us out on pit road doing yoga. But the way it played out we took a lot of pride in our pit crew. We were old school using wide 5 wheels.  I knew we were never going to beat anyone out of the pits. On the first stop, we lost 6 or 8 spots in the pits.  But we still had pretty decent pit stops. Anyway, on the last stop, we stayed out. I told Cassius “we’re gonna do whatever the leaders don’t do”…..He and Rollie questioned me, but then they went with it. So we pitted the next time by. Casey Roderick and the other KBM driver Noah Gragson pitted with us. We ended up getting out ahead of them. Roderick got ahead of us on the restart and the plan then was to just ride around and save the car. But the field started to get spread out. Cassius and I both agreed that..”we gotta go here”.   And he started picking them off.  On a restart, he was back in the 20’s.  That last 50 lap run, he drove all the way up to 5th.   I’d like to think that in another lap he would’ve passed Harrison Burton.  And in another 3 or 4 laps passed Bubba Pollard for 3rd. I was hoping for a caution with 10 or 15 to go. Because in past Derbys a caution that late would have forced a lot of those guys to pit. We could have pulled something off if that had happened.  Still, pretty proud of the effort.  Especially for pitting our own stuff, and going back there with the same car and package,  after the struggles we had last year.

KM – How was tech there?   Ricky Brooks is legendary for his scrutiny.

AH – I found it a little more relaxed this year. Probably because guys just get their stuff right, knowing how he is.  He’s pretty stringent on body stuff.  But this year was the least amount of hassles I’ve seen there.  It’s always mainly body stuff beforehand.  And he’ll check the carburetors beforehand too.  But after the race, he opens the hood and checks for more stuff.  You got to make sure your i’s are dotted and your t’s are crossed because he’s very thorough. I like it because you feel like you’re going there and racing against everyone else being straight up. He’s got a good group of guys in the tech station too.  They all know he doesn’t deal with anything, so they don’t go running to him.  There’s no b.s.

KM – So you finished 5th in the Derby.  You had to be pleased with that.

AH – We really were.  After Saturday’s racing, a lot of people leave some work to do for Sunday morning. We don’t. We got right at it.  That way on Sunday morning, all we had to do was set up our pit stall.  And the pit stops couldn’t have gone any better. We had a little tie up on the left rear. Other than that, it was pretty much flawless.

KM – Looking back on 2017, King Racing had an amazing year.

AH –  We did.  We won 5 races. The 150 at ScotiaSpeedworld in June, then we went to the Best Of The Best at Speedway 660 and won that.  Then we went to Oxford the next day and led all but the last 10 or 12 laps and finished 3rd.  We had a good run going at the Cat 250 and came in 3rd.  At the  Oxford 250, we sat on the pole and led over ½ the race and ended up in 3rd. The following week we went to 660 for their 250 and won that.  Then we went to the Mike Stevens’ race at Petty. Had a really good car there and won it. Then we went to Shediac with Jonathan and led the majority of the laps there.  He won the Atlantic Championships again.

KM – What’s 2018 looking like for you?

AH – We would really like to put a car together just for PASS.  It’s a lot of work switching them over to PASS rules.

KM – Visually, PASS cars and Maritime Pro Stock cars look identical. What are the differences?

AH – Motors.  We have to switch motors to run with them.  They’re 40 lbs. Lighter with a stock crate than we are.  You don’t have to change engines, but there are some small benefits to running the PASS engine rule that we like to capitalize on.  The rear end locker is different.   You got to move lead around.  Shocks are different.  This year, PASS is going with a different style ignition box.  So that’ll be a new to us. They run a spec fuel.  That’s about it.  Nothing body wise. Just mechanical.

KM – What about maritime races?

AH –  We’ll probably do the same 6 or 8 bigger shows with Cassius.  I’d like to think that with the success we had at Hickory and the Derby, that you’d see us at the Easter Bunny PASS race at Hickory in the spring.  We’d like to try and duplicate that kind of speed we had down there.   It takes a lot of money to run this deal, and Rollie’s more than good enough to allow us to do it.  But we’d like to travel more. I’d like to do more, and not necessarily on his dime.  I’d like to have some advertising partners come aboard and market it a little bit.  I mean if it was a company or corporation, it would be beneficial to them in the coverage we could provide for them.   We got a little bit of steam behind us in the last 2 or 3 years with some big wins.  I think we have six 250 wins now,  and we’ve won the last 3 Mike Stevens’ races.  We seem to hit our stride about mid-season, when the big money races come up.

KM – Back to all the border troubles you had. You must’ve been overwhelmed with the power of social media to bring your issues to attention.

AH – Amazing really.  After Hickory, one of the news stations called Cassius to inform him that the story they did on him had reached 150,000 views.  And then we were at the airport in Pensacola last Monday.  A police officer walked by us and just started chatting.  He finally put it together who we were.  Then he said “man I’ve been following that for a few weeks.   I’m glad you finally got through.  I’m some happy to finally get to meet you guys. “   Through social media, the news stations were on board and it was even on the front page of a newspaper in Maine.  Even Tom Mayberry reached out to us and Cassius.  He went to the Maine state senator because we were in contact with them.  Tom wanted to clarify what’s required in the future just to make it easier for teams travelling to the US, and coming back too.  Hopefully, hey can give us a list of exactly what you need.  But people having the awareness of what happened to us is great.   It’s nice to see that there are so many people interested in motorsports.  You don’t see people outside the racetrack, so it’s nice to see people are actually interested in it.  I mean, if it was the first time we ever crossed the border with all our stuff I could understand.  But it all turned out for the best.

(click image to enlarge photos)

Photos available from Ken MacIsaac (kensphotos@ns.sympatico.ca)