There are winners, and then there are winners. There are champions, and then there are champions. There is a reason that the best drivers in the world are tour drivers. At the pinnacle of the sport lay the tours. NASCAR Cup Series, IndyCar Series, and F1 most notably. No matter what type of racing you prefer, at the top of any division is the tour where the champions that people remember run. Yes, there are home track legends that were and are great drivers. But when the history books are written, and you talk about the best there ever was or is, the conversation will always turn to the tour. When anyone asks who the greatest stock car driver was from the past, the names of Petty, Pearson, Earnhardt, Gordon, and Johnson are mentioned. And no matter if you think one of those guys were the best, or you argue for another I didn’t mention, I’ll guarantee that 99% of the time, the guy you argue for as the best, was a Cup driver. Because the tours are where you find out who the greatest are. Tours are where track champions race against other track champions. On tracks of all diversities. It’s one thing to beat your competition on the same track week end and week out. But it’s entirely another to beat them on short tracks, big tracks, banked tracks, and flat tracks. To be considered the best, you can’t be a one hit wonder. Sure, you can be the best at your track. But until you beat them on the road, you’ll never be considered the greatest of all time. Now that said, a champion is a champion, even if they are a local track driver who never leaves, or finds success, outside of their home track. That is an accomplishment that cannot be downplayed. To be a champion anywhere is difficult, and no one of merit should ever belittle that kind of accomplishment. A champion deserves the respect he or she has earned. But the fact of the matter that cannot be disputed, is that when you talk about the best there is, or ever was, you’ll be talking about a tour champion for all the reasons I stated above.

We are at the point of the season in the Carolina Pro Late Model Series where the rubber really does meet the road. Where endurance is learned. We are at the halfway point to the season. And me and my son Josh used the 4 hour trip out to Carteret County Speedway to talk about the tour, and who we thought would use this point in the season to assert themselves. As we know that on a tour like this, on a stretch where the road gets long, that’s where champions start to make their mark and emerge. In the middle of the biggest challenges are where champions make their mark. And everyone on the tour is on equal ground as the tour itself visits Bobby Watson’s Carteret County Speedway for the first time. It’s the first visit for us as well, and so again, we didn’t look up the history of the track and tried to avoid the track’s information as much as possible, as we always want to give you an honest opinion of what we find. We saw some pictures and advertisements from the track, so we knew it was a newer facility, but we wanted to know nothing else until we could see for ourselves. But we couldn’t help but wonder if the track looked as good in person as the pics we had seen. We did drive past the track as we arrived however to travel the mere 3 more miles out to see the Atlantic and the beautiful North Carolina shoreline. I mean, what better way to start a raceday than to have breakfast on the beach? But being the race fans we are, we were eager to get to the track. As we arrived, we found old sign memorabilia throughout the parking area. It was a really cool sight to be greeted with, along with all the racing and American flags waving in the swift breeze. Standing tall is one of the old orange Talladega Unocal 76 spotters balls that was saved and acquired by the track. And as we walked inside the track, we found that those pictures we saw didn’t do the place justice. You can’t capture it all in pictures. Really. This place is a showplace. There’s at least a hundred flags blowing in the breeze. There’s a walkway that goes over turn 4 and onto a grass path that leads you to Moonshinerz restaurant and bar. There’s also an outside Tiki bar as you enter from the front just past the fans entrance, and air conditioned suites on each side of the front stretch grandstands. This is truly an amazing looking facility. We found out that it was the dream of former go kart promoter and former racer Bobby Watson, who spent 10 years building the place out of what was at first a dirt kart track. His dream became a 4/10ths flat auto racing track that is visually stunning, that saw it’s first race in September 2015. And now, though Mr. Watson has passed, his friend and partner Bob Lowery and his team are keeping his dream alive. The track goes by the motto- “God, Country, and Racing”, and as we start the pre race ceremonies, they have chosen a veteran to recite the Pledge Of Allegiance, and the packed crowd of fans loudly recited it with her. The invocation has been said. The National Anthem is sung, and everyone we see has their hands over their hearts and singing along. And as it is completed the crowd roars in approval. The cars are all lined up for the opening race, so Let’s Go Racin’!


The action packed night starts off with the Legends division. Brenton Irving in the # B1 machine starts on point and looks to have the field on lockdown but has a problem while leading on lap 17. This sets up a fierce battle between the # 75 car of Chase Singletary and # 3 of Shane Irving. They swap the lead multiple times but Shane comes out with the victory with Singletary coming home second.


Next up is the fan favorite Junior Mini Cup division. Seeing as this used to be a Kart track, this kind of racing is greatly welcomed here at Carteret. Adam Mattice in the # 51 machine starts up front with popular # 85 Summer Sullivan starting second. Mattice fires on the start and pulls away to take the demanding win in the short race. Sullivan is able to hang on to second as well.


The Bombers are yet another fan favorite division at Carteret County, where you can see all sorts of car running the same division. The # 9 of Trace Raynor will start on pole for this one. As the green flies, the # 24 Tyler Foster who started third bunches up the field. Through the chaos, the # 6 of Ricky Heigl Sr. steals the lead away from Raynor. Foster is there also, and takes away second from Raynor. As if Raynor’s luck couldn’t get worse, he spins while battling with the # 50 of Andrew Warner. The 24 also heads to the pits for a mechanical issue. This leaves Heigl battling with the # 48 of Duane Walker. Coming to the white flag, the 48 is there, and tries to divebomb the 6, but he blows his engine! This leaves oil all over the track and half the field piles up in the back because of it. This ends the race and Heigl survives the mess to come home with the trophy.


Steve Sullivan in the # 58 starts up front for this one, with the # 2 of Curtis Lanier starting second. Lanier gives him challenge after challenge, but the series points leader Sullivan dominates to get his 5th win in a row in the U-CAR division.


To finish up the night, we have the fast and sleek looking Street Stock division. Mike Cooper in the # 07 starts on point for this one, with the # 51 of Tyler Smith starting second. The drivers show off their skills in the fast machines, and have a clean and green race with Cooper holding off Smith for the win.


# 00 Kevin Orlando is your pole sitter with a lap of 16.700 on the flat 4/10ths track. But the redraw has him starting 4th on the invert. So that puts 4th place qualifier # 12 Cody Norman on the pole for the start, followed by # 63B Jeremy Gerstner, # 63 Dean Lowder, # 00 Kevin Orlando, and # 10 Rob Schultz rounding out your top 5. The Corvette pace car is off, and the green is out, as Gerstner gets a great start. Orlando shows his speed early as he gets by Lowder and Norman, and sets his sights on leader Gerstner. Lowder is dropping back as he settles in behind Schultz in 5th. Meanwhile, Orlando has caught Gerstner, and immediately puts his bumper to him letting him know he’s there, but Gerstner holds on as # 74 Rich Klimarchuk goes around in turns 3 and 4 while at the same time while # 9 Dan Speeney almost goes around in the middle of 1 and 2 but saves it. This has the track crew looking, but the track appears clear. And so we have a quick cleanup. Lowder takes his ill handling machine to pit road for adjustments and will line up in the back for the restart. Gerstner leads them down, with Orlando 2nd, Norman 3rd, Schultz 4th, and Speeney 5th. The flagman likes what he sees and the green is back out, but not for long as now Schultz goes around in turn 3. He pulls away however, and the field again lines up for the restart with Gerstner up front, followed by Orlando, Norman, Speeney, and Lowder who’s worked back to 5th. On the restart this time, Gerstner again gets a great start, but Orlando’s with him as Speeney gets by Norman, but Norman gets into him, sending him up the track and he gets back by for 3rd. Orlando is working Gerstner for the lead, and he finally gets under him and powers by down the front stretch for the lead. Lowder moves by Speeney for 4th, and he’s working hard to get to Norman as he tries for all he can get, brushing the wall trying to get on the outside of him. He’s doing all he can do to get out there as Norman runs the bottom and gives him nothing to work with, running hard to keep his position. But as both are working for the position, Speeney is slow down the back stretch bringing out the caution once again. He pulls into the pits for repairs, so again, cleanup is swift. This time it’s Orlando leading them down, followed by Gerstner, Norman, Schultz, and Lowder. As the green waves for the restart, Orlando gets a nice jump, but Gerstner is there. Orlando protects the inside line, leaving Gerstner room on the outside, and he gets alongside for a moment, but the track is flat, and he can’t get the run he needs to take back the position. Schultz is on the bumper of Norman, and he’s working him hard, but Norman again holds on to his spot after coming under heavy fire. But Schultz is persistent, and after several laps, Norman finally has to concede, as it seems all the battling he’s done has finally seen him fall to tire wear as Lowder also gets by for 4th. Gerstner, who is 2nd, is also having tire wear issues from battling for the lead and his machine is getting tight, as Orlando uses his muscle to finally pull away for the commanding win, with Gerstner 2nd, Schultz for the hardworking 3rd, Lowder for a determined 4th, and Norman holds on for 5th.


# 4 Leland Honeyman is your fastest qualifier in the Pro Late Models, getting the first Late Model pole of his career with a lap of 16.272. He finished the last race P2, and he’s brought that momentum with him into today’s event. And the team is working hard as they were not good in practice, scoring near the bottom of the leaderboard, but when it was time to qualify they had the car hooked up. He also draws the number 4 however, placing him in the 4th position for the inverted start. That puts # 37 Mike Speeney on the point for the start, with # 63 Josh Lowder starting 2nd, # 43X William Sawalich 3rd, # 4 Leland Honeyman 4th, and # 76 Jerick Johnson rounding out the top 5. The Corvette pace car is off, the flagman likes what he sees, and the green is out. Speeney gets a great start, but Lowder spins his tires and jams up the outside lane, but everyone is heads up and everybody comes through unscathed. It’s left everyone on the outside scrambling however, and in the fight to get inside and gain or protect positions, # 10 E.J. Tamayo spins into the tire barrier in turn one, sustaining significant damage to his machine. And right off the bat, we are under the red flag, as now the track crew has their hands full getting the barrier back together and cleaning up the track. Needless to say, Tamayo is done for the day. The track crew after a bit of delay has the track ready again and the cars are back under caution. The same lineup will lead them back down, and Lowder will get another shot at the start. He makes the best of it this time, and throws it in on the outside, and showing his muscle, is the first car we’ve seen all day taking the point from the outside. Honeyman gets by Sawalich for 3rd, and sets his sights on 2nd running Speeney, and he dives in under him and takes the runner up position. In the middle of the pack # 48 Tovia Grynewicz is making moves diving into the corners, and making his way through the field, while Sawalich finds his way to Speeney, and takes the 3rd position, dropping Speeney to 4th. Sawalich then makes a daring move to get under Honeyman and takes over the second spot. Sawalich looks to be the fastest car on track right now. Meanwhile, a struggling Speeney loses yet another spot, this time giving away the fourth position to Grynewicz. While some cars are starting to fall off, Sawalich’s has done the exact opposite, as he finally finds his way to Lowder. On lap 36, he sets up a textbook pass on Lowder and takes the lead from the dominant # 63. As Sawalich starts to scoot away from the field, Gryncewicz takes away yet another position, this time it’s for 3rd over Honeyman. With victory in sight, Sawalich’s worst nightmare comes true. The caution flies on lap 65 as # 43 Nick Loden has gotten into # 25 Sarah Cornett-Ching in turn 2. Nick Loden admits his mistake and taps out on the roof of his race car, which sends Loden to the back of the field but lets Sarah keep her position. But to no avail as Cornett-Ching as too much damage to benefit. This is going to set up a 10 lap shootout as the race has been shortened due to a threatening coastal storm. Sawalich has to hold off the fast machine of Lowder, but luckily as the inside lane to his advantage. As the green comes back out, Sawalich gets a great restart. Behind the Sawalich machine, Gryncewicz’s hard racing catches up with him as his car has also gone away. He loses spots to Honeyman and Speeney. But none of that matters to young Sawalich, who picks up his first ever Carolina Pro Late Model Series victory and first Late Model win in his young career. Lowder has to settle for second, Honeyman 3rd, Speeney 4th, and a hard fought 5th for Gryncewicz.


When me and my son Josh were headed up to Carteret County Speedway, as I mentioned, we talked about two things. 1) Who would step up and show themselves in the heart of the schedule, and 2) The challenges the tour drivers face during this crucial halfway point in the season. On question one, 3 names came up for the Carolina Pro Late Model Series. Nick Loden dominated the first part of the season, winning the first 3 races. It seemed that no one was in the same league at the time, but we told you then that it was early, and that it only remained to be seen who would rise to challenge him. It took visitor to the tour Gus Dean to beat Loden, but, since that loss, Loden has not won since. In the last 2 races he’s finished 6th. Now we know it’s a matter of time before he finds his way back to victory lane, but we also know that he knows he now has a fight on his hands. His points lead has dwindled, and the challenge is real. Leland Honeyman has been fast all year, with now two 2nd place finishes, and two 3rd place finishes. He’s been so close to the winner’s circle he can smell it, and that makes him a dangerous competitor as we know he will only double his efforts to get his first win. And speaking of first wins, we also asked ourselves when William Sawalich was going to win. He had finished in the top 5 in every race but one. But he answered us Saturday by taking the impressive win. Made more impressive as it was on a track that was very difficult to pass on, as the flatest track they will run all year.

In the Crate Mods, we wondered if Junior Snow would continue his winning ways and continue to chop into Dean Lowder’s lead, but Snow was a no show for Carteret County, and so he’s out of our championship discussion. He may show up and win more races, but he’s opted out of being a champion. So, that leaves Orlando to battle Lowder for that honor. Orlando has been the class of the field lately as he was Saturday. So we have our eyes on that tightening race headed down the stretch. The cream always rises, and we anticipate a tough battle between these two for the rest of the season. So this race was fun for us as racing fans, as we know the importance of this stretch. We went down and saw them run at the showplace that is Carteret County Speedway, the newest track on the tour, where the track is flat, and thus far, has been a one groove track, and now onto the second oldest track on the tour in Franklin County Speedway, where there is the highest banking on the tour, with multiple grooves, and increased speed. This is what tours bring. Where to be the best, you have to win on completely opposite tracks. The challenge is real. And those who meet it will be considered the best. As I said, there are winners, and there are Winners. And there are champions, and there are Champions. The action is heating up in both divisions, and we can’t wait to see who meets the challenges. Franklin County is going to be a very interesting race. We know Franklin to be a place where only the strong survive. The perfect place to go to mark the final stretch on the road to a championship. And we know who wins here, carries some serious momentum into the rest of the season. Will Loden re-declare his dominance? Has Sawalich found his groove? Or will all of Honeyman’s work start to pay off big? Does Lowder have a big enough lead to sustain? Or will Orlando keep reeling him in race by race? Only time will tell. But we can tell you one thing for sure already. With the schedule that has been put before these competitors is an awesome challenge to overcome. And the ones who rise to achieve it will be true champions in their own right.

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