“He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior.”

Confucius

To say we’ve been eager to get back to the track would be an understatement. But as anyone who follows us knows, our schedule is a well thought out plan of attack. And this year as we anticipate an extremely competitive short track racing season in the central east coast region, we couldn’t think of a better start to our weekly extended coverage schedule than at Caraway Speedway for the event dubbed by the track Warriors Weekend, named so in honor of the Keyauwee Indian Tribe who lived in the area, and who’s Indian trading paths were described by the European settlers as tending to “disappear” into the mountains. They’re also a tribe listed as having as one of their most important customs a celebration that represents new beginnings. They also believe that every living thing has a spirit and they considered the Caraway Mountain range as very much alive. And as anyone with a soul knows, once alive, a soul never truly dies, it only transitions into something greater. And on Sunday March 10, that fact couldn’t have been much more fitting.

No one could’ve known that when this event was put on the schedule that it would become a celebration of life, but as life often does, fate will bring you together at the most opportune time at the most opportune place, even if it seems for the most unopportune reason at the moment. But when all was said and done after this event, the SMART Modified Tour Warrior 100 couldn’t have been scheduled for a better time and place as this. And when the smoke cleared, this weekend’s event represented everything it needed to. And when it’s looked back on in the future, it’ll become obvious to some that they weren’t fully aware at the time of just how significant it was. With that, let’s take a closer look at all of the action from this past Sunday featuring 100 laps from the SMART Modified Tour, 100 laps from the Carolina Pro Late Model Series on their first visit to the track, 100 laps from the Caraway Speedway Late Model Stock division, and 35 laps from the Caraway Speedway 602 Modified class.

602 MODIFIED FEATURE

The # 08 of Jacob Creed will start on point with the Lowder Racing # 51 machine of Tony Menniti firing off alongside. The # 98 of multi-time Bowman Gray Stadium champion Billy Gregg rounds out the top three as we’re green for the ground pounding 602 Modifieds! Creed gets a masterful start as the # 00 of Kevin Orlando already clears Gregg for third. Orlando doesn’t stop there, now successfully pouncing on Menniti and setting his sights on Creed. Behind, Gregg finds an opening underneath Menniti and takes it as Orlando is right on Creed’s bumper, just pacing and waiting to make his move. Orlando finally takes a peek on Creed going into turn one, but it’s too good of a peek as they make contact, sending Creed around! The caution flies as Creed’s lead evaporates all the way to the rear of the field. Orlando will restart first now joined alongside by the # 14 of Slate Myers, who takes the restart cone. Gregg rounds out the top three as Orlando gets a great launch, clearing out of turn two. Myers is trapped on the outside, allowing Gregg and the # 7NY of Jack Baldwin around. Baldwin has a problem though, opening third back up for Myers. But up front, it’s all Orlando as he wins yet another 602 Modified trophy. Gregg finds himself second with Myers gutting out a third.

LATE MODEL STOCK FEATURE

Caraway regular # 1 Jamie York will lead the Late Model Stock field with young Tristan McKee in the # 7 and local legend Dean Ward in the # 12 completing the top three. McKee hangs tough on the outside, but it’s York who will clear on the initial start. Ward hits the inside curb in turn four and slips up the track, with Heath Causey in the # 59 taking advantage and grabbing third. But it doesn’t last for long as Ward gives Causey a big shot a handful of laps later and sends his machine around, bringing out the caution. York will continue to lead followed by McKee and a determined Ward in third. York makes it look easy as he sets sail in the lead, looking to build another considerable gap. Behind, it’s Ward who tucks in and around McKee, leaving the # 7 to deal with the # 12C of Annabeth Crum. McKee holds her off for now as Ward has caught up to the rear of York, but York continues to hold dominant serve. The halfway competition caution flies at lap fifty, giving everyone a moment to catch their breath and formulate a plan to get by York. York will restart up front with Ward and McKee right behind. York and Ward are dead even for the lead this time around, but Ward slips up in turn one, allowing McKee and Crum to get by. Now it’s McKee and Crum who are locked in a fierce battle with Crum prevailing on the outside. McKee is now off the pace with hints of smoke billowing as he comes onto pit road. That’ll give third to the # 01 of Thomas Beane as Crum starts to carve into York’s lead. With York’s tires starting to struggle, Crum’s machine begins to come alive as she dives underneath and gets around York as the two navigate lap traffic. York starts to slide around, opening the door for Beane to climb into second. Out front though is Crum as she captures her first career Caraway Late Model Stock victory. Beane saves enough tires to notch second with York hanging on for third.

CAROLINA PRO LATE MODEL SERIES FEATURE

Max Reaves in the # 88 DLP Motorsports machine puts down a blistering lap of 17.232 seconds to take the Carolina Pro Late Model Series pole, but after the redraw, Alex Quarterley in the # 32 will start on the point. Evan McKnight in the Setzer Racing And Development # 6 starts second followed by fast qualifier Reaves, Carson Ware in the # 51, and Vito Cancilla in the Setzer # 4 rounds out the top five. The flagman looks over the fierce field, likes what he sees, and we’re green in the Carolina Pro season opener! Quarterley gets the jump as McKnight has a slight slip up, allowing Reaves to take second. Cancilla is on the move early, motoring by both Ware and McKnight. Also making his move into the top five is Jonny Kay in the # 77, kicking Ware to sixth. Reaves wastes no time with Quarterley, easing by for the top spot as Ware fights back by Kay, setting his sights on McKnight. And there’s contact between the two! McKnight goes around and brings out the first caution of the race. Thankfully there’s no damage done as Reaves will restart first accompanied by Quarterley in second, Cancilla third, Ware fourth, and Chase Janes in the # 47 restarts fifth. Reaves fires off like a rocket with Cancilla fighting around Quarterley for the silver position. Janes powers by Ware and opens up the hole for McKnight, who gets by as well with Ware filing into sixth. Now it’s Janes stuck on the outside with McKnight and Ware moving up a spot. A medical emergency outside of the track causes another caution to be thrown but we’re lined back up in no time as the top five reads as Reaves, Cancilla, Quarterley, McKnight, and Ware. Cancilla gives Reaves a challenge on the outside but it’s not enough as Reaves continues to lead. McKnight gets by Quarterley with Ware following through, pushing Quarterly to the edge of the top five.

Ware now dives under McKnight for third but they hit and McKnight goes around! Carolina Pro Late Model Series officials come to the conclusion that Ware is at fault and sends Ware to the rear, mixing up the top five even more. Reaves continues to lead with Cancilla still in second followed now by Quarterley, the # 23 of Beckham Malone, and the # 33 of Jacob Courage. Reaves clears Cancilla on the backstretch as Ware is already knifing through the field, making his way to fourth with Quarterley dropping back to fifth. Malone now sits third and tries his hardest to hold off Ware, but Ware is just too determined and breaks into the top three. Janes gets around Quarterley as a halfway caution is thrown, stacking the field up once more. It’ll be Reaves, Cancilla, Ware, Malone, and Janes the top five as Cancilla gets a great restart, but Reaves is just too good on the inside and clears as Ware moves by Cancilla for second. Ware begins to turn the wick up and is now right on the back bumper of Reaves. Just as Ware starts to get a run, Reaves open it up yet again, putting his tires to the test. Behind, McKnight is by Janes as Reaves is right back with a big gap. Ware tries all he can, yet it’s Max Reaves taking his first career Carolina Pro Late Model Series victory. Ware gets a hard fought second followed by Cancilla in third, Malone fourth, and McKnight fifth.

SMART MODIFIED TOUR WARRIOR 100

Jake Crum in the # 12 gets the most out of his Modified in qualifying with a time of 16.151 seconds, fast enough to capture the pole. But after the redraw, it’s 2000 NASCAR Cup Champion Bobby Labonte in the # 18L who will roll off first. Danny Bohn in the # 24 starts second, Florence winner Carson Loftin in the # 23 starts third, “Money” Matt Hirschman in the # 60 starts fourth, and rounding out the top five will be fast qualifier Crum. The flagman looks over the ultra competitive field, approves the formation, and we’re green for the Warrior 100! Bohn quickly jumps out front with Hirschman muscling past Loftin and Labonte for second. Loftin loses yet another spot, this time to Crum who moves to fourth. But behind it’s a big melee as Luke Baldwin in the # 7VA, Gary Young Jr in the # 45, # 99 Jimmy Blewett, # 22 Jason Tutterow, and the # 1 of Burt Myers among others are collected in a turns one and two pileup! Against all odds, only one car has terminal damage with Gary Young Jr done very early. The Caraway track crew is up to the task and gets it cleaned in a jiffy as Bohn lines up first followed by Hirschman, Labonte, Loftin, and Crum. The top five single out quickly with Bohn at the helm as the middle of the pack is a battlefield. Labonte looks under Hirschman, but can’t get anything done at this stage of the race. Moving up through the field after that early race get together is Blewett and Myers, as they battle to break into the top fifteen. Bohn picks up the stage win ahead of Hirschman and Labonte as the caution flies with seventy laps to go. Lining up for the restart is the same top five we’ve had nearly the entire race as Hirschman gets the best of Bohn this time, getting around the # 24 on the outside lane.

Loftin finds his way by Labonte and uses that momentum to now fly by Bohn. Behind, Brandon Ward in the # 04 slips past Crum as Bohn can’t stop the bleeding, now losing a position to Labonte. He finally slots in line with Hirschman now leading the pack. Polesitter Crum heads to pit road with a mechanical issue as the frontrunners begin to run into lap traffic. The # 2 of 2008 Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman quietly breaks into the top five by Ward and now Ward has a flat left front! The caution flies as Ward stops outside of turn two. The entire field with the exception of Baldwin heads down pit road for tires and adjustments. Everybody comes out and is put back where there were prior to caution, but Hirschman is still on pit road! His crew discovers a flat tire and he overstays the allotted pit road time limit, resulting in a rear of the field penalty! That leaves a new top five of Baldwin, Loftin, Labonte, Bohn, and Newman. Loftin makes quick work of Baldwin as Newman moves by Bohn for fourth. Bohn is now under attack from Blewett, with Blewett sliding around him for fifth. Baldwin now starts to fall back, falling victim to both Labonte and Newman. Newman’s car has begun to really show its muscle, powering around Labonte and beginning to appear closer in Loftin’s mirror. Blewett gains another spot, this time on Baldwin as we now enter ten to go. Newman moves closer and closer on Loftin, but the caution flies as Brian Loftin in the # 15 spins out of turn two. Tom Buzze Jr in the # 25 is also collected as the choose cone is out for a short track sprint. Carson Loftin lines up first followed by Newman on the outside, Labonte in third, Blewett fourth, and Bohn fifth. Loftin gets the jump and clears but Newman crosses him over! They’re side by side for the lead now with the fans on their feet but the caution is out again, this time for Daniel Yates in the # 18 up against the turn two wall.

It’ll be the same top five as before with Newman again on the outside. They’re dead even on the restart as Loftin takes him wide into one. Loftin gets the advantage diving into turn three coming to the white as now Newman gives him a shot but Carson keeps it straight. Newman drives into three the hardest he has all race and gives Loftin one more shot, but Loftin hangs on and takes the win as Burt Myers and Brian Loftin crash behind! After the race, Loftin takes a Zach Brewer remembrance flag around for a lap along with Cody Norman’s # 31 Zach Brewer tribute machine in a truly touching moment.

MY TAKE

Caraway Speedway is a historic track that produces historic moments. That fact was on full display this past Sunday. First time Caraway Speedway winners, a series’ first ever visit to the Caraway Mountains, and a much needed day of healing for many highlighted the day full of hard nosed racing. Again, no one knew when this race was placed on the schedule that the event would come at a perfect time to celebrate the life of one of the region’s most beloved blue collar racers. Zach Brewer meant a lot to many in this region and beyond. Not just for his love for short track racing, but for his dedication to his family and his community. Brewer was a mentor in everything he did. And he was a hard working competitor on and off the track. Simply put, Zach Brewer was a winner. And he did it all in blue collar fashion, with integrity and respect. That fact was sent home to me by the tears shed in victory lane as the short track racing family in the SMART Modified Tour victory lane remembered one of our own lost way too soon.

The day was also highlighted by a victory that was more of a statement than anything. A victory that we feel most at the moment don’t realize the enormity of. But we’ll put it in perspective this way at an event that was perfectly fitting for it. We know of course that over the course of the 2024 SMART Modified Tour season, anything can and will happen, and that there is a lot of ground left to cover. But at least for the first two races of the season and on Sunday, Carson Loftin was the mightiest warrior. With his winning pass over what is arguably the best of all time in “Money” Matt Hirschman at Florence Motor Speedway, to holding off NASCAR greats Ryan Newman and Hall Of Famer Bobby Labonte in the closing laps here at Caraway, he not only outlasted his competition, but he conquered his own in car emotions and demons as he did so. And if you paid attention to his body language and some of his post race comments, it becomes obvious that he still wants that last lap battle against Matt Hirschman that has manifested itself as Hirschman has had situations arise that have not allowed it. Loftin knows who he’s racing against, and he has the desire to not only win, but win against the best at their best. That makes him quite dangerous to the competition in our book and it will be interesting to see how far he can carry this early season momentum into the overall SMART Modified Tour season. The SMART Modifieds have always had great veteran competitors, not only from the region, but from the great north eastern visiting contingent as well, and now after Caleb Heady won his championship in just his second season of competition on the tour, and just recently with Luke Baldwin’s finish in the top ten and with Carson Loftin’s second straight win to start the season, it should be clear that there is a strong youthful competition contingent coming into it’s own as well. And for anyone that wants the southern Modifieds to be strong well into the future, this should be an extremely welcoming sight. Indeed, all indicators are that the oldest stock car division’s future is brighter now than it’s ever been. Until next time, See You At The Track!

(Race write ups by Joshua Weatherman. Intro and My Take written by Billy Weatherman. 2024 Copyright SHORT TRACK REPORT)

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