One of my favorite success quotes says, “The keys to success is being willing to hustle, even when you don’t want to.” But I think a better one here would be “Let your hustle be louder than your mouth.” You see, this weekend’s focused coverage comes from a track that keeps drivers on the edge, literally. And this past Saturday night, it was all about the hustle. The high side hustle to be exact. Because truth is, most nights at Orange County Speedway, the way to the front, the pathway to speed, is a game of dancing on the outside and letting it all hang out. Stock car racing is already a tricky business to say the least, but it gets even more dicey when you go to the outside and put the hammer down. But it’s a great recipe for teaching the youth in the Carolina Pro Late Model Series the ins and outs of the game and it’s always great to see the Modifieds open it up. And all this added to the season opener for the Orange County regulars is a great recipe for any short track racing fan that wants to see some great action, and especially at the track we know as “The House Of Speed”.

VINTAGE SPORTSMAN FEATURE

Defending Vintage Sportsman champion Chris Mincey in the # 11 machine starts up front followed alongside by the # 88 of Paul Blalock, with the # 14 of David Liles rounding out the top three. Flagman Andrew Tyree looks over the gorgeous field, likes what he sees, and we’re green! Mincey gets a monster jump as Liles is able to get by Blalock for second. The # 00 of Allen Rowe looks on Blalock but the lapped car of Lorne Long in the # 22 holds them both up, allowing Blalock to keep the silver position. Blalock’s car begins to come to life as he gets underneath the Liles machine off of turn four and they make contact, sending Liles’ car around! For the restart, Mincey lines up first followed by Rowe and Blalock. There’s a bit of a dust up coming to the line as Mincey and Rowe bang doors, holding up the restart. It’s good the second time around as Mincey gets another great launch, but behind, Blalock gets into Rowe going into turn one, sending the # 00 around as the crowd goes wild! Setting up for the last two laps will see Mincey starting first followed by an aggressive Blalock and Rowe. Mincey once again executes a flawless restart and holds off Blalock and Rowe to start 2023 off strong with a victory.

WINSTEAD FARMS PURE STOCK FEATURE

Lee Kozikowski makes his first trip to Orange County in the # 27 Pure Stock and puts it on the pole followed by the # 66 of defending South Boston Speedway Pure Stock champion Scott Phillips and the # 15 of Thomas Penny. Tyree looks over the field, likes the formation, and we’re green! Kozikowski gets a brilliant jump with the # 75 of Hunter Durham taking third away from Penny. But Penny is not one to give up without a fight as he gets right back by the defending Mini Stock champion. Back up front, Kozikowski just can’t rid Phillips as the two run nearly identical lap times. Kozikowski continues to pace the field coming to two to go, but Phillips looks to pounce, nearly getting underneath the # 27. But it’s not enough as Kozikowski gets his first career Pure Stock victory at Orange County Speedway, followed by Phillips and Penny.

MOD 4 FEATURE

Harold Sumney Jr in the # 87 lands on the pole for the season opening Mod 4 event followed by the # 06 of Brandon Watson and the # 53 of Darrell Haynie who rounds out the top three. Tyree looks over the competitive field, likes what he sees, and we’re green for the Mod 4’s! Sumney fires off like a rocket ship to take the early lead as Haynie settles in second. But here comes the # 69 of Jon Fish who looks to make a drastic move heading into turn one after the first lap. He dives underneath Haynie and Haynie spins! Watson has nowhere to go and ramps off of both Fish and Haynie and gets launched into the turns one and two catch fence! It’s a frightening scene as all three competitors are okay with the race being called shortly thereafter due to catch fence repair, giving Sumney Jr the win.

CHOICE AUTOMOTIVE CHARGER FEATURE

The # 52 of Fletcher Whaley starts on pole for the first Orange County Charger race of 2023 with the # 76 of Tyler Johnson starting second, defending champion # 32 Austin Purnell third, # 50 Alex Stoltz fourth, and the # 27 of Rusty Denny will round out the top five. Tyree looks over the strong lineup of Chargers, approves the formation, and we’re green for the Chargers! Whaley gets the jump with Johnson and Purnell battling hard for the second spot. Johnson clears Purnell as the # 11 of Lee Godbold gets around the Denny machine, breaking into the top five. But there’s trouble on the frontstretch as the # Z71 of Zach Wayne loops his machine. The field soon goes under the red as a medical emergency arises near the grandstand area. The track gets the all clear after the lengthy stoppage, with the person attended to thankfully okay. After the newly introduced choose cone for Orange County, Whaley lines up first followed by Johnson, Purnell, Stoltz, and Godbold. It’s a bit of a traffic jam on the restart with Stoltz getting into the back of Johnson. There’s no major damage as Whaley retains the point. Godbold looks underneath the Stoltz machine out of turn two, but it’s to no avail as the two make slight contact, nearly sending Godbold around. Denny takes advantage of the lost momentum and gets by Godbold for fifth. The night goes up in smoke for Kade Lambert in the # 46 however, which brings out the caution and the eventual red flag for extensive cleanup. It’s a rigorous clean up, but the Orange County track crew is up to the task as they get it cleared in time for another restart.

Whaley continues to lead followed by Johnson, Stoltz, Purnell, and Godbold who takes advantage of the cone. Whaley gets a fantastic restart as Stoltz starts to wage war with Johnson, trying to find anyway around. Denny is back into the top five by Godbold as now they’re two by two behind Whaley like a superspeedway race! They soon settle as Stoltz moves into second but now there’s more trouble as Purnell makes contact with Johnson’s rear bumper, ripping sheet metal off of Purnell’s machine in the process, laying debris down which brings out yet another yellow. It’s a quick one however as Whaley lines up first followed by Stoltz, Johnson, Denny, and Godbold. Whaley gets away with the lead but the caution fever continues as the # 8 of Tripp Evans slams the outside wall in turn three. It’s the same top five as before with Whaley yet again firing off perfectly on the ensuing restart. Johnson and Denny get together out of turn four now, sending debris off of Denny’s hot rod flying everywhere. Race control decides to end the race prematurely due to all of the chaos, leaving Whaley the victor followed by Stoltz, Johnson, a wounded Denny, and Godbold.

BOJANGLES’ LATE MODEL STOCKS FEATURE

A great field of Late Model Stocks have made the trek to The House Of Speed as Bradley McCaskill in the # 7M starts on the pole with the # 11 of Buddy Isles Jr starting second, defending division champion Tristan McKee in the # 7 third, # 81 Adam Murray fourth, and the # 01 of Camden Gullie fifth. Andrew Tyree looks over the fantastic Late Model Stock contingent, likes the formation, and we’re green! McCaskill gets the early jump as Murray falls back with an issue. This gives the # 25 of Jacob Borst the fifth position as now Isles Jr is under McCaskill for the lead. It’s a dog fight for supremacy as Isles Jr somehow gets by McCaskill on the inside. Now here comes Gullie as he gets by McKee and begins to look on McCaskill. McCaskill hangs on for the time being with McKee now losing position to Borst. Gullie now gets by McCaskill on the outside as Isles Jr looks to gap the field. But it’s not that easy as the top six are under a blanket as both Isles Jr and Gullie ride along the top side. Gullie looks underneath for the lead multiple times, but the top is too strong for Isles Jr as he defends his position up high. It’s the same song and dance every single lap, with Gullie looking to the inside, getting to the quarter panel, but he just can’t find the grip to get around Isles Jr for the top spot. This continues until the caution flies as the # 93 of Jonathan Simacek begins to smoke. It’s a quick caution as no major fluid is put down, allowing the choose cone to come out for the first time all race. Isles Jr takes the high side with Gullie lining up second, McCaskill third, Borst fourth, and McKee fifth. Gullie takes the lead for a slight moment but Isles is back underneath as the field goes wild behind, all bumping and banging as now Terry Dease in the # 6 goes around on the frontstretch. Buddy Isles Jr takes the inside this time around with Gullie starting second, Borst who goes to the high side restarts third, McCaskill fourth, and McKee fifth.

Isles Jr gets a fabulous launch as McCaskill passes Borst and challenges Gullie for second. Gullie survives with the # 50 of Ross Dalton now moving into the top five by McKee. Dalton is now all over Borst and gets into him out of turn four! Borst goes spinning without any damage as the fans make their feelings known. Under the caution, McKee takes his machine into the pits for adjustments as Isles Jr once again lines up first followed by Gullie, Dalton, McCaskill, and Dease who has moved up the field furiously. Isles Jr clears with ease while Bobby Salisbury in the # 73 goes for a spin on the frontstretch, bringing the caution out yet again. McCaskill heads down pit road this time for adjustments with Isles Jr lining up first, Gullie second, Dease third, Dalton fourth, and Richard Hayden in the # 31 in fifth. Isles Jr gets the jump but Gullie is under and makes contact! Isles Jr somehow hangs on and keeps the position as Dease now gets around Gullie for second. Borst has now charged his way back up to fifth as Gullie now starts to rub Dease, barely getting around as the laps tick away. Borst has caught back up to Dalton and runs him high for the fourth spot, causing Dalton to lose his speed for a second and Tristan McKee to get by. But up front, it’s all Buddy Isles Jr in the Flyin’ 11 as he takes his first career Orange County Speedway Late Model Stock checkered flag. Gullie comes home second, Dease takes a hard earned third, Borst comes back for a fourth, and McKee somehow hangs onto fifth, holding off a lightning fast Dalton machine. Dalton is none too happy with Borst after the race as the crews get into a minor scuffle on pit road, with track security eventually breaking everything up.

CAROLINA CRATE MODIFIED SERIES FEATURE

The # 36 of Rich Cooper starts up front followed by the # 47 of Jaxson Casper, 2022 Carolina Crate champion # 12 Cody Norman, # 99 Kevin Orlando, and the # 01 of Brian Weber rounds out the top five. Flagman Tyree looks over the competitive field of Carolina Crates, likes the formation, and we’re green! Cooper gets the early advantage as Orlando makes his way past Norman for the third spot. There’s immediate trouble though as second place runner Casper goes up in smoke and spins in turn four. A tough break for the fast Casper as the track crew gets to work. Under the caution, Orlando heads to pit road with terminal issues as well, putting his fast hot rod out of the race prematurely. After the cleanup, Cooper decides to take the outside for the restart followed by Norman, the # 1 of Dale Ogburn, # 13 Wes Sammon, and Weber. It’s a fantastic battle for the lead as Cooper and Norman battle nerf bar to nerf bar with Cooper eventually winning out on the outside. Weber is able to get by Sammon for fourth as Cooper begins to build a slight gap over the field. That doesn’t last long however as Norman is under and by, bringing Ogburn along with him as Cooper falls back to third. And here comes Ogburn! Ogburn flies to the inside of Norman, but Norman holds the high ground for now. But he gets caught in lap traffic! That allows Ogburn to get by and now he looks to build a gap. Sammon is back by Weber for fourth as now the caution flies for competition purposes. Ogburn lines up first alongside Norman then Cooper, Sammon, and Weber. Ogburn and Norman are dead even for the lead and as they come out of turn four, Cody Norman barely grazes the outside wall, giving the lead to Ogburn. Behind them, a piece of piping flies from underneath the Sammon machine, leading Norman to come in and pummel it with his Mod. Norman carries it all the way to turn two when it loosens back out and onto the racetrack, causing the caution to fly. It’s a tough break for Norman, who decides to stay on the track, despite being slightly wounded. Lining up for the restart will be Ogburn, Norman, Cooper, Sammon, and Weber.

Ogburn is challenged slightly by Norman, but eventually clears out of turn two. Cooper takes advantage of the damaged Norman as well, taking away second. Cooper doesn’t stop there either, as he starts to inch in on Ogburn. And before you know it, he’s underneath! But just like all night, Ogburn uses the high side to his advantage and holds off Cooper. Cooper mounts one last charge but it’s not enough as Ogburn captures his first career Carolina Crate Modified Series victory! Cooper comes home second, Norman somehow stays in third with his wounded hot rod, Sammon finishes fourth, and Weber rounds out the top five.

CAROLINA PRO LATE MODEL SERIES FEATURE

Newcomer to oval racing Thomas Annunziata driving the Travis Kvapil owned # 35 lays down the pole lap of 14.176 seconds to claim the top spot for tonight’s Carolina Pro Late Model feature. The invert of two however puts Setzer Racing Development driver George Phillips in the # 6 starting first. Following the front row will be the # 7C of Justin Crider in third, # 20 Josh Dickens fourth, and the # 93 of Caleb Costner rounds out the top five. Flagman Tyree looks over the Carolina Pro field, likes the view, and we’re green for round three of the Carolina Pro Late Model Series 2023 season! Annunziata clears early as Dickens takes third away from Crider. Costner is now under fire from the # 7 of Tristan McKee, who’s pulling double duty tonight at The House Of Speed. Costner puts up a great challenge, but it’s not enough as McKee gets by to break into the top five. McKee now looks on Crider, but Crider uses his veteran skills to hold off the young McKee. Back up front, Phillips is all over Annunziata, but Annunziata holds a pretty wheel and fights off the Young Phillips as the two stay glued to each other for the lead. It’s a near repeat of the Late Model Stock race as Phillips keeps looking underneath but just can’t shake the # 35 on the top. After fifty laps, the competition caution flies, giving the top two competitors a much needed chance to catch their breath after a heck of a battle for the top spot. Annunziata takes the high side for the restart followed by Phillips, Dickens, Crider, and a determined Tristan McKee. Tyree looks over the field, gives the thumbs up, and we’re green for the final fifty laps!

Phillips gives him a short challenge, but Annunziata prevails once again coming off of turn two. Behind, Crider gets by Dickens for third as Dickens is now battling with McKee. McKee gives him a little nudge and the two engage in a fantastic side by side battle, the type that’s synonymous with Orange County. McKee gets it done and now sets his sights on Crider. Crider has held him off all race long, but McKee’s car has sprung to life, now allowing him by Crider as the young prospect is putting on a show here in the Carolina Pros. Back up front, Phillips has once again found his way beneath Annunziata. But here comes McKee! McKee sticks his nose to the outside of Phillips, breaking up the lead battle. Annunziata starts to gap as Phillips and McKee fight for second. Phillips uses his skill to hold off McKee as now Crider has started to sneak his way into the mix. McKee is still right there as Phillips has caught back up to Annunziata. Annunziata is cool under pressure though as Phillips now begins to feel the heat from McKee. Phillips tries his absolute best, but it just isn’t enough as McKee gets by for the second spot. McKee lays down the laps of his life trying to catch up to a now distant Annunziata, but he can’t do it as Annunziata leads every single lap to win his first career Carolina Pro Late Model Series race! McKee gets a very hard earned second, Phillips guts a third out, Crider sticks in fourth, and Dickens has a quietly great run in fifth. What a race!

MY TAKE

Wow, what an amazing show! Not the way anyone would have wanted to end it by any means, but overall this was a great season opening event for Orange County Speedway. And if we’ve learned anything so far on opening night, it’s that no one is giving an inch of track this year. And if that’s the way the year is going to start, it’s going to be very interesting watching the competitors in the central east coast do battle in 2023 because either something is going to break or these guys are fixing to take each other to a whole new level. At Orange County Speedway this week, it was about challenging each other on the high side where you have to carry some serious speed, and that challenge is real. It worked out for some, but not so good for others, as it can be a tricky place to be for sure. And I was watching closely as the # 06 of Brandon Watson was gaining ground and trying to sneak past the # 69 of Jon Fish and the # 53 Darrell Haynie on the outside when disaster struck. And we’ve said it many times and especially over the past few weeks, but thank God the car builders of today take safety into heavy consideration. But that said, truly Watson was in the right place, just at the wrong time, but he was coming for sure. Hopefully though, those guys can all get their cars repaired and try that lap again however as they were all able to walk away, leaving the track crew with some pretty serious fence repair.

The Carolina Pro Late Models and the Carolina Crate Modified Series races were excellent as they usually are, and it was interesting to see two new winners prevail on such a challenging track. The tour has a bit of a new look with so many new drivers in the Pro Late Models, but it was not surprising as the Pros are known to us as a developmental tour, where the drivers come there to learn to compete at a higher level and are aptly picked up by more veteran series as their talent is developed. The best example we can give is William Sawalich as he ran the series stepping up from Legend cars, and is now driving for Joe Gibbs in ARCA. But it was also great to see the Crate Modifieds growing in rank as it can only be good for the region’s southern Modified contingent as a whole as Modifieds continue to make a new mark in a new era and start to thrive in more places than just Bowman Gray Stadium, which was the only place you could see a southern Modified in any capacity for a number of years.

And the Orange County Speedway local divisions showed up to race this weekend and let everyone know that to be a champion at The House Of Speed this year, you better be bringing your A game because you will be challenged each and every lap, and respect will be earned each week as there aren’t any field fillers here. And all of this led to some great racing Saturday night once again making our Blue Collar Racer Of The Week a tough choice to say the least. But as always, once the evaluation truly begins after the racing is over, some performances just rise to attention. Such as Thomas Annunziata driving the Travis Kvapil Racing # 35 in the Carolina Pro late Model feature as he took the pole and led every lap in his first ever race at Orange County, also taking his first win in the Series to boot. And in the Carolina Crate Modified Series, Dale Ogburn found himself at the rear of the field for the start of the race, but just around 25 laps in, he took the point and never looked back in a great performance in his Crate Modified. But at the end of the day, a familiar name stood out. Young Tristan McKee pulls double duty for his family team, entering both the Carolina Pro Late Model event, but also entering the season opener Late Model Stock event as the Speedway’s defending champion. And in both events he did what Tristan McKee does and that’s unrelenting, no matter how the races play out, adjusting his racing style as the handling on his car starts to change. In the Pro Late Model race, McKee started the race from the seventh place starting spot due to a problem in pre-race tech, and worked his way throughout the race to second, closing in on the leader but running out of laps to take the runner up finish, then he follows that up with a top five in the Orange County Late Model Stock feature. And although he started third in the race, he had to pit with eighteen laps to go to switch out a punctured tire, marching his way back in the end to fifth when the checkers fell, and in the process earns him and his team his second Short Track Report Blue Collar Racer Of The Week in grand style, with two top five finishes against racers not giving any bit of track, leaving a driver to take all he got, and in two performances so good we just couldn’t deny Tristan McKee and his team this week’s Short Track Blue Collar Racer Of The Week. Congratulations team on two hard fought finishes this week at Orange County Speedway, where nothing is given and everything is earned. Until next time, as always, See You At The Track!

(Race writeup by Joshua Weatherman. Intro and My Take written by Billy Weatherman. 2023 Copyright SHORT TRACK REPORT)

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