It’s starting to become obvious to those paying attention that Modified racing in the south has hit a new stride. The oldest stock car division is finding it’s regrowth where it all began thanks to the rebirth of the SMART Modified Tour. A tour that vowed from the beginning to build the status of Touring Modified racing in the south back into prominence. And not for the fame of it per say, but out of the love they have for stock car racing’s fastest and most powerful machines. And so now three years later we came to South Boston Speedway to witness Modified racing’s richest event, the SMART Modified Tour King Of The Modifieds. With 20,000 dollars going to the winner and 10,000 to the runner up, this is a crowning achievement not just for southern Modified racing, but for Modified racing in general. It’s nothing short of a history making event. Literally the crown jewel race that southern Modifieds not only needed but deserved. And with South Boston Speedway entering a new era under new general manager Brandon Brown, the track couldn’t have picked a better event to start the season.

Added to the show was the track’s Late Model Stock division known in the region as one of the most competitive and exciting for 100 laps as they start their bid for this year’s championship, and one of the most entertaining divisions in the entire region, the ever popular South Boston Speedway Hornets. Was it all what the hype said it would be? Oh it was more than that! As a matter of fact, if someone would have wrote it out as a well thought out script for an exciting drama, it couldn’t have turned out any better. Let’s take a closer look at an instant short track racing classic that will be talked about and remembered for some time to come.

VSP HEAT HORNET FEATURE

The fast # 18 of Cameron Goble grabs the pole ahead of 2022 Hornet champion # 54 Jason DeCarlo. # 51 Dustin Davis starts third followed by # 3 Steven Layne and the # 19 of Chris Barrett. South Boston Speedway flagman Brandon Willard looks over the fantastic field, approves what he sees, and we’re green in the Hornets! Goble clears DeCarlo early but we’ve already got trouble as both Davis and Barrett spin simultaneously in turn three, bringing the caution out on lap one. They get it sorted out quickly as your reracked top five will now be Goble, DeCarlo, the # 07 of Jordaine Penick, Layne, and the # 33 of Christian Sangillo. Goble gets an even better launch this time around and clears easily as Layne will slide around Jordaine Penick for third. Sangillo is under fire from the # 14 of Mark McCauley, losing that spot as the caution flies once more for debris in turn two. After the choose, Goble remains first followed by Layne, DeCarlo, Jordaine Penick, and McCauley. DeCarlo gives Goble a big push at the line, which allows Goble to clear the field with DeCarlo kicking Layne to third. McCauley muscles around Jordaine Penick, leaving her to deal with Davis. Davis uses the bottom lane to his advantage and gets by, as Barrett divebombs and sends Jordaine Penick sideways. She’s somehow able to save it while Goble is trying to check into another zip code. Much to his chagrin though, the yellow comes out due to even more debris in two. Again the choose is used, leading to the top five being read as Goble, Layne, DeCarlo, McCauley, and Davis. Goble and Layne are even for a few seconds, but it’s not enough for Layne as Goble maintains the top spot. Behind, Layne is stuck on the outside, leaving the bottom open for DeCarlo and McCauley. DeCarlo gets around with no incident but McCauley slides up, making contact and nearly wrecking, almost collecting Davis. Layne keeps the spot as they miraculously keep it straight. But it’s not for long as McCauley gets turned and slams into the turn one outside wall hard. McCauley is thankfully okay.

Goble, Layne, DeCarlo, Jordaine Penick, and Barrett are your top five with four to go as Goble does what he’s done all race and gets a perfect restart. DeCarlo gets by Layne again while Barrett finds a path around Jordaine Penick. Barrett isn’t done yet and breaks into the top three by Layne. But up front, it’s all Cameron Goble as he starts the year off with a win. DeCarlo comes home second followed by Barrett, Layne, and Jordaine Penick.

SENTARA HEALTH LATE MODEL STOCK FEATURE

Perennial contender Trevor Ward in the # 77W will off first on the grid, followed in line by # 87 Mike Looney, # 87M Craig Moore, # 26 Peyton Sellers, and the # 4 of Kyle Dudley. Willard gives the thumbs up and we’re green for 100 laps! Ward clears Looney but here comes Moore as he bests Looney for the second spot. Moore’s machine is fast early as he breathes down the back bumper of Ward. Behind, it’s Blake Stallings in the # 77 who looks underneath Dudley for fifth. Dudley hangs tough up high, but below the apron is Stallings and he takes fifth with authority. Moore drifts to the high side and gets to the outside of Ward, but he slips up, allowing Looney to now enter the frame. Looney makes just a bit of contact, loosening Moore up, but Moore hangs on. But Moore gets even looser going into three, this time allowing Looney to take second as the caution flies for mechanical issues on the # 12 of Austin Thaxton. Thaxton is unfortunately done for the day as Ward lines up first followed by Looney, Moore, Sellers, and Stallings. Ward gets a great restart as Moore gets into one a little too hot and slides up into Looney, eventually setting up the pass. Stallings now takes fourth while Stacy Puryear in the # 17P follows through for fifth. Moore gets a run out of turn two and uses it to take the lead over Ward. Throw the top four under a blanket as they’re all on top of each other. Looney makes some contact with Ward, allowing him to dip under and run side by side. And now they make more contact, sending Ward around in turn three! That’ll end Ward’s day as the fans are letting their opinions known on both sides of the matter.

Moore lines up first, Looney who’s hungry for a South Boston win restarts second, Stallings lines up third, veteran Puryear lines up fourth, and defending Limited Sportsman champion Jason Myers in the # 17 rounds out the top five. Moore gets an amazing leap as Stallings and Puryear go tooth and nail for third. Stallings hangs on with Dudley now returning in fifth. Looney puts together some great qualifying-like laps, but it’s not quite fast enough to catch Craig Moore who scores a huge victory at South Boston! Looney comes home second, Stallings third, Puryear fourth, and Dudley fifth.

SMART MODIFIED TOUR KING OF THE MODIFIEDS

Luke Baldwin in the # 7VA scores the ever important pole for the King Of The Modifieds event, but after the redraw, he’ll start fourth. “Money” Matt Hirschman in the # 60 starts on pole, Jake Crum in the # 12PA starts second, a red hot Carson Loftin in the # 23 starts third, Baldwin starts fourth, and rookie Will Lambros in the # 77 completes the top five. SMART Modified Tour flagman Jeff Bunton looks over the best of the best in the Modifieds, absolutely loves what he sees, the fans are on their feet, and we’re green for $20,000 and a crown! Hirschman jumps out in front of the field with Burt Myers in the # 1BM taking over fifth from Lambros as Lambros starts to fall back. Loftin looks under Crum but Crum slams the door to keep second. In the middle of the pack, Tyler Barry in the # 8NY, son of Art Barry, gets squeezed into the outside turn two wall and smacks it, resulting in major tire smoke. He makes it to pit road without incident as Hirschman and Crum have caught lap traffic already. But the drivers at the rear don’t have to worry much as Bryce Bailey in the # 23NY spins out of two, grazing the water barrels and bringing the caution out. The red flag comes out to repair some of the barrels, but the South Boston track crew is quick and ready as Hirschman will remain your leader after the choose followed by Crum, Loftin, Baldwin, and Burt Myers. Hirschman gets a picture perfect launch as Baldwin and Burt Myers are side by side for fourth. Baldwin keeps the spot and muscles his way to the rear bumper of Loftin. Loftin slips up just a bit and opens the gate for Baldwin, who zips by and brings Burt Myers with him. And now another car has grazed the water barrels out of two, this time being the # 7NY of Doug Coby. Coby looks relatively unscathed as he now backs his car up, but leader Hirschman is there! The two make unintentional contact, just hoping that neither one has sustained any troubling damage. They both seem fine as Loftin comes down pit road with a flat tire along with the # 04 of Brandon Ward.

Hirschman, Crum, Baldwin, Burt Myers, and the # 2 of Ryan Newman make up the top five for the ensuing restart. Crum gets the best restart he has all day as he sticks like a thorn in Hirschman’s side on the top, but Hirschman plucks him out and sets sail. Behind, Woody Pitkat in the # 88 enters the picture, flying by both Newman and Burt Myers. Burt Myers won’t go down easily though and trades the spot right back, leaving Pitkat in fifth. Hirschman just can’t get away from Crum, as the 2009 ValleyStar Credit Union 300 winner keeps dancing in Hirschman’s mirror, just waiting to pounce. And he finds his moment as they’re entrenched in lap traffic, diving right under Hirschman with Baldwin following through in some very tight racing. The competition caution flies for an opportunity for drivers to come down pit road for fuel and tires. One team decides to gamble though as Brandon Ward in the # 04 for New Day Motorsports stays out in front of Crum, Hirschman, Baldwin, and Newman after the choose. Ward gets the jump but it doesn’t last long as Hirschman gets by Crum and jumps to the bottom of Ward, racing away with ease. Burt Myers gets by Newman for fifth as Ward is trying his best to hold serve near the front of the field. Baldwin takes advantage of Ward holding up Crum and dives to the bottom. Crum hangs tough though as the two have an amazing battle. Crum somehow hangs on and now gets by Ward, also opening the door for Baldwin. Baldwin’s car is amazing, taking second away from Crum and setting his sights on Hirschman. Behind, it’s a wild battle with Pitkat and Newman taking fourth and fifth respectively. Now Baldwin gets into the back of Hirschman and moves Hirschman for the lead! The fans are on their feet as Anthony Bello in the # 79 spins in between turns three and four. After the choose, it’s Baldwin, Crum, Hirschman, Pitkat, and Ward. Who takes $20,000?

Baldwin jumps to the lead with Newman moving into fourth ahead of Pitkat. Newman and Pitkat are locked into a big battle and they hit! Newman hits the wall in turn three and is not happy with Pitkat at all, giving him a finger point outside of the car! The fans absolutely love the passion as Baldwin is still your leader, the rookie. Jake Crum, the Late Model Stock veteran is second. One of, if not the greatest Modified driver of all time Hirschman is third. Northern legend Pitkat is fourth. And short track pro Ward is fifth. Baldwin and Crum are dead even as the entire field is side by side! Baldwin barely clears as Hirschman is to the inside of Crum out of turn two, but they run out of real estate! Crum slams the wall as nearly the entire field piles up on the backstretch! Thankfully, everybody is able to walk away with little to no help as a lengthy red flag will take place to clean the carnage. When all is said and done, Baldwin remains first followed by Hirschman, the # 16VA of Jonathan Cash, Coby, and Bello. Baldwin clears as Coby gets around Cash. Hirschman is all over Baldwin, looking to the inside, looking to the outside. But every single time, Baldwin blocks the path, going left and right in doing so. The rookie will outduel the legend, as Baldwin is the King Of The Modifieds! Hirschman comes up just short in second, Coby comes back to finish third, Cash hangs on for fourth, and Bello guts out a fifth. What. A. Race!

MY TAKE

Is it starting to sink in yet? Let me say it one more time for those in the back – the youth of the sport, especially those racing in the central east coast region are more talented than many give credit for. Whether it’s in Late Model Stocks, Modifieds, or your favorite local division, the young guns are loaded with talent. But let’s give credit to where credit is due. They are in large part a product of a veteran class that grew their talent at the very heights of short track racing popularity. They are a group that’s seen it all in stock car racing. And they have and are passing what they’ve learned down to a generation of talent that’s been listening since they could walk, and driving at an earlier age than any class before them. They are the students of speed. For the SMART Modified Tour, the season is three races in with two winners. Fifteen year old Carson Loftin won the first two, and now Luke Baldwin has been crowned the King Of The Modifieds in the richest Modified race of all time. A race that included Cup star Ryan Newman, a guy nicknamed “Money” for how many big Modified races he’s won, and a six time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion. And that was just three of the drivers in the thirty car field. But in the end it was seventeen year old Luke Baldwin standing on top with the crown on his head and a 20,000 dollar check by his side. But that said, in many ways, it was the SMARTY trophy he held over his head that told the story of how he got there.

In case you don’t know, the SMARTY trophy is a representation of Modified’s greatest drivers. Luke Baldwin is a young man that knows about those drivers and when it all starts to sink in will understand and more importantly respect winning that trophy. If you know the history of the Baldwin family when it comes to stock car racing, you truly understand this fact. And if you don’t, I would fully explain it to you, but it would take far more than this article to cover it. But I assure you, there’s a lot of history there. Even so, I’m more than certain that this particular SMARTY trophy will be placed prominently on the family trophy shelf, even as there will assuredly be many more winning trophies placed beside it moving into the future. What it means to the family and the sport is hard for me to put into the words needed to help you fully understand it’s importance. For the Baldwins, the path to this win truly started when Luke Baldwin’s grandfather stepped into a Modified in the 1960’s. For the sport itself, nearly twenty years earlier. So yeah, Luke Baldwin’s win in the first ever SMART Modified Tour King Of The Modifieds runs deeper than most will ever realize. Fate has a way of finding it’s moments.

And speaking of moments, Craig Moore had one after Mike Looney and Trevor Ward had one of their own in the South Boston Speedway Late Model Stock feature. But it was an emotional moment for Craig who’s spent a lot of time helping other teams and drivers recently, coming into the season opener at South Boston showing he can still get it done. There was also a big moment for South Boston Speedway Hornet driver Cameron Goble as he starts the year off big in his quest for redemption after last year’s title chase came up just short, taking his first step in rectifying that on his way to another title run this year. All in all the day was filled with big moments from the Hornet race to The King Of The Modifieds as the will to win was on full display. After all, things will happen in the quest to be the best, even more so in a battle for the crown. Until next time, as always, See You At The Track!

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

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