SUMMER SIZZLER- ORANGE COUNTY SPEEDWAY JUNE 26
In life, sometimes it feels you’re in complete control. But you learn soon enough to enjoy every moment, because the truth of the matter is, regardless of what kind of control you think you have, most of the time, you’re just along for the ride.-Short Track Report
There’s a lot I could tell you about Orange County Speedway, but I’ve said it before…to know Orange County, you only need to know one word- Speed. 19 degree banking in the turns, and 16 degree banking down the straights. Adding to that dimension, is a very seasoned track. This place hasn’t seen new pavement in a very long time. Now to the novice fan, that means nothing. But for the fan that knows, old pavement means great racing. It also means that the people that run the place know what makes for great racing, and have for a long time. Orange County Speedway Group LLC acquired the track in 2006, and who can blame them? At the time, maybe to some, it seemed like a bad deal. NASCAR attendance was already starting to decline, and it trickled down to the local level. So much so, that this amazing track in 2003 had been shut down. But, these guys know what they have.
Formerly Trico Motor Speedway, the track has an amazing story. Getting it’s beginning in 1966 as a quarter mile dirt track that was eventually lengthened to 5/8. And in the 70’s, Nascar’s Grand National East ran races here. In 1983 however, the track that you see now was built. It was built for speed, so that the best upcoming stock car drivers of that day could perfect their craft. The Busch Grand National Series began running here, and the best in the business learned how to race on the top level around this outstanding track. Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, just to name a few. Dale Jarrett got his first big league NASCAR win here, and Jeff Gordon got his first pole. Mark Martin got Ford it’s only Busch Series win here at this track. Jimmy Hensley once lapped the field here in a dominant victory . The last Busch Series race here was in 1994, when Hermie Sadler got, what was at the time, a controversial win. And then, with the Busch Series gone, and attendance in decline after the sport lost legendary driver Dale Earnhardt, the track sat silent in 2003.
It’s amazing to me that a place of this magnitude could come to this in the heart of NASCAR country. Because again, all that history aside, what you have today, is a showplace for racing that lives up to it’s moniker, “The Fastest 3/8 -mile Track in America”. The old surface makes for multi grooved, side by side, high speed racing. And the facility itself is amazing, built for the Busch Series in the 80’s during the peak of NASCAR. I’m not underselling it. This is one of the best places to watch racing in the country, period. And so that’s how I know Orange County Speedway Group LLC. They saw what I see. And they’ve dedicated themselves to running this place with the respect it deserves. And today is a perfect example of that, as we suspected it would be.
Me and my son Josh headed a little over an hour west from where we live out to Orange County, North Carolina, excited about the Summer Sizzler event. We picked this race as our first outing for Short Track Report to give you a great example of the truth of this track. The last time we were here together covering a race, it was the CARS Tour Old North State Nationals earlier this year. That was a huge event with Josh Berry taking the strategy win right after winning the Xfinity race at Martinsville. But for Short Track Report’s first time here, we wanted to show you what Orange County Speedway does when the national cameras are turned off, and the track’s local divisions run. And as we always do, on the way over, we talked about what we would see in tonight’s races. But what the conversation turned to for this race was the timing of it really. The way the season has gone for us, we just couldn’t help but wonder what spectacular things we would see tonight. So, not knowing exactly what to expect, and on our first trip here in our new venture, we just settled in knowing it was going to be a great night, and we were just along for the ride.
Qualifying had started, but as often happens here in hot muggy North Carolina in the summer, a quick shower popped up over the track. Although brief, it was just enough to wash all the rubber off the track, and as soon as it was dried and qualifying resumed, the competitors were met with entirely different conditions than what they set their cars up for. Kind of perfect for us, as while the teams had to scramble for speed until the track rubbered back up, that guaranteed the fan some interesting and exciting racing as everything was put right into the drivers hands. The great drivers always come forth in adverse conditions, especially when they know they have to get up on the wheel. And then, after the time trials were done, the track did one of the coolest things we have ever seen. And I applaud any track that does this, and honestly, if I were a lesser man I would have been extremely jealous, as it’s something I never got to experience, but instead I was filled with joy to see the gate onto the racing surface open, and the track let the kids in attendance come down to the cars, and get into the machines for the tracks kid rides. One of the coolest things I’ve seen, as the track has just made no telling how many lifetime stock car fans. They take several laps around at parade speed, and it’s just an awesome sight to behold. They halt the cars, and the looks and smiles on all of those kids faces as they exit the racing machines is beyond priceless. Shortly after the track is cleared, the invocation was given, highlighting track staff member Ray Knight who was in a bad accident recently. A beautiful rendition of the anthem was sung, the cars for the first race are all lined up, and it’s time…let’s go racin’!
WINSTEAD FARMS MINI STOCKS-
We start the night off with the Winstead Farms Mini Stocks. Brandon Clements in the # 7 machine starts on point for this one with # 82 Alex Whatley starting second, and # 06 Brandon Watson starting third. Clements takes off like a rocket early. # 01 Andrew Amos and a second # 7, Kevin Brown, battle hard for 4th with Brown getting the spot. Brown is making daring moves in the middle, divebombing Watson for third and doing the same to Whatley for second. Watson soon has a mechanical issue, and heads down pit road. Amos manages to get by Whatley for 3rd and the # 42 of James Peery joins him, getting fourth. But this all happens behind a smooth sailing Brandon Clements as he picks up the win after leading every lap in the race. Brown finishes second, and Amos gets a hard fought third.
CHOICE AUTOMOTIVE CHARGERS-
The Chargers march on the track now with the # 32 of Austin Purnell starting first, # 5 Chris Gray second, and the # 60 of Chance Carpenter starting in third. The green flies and the front runners go three wide for lead on the backstretch with Purnell hanging on by a thread. This also moves Carpenter to 2nd with Gray falling to 3rd. As Purnell starts to pull away, the crowd’s eyes are focused on a hard charging Carter Russo in the # 21 who’s quietly been saving his car. He puts the bumper to Gray for 3rd, and immediately stalks Carpenter for 2nd. Carpenter gives a good fight, but Russo’s car is just too good. Purnell’s lead is starting to shrink little by little, as Russo is catching him lap by lap. He’s all but there on the final lap, but a lucky Purnell hangs on, with Russo finishing 2nd and Carpenter finishing 3rd.
PHILLIP WALKER AUCTIONS VINTAGE SPORTSMAN-
Some of the coolest cars we’ve ever seen take the track now in the form of the Vintage Sportsman division. Yes, I said division. They run these beauties every race night. Just another reason why Orange County is a fantastic race track. The # 1 of Kevin Floars in his Bobby Allison inspired 1970 Monte Carlo draws the pole and leads every single lap of the quick race with Gary Lloyd coming home second and Chris Mincey third.
SOUTHERN OUTLAW FWD-
# 82 Alex Whatley starts on the point, with # 98 James Clardy starting second, and # 16 Chris Redman starting third. Whatley gets a really good start, and the # 83 of Tommy Raino goes three wide as he moves to fourth. He shortly gets by Redman for third and Clardy for second, and sets his sight on the leader, but the caution is out on lap 4, as # 78 Mark McCauley has crashed hard in turn two. The track crew gets it all cleaned up, and the officials are putting Whatley in the back. Not sure what that’s about, maybe Whatley got too good of a start in the beginning, but regardless, he doesn’t contest it and drops to the rear. That puts the charging Raino in the front for the restart, with Clardy beside him, and Redman rounding out the top 3. On the start, Raino gets the nod from the flagman and we go back green, Clardy takes off as well but there’s immediately an issue, and it stacks up the field behind him, and they push the # 07 of Michael Farmer into him and Clardy is up on the wall, and he rolls off and literally bounces like a basketball as he recontacts the pavement, and then he’s sent along for the ride as he flips 4 or five times, making a perfect landing that would have denoted a perfect 10 in scoring in Olympic gymnastics. He stuck the landing so to speak, but he’s ok, as he’s not happy with his car for failing him, but at the same time, at least he’s ok enough to be mad, as the car fails him and saves him all in one instance. The track crew is quick on the scene, as they escort Clardy from the track on his own accord, but his machine is towed off, pretty well destroyed.
On the restart, Raino looks to get another good start, followed by # 3 Steven Layne and Redman in the # 16, but Whatley gets turned by # 9 Joshua Dawson before they can even get started, and so they line up and do it again. Raino gets the good start this time, as Layne drops big back to fifth, and the # 07 of Farmer is off the pace. Meanwhile, # 01 Andrew Amos and Whatley battle for third, and Amos gets the position, but # 15 Thomas Penny has snuck past both of them for second, as Raino powers to the finish in front of them for his fourth straight win in the division.
SMOKEY DAVE’S BBQ MOD 4-
In one of the biggest races of the night, the Mod 4 drivers are set to do battle for an $800 bonus prize. Cory Purnell in the # 35 starts on pole with Harold Sumney Jr. # 87 in second, and Justin Marsax in the # 4 third. Sumney gets a fantastic start and takes the lead early from Purnell. The # 22 of John Fish who started 4th drops all the way back to 7th, so a bad start to the race for that machine and driver. Sumney soon catches lap traffic and this allows Purnell to catch back up. Purnell eventually gets by and brings the # 21 of Kevin Jeffreys along in second. The first caution comes out on lap 18 as Jeffreys spins out of 4. Sumney comes in with a full head of steam but turns dead left to avoid the # 21 machine. This highlights the talent that Orange County provides. When the green comes back out, Purnell gives Sumney another great challenge, but Sumney just has too much muscle and cruises to victory over Purnell. In his victory lane interview, Sumney reveals that the $800 prize will go towards helping Ray Knight, the aforementioned OCS staff member that was badly injured in an accident earlier in the week. This just makes the victory for Sumney even sweeter.
BOJANGLES OCS LATE MODEL-
# 58 Daniel Moss is your pole sitter. And he leads # 12 Daniel Schadt, # 82 Alan Dillard III, # 44 Dylan Newsome, and # 31 Richard Hayden as your top 5 coming to the stripe. The field rolls to the start, the flagman likes what he sees, and the green is out. Moss gets a great start, but soon he comes under fire from Schadt who keeps looking inside. # 112 Wesley Johnson has his hands full for sixth position, as # 77 Tracey Chambers puts the bumper to him, but he holds on, as no one is giving an inch at the early stages of this one. Moss continues to hold off Schadt, who’s still putting on the pressure, but there’s still a lot of laps left, and both are just feeling each other out at this point. Meanwhile, Dillard’s # 82 machine is reeling them in slowly but surely, as he works his way to the leaders. I notice also, the leader getting loose, and he bobbles a bit off the corner, but Schadt now saving his tires, can’t take advantage of the mistake. No matter though, as # 87 Harold Sumney Jr. has a problem, and he’s off the pace, and our first caution of the race comes on lap 25.
On the restart, Moss chooses to protect the high ground, and he starts on the outside, with Schadt, Dillard, Newsome, and Hayden your top 5 on the restart. The green is back out, and again Moss gets a great start, but Schadt gets back to him quicker this time. Newsome also gets a great restart from fourth and overcomes Dillard for third. Dillard fights back, but Newsome holds on to the spot. For the rest off the race, I can’t take my eyes off of the battle for the lead. On just a play by play, if not mentioned, it would seem this was a quick uninteresting race, but in reality, what has to be mentioned here, is this is one of the greatest battles I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of epic battles in racing. Moss gets off the corner on the bottom, giving no room there, and Schadt clearly has the faster car, but he can’t get Moss to make a mistake. He’s working him every way he can, but Moss holds his line, running numerous consistent laps. They’ve left the rest of the field to fight for what they can get, as it’s clear at this point, that bar a wreck between the two, or some kind of mechanical failure or a late caution restart, giving everyone one last shot, that this battle for the lead, was now clearly the battle for the win. Schadt would work Moss for several laps, and then he would cool his tires. And each time he would get to Moss he would be more and more aggressive, but on the last time he fell back a car length to get his run, Moss bobbled. It was the only mistake he made besides the bobble early where the exact same thing happened. It wasn’t a factor then, but this time, it was just a bad timing deal for Schadt, as he had to see Moss get loose in front of him, on only one of the very few laps he wasn’t snug up into his back bumper. He gets back to Moss shortly after, and he works the most aggressively he has the whole race, but Moss only made the two bobbles in the 75 lap feature, and runs the 99% rest of it flawless, and doesn’t give Schadt anything else he could work with besides sending him packing. Schadt however shows his gamesmanship, and like Deac McCaskill in the CARS Tour race earlier in the year, runs aggressively clean, doing everything he could besides wreck his competitor for the win. Now to note, the rest of the field ran a great close, clean, impressive race. But that battle for the win is what real race fans live for.
So, Moss wins, Schadt comes home second, Newsome third, Dillard fourth, and Hayden fifth in a great Late Model feature.
What a night. Yes, Orange County Speedway is made for great racing, and it was no different tonight. We got to see Daniel Moss run an almost flawless race, as he was under intense pressure from second place runner Daniel Schadt in an amazing battle. We saw Austin Purnell go out to a lead that saw him hold off a hard charging Carter Russo. We saw James Clardy come away after a wild ride down the front stretch. We saw one of the coolest looking divisions in the country in the Vintage Sportsman. And we watched as a track that knows how to put on a top class event make some kids stock car fans for life. Our Blue Collar Racer nod this week was hard as it is sometimes, and honestly we had our first real disagreement on who it should go to. On the one hand, Schadt worked for the entire race as hard as I’ve seen a driver work. On another hand, Carter Russo worked hard to get to winner Purnell. And on yet another, Raino was put in the back of the FWD race to come home with his fourth straight. And so, after some really intense debate, we choose Tommy Raino for his march through the FWD field. It was an amazing night of racing Saturday, June 26. And it leaves me with one last thought- It amazes me to know that Orange County Speedway was ever shut down. Take this to heart. In the heart of NASCAR country, a place called Concord Speedway went under. It’s close to Mooresville where all the who’s who of NASCAR live. In the same state where NASCAR let North Wilkesboro rot. And here stands Orange County Speedway, a true testament to the height of what NASCAR was. And yet, those that call themselves true short track grass roots racing fans let this track go to sitting for 3 years. After all it’s history, it took the organization of the Orange County Speedway LLC Group to see it as worth saving. To keep it alive at the level this track demands. Regardless of all the setbacks it had before it. If we are true racing fans, we should see Orange County for what it truly is, one of the best short tracks in the country. And that my racing fans is worth supporting! I know that we had a great time here watching some outstanding racing, in a class facility. And we can’t wait until we come back on July 17 for the Firecracker Frenzy and $5 Ladies Night. I promise it’s going to be a great event. See you at the track!