“Don’t limit your challenges, challenge your limits.”

Jerry Dunn

We think it’s quite important considering our coverage format to end our short track coverage season with an event of not only importance, but also as a great lead in to the next season. And this year, for many reasons, the South Carolina 400 at Florence Motor Speedway was the perfect pick. Over 30 years in the making, the very best Late Model Stock racers in the country will compete for the right to be called the 2023 champion of South Carolina’s premier Late Model Stock race. Again however, to earn that title, they’ll have to beat the very best in the business. A star studded field of competitors entered this year’s edition of this event including CARS Tour competitors, local track champions, and a NASCAR Hall Of Famer. Truth is though, most of the entries in this year’s field are truly capable of winning. It’s simply one of the toughest races of the year. It’ll take strategy, talent, resilience, and an ability to expand your limits just to have the hope of coming out on top in this one. So who’s up for the challenge? Let’s take a closer look at the racing on the track in this year’s 31st Annual Charlie Powell Memorial South Carolina 400.

STREET STOCK FEATURE

The # 00 of Bobbie Tumbleston III grabs the pole for tonight’s Street Stock race with Ricky Locklair Jr in the # 7 starting alongside followed by the # 15 Jeff Melton, # 14 Davey Smart, and the # 18 of Robert Filipiak. Florence Motor Speedway flagman John Spence Jr looks over the great field, likes the formation, and we’re green! Tumbleston III and Locklair Jr are locked in a dead heat as Smart takes the third position, bringing along the # 48 of Willie Grainger, moving Melton to fifth. Tumbleston III tries to make the high line work early but Locklair Jr is better on the bottom and clears for the top spot. Filipiak moves by Melton for fifth while Tumbleston III gives Locklair Jr a pair of shots to the rear, causing the fans to get on their feet early. Grainger looks to the inside of Smart and makes it work as Tumbleston III continues to lay the wood on Locklair Jr, crumpling his hood in the process. The pair move into some lap traffic, allowing Tumbleston III to use the # 35 of David Murphy as a pick, but now there’s trouble as Locklair Jr has nowhere to go and makes contact with Murphy, spinning him around. On the ensuing restart, another crash takes place, this time involving Grainger and sending Melton around. Reverting back to the previous lap, Locklair Jr leads followed by Tumbleston III, Smart, the # B00 of Tyler Woodring, and the # 26 of Will Bruorton. Locklair Jr is able to clear on the outside but Tumbleston III fights right back as behind, there are major issues! Woodring gets contact from Filipiak in turn two, sending Woodring around as Glenn Mappus in the # 97 has nowhere to go, hitting Woodring nearly head on in a violent impact. The red flag will come out as both are thankfully okay, but the same can’t be said for their cars. The new top five will now be Locklair Jr, Tumbleston III, Bruorton, Smart, and the # 57 of Caleb McClary.

Tumbleston III barely has the edge as Locklair Jr gets sideways up top, giving Tumbleston III some breathing room. Locklair Jr now crosses over though, but just can’t make it work on the bottom. Behind, Smart gets around Bruorton with Melton also breaking his way back into the top five by McClary. Melton gets around Bruorton, bringing Grainger along with him as now Melton comes down pit road! His night is unfortunately over as Bruorton reassumes fifth. Tumbleston III holds a steady gap over Locklair Jr but there’s trouble on the frontstretch as Smart spins after contact with Grainger! Smart is none too happy with Grainger as he swerves at him under caution to voice his displeasure. That’ll set up a shootout as Tumbleston III will line up on the inside in first accompanied by Locklair Jr in second, Bruorton third, Grainger fourth, and McClary in fifth. Tumbleston III gets a fantastic launch, but it’s none to the liking of the track, causing it to be called back. The second time around is better as Tumbleston III will clear after a lap of side by side racing. Once again the caution is out, this time for Filipiak spinning in four. It’ll be the same top five as before with Tumbleston III setting sail after Locklair Jr gets loose once more. Grainger gets around Bruorton for fourth as Smart has already made his way back into the fray, muscling by McClary. But up front, despite Locklair Jr’s challenges, Tumbleston III holds him off and takes the win to kick off the night. Locklair Jr crosses the line in second but after technical inspection, an infraction is found with the tread width, giving Grainger second, Bruorton third, Smart fourth, and McClary fifth.

CAROLINA MINI STOCK CHALLENGE FEATURE

Florence regular B.J. Thrasher in the # 19 will lead the field to green as he’ll be joined by Michael Tucker in the # 16, Tim Canipe in the # 10C, veteran A.J. Sanders in the # 24, and Brandon Clements in the # 18. Thrasher gets a great launch as Tim Canipe nearly spins behind, but somehow gathers it back up. Tucker is able to get by Thrasher for the top spot but here comes the legend A.J. Sanders who starts to breath down Tucker’s back. Clements moves up to fourth with Brandon Johnson in the # 72 climbing into fifth. And for the lead, Sanders is able to power ahead and looks to set his machine on cruise control. Sanders starts to pull a gap as Thrasher has a problem! Down to pit road he comes with irreparable issues, unfortunately ending a great run for the # 19. That brings Tim Canipe back into the fold as he’ll assume fifth and now peeks on Johnson. He makes it work but his car’s handling starts to fade away, giving two spots up to Johnson and the # 02 of Matt Briggs. Briggs keeps his momentum up and now gets around for fourth, but up front, by nine whole seconds, Sanders will add yet another trophy to his collection. Tucker comes home second, Clements will grab third, Briggs gets fourth, and Johnson will round out the top five.

LATE MODEL STOCK SOUTH CAROLINA 400 FEATURE

As a result of winning the Locked In 150, the # 95 of 2007 Myrtle Beach 400 winner Sam Yarbrough will start on the pole. Starting second, laying down the fastest lap in qualifying of 17.354 seconds, will be the # 62 of Josh Berry. Starting third will be the 2023 Florence Motor Speedway Late Model Stock champion # 51 Matt Cox. In fourth will be track regular # 16 Casey Kelley, looking for the biggest win of his career. And rounding out the top five, trying to carry as much momentum as possible will be the # 23 of Kade Brown. Flagging his final race, John Spence Jr passionately looks over the amazing 41 car field, loves what he sees, and we’re green in the 2023 Charlie Powell Memorial South Carolina 400! Yarbrough clears for the lead but it won’t last long as Berry dives underneath and grabs the lead as the entire top five are nose to tail. The front of the field finds themselves running nineteen second laps, all in the name of tire conservation as the # 55 of Mark Wertz has issues and unfortunately parks his car prematurely. After a long green flag run, the caution will fly for the first time for Zack Miracle in the # 32 as he takes a ride on the outside of the track, one of the most unique characteristics of Florence. Berry still leads followed by Yarbrough, Cox, Kelley, and Brown. Berry holds strong on the inside and will clear Yarbrough as trouble strikes behind with the # 71 of Katie Hettinger spinning. It’ll be the same top five as before with Berry getting an even better restart this time around. The middle of the pack is an absolute hornet’s nest as Brenden Queen in the # 03 challenges Brown for fifth and gets it on the outside. Kelley starts to fall back a bit with both Queen and Brown getting around. Chaos strikes on the backstretch as Trent Barnes in the # 1 and the # 18M of Truett Miranda spin, but both get back going. Coming back to the restart will be Berry, Yarbrough, Cox, Queen, and Brown. The front row both get flawless restarts but it’s Berry who jumps out yet again as cautions breed cautions, this one seeing the # T2 of Travis Truett and the # 99P of Stacy Puryear crashing hard on the front. The red flag is displayed as both Truett and Puryear call it a night. The track crew puts in the work and gets the track back to raceable condition with Berry, Yarbrough, Cox, Queen, and Brown the top five.

Yarbrough tries but Berry is a restart master early as Kelley will reemerge in the top five, powering by Brown. Brandon Pierce in the # 2 breaks a hub on the backstretch and Miracle has nowhere to go, briefly climbing on top of Pierce’s Lee Pulliam Performance machine, bringing the caution out again. Both of those cars will be done for the night but everything is perfect for Berry so far as he gets yet another phenomenal restart. But behind there’s an absolutely terrible crash as Tristan McKee in the # 7 and Dale Earnhardt Jr in the # 3 get out of shape on the backstretch. Josh Dickens in the # 20 checks up but gets hit from behind, sending him into the inside wall and upside down! The red flag immediately comes out as thankfully Dickens is okay as the lengthy cleanup ensues. The track crew once again though does an amazing job and we’re back set to race again in no time. Lanie Buice in the # 21 doesn’t get going in the middle of the field, stacking everyone up but somehow no one wrecks as Berry pulls away. Cox powers by teammate Yarbrough for second, with Brown making a move by Kelley for fifth. Kelley uses his knowledge of the track to plot a way back around Brown and does so as Queen throws caution to the wind for third, nearly wrecking his # 03 car. Kelley follows through as the caution flies for the # 29 of Casey Wyatt taking a ride out of the building. On the restart, Berry gets his best restart yet but it won’t matter as Doug Barnes Jr in the # 88 comes to a stop in turn two. Cox stays with Berry on the next restart, but Berry still prevails with Kelley moving into third. The rash of cautions continue though as McKee and Hettinger find themselves off track going into turn three. It’s another quickie yellow though as Cox gives Berry a run for his money on the restart, sticking on the outside like gum. But Berry is just too strong and clears as Kaden Honeycutt in the # 10 gets around Yarbrough and Queen in one fell swoop. And now, after discussions with track officials, the decision has been made to move the race break to lap 100 due to fuel concerns, bringing the caution out for a MUCH needed breather for both driver and car. Everyone gets to change tires, make necessary adjustements, and of course add fuel. After all is said and done, the top five coming off of pit road will be Berry, Cox, Kelley, Honeycutt, and Queen. Who takes the win?

Berry gets a dazzling start as Honeycutt will fly by Cox and set his sights on Berry. Connor Zilisch in the # 57Z grabs fifth as Berry will let Honeycutt by, not wanting to be on the same pace as Honeycutt just yet. All of this starts to stack up the field as it’s turned into an all out pack race. Honeycutt now gives up the lead, handing it over to a strong Brown. Kelley takes second in the shuffle as they’re all two by two behind in a high speed chess match. Cox will take third, Honeycutt back in fourth, and track regular Buice will move into fifth, with race dominator Berry in sixth. Meanwhile, Queen has dropped all the way to the back of the pack, going into extreme save mode while AK Performance teammates Kelley and Buice trade positions, moving Buice to fourth. Queen now finds himself in danger of being lapped along with the # 04 of Ronnie Bassett Jr and the # 11 of Josh Williams. They start to pick up their pace a bit, trying to stay on the lead lap all while not burning up too much tire. They’re able to hold ground as Berry starts to speed up, getting by Kelley. He’s joined by Cox as the # 51 will power to second with Buice following along. Making his presence known now is Carson Kvapil in the # 8, moving by Berry for fifth. He doesn’t stop there, now taking fourth away from Honeycutt. Following that up, he gets by Buice and now there’s trouble! Justin Milliken in the # 02 spins along with the # 43 of William Sawalich. Milliken drives away but Sawalich is not as fortunate as his night will end early. Under caution, Cox comes to a stop! He’s pushed to pit road and now he’s out with mechanical issues! The field now comes down pit road for some quick refueling, and coming out it’ll be Brown, Kvapil, Buice, Honeycutt, and Berry.

Brown and Kvapil are locked in a dead heat as it’s pure chaos behind! Buice gets shuffled out of the pack as Honeycutt moves into third with Casey Kelley and Berry following. Kvapil barely edges Brown out as the caution will fly for a stopped Truett Miranda out of turn two. For the restart, it’ll be Kvapil who takes the outside, Brown, Honeycutt, Kelley, and Berry. Kvapil gets a great restart but Brown sticks on his inside as both stay side by side for the lead! Berry gets around Kelley but there’s a hard crash on the frontstretch involving Trent Barnes, Williams, and Bryant Barnhill in the # 5. Williams and Barnhill will be done for the night as Trent Barnes pulls away. Kvapil remains the leader followed by Brown, Berry who moves into third, Honeycutt, and a reemerging Buice. It’s the same song and dance for Kvapil and Brown as they battle hard for the lead. But another caution flies for the # 75 of Landon Huffman stopping on the front. It’ll be the same top five as before with the exception of Kelley in fifth. Now Brown gets the better restart and clears on the outside! Honeycutt comes through for second with Berry looking to get around Kvapil. Buice powers to fifth but is under fire from a strong Queen, who has set his car on kill after saving the majority of the race. He’ll get around for that spot as there’s trouble behind! Doug Barnes Jr goes out of the ballpark in turns one and two, setting up a late race sprint for one of the biggest wins of the year. Brown will line up first, Honeycutt lines up second, Kvapil third, Berry fourth, and Queen fifth. Honeycutt dives into turn one and doorslams Brown! Honeycutt takes the lead but Brown dives into turn three and returns the favor as the crowd roars! Brown clears for the spot as the field goes wild behind! They all try to make use of every inch of racetrack, but it just won’t be enough as Kade Brown takes the 2023 Charlie Powell Memorial South Carolina 400. Honeycutt comes home second followed by Kvapil, Berry, and Queen.

MY TAKE

In 2020, to the despair of many short track racing fans, popular Myrtle Beach Speedway was lost to developers. For Steve Zacharias and his crew, it could have taken them to their limit in the racing game. But as fate would have it, just one and a half hours away was another track that could have been forgotten. In fact, it was on the verge of being lost itself. But owner Charlie Powell, on the edge of the end of life himself, fought for what he loved his entire life, and one of the things he loved so dearly at the end of it was Florence Motor Speedway and short track racing. And Charlie Powell was no man to give up on what he loved. So when Zacharias went looking for a place to be, Powell was there with the keys, happy to finally be able to pass it to the group he knew would take care of the place. He had fought off shady promoters and the sands of time for years, but at last, Florence Motor Speedway was in good hands. But for Zacharias and crew, the sands of time had done a number on the old track. Some again said they had met their limits. But the truth is, limits are only limits if you make them so. Steve and his family and crew saw it as a challenge, and one they felt they were definitely up to, even though it was a daunting one.

In 2021, as it was clear that my tenure at Oval Track News was coming to an end, me and Josh headed out to Florence Motor Speedway for a SMART Modified Tour race to one, check out Steve Zacharias’ new acquisition, and second, to discuss a new venture we were piecing together in our minds that soon would become Short Track Report. We talked a lot about stock car racing, it’s history, it’s future, but mostly our love for it. When we got to Timmonsville, South Carolina, just outside of Florence, and we turned down the driveway into the track that was Florence Motor Speedway, we weren’t sure we were at the right place. The dirt drive led up to a track that had definitely saw some years of neglect. And at first glance, we wondered what Zacharias and his crew had gotten themselves into. I walked around as I entered the place almost in shock. Really? This is what is supposed to take the place of Myrtle Beach Speedway? Trying to get my bearings, I found a seat at the top middle of the seating section on the frontstretch and began to watch practice as it got underway. And that’s when I saw it. That’s when I began to understand. And when practice was over, I knew. I knew why Charlie Powell held on to it for so long after people told him it was lost. And I knew why this was the perfect place to bring the South Carolina 400.

The South Carolina 400 is a race of tradition. It’s South Carolina’s premier Late Model Stock event. Originally a NASCAR Winston All Pro 400 Lap race, it was moved to Late Model Stocks in 1996. The winners list include names like Jody Ridley, Stephen Grimes, Scott Riggs, Timothy Peters, Travis Swaim, Lee Pulliam, Josh Berry, and Christian Eckes among others. And the winner’s list since it came to Florence is Ty Majeski, Brenden Queen, and now Kade Brown. Brown followed up his Fall Brawl win at Hickory Motor Speedway in dramatic fashion in a win that should once and for all silence the critics. You see, to win this race at Florence, he had to beat the best in the business on a track where the car isn’t much of an advantage. It’s the quintessential drivers track and the South Carolina 400 is now a race where it’s the pilot that has to bring home the victory. Yes, you have to have a good car here, but as the laps wear on, the cars equalize in this place and it’s the mind behind the wheel that has to get it done. And this might not be a popular opinion, but after my first visit to Florence Motor Speedway I saw this place for what it truly is, and truthfully, it’s a better testing ground for talent than Myrtle Beach ever was. There’s a sports quote from legendary Jerry Dunn that reads – “Don’t limit your challenges, challenge your limits.” That quote is perfectly fitting for Florence Motor Speedway.

This year’s South Carolina 400 saw a lot of instances where drivers took it to the limits and rose to the challenge. We saw Bobbie Tumbleston III take it to the limits in his emotional win in the Street Stocks, and we saw A.J. Sanders again taking record books to the limit in another win for the veteran driver in the Carolina Mini Stock Challenge feature, with so many wins in the books for the legend that even he’s lost count. And we saw Kade Brown take his biggest win yet in his young Late Model Stock career. But the night was filled with hard fought challenges highlighted by the Late Model Stock feature that was defined by them. We saw Dale Earnhardt Jr start 26th and after saving tires for the majority of the race, make a spirited late lap run to finish eighth. And to note, all this after a day of making himself extremely accessible to the fans that came to see him in a heartwarming gesture that reveals the true character of the NASCAR Hall Of Famer. The defending winner of the race took the same strategy after starting seventh, only to drop to the back of the field, nearly to the point of getting lapped in the race a couple of times, but as the laps closed in, so did Brenden Queen marching his way back to the top 5 to finish fifth. We saw Landon S. Huffman start 16th, becoming locked in battles all day only to emerge with a very respectable 6th place finish after having to fight for every inch of track. And in the same vein we saw Kaden Honeycutt battling in contention all day after starting fourteenth, eventually coming home second to winner Kade Brown. But in our hunt for the final 2023 Short Track Report Blue Collar Racer Of The Week, it was Carter Langley that once again caught our eye.

Langley started 25th on the field and like some others mentioned, opted to stay close to where he started to save equipment. But it wasn’t a smooth ride. He soon found that any chance at improving his position would come with a challenge at every turn. His run to the front was more like a soldier on a battlefield than an easy progression. He had to use every lane on the track, creating lanes at certain points, and to say his advance was a struggle would be to understate it. But he met the challenge and never gave up in his fight, finally settling on a hard fought top ten. But that tenth place run, especially the way he had to achieved it, earns Carter Langley and his team this week’s Blue Collar Racer Of The Week. Congratulations team! You definitely deserve it! If you have limits, you will find them here. But if you are up for the challenge, greatness can be achieved. Until next time, as always, See You At The Track!

(Race write ups by Joshua Weatherman. Intro and My Take written by Billy Weatherman. 2023 Copyright SHORT TRACK REPORT)

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