This week we were excited to catch back up with the SMART Modified Tour at Short Track Report’s home track Tri-County Speedway. We were excited for a couple of reasons. First, with the weather this racing season and the parts shortage that continues to plague the short track racing community, we were eager to get back to Tri-County as we’ve not been able to visit the multi-grooved racing track near as often as we would’ve liked this year, and we were really looking forward to rectifying that a bit as the SMART Modified Tour rolled into town sporting the fastest stock car in the world, the touring modified. And at a time when the Mods are winding down their 2022 season in the midst of an amazing points battle, featuring 10 time Bowman Gray Stadium Champion Burt Myers, NASCAR Hall Of Fame Member Bobby Labonte, young gun Caleb Heady, and long shot veteran Brandon Ward.

And what a day for racing! Perfect weather has invaded Granite Falls and the fans took full advantage here in the North Carolina foothills, showing up in numbers to see the ultimate southern ground pounding Modifieds. The show starts with a meet and greet on the frontstretch, giving the fans a chance to walk onto the track, and meet the stars of the SMART Modified Tour, as well as the drivers and teams from the local divisions that will support this great race. But before that, a heart warming story emerged as the Make-A-Wish Foundation came into action to grant the wish of one dedicated Tri-County Speedway fan. His wish? To ride in a stock car around his favorite track. Car owner Jody Chandler and the Speedway’s management were genuinely honored and humbled in being able to grant this wish, and Deeston Brown’s ride ended in victory lane as he posed holding the checkered flag to cheers from the approving crowd.

After the fans got to meet their favorite drivers, a touching invocation was given, the National Anthem was played, and the command was given to start the engines on the Vintage racers lined up to begin the racing action, so, Let’s Go Racin’!

VINTAGE FEATURE

The beautiful # 8 machine of Bob Hapeman will start on point tonight with division veteran # 95 Tim Gilbert starting alongside. The # 72 of Don Fenn will round out the top three as the flagman looks the gorgeous field over, likes the view, and we’re green for the Vintage cars! Gilbert immediately jumps out to the lead as Hapeman files in behind. Gilbert is successful in creating a gap between him and Hapeman, but Hapeman bides his time and is now all over the back bumper of Gilbert. Hapeman looks low numerous times, nearly making contact. It’s a cat and mouse game as Hapeman continues to look under, but Gilbert closes the door. Hapeman is still there as the white flag flies, waiting for Gilbert to make a mistake. But the mistake never comes as Gilbert adds yet another Tri-County checkered flag to his collection. Hapeman comes home a close second while Fenn rounds out the top three.

FRONT WHEEL DRIVE FEATURE

Rayna Holland in the # 10 H starts up front for this one with division point leader # 27 James Powell on the outside pole. James’ wife Kayla Powell in the # 12 will start third as the flagman surveys the field, likes what he sees, and we’re green for the Front Wheel Drives! Holland and Kayla Powell don’t get the best of starts as they’re nearly four wide coming into turn one, with James Powell grabbing the top spot. But Holland is right back alongside with the # 4 of Brian Dodd right there in third. Powell eventually clears as Dodd gets by Holland for second. But Holland won’t give up without a fight as she looks back underneath Dodd going into turn three, but they make contact! Dodd spins as they both go up into the turn four wall, bringing out the caution. The # 1 of Dana Maxwell spins to avoid contact as Dodd’s night will unfortunately end early. Holland stays out on track as the top three for the restart will be James Powell, # 81 Dewayne Smith, and # 11 Bradlee Jones. The green flies and Powell clears with ease as Smith slots in line ahead of Jones. But Jones looks to the outside and finds his way into second behind Powell. As Jones tries to reel in Powell, there’s a huge crash on the backstretch as Maxwell and Kayla Powell have collided hard against the outside wall. Thankfully both drivers are okay as Powell has to take his machine to the pits under caution! He gets back out right before the green as the top three will now be Jones, Smith, and the # 42 of Scotty Gosnell. Smith gets an amazing jump as the green flies, but Powell is already on a mission as he makes his way through the field up to third, getting by Gosnell and setting his sights on Jones. He’s under Jones, but Jones has the run on the outside of Smith, forcing Powell to the bottom as they’re now three wide for the top spot! It doesn’t last long though as Smith and Jones make contact, sending Jones spinning in turn one. The caution is back out but it’s a quick one as the top three will be Powell, Smith, and Holland, who’s made her way back up. The green flies as it’s Smith who gets the quick advantage but not for long as Powell makes his way back into the lead. Gosnell gets by Holland for third but Holland fights back, crossing Gosnell over for the bronze position. Holland keeps her momentum and begins to reel in Smith for second. Smith puts up a valiant effort, but Holland now sneaks into second. She puts together some great final laps, but it’s not enough for James Powell as he takes yet another Tri-County checkered flag. Holland gets a valiant second while Smith hangs on for third.

RENEGADE FEATURE

Veteran short track racer Gary Ledbetter Jr has the privilege of starting on the pole for this one in the # 28 while the # 25 of Skylar Hudson will start second. The # 9 of Klint Townsend will round out the top three as the flagman looks over the field, likes the formation, and we’re green! Ledbetter clears early as Townsend immediately pounces on Hudson, gaining second. The # 16 of Steve Smart takes advantage of Hudson’s lost momentum as he races by for third. Now all three are nose to tail as Townsend takes a look below Ledbetter, but Ledbetter shuts the door. Smart starts to close in even more now, tapping the bumper of Townsend about three times. Townsend gets the message and turns the wick up, getting completely under Ledbetter. They’re side by side for the lead, with neither giving an inch. Smart starts to tap Townsend’s bumper again, giving him a boost and allowing him to clear Ledbetter. But only for a split second as Smart now nudges Townsend up the track, allowing him to get by both Ledbetter and Townsend. But Smart washes up too! Ledbetter is right back by Smart for the lead with Townsend in tow as the fans are on their feet for this amazing race! Smart looks back under Ledbetter, and clears as Townsend looks under Ledbetter, but Ledbetter closes the door. Townsend still pressures as now Ledbetter slips up a bit, allowing Townsend by for second. But it’s Steve Smart up front as he begins to open a slight gap. They encounter lapped traffic though, allowing Townsend to close back in! But there’s noticeable debris on the frontstretch, bringing the caution out with just four to go. Coming back to green, it’ll be Smart, Townsend, and Ledbetter your top three. Nobody is sitting in the grandstands as the green is back out, but not for long as Smart gets a little too good of a jump. The second time’s the charm however as they’re dead even for the lead with Townsend now barely getting the advantage. But Smart is just too good on the bottom side and clears the 9 machine. Townsend won’t give up though, as he keeps looking under. He gets alongside Smart’s left rear wheel, but Smart has the corner exit speed. As the white waves, Townsend is still right there. Heading into turn 3, Townsend buries it into the corner, nearly getting alongside. But it’s not enough as fan favorite Smart gets the popular win over second place Townsend. Ledbetter rounds out the top three in an outstanding Renegade race.

USAC EASTERN MIDGETS FEATURE

The # 87 JR of Brady Allum will line up first for the scary fast USAC Eastern Midget feature with father # 87 Chad Allum on the outside pole. The # 1 of J.T. Bierman will start third as the flagman looks over the great field of Midgets, likes the view, and we’re green for a fast thirty lap feature! Brady Allum will lead the first lap as the # 47 of Hunter Wise will fly by Bierman and sets his sights on the elder Allum. Wise looks on Chad Allum for a moment, but can’t get by yet as now the # 5 of Chris Lamb has entered the battle in fourth. As they battle it out, the # 80 of Mike Ward has slowed significantly and will bring the caution out for the first time. Heading into the restart, it’ll be Brady Allum, Chad Allum, and Wise as the top three. Brady gets the jump as Wise moves past Chad Allum. Wise uses his huge run to now look under Brady, and gets by for the lead. Behind them, Lamb now looks under Chad Allum. They both slide and make slight contact, with Lamb getting the spot. Wise looks to now build an advantage, but there’s a huge crash behind as the # 4 of Dillon Thomas ramps off of another car and pounds the turn four wall. Thomas is thankfully okay as, under caution, the Lamb Midget finds mechanical gremlins, ending his night prematurely. After all of the cleanup, it’ll be Wise, Brady Allum, and Chad Allum as the top three. The green flies and Wise gets an amazing jump at the line. Chad Allum gets alongside Brady for a moment, but Brady holds on as Chad is now challenged by Bierman. Chad Allum holds strong, but Bierman has the long run car and gets by Allum. But up front, nobody can challenge Hunter Wise as he takes the checkered in a dominating run. Brady Allum hangs on for second and Bierman comes back to finish third.

SMART MODIFIED TOUR CARDINAL 99

The # 1 of southern Modified legend Burt Myers breaks the Tri-County track record with a blistering lap of 14.496 seconds. But the top 6 will redraw, putting his brother Jason Myers in the # 4 on the pole. Starting alongside will be the # 15 of Brian Loftin followed by Burt in third, # 7 NY Caleb Heady fourth, and the # 2 of Brandon Ward fifth. SMART Modified Tour flagman Jeff Bunton looks over the great field of ground pounders, likes what he sees, and we’re green in the Cardinal 99! Loftin immediately clears for the lead as Heady and Burt fight hard for the third position. Heady takes that spot and now looks on Jason for second. Jason fights hard on the inside, but to no avail as Heady gets by. Jason is stuck on the inside lane, which for a Modified, is not the preferred groove here at Tri-County. Burt, Ward, and now the # 02 of Joey Coulter power by on the outside, dropping Jason out of the top five. Meanwhile, Loftin has pulled away from the field as it seems that second through fifth are content with conserving tires at the moment. The caution flies early as the # 22 of fan favorite Jonathan Brown has blown up, laying oil all over the race track. Under caution, Jason Myers takes his hot rod to the attention of his crew, making major adjustments on the machine. He comes back out at the tail end of the field as after the lengthy cleanup and choose cone, it’ll be Loftin, Burt Myers who moves up a spot, Heady, Ward, and Coulter. Bunton looks them over, gives the thumbs up, and we’re back racing. Loftin gets the early advantage, but gets loose in the speedy dry in turn two, allowing Burt to get by. Loftin barely gathers it back up as he drops out of the top five. Ward gets by Heady, as Coulter follows him through, dropping Heady to fourth just in front of the # 25 of Bobby Labonte, who is now in fifth. Ward starts to follow right in Burt’s tire tracks but the caution is out again as the # 6 A of Greg Butcher has spun on the backstretch. It’s a quick stoppage though as after the choose, it’ll be Burt Myers, Ward, Coulter, Heady, and Labonte. Bunton surveys the field, likes the formation, and we’re green again. Burt gets ahead quickly as the top five file in line quickly. Near the back of the field, Jason Myers has slowly but surely made his way up, gaining at least five positions since going to the rear. But it’s all brother Burt as he takes the lap 30 Jerry Hunt Supercenter Stage win. Among others, Loftin brings his 15 to pit road for adjustments after dropping out of the top five. He’ll start in the back as after the choose, it’ll be Burt Myers, Ward, Coulter, Labonte who moves up a spot, and Heady. Bunton views the field, likes the lineup, and we’re green.

Burt Myers gets the jump on Ward as Labonte looks on Coulter for third. Coulter hangs on though as Loftin is already making his way through the field. Jason Myers, by virtue of drivers making pit stops, has moved his way up to sixth. First through fifth are still nose to tail as Ward has not let Burt Myers out of his sight. Behind him, Heady looks on Labonte for fourth, and gets it coming out of turn four. Burt has started to open a gap on Ward as Loftin continues to make up spots in the middle of the field, picking drivers off left and right. After a handful of laps, Ward starts to gain on Myers once again, mimicking his exact line. Behind them, after a courageous battle through the field, Loftin is to the inside of Labonte, and takes fifth away. Loftin then looks to the inside of both Heady and Coulter, killing two birds with one stone, moving into third. Loftin nearly wrecks getting by Coulter as lapped traffic has nowhere to go, but he gathers it up again as Coulter now falls victim to Heady, dropping to fifth. Now Labonte is there, looking under Coulter. Coulter hangs on the outside, but it’s not enough as Labonte moves into fifth. But back up front, Loftin has now caught Ward, and gets by with minimal time left to catch Burt Myers. Loftin is the fastest car on track though, as he gains each and every lap. As the white flag flies, Loftin is almost within striking distance, but he’s not close enough as Burt Myers crosses the stripe first. However, the winning car is found to have a data acquisition device inside, causing Burt Myers to be disqualified. This makes Brian Loftin’s drive from the back to the front even more impressive as he is declared the winner. Ward comes home second, moving him into the SMART 3 championship race with Caleb Heady and Bobby Labonte. Heady comes home third, Labonte fourth, and Coulter hangs onto fifth.

MY TAKE

In the previous SMART Modified Tour race, The Hickory Hundred at Hickory Motor Speedway, the Tour had to deal with a little controversy involving restart rules. It’s important as they had been hammered by fans and competitors alike after what they felt was an unfair call that sent one top competitor to the rear of the field while only giving a warning to another top competitor earlier in the race. In truth, it was a bad call that ended up affecting the outcome of the race. Series director Chris Williams addressed it at the drivers meeting Saturday night before the Cardinal 99 at Tri-County. He admitted he made a bad call, apologized to the competitors on the tour, and promised he would keep a better eye on everything. It was the right thing to do. But, if the Tour thought that the days of controversy were over, they would be sadly mistaken. In fact, social media was lit up again after the unofficial winner of the race, Burt Myers, was disqualified after post-race technical inspection. So we of course have to address it, and hopefully clear some things up about the incident.

Burt Myers’ car was found to have a Data Aquisition Device. So let’s put the rumors of a traction control box to rest. A Data Aquisition Box is something altogether different. It is true however that it can be used for traction control, but, the technology of this device makes traction control virtually outdated. With this device, a great team with a great driver won’t even need traction control with what it’s capable of. With it, the team that understands it’s use can set the car up for complete optimal performance. From the suspension setup to the carburetor settings, the crews don’t have to guess anymore and hope they hit the right setup on the car, as the Data Aquisition Device does exactly what it says, and gathers data. With that data, you can see where a driver is not getting the optimum performance on any part of the track, and adjust the car’s performance settings to counter it, making a great driver even better. It is a technological breakthrough that will become a track technician’s worst nightmare. And we have to state here that whoever the rule against this device into the SMART Tour rulebook knew exactly what they were doing. The rule states that a Data Aquisition Device cannot be present on the car at any time during race day. They knew that used properly, the device takes the competition out of the drivers hands and puts it on the car that can be set to near perfection for any driver’s racing ability. And any car using the device over cars that don’t have one can be virtually unbeatable.

That said, the statement put out by Tour director Chris Williams on the penalty posted the following morning, seems to indicate the device may have not been hooked up when found. But the rule is clear. If the device was used at anytime during the days practice, the team using it would have a distinct advantage even if not used in the race. The data would have already been set, and the information used for the race setup. No need for it to be hooked up in competition, as it’s purpose was complete. Burt Myers also put out a statement on the incident, citing the device was not only not hooked up, but that it wasn’t used that day. If we take his statement on face value that a champion driver should be afforded, we still have to come to one of two conclusions. First, if not used at anytime during the Cardinal 99 event at Tri-County Speedway, having it on the car was a HUGE oversight by a championship team, no matter what the explanation of it’s presence on the car was. An oversight that takes a champion out of a championship battle is no small matter. Second, it was used and contributed to the overall performance of the car during the race. Either way, the truth is, this was a huge mistake from the Myers Racing Team. But there is still more to the story.

It is being reported that the tech that found the device also works for one of the other teams and one that may have greatly benefitted from finding the device. But, that may not be as benevolent as it may appear as what many don’t know is that the SMART Modified Tour is a team invested tour. Which means that the teams have a say in how the Tour is run and the rules it runs under. So on this Tour, a person working with or for a team and is also working to help the Tour in various other ways is not that surprising. Again though, we are not saying the device was used. Only the Myers racing Team itself knows for sure if it was used on race day. But we are for a fact pointing out that either way, it was a huge oversight by the team to have it on the car on a race day. We will leave it to others to speculate as to whether the # 1 team benefitted by it or not. In the end, it takes away any chance of Burt Myers competing for the 2022 SMART Modified Tour Championship.

None of this should take away from the performances of the “SMART Three” who put themselves in contention heading into the championship finale at Motor Mile Speedway. Caleb Heady leads the points with NASCAR Hall Of Famer Bobby Labonte 37 points back, and Brandon Ward 44 points out to the leader. All three of those drivers battled all night in the Cardinal 99, earning the right to compete for the coveted title. And all of this made our Short Track Report Blue Collar Racer Of The Week another difficult one. Heady and Labonte had to be considered as they battled each other tooth and nail during this race, never giving an inch. And Brandon Ward worked all day for the win, in contention until the very end, and on a night he had to perform. But as we narrowed the field of competitors to who dealt with the most adversity for their great finish, we focused in on two drivers. Jason Myers pitted his machine early in the event, but then spent the race working his way back through the stout field to finish sixth overall in an amazing performance. But Brian Loftin also brought the # 15 machine to pit road for adjustments early in the event, and having to also restart in the rear of the field, worked his way up with precision, passing Brandon Ward who had run second almost the entire event, and was chasing down the leader, ultimately being declared the winner of the race. An almost unbelievable run through the best Modified drivers in the south that ultimately earned him and his team the trophy. Congratulations to Brian Loftin and the entire Shady Grady Racing Team on an amazing run that earns them this week’s Blue Collar Racer Of The Week in outstanding style.

But in the end, all of this is overshadowed a bit by a much bigger story. As we would like to take the time and give a HUGE short track racing shoutout to one Deeston Brown. Deeston is facing the battle of his life in the next few weeks, and will need every bit of support he and his family can get. You see Deeston Brown is fighting cancer. And before the final battle begins, he had but one wish, and that was to ride around his favorite short track in a stock car. He got that wish thanks to Tri-County Speedway and the Leapfrog Landscaping Racing Team, along with the Make-A-Wish Foundation that does so much for so many. Reminding us once again that the racing community is a family first and foremost. A sport that does more than most even know to heal the hearts and minds of more than can be counted. A sport we love with all we have, and one that we will forever be proud to have even just a small part in. Thank you racers for all that you do. Heads up Deeston Brown, we are all with you! Until next time, See You At The Track!

(Race writeup by Joshua Weatherman. Intro and My Take written by Billy Weatherman. 2022 Copyright SHORT TRACK REPORT)

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