In the 1980’s and 90’s, Orange County Speedway became known as a place that provided some outstanding Busch (now Xfinity) Series racing. It brought a great number of NASCAR’s best to the track and became one of the first tracks in the region to host live and exciting televised Busch Series racing. Of course a lot of change has happened since then. NASCAR, as they did for the Cup Series, moved the majority of the now Xfinity Series races to the Superspeedways, leaving many grassroots tracks to fend for themselves on local racing only as NASCAR’s three premier series reached for even bigger audiences. The transition was tough for many of the grassroots racing tracks and Orange County Speedway was no exception. And although it was born as a dirt track in 1966, as many grassroots racing tracks were, by 1983 it became a track made for Busch Series racing. But by 2003, just a little over 10 years after the last Busch Series event at the speedway in 1994, the track dubbed The Fastest 3/8ths-Mile Track In America was closed down and in jeopardy of being lost forever. But as the saying goes, good things die hard. And fortunately for us, new management stepped in, and with the help of some great people, put the work in to be able to reopen in 2006. The Orange County Speedway personnel have been keeping it together ever since. Now, eighteen years later, through the sport of short track racing’s financial troubles and even the recent pandemic, local racing fans in the new era are finding the track one of the very best in the nation for Late Model Stock racing, and at a time when the Late Model Stock genre is reaching it’s pinnacle with the best up and coming racing talent using the ranks to showcase their expertise as they prepare to enter NASCAR’s premier series.

And as we came to the speedway this past weekend for the event featuring the Carolina Pro Late Model and the Carolina Crate Modified Series, there were a few notes we wanted to keep our eyes on. First on that list was the track repair that the Orange County Speedway track management has had on the agenda for awhile. The trick is how to keep the track’s challenging character while still managing to put the track surface in a position to be able to provide safe and exciting racing for years to come. Now that that work has been completed, we of course now will be able to monitor the results. And secondly, the parity in the Carolina Crate Modified Series, and the competitiveness of a new group of young guns in the Carolina Pro Late Model Series. The series has helped tremendously in molding the best new talent in the region and here in the midseason, as the temperature starts to rise as the summer months set in, so is the competition on the tour. That said, let’s take a closer look at all the night’s action during Altec Night At The Races at Orange County Speedway on June 22, 2024!

VINTAGE SPORTSMAN FEATURE

Late Model Stock veteran Craig Moore pilots the # 11 machine and will start up front alongside the # 26 of former Mod 4 champion Cory Purnell. The # 88 of Paul Blalock will round out the top three as flagman Matthew Liles looks over the gorgeous field, likes what he sees, and we’re green at The House Of Speed! Moore gets a massive launch on the outside as Lorne Long in the # 22 powers by Blalock for third. But now Long is under fire from the # 25 of Michael Smith who takes the spot. It’s practically a revolving door for third with Blalock reassuming the position after Smith seems to have a problem. Moore continues to stretch out his lead but the perpetual battle for third rages, as Long retakes the spot. None of that matters to Moore though as he’ll take the dominant victory over Purnell and Long.

ROUGEMONT STORAGE PURE STOCK FEATURE

Defending Orange County Pure Stock champion # 66 Scott Phillips will lead the field to green accompanied by Colby Pool in the # 29, the # 76 of Andrew Turner, # 75 Corey Durham, and the # 16 of Chris Redman who rounds out the top five. Phillips shoots out and clears for the lead early as Turner is all over Pool and eventually takes second. Jason Richardson in the # 42 machine is on fire behind as he’s already up to fifth ahead of Redman and an emerging Jeremy Moose in the # 4. Now move Richardson to fourth as Pool spins his machine around out of turn two, bringing out the first caution. Phillips, Turner, Richardson, Durham, and Moose is your top five with Phillips once again getting a breathtaking launch up front. Moose moves up into fourth and brings the fast Pool machine with him. Up front, Phillips seems to be slowing and Turner has nowhere to go and gets into Phillips, sending the # 66 machine spinning! Pool is involved as well but is able to keep going as Richardson will now assume the top spot for the upcoming restart. Richardson is off and away but the caution is immediately back out as Durham and Pool make contact behind, sending Pool around off of four. It’s no problem for Richardson though as he gets another stellar launch and comes away with the victory ahead of a fast Jeremy Moose, Durham, Turner, and a great turnaround for Pool.

MOD 4 FEATURE

Orange County veteran Brandon Watson sits on the pole for tonight’s feature with young Bubba Perry in the # 17 starting second followed by Joseph Kiger in the # 12. Kiger gives Watson a shove on the start and pushes him clear of Perry, bringing himself along in second. Kiger tries to mirror Watson’s line as it’s clearly working, but Watson’s car is set up perfectly and looks stuck to the racetrack up front. Perry is there as well right behind Kiger, but neither one can match the # 06 machine as Brandon Watson visits Racing Electronics victory lane. Kiger comes up just short in second followed by an impressive run from Perry in third.

CHOICE AUTOMOTIVE CHARGER FEATURE

One of the most exciting divisions takes the track next as Tripp Evans in the # 8 will start on the point followed by Fletcher Whaley in the # 52 and Mod 4 graduate Lane Woods in the # 92. Evans powers off of two with the advantage as Rusty Denny in the # 27 takes over the third position. He’s quickly under fire though as Tommy Raino in the # 83 sticks it to his inside and makes it work with Denny falling to fifth. Woods begins to get his feet underneath him now, challenging Raino for third. He makes it work and immediately pounces on Whaley, kicking the # 52 to third. Woods’ car is on a rail, now starting to stalk Evans up front. Woods dives to the inside, but Evans holds the high ground as Denny spins right in front of them! They somehow avoid him but that’ll put us under caution with under ten laps to go. Woods stumbles a bit on the restart, allowing Whaley to retake second. Woods’ car gets better every lap though, retaking second position. Having a flawless performance however is Evans, as he leads every lap and captures the checkered flag ahead of Woods and Whaley.

LATE MODEL STOCK FEATURE 1

The # 01 of Camden Gullie qualifies on the pole and will lead the pack of competitive Late Model Stocks with Chase Janes in the # 47 starting second and the # 50D of Ross Dalton rounding out the top three. It doesn’t take long for Gullie to pull away as he takes advantage of that strong outside lane. Moving into second behind is the # 07 of Chase Ellis, who had a phenomenal initial launch. Janes slots back into third as Dalton will unfortunately park his # 50D machine with a sway bar issue early. Back up front, Janes has tiptoed his way back to Ellis, trying to find a way by to potentially mount a charge for the lead. He’ll get by and in perfect time as well with Daniel Vuncannon in the # 50V spinning in turn four. Janes gets a good restart, but Gullie’s is better as he’ll clear while Ellis looks to the outside of Janes. Ellis clears but then spins! He somehow doesn’t hit anything but that will bring another yellow out. Janes will get one last chance, but a shove from Carter Russo in the # 4 to Gullie gives the # 01 a stellar restart and eventually propels him to victory lane. Janes hangs onto second while Russo takes third.

LATE MODEL STOCK FEATURE 2

Blake Bledsole in the # 15 is the lucky pole sitter for feature two as he’ll start alongside Janes with Russo rounding out the top three. Janes quickly grabs the lead but here comes Dalton with a huge head of steam! He’s got fresher tires than anybody in the field and he’s using them to his advantage, already taking over second. Before you know it, he’s breathing down the quarter panel of Janes and muscles his way around for the lead. Put Gullie in third now as Dalton looks to collect another Orange County trophy. Three cars fall to attrition with Bledsole, Ellis, and Russo all coming down pit road with different problems and all three are unfortunately done for the night. But on the exact opposite end of the spectrum, Dalton has pulled away to a great lead up front. Janes and Gullie are trying all they can to release a second life out of their tires, but it’s just not enough as Dalton takes the huge win ahead of Janes and Gullie.

CAROLINA CRATE MODIFIED SERIES FEATURE

The # 47 of Jaxson Casper, son of Modified ace Jay Casper, lays down a flying lap of 14.447 seconds in qualifying, taking the pole ahead of defending champion Dale Ogburn in the # 1. Ogburn draws the pole however with Casper starting second. Rounding out the top five will be 2022 champion Cody Norman in the # 12, Mason Lawson in the # 82, and Tovia Grynewicz in the # 48. Before the green flies, Ogburn has an issue! He’ll come down pit road and will unfortunately miss the start of the race, moving Jody Utt in the # 19 to fifth. Casper finds the grip on the outside and clears for the lead as we’re already nearly three wide for second! Norman will snatch that position away with Grynewicz third, Utt fourth, and the # 98 of Sean McElearney fifth. Move McElearney to fourth as he uses the inside to motor around Utt. Meanwhile, Casper has built a respectable lead, but it’ll be erased as a piece of debris has made its home on the frontstretch. Casper and Norman are dead even on the restart, with a little paint traded in the corner. Casper emerges as the head of the field as Brian Weber in the # 01 has major smoke billowing from his machine. We’ll luckily stay green as he stays on the apron of the racetrack, something Casper is very happy to see. But now we have trouble on the front as Bobby Dale Earnhardt in the # 81 spins wildly in his series debut. He’ll get back going as Casper will once again have to fend off Norman. It’s a dead heat going into turn one and they hit! They skate up the track, allowing Grynewicz to sneak under for the lead! Both Casper and Norman are back up to speed and Casper is right on Grynewicz’s back bumper. Casper dives to the inside with contact as the fans are on their feet!

Casper barely clears and takes the lead, but now he spins on his own! The visibly frustrated Casper spins his car back around and will restart at the tail end. At the front though, it’s a duel between Grynewicz and Norman. Grynewicz doesn’t get the best of restarts, allowing Norman to power to the lead. But Grynewicz is fast! It’s a cat and mouse game between Norman and Grynewicz, but it’ll be interrupted by Utt who spins on the backstretch. Casper is somehow back up to the outside of row two and gives Norman a big shove on the restart. He gives him another shot but Norman looks stout in first. Casper peeks to the inside but it’s not enough as we come to the line with two to go. And there’s a frightening crash behind as McElearney climbs the wall and pierces the frontstretch fence, taking one of the fence poles down. The red flag immediately comes out as the track informs fans in that specific section to find another seat in an effort to get the rest of the racing in tonight. Before you know it, we’re back under caution flag as the officials are determined to give these fans the full night of racing they paid for. This will set up one last battle between Norman and Casper. Both get a fantastic restart, but Casper will scorch ahead and picks up his first career Carolina Crate Modified Series victory. Norman comes home in second, Grynewicz finishes a career best third, Utt notches fourth, and Lawson rebounds for fifth.

CAROLINA PRO LATE MODEL SERIES CHEERWINE 100

The Setzer Racing And Development # 6 hot rod piloted by Evan McKnight claims the pole with a blistering lap of 13.932 seconds. Rookie McKnight will start second behind the # 88 of Max Reaves after the redraw with veteran Jonny Kay in the # 77 starting third, Brandon Carr in the # 5 will start fourth, and Tristan McKee in the # 7 will round out the top five. Flagman Liles looks over the talent packed field, gives the thumbs up, and the green is out! Reaves will clear McKnight coming off of turn two as McKee is underneath Carr but can’t make a move quite yet. In front of him though, Kay slams the outside wall off of turn four and that’ll cause a caution to fly as Kay stops in turn two. Coming to the restart, the # 10 of E.J. Tamayo will move up to fifth as Reaves gets a great launch. But so does McKnight as they battle side by side down the backstretch. McKnight kisses the outside wall a bit, allowing Reaves to clear once again. McKnight somehow gathers it back up and hangs tough in second. McKee continues his attack on Carr, but Carr is giving him a fit for that third spot. McKee finally gets enough of a run and makes the pass on Carr as Reaves continues to lead. A GoPro finding its way on the track brings out a caution with sixty laps to go, setting up a restart with Reaves, McKnight, McKee, Carr, and Tamayo the top five. Reaves fires away from the hornet’s nest behind as they think about going three wide for second. They think better of it as Carr gets back around McKee. McKee won’t have it though as he sticks to the bottom and somehow makes the pass work. Behind him, Carson Ware in the # 51 loops it out of turn two, meaning another yellow will fly.

It’s the same song and dance for Reaves on the restart as McKee looks under McKnight for second. McKnight is holding strong with Reaves trying his best to get away. But this time around, he’s not getting away, as McKnight is slowly but surely gaining valuable ground on Reaves. Behind them, Tamayo has moved up into fourth ahead of Carr, but Carr is fighting him for all he’s worth. That battle has caught the # 61 of Austin Simmons, who’s trying to stay out of the way. But there’s just not enough racetrack as Tamayo and Simmons make contact, causing Simmons to slide. It’s a quick caution though as you can throw the entire top three under a blanket on the next restart. McKnight dives under Reaves, with McKee right there in the shadows. Reaves gets away for now, but the battle is between McKnight and McKee as they doorslam and slide! They somehow save it as smoke flies between the two, with McKee emerging in second. Reaves can definitely feel the pressure with all three once again rubber banding together in an amazing battle! The fans are making plenty of noise as McKee clears Reaves by the skin of his teeth. McKnight will follow through, trying everything he can to hone in on McKee. And he’s there! McKnight makes a move, but McKee slams the door. McKnight won’t go down without a fight though as he mounts one last charge. The # 6 looks fast, but it’s just not enough as young phenom Tristan McKee collects his second career Carolina Pro Late Model Series victory. McKnight bags a career best second, Reaves hangs on for third, Ware makes a great comeback for fourth, and Tamayo rounds out the top five.

MY TAKE

By now, our followers know that when we pick the live events we cover, we have definite method and reasoning in our choices. EVERY live event we cover is relevant. But as we start our preparation for those events, I am astonished weekly by those who claim to be short track racing fans while at the same time being practically clueless about the sport as a whole. If you love short track racing, you are a short track fan. But if you are a fan of a particular track, driver, or team, you are a fan of that track, driver, or team, not necessarily a short track racing fan. A short track racing fan knows that every functioning track that is open because they truly love racing and want to provide the best racing experience they can within their means is a track that’s good for the sport as a whole, as they all affect the sport. One track in the country does not encompass the sport on it’s own, nor could it or should it. And the sport of short track racing does not hinge on just one superstar, as one superstar is nothing without the competition he faces. The same goes for tours as well. There were many reasons we chose Orange County Speedway for this week’s choice, one of them being the great racing we’ve seen there already. The track truly is made for Late Models and they put on amazing shows there. That said, there were two things we wanted to especially keep an eye on. And on both those things, as I often do as we prepare for any show, there were two social media posts that just left me shaking my head. At the same time, I find them the perfect tools to address those points.

First of all, awhile back as the CARS Tour came to Orange County Speedway in April, a well respected “journalist” made a post about the track surface citing it as news concerning the CARS Tour event that could have potential impact on the race. He missed the real story however. We didn’t cover the track issue as Orange County already had plans in the works to address it’s aging surface. That part of it wasn’t the breaking news it was purported to be. As a matter of fact, for the most part, it wasn’t much of an issue for the professional CARS Tour. The true news was how the speedway planned to address their aging track issue. There wasn’t any reporting on that. But one of the reasons we came to the show this weekend was to get a first hand look at those repairs at the very first show it was truly tested. So track management after reaching out to the competitors and industry leaders decided to repair it in a way that kept the track’s racing tendencies intact. And they had to do it at a time in the 2024 racing season that allowed those repairs to cure properly so they would hold. They’ve had testing done afterward, such as William Sawalich’s Joe Gibbs Racing ARCA test, to see if it would hold up. But we wanted to get a look at it during a hot day and night of racing and we can initially say those repairs have been successful. The track on a day that saw near close to 100 degrees fahrenheit in the day and close to a 20 degree temp drop into night held together flawlessly. Also to note, a true ”journalist” that did their diligent research would know, and the true short track racing fan should know, that after several conversations with track management over the past three plus years, we are confident in the Orange County Speedway’s commitment to improve the track at a pace they can achieve back to the standards the speedway and it’s fans and competitors deserve.

The second point of our focus this week can be addressed by a ”fan” in a Facebook racing group that posed the question on the track’s event poster concerning the Carolina Pro Late Model/Carolina Crate Modified events, “Never understood how this tour even exists anymore.” Well, the tour exists and in fact moves forward in it’s relevancy because it is a great place for young talent to hone their skills as they enter the ranks of Late Model competition. The tour has helped in driver development for several drivers such as Leland Honeyman Jr, Mason Maggio, Carson and Caden Kvapil, and William Sawalich to name a few. The challenge for the series is two fold however. On the one hand, it’s working diligently to provide a tour where Crate Modifieds can thrive in the region in an effort to bolster the relevancy of the southern Modified contingent in the region. The place where Modifieds were born. It’s a challenge as the tour isn’t the first in this quest, but none have worked harder at it than the Carolina Crate Modified Series. And to some pretty good success, drawing nearly 50 competitors at their event at North Wilkesboro last year, the biggest Crate Modified event the region has ever seen. It wants to be as big an asset to the Modified ranks on developing young talent as it’s Pro Late Model Series has become. To note, Carson Loftin got his very first Modified win in a Carolina Crate Modified event at Motor Mile Speedway, and now just 2 years later, he is dominating the SMART Modified Tour this season. On the other hand, for both it’s series, being a great tool for driver development has the drawback, especially for the Pro Late Models, of having drivers move up the ranks such as William Sawalich and many others have done. That said, other drivers move out of the Legend racing ranks to replace them, as George Phillips did last year. And now this year, we’ve been keeping an eye on Max Reaves, Tristan McKee, and Evan McKnight. And you can mark my words when I tell you, you will hear these guys’ names many times over the years as they prepare themselves to be the next generation of stock car talent. As a matter of fact, if you want to know who the Late Model stars in the region will be in the future, you can look to the Carolina Pro Late Model Series for a big chunk of that answer. There’s a reason why Setzer Racing And Development has had a car in the series since this long. Saturday night, Tristan McKee came out on top with young Evan McKnight on his heels, and Jaxson Casper earned his very first Modified win. And that was relevant in the sport of short track racing, we promise. 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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