“The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in ones own determination.”

Tommy Lasorda

It’s true that the zMAX CARS Tour has changed a bit since the new ownership group took over. And the fact of the matter is that some people don’t like change. Man do I get that. At the same time, I’ve lived long enough to know that sometimes you have to take a step back and evaluate that change. The previous ownership grew this tour to what it was out of the love of it and with true determination. And because of that, like a phoenix that rose from the ashes, Late Model Stock racing in the region took on a larger than life persona. I’ve heard talk recently about how local track Late Model Stock counts are down due to the lure of the tour, and especially now under the new ownership group. Seems some have short memories. Either that or the new short track era has people forgetting the true Late Model Stock story. And I know this will show my age but I feel it’s time for a little reminder. Late Model Stocks in the beginning became huge fairly quickly. But by the mid to late 2000’s, there was a true scramble to keep them relevant. The conversations around the genre centered around costs and especially now, all can relate to that. And I think we can all agree that the cost to be competitive in Late Model Stocks, on the tour and off, is a real and true concern. But there was a much more glaring problem that was the larger threat. Rules.

If you could race at a myriad of tracks under the same rule structure, it would cut costs tremendously for those teams looking to get the most out of their race cars. But competition between tracks made that at the time almost impossible. The problem was that tracks felt the need to build a Late Model Stock division exclusively to their track so that they could claim to be the place to see the very best Late Model Stock racing action. Honestly and fairly, it was an understandable goal. But, in the end, it hurt the growth Late Model Stocks had as a whole. And to the point to where there was serious talk about if the racing genre would even survive. All of that coincided at the same time Jack McNelly was looking for what he needed to keep his tour alive. And as fate and timing would have it, he offered the place where Late Model Stock teams could run all the best tracks in the region under the same rule and sanctioning structure, and it eventually became so successful that it was appealing to names like Earnhardt Jr, Harvick, Burton, and Marks were happy to take on the burden of keeping it alive. I say burden because anything you take on of this magnitude is work. Well, if you want it to continue to succeed. And watching their work to this point is a change no one should fret too much about. And trust me when I say, we’ve been keeping a close eye on it. Due to the obligations that come with what we do, it’s too important not to. And yes, image is a focus for the tour now. But the focus goes well beyond that and the work that goes on behind the scenes is still immense. The competition level on the tour at this moment is as high as it’s ever been. All the numbers prove it. And this week, as the CARS Tour came to Orange County Speedway, all the work and determination was on full display. From tour management to on track performance, the premier Late Model tour in the nation was on top of it’s game. Let’s take a closer look from the racing at the 2024 zMAX CARS Tour Orange Blossom Shootout from Orange County Speedway.

JABS CONSTRUCTION VIRGINIA MINI CUP RACING ASSOCIATION FEATURE

The # 86 of Zach Sprouse will lead the field to green on the rough Orange County surface followed by the # 97 of Michael Bivens, # 11 Noah Matthews, # 33 of defending Old North State Nationals winner Landon Huffman, and the # 18 of Wesley Warriner. The pace car ducks down pit road, the crowd rises to their feet, and we’re green! Zach Sprouse gets the big jump as Matthews will take second in no time. Wesley Warriner muscles his way by Huffman and takes his momentum by Bivens as well. Back up front, Matthews roars around Zach Sprouse for the lead with Bivens bringing the fight back to Wesley Warriner, retaking third. But here comes Huffman and the # 12 of Tyler Warriner, and we have a four way fight for third! The caution will fly though as the # 98 of Scott Sprouse spins out of turn two. After the choose, it’ll be Matthews, Wesley Warriner, Zach Sprouse, Bivens, and Huffman. Matthews shoots out like a cannon as Wesley Warriner falls out of the top five with the rest of the field jockeying. Now Scott Sprouse finds more trouble as he spins out of turn four and slams the outside wall. Luckily he’s okay, but the same can’t be said for his machine as it’s towed away. Another caution means another choose as Matthews restarts first, Zach Sprouse second, Huffman third, Tyler Warriner fourth, and the # 7 of Nate Thomas fifth. Matthews once again executes a masterful restart as Huffman looks under Zach Sprouse for second. Sprouse will hold him off with Wesley Warriner diving inside of Huffman. Wesley barely clears as it looks like Talladega behind him, with Huffman and Thomas battling side by side followed by another door to door duel between Tyler Warriner and Bivens. Huffman sneaks away as they go three wide for fifth! Up front though is Matthews, who takes the win tonight ahead of Zach Sprouse, Wesley Warriner, Huffman, and Tyler Warriner.

zMAX CARS TOUR PRO LATE MODEL FEATURE

Give the Pro Late Model pole to the # 44 of Conner Jones with an absolutely breathtaking time of 13.932 seconds. Starting alongside Jones will be the # 51 Mavrick Page Motorsports machine of Kaden Honeycutt. Third will be the # 00 of Jimmy Renfrew Jr followed by the # 03 of defending two time winner Kyle Campbell with the # 43 of Nick Loden rounding out the top five. zMAX CARS Tour flagman Brandon Willard looks over the eager field, approves what he sees, and we’re green for the inaugural CARS Tour Pro race at Orange County! Jones will lead early as Campbell and Loden go elbows up for fourth. Give it to Loden as the caution flies early with Jessica Cann in the # 19 and Joshua Horniman in the # 43 crashing in turns one and two. Both drivers are unfortunately done for the night as the field goes under the red flag with Orange County’s track crew going to work. After the track is spiffed up and ready to race, Jones takes the inside and lines up first followed by Honeycutt, Renfrew Jr, Campbell, and Loden. Before we go green though, the cleanup truck has a bit of an incident as fire extinguishers along with other supplies fall out on the backstretch. No need to fret though as we’re back green in no time with Jones and Honeycutt gridlocked for first. Loden gets by Campbell with Honeycutt taking the top spot on the outside. Jones continues to fall, now losing position to Renfrew Jr in the # 00. Jake Bollman in the # 24 makes his first appearance in the top five at the expense of Campbell as the field begins to single file out. Campbell is on a downward spiral, falling all the way out of the top ten with something obviously ill with the # 03. He’ll find a bit of reprieve though as the # 97 of Dylan Garner slams the wall outside of turn four after contact with the # 65 of Tyler Tanner. Campbell uses the caution as an opportunity to come down pit lane and try to diagnose the issue as Honeycutt decides to take the outside for the ensuing restart. Renfrew Jr rolls up alongside followed by Loden, Jones, and Bollman after the choose. Honeycutt nails the restart as the field is three wide behind! The # 88 of Max Reaves does the high side hustle around Bollman as Renfrew Jr wheels his way to the inside of Honeycutt and a bit of contact is made. Honeycutt will hang on as Tanner spins into the outside turns one and two wall, allowing the Shiti Coolers Caution to once again make an appearance. Honeycutt once again makes the outside the leading lane on the choose followed by Renfrew Jr, Loden, Jones, and Reaves.

It’s the same song and dance for Honeycutt, clearing Renfrew Jr as 2024 King Of The Modifieds winner # 15 Luke Baldwin takes fifth. Loden now starts to stalk Renfrew Jr and will steal second away in pursuit of Honeycutt. Jones’ car has begun to come back to life as he trades paint with Renfrew Jr to assume third. Spencer Davis in the # 29 is practically on top of Baldwin for fifth, but Baldwin is cool under pressure and hangs on for the time being. Davis now decides to use the bumper, getting Baldwin sideways and inviting Bollman to the party. Bollman is to the inside of Davis and they touch! Bollman spins out of two, barely avoiding any damage. He’ll drive away as the choose will mix the field up once more, with Honeycutt leading Jones ahead of Renfrew Jr, Loden, and Davis. Jones has the advantage and clears, but Honeycutt pushes him down the straightaway and executes a slidejob to take it back! Jones crosses over and they’re both sideways out of turn two with smoke flying! It’s finally Honeycutt who clears as Loden starts to work on Renfrew Jr’s left rear quarter panel. He rubs Renfrew Jr just enough to barely slide up in front of him heading into turn one but it buckles Renfrew Jr’s hood, made worse from the fact that Davis gives him a shot in the rear! Renfrew Jr has big hood damage and he’ll come to a stop in turn two. Another Shiti Coolers caution will give the fans a chance to catch their breath as the racing has been absolutely amazing. The top side has been Honeycutt’s best friend and he’ll line back up there once more with Jones second, Loden third, Davis fourth, and the # 96 of T.J. DeCaire fifth. Honeycutt launches like a rocket as Davis gets by Loden. Put Baldwin into the top five as he battles around DeCaire while Honeycutt starts to build a gap. Davis is back under fire from Loden and can’t hang on to the spot as Loden is starting to move up. He’s now all over Jones, and makes quick work of the # 44. Jones is still there though and gives Loden a shot, but it isn’t enough as Loden starts to pull away. Davis looks to make the low groove work on Jones, but Jones is strong up high as they’re side by side for third. Coming across the line first though is Kaden Honeycutt, capturing the inaugural CARS Tour Pro Late Model race at Orange County. Loden comes home second, Davis edges out Jones for third, and Baldwin caps off his full fendered return in fifth.

zMAX CARS TOUR LATE MODEL STOCK FEATURE

New River All-American winner # 6 Bobby McCarty remains riding high, taking his R&S Race Cars machine to the pole with a lap time of 14.259 seconds. The # 29 Kevin Harvick Incorporated machine of Brent Crews will start second, # 08 Deac McCaskill will start third in his 100th start, # 81 Mini Tyrrell starts fourth, and the # 17 of Pro Late Model winner Kaden Honeycutt rounds out the top five. Flagman Brandon Willard eyes the amazing thirty car starting field rolling towards the Death Wish Coffee Restart Zone, likes what he sees, and we’re green at The House Of Speed! McCarty pulls ahead out of turn two as McCaskill and Tyrrell battle hard for third. McCaskill keeps the position as we have huge trouble coming out of turn four! Something breaks on the # 37 Landon Huffman machine and he jolts up and into Logan Clark in the # 15C, causing Clark to take a vicious hit into the outside wall, bursting in flames afterwards. Fortunately, everyone is okay as the red is out to button it all up. Once we’re ready to go, it’ll be McCarty lining up first followed by Crews, McCaskill, Tyrrell, and Honeycutt. McCarty once again clears with ease as Tyrrell will battle with McCaskill again. McCaskill comes up in front of Tyrrell out of turn two but he’s not completely clear as he damages his right rear! He nearly slides up into the wall but somehow saves it as he falls outside of the top five behind Tyrrell, Honeycutt, and the # 15 of Ryan Millington. McCarty has motored out to a fantastic lead, but that gap will be erased as the # 62 of Layne Riggs has a problem, bringing the Shiti Coolers Caution out. That gives McCaskill a chance to get his body work taped up along with the # 62 KHI crew a chance to sort out Riggs’ issues. On the choose, it’s McCarty who lines up on the outside next to Crews and followed by Tyrrell, Honeycutt, and Millington. It’s all McCarty up front as Tyrrell makes a charge on the outside of Crews for a chance at second. Crews hangs on as McCarty again pulls away. It’s a dogfight in the middle of the field as the # 8 of Carson Kvapil along with the # 01 of track regular Camden Gullie all try to make up valuable ground.

Millington is accompanied by Connor Zilisch in the # 28 with the Rolex 24 winner looking to break into the top five, setting up the pass and executing it to perfection. Riggs begins to develop a major tire rub, but luck falls his way as the competition caution will fly with 53 laps to go. McCarty will lead followed in tow by Crews, Tyrrell, Honeycutt, and Zilisch. Crews gets a great restart, but it’s just not enough as McCarty clears with Tyrrell now getting by for second. It’s a hornet’s nest behind as drivers are three, sometimes even trying four wide! In the middle of the field though, the # 55 of Isabella Robusto blows a tire and slams the turn four wall hard. She’s thankfully okay as the tension has definitely risen late. After another round of choose, McCarty lines up first followed by Crews who takes the bottom, Tyrrell, Honeycutt, and Zilisch. Crews once again gives it his best shot, trying all he can to dispose of McCarty, but it doesn’t work as veteran McCarty sets sail. Zilisch slots around Honeycutt and pounces on Tyrrell as those two slam doors. Tyrrell barely hangs on as the yellow makes another appearance for debris on track. That’ll give Crews a chance at redemption as he’ll line up to the inside of McCarty ahead of Tyrrell, Zilisch, and Honeycutt. McCarty gets an amazing restart but it’s all for naught as Riggs’ night goes from bad to worse, spinning on the frontstretch.

It’ll be the same top five as before on the restart as Crews is right there this time around. Crews slides up and they make contact as Crews will clear for the lead! That puts McCarty in the grasps of Zilisch, who looks to the inside and makes contact! McCarty spins, collecting Tyrrell, the # 23 of Kade Brown, and the # 77 of Treyten Lapcevich as the fans go wild! Fenders are bent and feelings are hurt, but for the top five, none of that matters. The field is now all jumbled up as Crews lines up first followed by Kaden Honeycutt, Kvapil, # 22 Connor Hall, and the # 51 of Timothy Peters. Reminiscent of the Pro Late Model race, Honeycutt is money on the top side, but Crews’ car just keeps getting better as he will clear Honeycutt after a short battle. Behind them, Peters loses fifth to a hard charging Chase Burrow in the # 00. Honeycutt puts together qualifying lap after qualifying lap, but it’s too little too late as Brent Crews visits zMAX CARS Tour victory lane for the first time in his career. Honeycutt makes a valiant effort and comes home second, Kvapil guts out a third, Hall survives for fourth, and Burrow makes a great late race run for fifth.

MY TAKE

While some wanted to use this week’s race to stir up controversy by talking about the age and issue of the track surface at Orange County Speedway, we choose to talk about what really mattered when it comes to this race. Yes, the track has some work to do on the track surface. News there is that it’s already acknowledged that it’s time and is already in the planning stages on that issue. But the truth is that during the races themselves, it wasn’t much of an issue. So again, we’ll focus on the true story from this racing event, and that was the competition on the track, and the tour’s work off of it. And I’ll begin with Karsyn Elledge. She is the new social media and marketing mnager for the zMAX CARS Tour. But, from what we’ve seen, she’s much more than that for the tour. She is in charge of what you see when you look at the tour, but her concern goes well beyond image. While it’s true that in that regard the tour is instituting change and in the process of still learning how to get to the final stages of the rebranding, we are seeing first hand the work being put in to make it happen. And she is a great hardworking addition to an already great team dedicated to the best production they can possibly give. From the moment that the tour arrives until well after most are gone, Elledge and the crew continues their work on behalf of the tour as they are determined to bring the best possible product they can to the fans. There was nowhere I went Saturday at the track that I didn’t see her in action and so we can say without a doubt that the tour cares about how they bring their racing product to the short track fan as much as they ever did. And that matters folks.

Secondly, the drivers and teams themselves are at the top of their game. We can continue to throw numbers out there to how tight the competition is but sometimes the visual gets lost in the decimal point. So I’ll give you a visual that will start to help you understand. In this Saturday’s Late Model Stock race at the Orange Blossom 250 at Orange County Speedway, the first place qualifier was a mere car length over the 31st fastest qualifier. Astounding! This year, it comes down to how bad you want it. You better be VERY hungry. The feeding troughs are open but you’re going to have to muscle yourself a place if you want a spot at the table. As it should be. The Pro Late Model and Late Model Stock stature has risen on this tour to the level that it’s the doorstep to NASCAR’s premier divisions. Notable as the CARS Tour is independent. But dominating performances here gets eyes on you that can literally take you to the top. So if you’re a fan that is taking a step back because some of the names are unfamiliar, or you’re worried that a name like Earnhardt Jr is going to change the tour from what you recognize, it’s you that’s missing out. A new era is here and it’s the most competitive Late Model era in the history of the sport. That’s just a fact. We made a vow to cover the best short track racing in the region. That my friends means the best in the country. And we can honestly and fairly say, it doesn’t get much better than the zMAX CARS Tour. And from what we’ve seen, it’s only going to get better from here.

Does that take away from your local short track? In our opinion…only if they let it. We have been and will be the first to tell you that it’s a new era and the local track’s regular shows will have to make the right moves to stay relevant. Fortunately for us, the tracks in our region fully understand this. It’s a time to work together even if that just means bringing rules packages that make it easier for a team to run multiple tracks. First of all, the CARS Tour also calls these tracks home, and one of their stated interest is showcasing why these tracks are the best place to showcase their product. The tracks in the region are diverse in their layouts. At the same time, when it comes to Late Model Stock local division rules, it’s time to be a little less in their diversity. If so, the CARS Tour will become less of a competition to the local car count and more of an asset. And in that way they will be feeders to the tour. Drivers like Ryan Millington prove that. Young drivers will come to your track to gain experience and track knowledge. And to prepare for the next step of tour racing. This is indeed the era of how bad do you want it. It’s time to worry less about your competition and focus on your own assets. Be the best you can be because the short track racing fans deserve nothing less. And what you’ll find is enough short track racing fans and competitors to feed the entire region. There is no reason to think that with the talent that’s out there in the sport, that the sport can’t reach the pinnacle it once achieved. We feel it can not only reach those heights, but climb an even higher mountain. We’ll be there watching it all play out as we are true believers. To us, it’s the greatest sport on earth. And so it’s truly time to step away from the age of negativity and open your eyes to the greatness that’s right in front of you. 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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