“Go over, go around, or go through, but never give up.”

Tom Venuto

There’s no secret about our feelings on Tri-County Speedway. After all, It’s our home track and that choice didn’t come lightly as loving short tracks is what we do. That being said, every short track has their own special qualities. And besides Tri-County Speedway in Granite Falls, North Carolina being one of the most family friendly short tracks in the country, it is the quality of the track itself that seals the deal. Anyone that has paid attention to our coverage knows that Tri-County provides for great multi-grooved racing that leads to two and three wide excitement. We’ve seen some of the best racing in the region at this track, and this week as the CARS Tour brings their biggest race, the Old North State Nationals to the speedway for the first time with $30,000 to win on the line, we didn’t expect anything different. In fact, we were sure that this would be the best event not only in the region this weekend, but perhaps the nation as well. And I have to tell you, we weren’t disappointed. This event was as unpredictable as it was competitive, and one that will be remembered for some time to come. The crowd came in numbers to see this historic event and excitement was in the air as the driver introductions began, followed by a touching invocation and a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem by The Emorys. So it’s time to get down to the track and take a closer look at this event’s great racing action!

CARS TOUR PRO LATE MODEL FEATURE

Putting down a great qualifying time of 15.035 seconds, Caden Kvapil in the # 96 Highlands Motorsports entry grabs the pole for tonight’s PLM portion of the Old North State Nationals. Starting alongside will be Gavan Boschele in the # 25 followed by Cole Butcher in the # 28, Nick Loden in the # 43, and points leader Katie Hettinger in the # 81. CARS Tour flagman Brandon Willard looks over the competitive field, likes what he sees, and we’re green for 75 laps! Kvapil immediately clears for the lead as Loden makes an aggressive move for second. Boschele drops back to fourth as Dawson Sutton in the # 26 breaks into the top five at the expense of Hettinger. There’s already trouble though on the backstretch as Lee Tissot in the # 27 spins and collects both Tristan McKee in the # 7 and Joshua Horniman in the # 43. It’s a quick cleanup as after the choose, Kvapil lines up first, now followed by Butcher, Loden, Boschele, and Sutton. Kvapil and Butcher are dead even for the top spot and they make contact! Butcher clears but Kvapil now crosses over and gets it back. Sutton gets by teammate Boschele and brings Hettinger along as Butcher has a problem! He turns his car sideways in turn two in order to get a caution and does as the field comes to a slow. The # 28 machine is able to come down pit road to right his issues and makes it back out before the choose. Kvapil once again restarts up front followed by Loden, Sutton, Boschele, and Hettinger. Loden doesn’t get an optimal start, allowing Kvapil to run away with the lead and Sutton to take away second. Loden slots into third but he has a problem! He makes it to pit lane without issue as Ashton Higgins in the # 9 and Austin MacDonald in the # 13 move into fourth and fifth respectively.

Butcher is already on the charge as he begins to make daredevil moves in the middle of the field, gaining positions left and right. Before you know it, Butcher is right there on the doorstep of the top five, as he’s able to barely get by MacDonald. Higgins gives him a fight on the outside, but Butcher is just too strong as he moves into fourth as the caution flies for the # 6 of Clint King who has come to a slow on the track. For the choose, it’s Kvapil who remains in front followed by Boschele who takes the bottom, Sutton, Butcher, and Higgins. They nearly go three wide for the lead, but Kvapil keeps the top spot as the caution flies once more, this time for debris on the frontstretch. It’ll be the same line up as before with Kvapil getting a better restart this time around as Sutton gets around Boschele for second. Higgins is now under fire from Hettinger for fifth with the field now single file throughout. Up ahead, Butcher starts to breathe down Boschele’s neck, and contact is made between the two as Butcher makes his way into third. Higgins and Hettinger are still going at it as now they’re side by side with Higgins having the preferred groove. Hettinger continually looks to the inside, but she just can’t find the grip to get by Higgins. Up front though, it’s a statement race for Caden Kvapil as he absolutely dominates and takes the victory, a huge points day for the # 96. Sutton grabs a fantastic second, Butcher somehow rallies back for third, Boschele hangs onto fourth, and coming to the line side by side, Higgins barely edges out Hettinger for fifth.

CARS TOUR LATE MODEL STOCK FEATURE

Brenden Queen in the # 03 not only wins the pole for the biggest race of the year, but he does so with a new track record of 15.102 seconds. Starting second will be points leader Carson Kvapil in the # 8, Layne Riggs in the Kevin Harvick Incorporated # 62 starts third, Conner Jones in the # 44 starts fourth, and rounding out the top five will be Mason Diaz in the # 24. Brandon Willard looks over the phenomenal field, the fans are on their feet, and we are green for $30,000! They’re already three wide for third as Queen clears for the top spot. Landon Huffman in the # 22 now breaks into the top five with Jones falling back after contact. Huffman gets by Diaz as he’s the lone man up front on the bottom of the track as he now gets by both Riggs and Kvapil, looking to challenge Queen for the lead. Queen hangs on for now as Kvapil and Riggs battle hard for third. Riggs checks up a bit and slots into fifth for now, allowing Diaz to take fourth. That leaves Riggs to deal with the # 15 of Ryan Millington, who works Riggs over and grabs the fifth spot. The first caution of the night flies for the # 45 of Jonathan Findley who stops on the track and is unfortunately done for the night. This caution allows for the first round of controlled pit stops, something added to the race tonight due to the extra distance. Three of the cars that pit include Queen, Huffman, and Riggs, shaking up the field for the upcoming restart. Kvapil lines up first now followed by Diaz, Jones, Millington, and Bobby McCarty in the # 6. Kvapil gets the launch as Deac McCaskill in the # 08 moves up to third! There’s big trouble behind though as D.J. Canipe in the # 97, Dylon Wilson in the # 4, Daniel Webster in the # 57, and Riley Gentry in the # 09 wreck between turns one and two. They all drive away with the exception of Canipe, who’s night comes to an early end. The track crew is up to the task as always with Kvapil once again lining up first followed by Diaz, Millington, McCaskill, and Jones after the choose.

It’s all Kvapil on the restart again as he clears with McCaskill once again moving up to third. Now, if you watched this race on TV, you have no idea what’s going on in the middle of the field as drivers go three, sometimes even four wide in an all out war. Millington is now back by McCaskill as the front of the field looks to calm down for the time being. It’s a completely different story in the middle of the pack as Huffman, Queen, and RIggs are caught in a hornet’s nest moving through. Dexter Canipe Jr in the # 5D now comes to a stop out of turn two, bringing the yellow out. That allows for another round of controlled stops. But controversy arises as Queen and Jones are both penalized for spending too much time on pit road, sending them both to the tail end. As for up front, Jacob Heafner in the # 95 stays out and takes the lead followed by Kvapil, Diaz, Millington, and McCaskill. Heafner doesn’t get a good launch at the line, allowing Kvapil to make an easy pass as Heafner falls through the field. McCaskill moves into third, now followed by the # 14 of Jared Fryar and Millington. Millington now looks to the inside and gets by Fryar as Huffman continues to move through the pack, battling three wide in the process. Also making his way up already is Queen as he’s driving like a man possessed. Now, Huffman dives underneath Fryar and breaks back into the top five, bringing the # 10 of Kaden Honeycutt with him. And now here comes Queen as he flies by Honeycutt, setting his sights on Huffman. Up front, with the help of some lap traffic, Diaz is all over Kvapil for the lead. Now Diaz dives underneath and makes contact with Kvapil! Diaz goes to the lead as the fans erupt! The competition caution now flies and another round of controlled stops commence. After all is said and done, the lineup once again looks different as McCaskill starts first followed by Queen, Fryar, Riggs, and Charlie Watson in the # 9W.

They all fan out on the restart, going three and four wide once more, with Watson slamming the outside turn two wall, eventually coming to a stop on the frontstretch, bringing out another caution. After the shuffle, McCaskill remains in front with Queen second, Fryar third, Diaz fourth, and Riggs now fifth. McCaskill and Queen are dead even for the top spot as smoke flies in the middle of the pack as the racing gets more and more physical. And now it unravels as Kade Brown in the # 23 and Honeycutt spin coming out of four, somehow avoiding a major pileup in the middle of the pack. Queen now lines up in front with McCaskill starting second followed by Diaz, Fryar, and Riggs. Queen now clears with ease as Diaz takes second away. Behind them, Huffman is back in fifth as Riggs now takes third, moving McCaskill to fourth. But not for long as here comes Huffman, continuing to make that inside line work. But it’s not enough for now as McCaskill holds serve. Now Huffman is back underneath, trying his best to get by the seasoned veteran of McCaskill. He finally does but there’s trouble as Chase Burrow in the # 8B spins in between turns one and two. On the restart, Queen gets the launch again but Diaz is determined. Queen slams the door though as now they’re nearly FOUR WIDE for second as Riggs takes it through the scramble. Diaz slots into third followed by Huffman and Millington. Now Diaz gets into Riggs, nearly spinning the # 62 out of four! Riggs falls a few positions as Huffman is now under Diaz with Queen scooting away out front. Huffman now slams into Diaz, takes the spot, and here comes Millington! Millington takes third as Riggs is back into the picture and spins Diaz! The crowd goes absolutely wild as the caution flies. Riggs is sent to the back for the retaliation as we’re back underway with Queen once more flying off like a rocket. Millington now gets to second with Huffman holding down third followed by McCarty and Kvapil. The 200 lap race is now starting to show it’s teeth as attrition strikes Millington, who comes to a slow out of four, bringing out another caution. That sets up another restart but it’s no worry for Queen who again gets a fantastic restart with Huffman stalking. Now Diaz is around again out of four! That brings out another yellow, setting up a late race shootout. Queen still remains in front with Honeycutt taking second on the choose, followed by Huffman who’s been side by side with someone all night it seems, Kvapil, and McCarty. Willard nervously looks over the field, approves the formation, and we’re green!

Queen clears but there’s trouble behind as Logan Clark in the # 15C pounds the wall out of turn two. It’s the same song and dance for Queen on the next restart with Huffman now looking to the inside of Honeycutt. And now Queen is out of gas! Both Huffman and Honeycutt split the slow # 03 as the caution flies again in an absolute heartbreak for Queen. His crew fills it back up and Queen comes out at the tail end as the green is back out. Honeycutt and Huffman are dead even for the top spot, Honeycutt up top, Huffman on the bottom. The fans are on their feet as neither one gives an inch with ten laps to go! Casual contact is made but it doesn’t make a difference as they’re still dead even! Breaking up the battle though is yet another caution as Burrow has stopped on the front. This will set up another battle between Honeycutt and Huffman as the two launch on the restart dead even once again with Kvapil looking to almost make it three wide for the lead! Jones blows up in the middle of the pack though, facilitating the yellow. Jones is none too happy with Brown, as the two of them fought tooth and nail, fender to fender all race long. Jones throws his HANS device at Brown as Jones’ up and down night comes to an end. Once again, it’s Honeycutt vs. Huffman on the restart, with Kvapil still lurking. The two are still side by side, but Honeycutt runs out of fuel! He’s able to make it to pit road as Huffman now tries to drive off into the sunset. Kvapil is in his footsteps, but Huffman is just too far out as the # 22 Nelson Motorsports driver grabs the biggest win of his career and $30,000! Kvapil hangs onto second, the # 04 of Ronnie Bassett Jr gets an amazing third, McCarty gets a quiet fourth, and Millington rallies back for a phenomenal fifth.

MY TAKE

Long story short, this was simply one of the most exciting and competitive races we’ve ever seen. It had a little bit of everything. It’s one of those races that we’re sure looked great on the live stream, but it was absolutely incredible in person. The entire field was locked in an intense battle that included some personal skirmishes in the midst of it all, one leaving Conner Jones to give Kade Brown a new HANS device. But that was this race. No one gave an inch, and as predicted, three wide happened often with even a couple of four wide corners thrown in the mix. It was an instant classic, as unpredictable as it was exciting. I saw a comment online that said that cars running out of gas should have never happened. And while I agree it was unfortunate, heartbreaking for a couple of drivers, it is also one of the things that make this race the great event it was as it also brought some intense pit strategy into play. And when you’re going for the biggest purse of the year on one of if not the best Late Model tour in the country, you should expect nothing less. And as expected, and as it should, this race had some serious points implications as well. In the end, you could never say these guys didn’t take each other to the limit, and in an event of this magnitude, you should expect nothing less.

And so in such an event, with the competition being nothing less than outstanding throughout, it of course leaves us with one of the toughest choices of our short existence for the Short Track Report Blue Collar Racer Of The Week, as truly there were so many drivers and teams that deserved it, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention it. And due to the nature of the award, we spent a good bit of time and a great deal of debate to come to our conclusion. We started the conversation out with Pro Late Model division driver Cole Butcher, as regardless of how he got the caution he needed as he had a tire issue, what he did afterward was nothing short of an epic performance as he marched through the Pro Late Model field as a man on a mission, just running out of time to get to the leaders. Still coming away with a top three finish was and is a performance worth mentioning. And as we started our debate on the Late Model Stocks in their longest, most grueling race of the year, we couldn’t just skip over what both Brenden Queen and Kaden Honeycutt did on the track. Penalized early for too much time in the pits, Brenden Queen was the class of the field. But in heartbreaking fashion, the march left them with a choice to make. One that left them out of gas from the lead and unable to capitalize down the stretch. Equally as heartbreaking was the story of Kaden Honeycutt who was in the thick of battle all night, finding himself in the lead going down the stretch after starting 15th on the field, only to also suffer the same fate as Queen, running out of gas with just seven laps remaining.

Also in the mix was Cameron Bolin, who started 30th and made his way to 10th in what could be described as a Late Model war, and Ronnie Bassett Jr. who started 19th and finished with his second third place effort of the year. Both of who in our opinion had their very best efforts on the tour of their careers in one of the hardest fought races we’ve ever seen. In the end, we finally narrowed it down to two names, both of which deserve this week’s nod, truly leaving us with maybe the toughest choice we’ve had to make. Mason Diaz did the unimaginable. In the thick of battle, he found himself in two on track incidents that left him coming from the back both times, and with a visibly damaged machine. Still though, through it all, he marched his way to the front both times, managing a remarkable top ten finish, coming home seventh, against some of the very best in the business. Our hats are off to that effort, and on any other given event, that would have garnered him this week’s nod.

But in the end, we are left with one name. Landon Huffman this year is not the driver we’ve seen for the last few years. We’ve said it before. Huffman is a Hickory Motor Speedway champion, quite the accomplishment. But this year Landon Huffman has taken his driving to a whole new level. And the work he put into winning this year’s CARS Tour premier event was proof of that. Landon Huffman drove through hell and came out the other side the winner of the Old North State Nationals with the drive of his career. It showed when he climbed out of the car as you could tell it took everything he had to pull it off. How he kept his car clean throughout is still a mystery to us, but his performance brought one of my favorite sayings to mind. “Go over, go around, or go through, but never give up.” Landon Huffman did just that, as he never gave up, using every lane this track had to offer to put himself in position for the win. It’s not over until it’s over, and when it was over this Saturday night, Landon Huffman took his biggest win to date driving for Nelson Motorsports, and is this week’s Short Track Blue Collar Racer Of The Week for the second time this year. Congratulations team, what an amazing win! Until next time, See You At The Track!

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

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