CARS TOUR AT TRI-COUNTY SPEEDWAY SEPTEMBER 11
We’ve been looking forward to this race ever since we looked at the CARS Tour schedule. It’s no wonder though. The premier tour in the central east coast region racing on the 2 and 3 wide speedway known as Tri-County. Anybody that knows us knows how we feel about this track. But to those who don’t, simply put, we know Tri-County Speedway here in Granite Falls, North Carolina, as one of the best short track speedways in the country. And to add to that, we are here on September 11, 2021, 20 years to the day that our country was cowardly attacked by a group of it’s enemies, who moved against our great land, aiming at it’s very heart and soul. And so we are here to honor our heroes. Those lost on that fateful day, who gave their lives in our never ending fight for freedom. The speedway, the CARS Tour, the fans and the competitors, have chosen this place, and this time, to exercise our freedom, and to remember those heroes 20 years after their great sacrifice for us. And we move forward in their names, never forgetting, those who were lost so that we shall live. After all, it is in respect for those who have fallen, and those that come before us, that we move forward, as the show must go on. But as it does, we also vow, to never forget.
As always, and especially given the magnitude of this race to us, me and my son Josh talked about what we would see here today. Two and three wide racing is guaranteed to happen, just because of the track itself, and the talent that was fixing to unleash it. This week, the discussion went straight to who we thought would win it. Always an interesting discussion for us. You see, we represent two different generations. And though our love of the sport is the same, how we look at it comes from two totally different perspectives. We decided long ago that you don’t pick favorites simply for that reason. You have to take everything into account. The track, the weather, momentum vs droughts…the underdog and the lead dog, you have to look at the big picture. So, we debated each other. And the outcome of the discussion is quite interesting right on the surface. When it came down to it, Josh argued for Deac McCaskill. “He’s always there at the end in the thick of it. His experience and his team could be the deciding factor here.” And I argued for Mini Tyrrell. I thought he had built some momentum lately with some great finishes, coming up just short of his first win on the tour, and I thought karma owed him one after his early exit in their last outing at Motor Mile Speedway in Virginia. ” I think he’s due buddy. And I think this is the track he can get it done, where you can adjust your line for speed, and you have room to move around.” And it struck us. He’s 17 and he picked the veteran in McCaskill, and I’m 54, and I picked the youngster, 2019 Rookie Of The Year winner, 17 year old Mini Tyrrell. One thing we knew for sure though. Those guys were going to get to duke it out at the place made for great racing.
One thing I love about this place is all the American flags laid out around the speedway. And on this day, it’s especially fitting. Your heart can’t help but warm as the crowd files in, and the smell of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs fill the air. They’re about to see an amazing show of skill and strategy, put on by the most professional tour in the region, at one of the best tracks in the country. The CARS Tour has all the competitors’ racing machines lined up for the driver meet and greet session they organize for the fans before their races, and it’s an awesome sight looking down the speedway at all these cool hot rods, ready to head into battle. And fans for life are made as the crowd is allowed on the track to meet their favorite drivers, and to gather autographs and memorabilia. After the session, and the crowd makes their way to their seats, the Caldwell County High School Marching band makes it’s way to the front stretch for the pre race ceremonies. The proceedings of course center around the 9/11 remembrance 20 years in the making, and we all bow our heads, in respect and tribute, and in a long moment of silence to remember. The invocation is given, and prayers are given for the families of those lost, and for us that survive, and the generation that follows. It is a touching moment for all. An awesome rendition of the National Anthem is then performed to great approval from the fans. And as the band marches away to their local cadence, the CARS Tour Late Models begin to pull away back to the pits for their later feature event. When the air clears, the Super teams push their cars into position, in preparation for their opening race feature, scheduled for 100 laps. A pumped up command is given to fire engines, and the Super Late Models begin parade laps. The teams are ready, the crowd is ready, the drivers are ready, so, Let’s Go Racin’!
HARRISONS WORKWEAR 225- CARS TOUR/SOUTHERN SUPER SERIES- SUPER LATE MODEL FEATURE
William Sawalich is your pole winner in the Super Late Models in his first ever attempt, with a lap of 15.266, and he will lead them down for the start followed by # 54 Matt Craig, # 65 Tyler Tanner, # 51 Stephen Nasse, and # 35 Carson Kvapil rounding out your top 5 starters. # 7C Tyler Church ducks into the pits during the parade laps and Flagman Brandon Willard gives the double up signal, and the field gets in place and tightens up for the start. Church scurries off pit road, as Sawalich brings them down. Race control and flagman Willard likes the view, Sawalich gets a good clean start, and the green is out and we are underway in the Harrisons Workwear 225 here at Tri-County Speedway. Matt Craig also gets a great start, and he immediately moves past Sawalich and into the point in front of the field, and Nasse gets past Tanner for third. But on lap 3, # 22 Sammy Smith blows an engine and gets into his own oil, and spins down into the entrance of pit road. How he misses everything is astonishing, but he sits in the entrance to the pits as the first caution waves. Fortunately, no one else is collected, and the track crew works to clean up the fluid left on the track and the entrance to pit road, and Church again brings his machine to the pits to the care of the # 7C team. They have it cleaned in no time, and again flagman Willard gives the signal and the field lines back up as Craig will lead them back to the starting line. But the start is waved off, as we have a medical issue in the stands, and the field is brought to a red flag as the track moves to attend to the medical emergency. Rescue personnel attend to the scene, but in a matter of minutes, they have the situation under control and we are ready to get back to the racing action.
Again, flagman Willard doubles up the field, and Craig this time chooses to start on the outside to protect his flank early in this one, as he is followed in order by Sawalich, Nasse, Tanner, and Kvapil as your top 5. Craig again gets a great start, and Tanner gets back past Nasse. # 18 Hunter Robbins gets by Kvapil for fifth, and he brings # 26 Chandler Smith with him. Nasse moves back past Tanner, and he looks to the outside of Sawalich and into second position. Smith moves past Robbins for fifth and he looks on Tanner as well, but he shuts the door. Smith again looks on Tanner, but Tanner moves up into the outer groove where he finds a bit of speed, and again holds him off. Up front, Nasse is looking good early, and he moves in on Craig for the lead, and takes him on the outside, and we have a new leader on point. The battle for fourth hasn’t subsided, but it doesn’t stop them from moving in on Sawalich, and as Tanner looks to move around the youngster, Smith goes by both and into the third spot. The field starts to settle in a bit, but even though they look to save what they can, the field is pretty aggressive here today with battles going on all over the track. # 79 Kyle Bryant battles with Tyler Church as they try to stay on the lead lap with Nasse closing in, as Smith looks under Craig up front for second. Nasse has moved past Church and Bryant, and Smith takes advantage of the situation as Bryant tries to hold on ahead of Church, and moves up the track a bit, letting Smith move around Craig who had to adjust his line. Craig puts a bumper on Smith, but Smith holds onto his machine and the position, as the competitors come to the competition caution. To note, the CARS Tour has a competition caution rule written, that if the field runs 40 laps caution free, the competition caution will be thrown in an effort to provide it’s fans with continual action packed racing.
Tyler Church brings his machine down pit road again, still trying to get his car right, and he is joined in the pits by Bryant, Tanner, # 4 Kyle Plott, and # 27 Lee Tissot, all looking to make changes that will improve their cars and have them chasing the front at the end if possible. And after a few laps to allow those who would want to pit and make adjustments, Willard again lines up the field for the restart. Nasse chooses the outside line on this restart, with Smith, Craig, Sawalich, and Kvapil restarting as the top 5. Nasse brings them down, and Willard throws the green, and Nasse and Smith are neck and neck for the point. Smith finally gets the edge, and Sawalich moves back past Craig to third. Robbins gets past Kvapil to break back into the top 5, but Kvapil is not ready to give up the spot and battles back. Robbins holds on but Kvapil is relentless and he manages to move back by, and takes a look on Craig. But here comes Robbins on the outside, and we have an amazing three driver battle for fourth. Kvapil gets past Craig but Craig puts the bumper to him, as Kvapil holds on, and now Craig has his hands full with Robbins who will not be shaken. Now he’s around Craig, and he moves away trying to walk back down Kvapil. Meanwhile, Tyler Church’s team has worked and worked to get their machine to the finish, but it’s not to be today as he parks it in front of the hauler and is done on the night. Meanwhile, Robbins walks back down Kvapil, and as the battle resumes, he gets into his back bumper and spins him around, and the caution is out once again. The CARS Tour officials take a look, and they order Robbins to the rear for rough driving. And as he falls back, Kvapil swerves his car in front of him, voicing his displeasure, as both the teams are warned before the restart that they have eyes on them and to act accordingly. The crowd of course is vocal now, as the energy and excitement ramps up here in the Super Late Model feature.
The track crew removes a bit of debris, but it’s a quick cleanup, and flagman Willard gives the signal to double up for the restart. Smith will bring them down, followed by Nasse, Sawalich, Craig, and # 81 Jett Noland rounding out the top 5. The field looks good for the start, and Smith gets a great jump, but it’s too good as he goes before the restart line just a bit, and the start is waved off, and they’ll have to try it again. Race control starts with Jack McNelly himself, who’s placed himself in the infield with a bird’s eye view of the restarts, and he’s adamant on the racers getting great, fair restarts, and he won’t hesitate if he thinks the racers fall short of it. So, Smith brings them back around, and gets a great start this time, as flagman Willard puts them back under green, but he can’t hold Nasse as he moves inches by for the lead, as # 49 Jeff Batten’s machine has trouble getting up to speed, and the field behind him scrambles in the aftermath. Toward the front, # 43 Daniel Dye gets by Jett Noland with a great restart, as Craig gets under Sawalich and shuffles him up out of the groove, as Dye and Noland get by, and # 28 Dusty Williams moves in to close the gap as well. Sawalich tries to get in line but he’s too late and he comes down into Williams as the two make contact, and Sawalich bounces up and, OH MY, William Sawalich is into the outer wall with hard contact as the crowd goes silent for a moment. The rescue team is on the spot, and luckily Sawalich is out of the car, and walking down toward the pits, visually communicating to the responders that he’s ok, but you can tell he’s clearly disappointed with this turn of events. But we’ve seen this youngster race all year, and we know he’ll shake it off, and settle on the fact that in his first Super Late Model start on the CARS Tour, he ran up front all day and took home the pole. Nothing to hold your head down about there. That said however, the car is destroyed, and it’s doubtful it will see another race. The track crew has their work cut out with this one, as it’s gonna take a bit to get this mangled machine off the track.
After a bit, the track is clear, and flagman Willard again gives the signal and doubles up the field. Nasse will bring them down this time, followed by Smith, Craig, Dye, and Noland as your top 5 for the restart. Nasse gets a good start, but this time he has a handful of Smith, who looks to return the favor from the prior restart, and he powers back into the lead. My eyes pan back to the back half of the field, who knowing the time is running short, are racing like it’s the last lap already. And in the mix, it’s Kvapil and Robbins as they don’t give each other an inch, but are moving back through the field. The battles are interrupted by a debris caution however, as the track crew picks up debris on the front stretch, and corners one, three, and 4, as it seems some one has lost some brake duct work, and all the pieces that held it all together. There’s a lot of hard racing through the field, and the contact has effected someone here, but, they have all the debris out of the way, and we are ready to get back to racing as we get closer to deciding the Super Late Model feature here tonight.
CARS Tour flagman Brandon Willard again gives the signal, as the field doubles up, and Smith brings them down, followed by Nasse, Dye, Craig, and # 35G Jake Garcia who’d moved past Noland right before the caution. Smith gets a great start, but Noland spins trying to get back in the top 5, as # 7B Jackson Boone makes his presence known, moving into the top 5 himself for the first time here tonight, and we are under yet another caution here in the late stages of the race. Noland is away, so it’s a short caution, and Willard for the final time, doubles up the field, as they get ready to decide this one here tonight. Smith brings them down, followed by Nasse, Dye, Craig, and Boone. The field looks good as Willard surveys the field, and he puts out the green as the field goes full bore, with everyone trying to get every inch of ground they can muster. Smith gets a great clean start to get the advantage. Craig moves past Dye, and Garcia follows him through, as Boone comes under fire from Robbins and Kvapil as they have moved back through the field and have the top 5 in sight. Coming to the line, it’s Smith with the win, Nasse holding onto second, Craig comes home third, Garcia fourth, with Robbins fifth, followed closely by Kvapil, as Dye spins off turn 4. What an amazing race to start the night!
HARRISONS WORKWEAR 225- CARS TOUR LATE MODEL STOCK FEATURE
For the CARS Tour Late Models, Mini Tyrrell turns the fastest qualifying time with a lap of 15.788. He will start on the pole followed by # 2 Brandon Pierce, # 87 Mike Looney, # 91 Jonathan Shafer, and # 95 Sam Yarbrough as your top 5 starters. As the field runs parade laps, # 11 Dillon Houser, and # 17 Joe Valento come to pit road, but both are back out and pick up the rear of the field before we go green. CARS Tour flagman Brandon Willard gives the signal to double up to get ready for the start, and Tyrrell brings them down from the outside groove to start. Willard looks them over, as Tyrrell hammers down off the KRC Power Steering Restart Zone, and Willard drops the green, and we are underway in the Late Model Feature Event. Tyrrell clears himself up front, as Shafer and Yarbrough go side by side. Shafer finally clears for fourth, as Yarbrough comes under fire from # 99 Layne Riggs who comes to fifth. Riggs then moves in on Shafer, and maneuvers past, as Looney makes his way past Pierce for second. The experienced field then already moves to save tires, except for the middle of the field, who’s running in a blanket, still trying to make their way toward the front of this stout field of racers. Up front, Looney wants clean air, and he powers by Tyrrell for the lead. # 27 Isaac Bevin is off the pace, but he makes his way to the pits without causing any issues, as # 08 Deac McCaskill is picking up positions in the middle. We go incident free for the first 40 laps, and so the competition caution waves, giving the teams that need it a chance to make adjustments, and the teams of # 4H Kaden Honeycutt, # 44 Justin Johnson, # 88 Conner Jones, and # 41 Tyler Matthews come into the pits to do just that.
After the break, flagman Willard again gives the signal, and the field doubles up for the restart. Looney will be on point, followed by Tyrrell, Pierce, Riggs, and Shafer as your top 5. Willard looks over the field, and he likes what he sees, and he throws the green for the restart. Looney gets a clean start, but Tyrrell challenges. Looney door slams him, and it gives him the opening to get clear. Meanwhile McCaskill and Yarbrough move into the top 5, as Pierce and Shafer get shuffled out. Riggs looks on the outside of Tyrrell, and he motors past on his way to the front. McCaskill then moves in on Tyrrell, and he also moves past on the outside into the fourth position. But on lap 66, Valento spins off of turn 4, and we are back under caution for the second time. Valento pulls away, so there’s little to no cleanup, and in no time, flagman Willard again gives the signal and the field doubles up for the restart.
Looney picks the outside for this start, as it’s proving to be the preferred line here tonight, and he is followed by Riggs, McCaskill, Tyrrell, and Yarbrough as your top 5. Looney brings them down, flagman Willard surveys the field, and we are back to green. Looney gets a great start and gets clear up front, but McCaskill gets shuffled back, as his car is visibly loose, and he finds himself in the middle of the pack, that I can only describe as a Talladega like group of racers, two wide, and bumper to bumper. Like a pack of wolves looking for who they can devour. Meanwhile, up front, Tyrrell has moved up to the outside line and is finding speed, and after a few laps, Tyrrell moves up past Riggs, and sets his sights on the leader. # 24 Mason Diaz makes a move into the top 5 past Yarbrough, and Tyrrell has moved in on the leader, and he makes the move on Looney, and sweeps past to retake the lead. Yarbrough wants his spot back in the top 5, and he moves back past Diaz to retake the spot. # 4 Jonathan Findley is on pit road and done for the day. Tough luck for that team as they roll it up to the hauler. Meanwhile, Riggs has moved in on Looney, but Looney fights to hold him off. And the pack of wolves has caught Mason Diaz, and he is doing all he can to stay in front of the hungry pack. In this pack is Shafer, McCaskill, # 22 Bobby McCarty, Kaden Honeycutt, and # 14 Jared Fryar, none of which are giving an inch of pavement to anyone else. And instead of just running two wide, now that they’ve caught Diaz, they’re a group 2 and 3 wide, looking amazingly 4 wide at times, all vying for the fifth place spot. McCarty finds his way to Diaz, and he doors him as soon as he’s alongside, but as this battle rages, Riggs has been trying to make headway on Looney, and he moves up time and time again, only to be held off by Looney, who is still fighting with all he has to stay in front. And Looney moves up just a little, and Riggs bumps him, getting Looney loose and not letting go, and Looney is around as the crowd erupts, and the caution is out once again. You can feel the tension on the track. Under the yellow, the CARS Tour officials take a look at the replay, and they order the # 99 to the rear, and the crowd erupts again. Instead of going to the rear however, Riggs comes down pit road, and he parks it.
It’s Tyrrell, Yarbrough, McCarty, Diaz, and McCaskill on the final restart. Willard looks over the field, likes what he sees, and we’re back green at Tri-County. Yarbrough gets a great start, but it doesn’t match Tyrrell’s rocket launch off the line. Behind Tyrrell and Yarbrough, it’s mayhem as Diaz and McCaskill are struggling to hold off the hungry pack behind them. This allows both Honeycutt and Fryar to enter the top 5. As they battle their hearts out, Tyrrell has walked away from the pack, oh so close to that first career win. Honeycutt is starting to look on McCarty on 3rd. It’s interesting to note that these two are first and second in the point standings, so every point is key to these drivers. Honeycutt keeps looking, but McCarty is just too strong on the outside. Back up front, Tyrrell has caught lap traffic, one of which is # 2R Braden Rogers. Braden tries his hardest to not get lapped and nearly brings out a caution as he almost junks it in front of the leader. Braden however saves it to Tyrrell’s delight. Honeycutt is back under McCarty, as this time they make contact. McCarty wiggles, but it’s still not enough as he hangs on to third. But this is no matter to Mini Tyrrell who crosses the line first and wins his first ever CARS Late Model Stock Tour race. Another fantastic race to book end the night!
THE ENCORE (MY TAKE)
Underneath the surface in grassroots stock car auto racing, there is an emergence that to some is not so obvious. But to us, it’s hidden in plain sight. Beneath the murmuring of the tire shortage, and the rumblings of any and every struggle the sport may or may not face, there is a positive coming forth in a wave of force that will not be stopped. And that is a convergence of competition between the talent and the experience of the modern veteran driver, and an ever growing contingent of youth who’s focus and desire is centered around victory lane. And we are centered in a pinnacle of an era, that pits two different types of drivers, who approach the race track from two totally different perspectives. What we have is the generation that lived through the pinnacle of the NASCAR era, that learned from the generation that built the sport, and perfected it, versus the generation that has access to technology unimaginable in the previous generation, supported by a safety system that leaves them fearless beyond any that came before them. The previous generation will take you to the fear of death, but the new generation doesn’t know that same kind of fear, having the capability to walk away from a crash that would have been career ending just a few decades ago. So like the Waltrips stood on the shoulders of the Pettys, as the Earnahardts stood on the shoulders of both, the new generation stands on the shoulders of all those before them. And added to that, in an age that also sees drivers starting to learn their craft younger and younger, many at ages as early as 3 and 4 years old. In short, we are entering a time like no other. Where veterans are plentiful and seasoned and are entering their prime, at the same time a generation of teenagers are challenging them unintimidated, but respectful of the history of the sport. Two generations that love the sport. The same that are coming together in what may prove to be the most competitive age of stock car racing in the history of the sport. And if the new generation learns from the present, as the present learned from the past one, the effects will be historic. And when the next generation after the new comes up, they will face veterans who race with no fear as Earnhardt did, have the marketability of Gordon, and the work ethic and knowledge of Alan Kulwicki. Now, I don’t expect everyone to believe what I’m saying. But I’m confident that in 5 to 10 years down the road, we will look back at this moment as the start of a great new era of short track racing. What we have seen this year has been stellar, and we know it only gets better from here. When these amazing young racers get taught by the current tested veterans, and pass on their experience, what you will have is a generation that will carry all of the knowledge of the generations that came before them, with the experience of learning to race at surprising young ages.
It’s been an amazing season, and the race here tonight is a perfect example of what I’m saying. In the Supers, young William Sawalich took the pole in his first start. And while his outcome was far from what he and his team hoped for, he showed the speed we have seen from him all year, and in a premier series, heavy on talent, such as Camping World Truck Series contender Chandler Smith who takes home the victory. And in the CARS Tour Late Model Stocks, the veterans battled up front all night, but in the end, they let young Mini Tyrrell slip away for his first win on the tour. The youngest driver to ever win a Late Model Stock race at 10 years old, wins his first CARS Tour Late Model feature at 17.
Our Blue Collar Racer Of The Week was as tough a choice as it comes. It led to another intensive conversation between me and Josh on who the recipient should be. On the one hand, Mini Tyrrell worked hard after losing the lead early, to battle with the wiley veterans throughout, and making his way back to the front in the end for the popular and emotional win. On the other hand, there was Stephen Nasse who pulled double duty, coming home with a second and fifth place finish on the night respectively. But we could not deny Kaden Honeycutt, who fought all night in the CARS Tour Late Model Stock feature, spending most of his time two and three wide, and once even four wide coming off of turn four. He found himself in the back once as well, only to come home fourth overall due to an amazing charge to the front at the end. That performance earns Kaden Honeycutt our Blue Collar Racer Of The Week, as he becomes the first to get the nod from us twice on the season. Our first two time Blue Collar Racer Of The Week winner.
What an amazing night here on the Tri-County Speedway stop for the CARS Tour. It was all we expected and more. We got to see Mini Tyrrell win his very first CARS Tour Late Model feature. We also got to see Braden Rogers make his first start in a CARS Tour race, and William Sawalich also make his CARS Tour debut in the Super Late Model division, earning his first pole in the process. We watched Kaden Honeycutt battle as hard as you can imagine to keep himself in contention in the CARS Tour Late Model points against Bobby McCarty, up and comer Camping World Truck Series competitor Chandler Smith prevail in a Super Late Model, and we saw two amazingly competitive races at the track that made for such an event. Thanks to the CARS Tour, Tri-County Speedway, and all the short track teams and fans that made this an amazing memorable event. Congratulations to Chandler Smith on your Super Late Model win. And our hats off to Mini Tyrrell on a popular win with the fans and the infield, and an emotional one with Tyrrell and his team. There’s a new age dawning in short track racing, and knowing this leaves us excited for each and every event left on the schedule. Till next time, See You At The Track!