“In the end, we can only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.”

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The SMART Modified Tour’s 2024 season start has been exciting, unprecedented, and for the most part, unpredictable. And if you are a Modified fan here in the south, you couldn’t have asked for anything more. As we’ve stated, and most short track racing fans in the region have started to take notice of, southern Modified racing is on the rise again, and that’s great not just for the region itself, but for Modified racing across the country. With all that in mind, the tour comes to Hickory Motor Speedway, a place known for it’s unpredictability, but what’s more, known for the great short track racing it produces. Anything can happen here and often does. This event also featured the Carolina Pro Late Model Series and the Carolina Crate Modified Series, and we couldn’t think of a better place for them to be this weekend. It’s a tour that has produced and refined a number of great Late Model stars, but it’s also a series that is determined to do the same for the Modified contingent here in the south, giving young and veteran drivers alike a place to hone their skills in a Crate Modified with reasonable costs as they prepare for the possibility to step up into the Touring Modified class.

The SMART Modifieds come to Hickory as the tour also prepares for their short spring break, so it’s crucial to get optimal points here this weekend. Tough, as this place is a track that makes it hard to separate yourself from the competition. It’s going to take a total team effort here this Saturday night. Who will rise to the occasion? Let’s take a closer look at all the racing action.

CAROLINA CRATE MODIFIED SERIES CENTRAL LOGISTICS 62

2022 Carolina Pro Late Model champion Josh Lowder in the # 51 qualifies fastest with a great lap of 15.221 seconds. But after the redraw, the # 19 of Jody Utt will start in the top spot while Lowder falls to seventh. Starting alongside will be the # 98 of Sean McElearney followed by # 36 Rich Cooper, # 00 Kevin Orlando, and the # 14 of Slate Myers. The flagman looks the competitive field over, approves the view, and we’re green for 62 laps of Carolina Crate action! Cooper stumbles a bit on the start as McElearney gets the advantage out of turn two. Orlando moves into second followed by an already hard charging Dale Ogburn in the # 1. We immediately have trouble though as Myers is stopped in turn four, bringing out the caution. After the early shuffle, McElearney lines up first ahead of Orlando, Ogburn, the # 63 of Dean Lowder, and the # 9 of Gabriel Saavedra. McElearney fires off a little early but immediately realizes his mistake, checking up a bit which allows Prototype Race Fabrication teammate Orlando to take the lead. Behind, fast qualifier Josh Lowder powers by Saavedra to break into the top five as Orlando tries to check out up front. Ogburn’s car is fast early, diving low under McElearney to take second away. Son Josh Lowder overtakes father Dean Lowder as the # 51 machine assumes fourth. Josh Lowder doesn’t stop there either, as he’s already all over the back bumper of McElearney, making quick work of the # 98. Orlando starts to get company from Ogburn, but Ogburn now gets caught up in a battle with Josh Lowder, as Lowder will take that spot and set his sights on Orlando. Orlando starts to fight a loose condition, allowing Lowder to look underneath but he can’t quite make it work yet. Over in turns one and two though, Saavedra goes up in smoke, spinning in his oil as Cooper spins as well. Both somehow don’t sustain damage, but Saavedra’s night is unfortunately over as his motor has seen better days. The oil necessitates a red flag, but once everything is ready to go, Orlando will lead Josh Lowder, Ogburn, McElearney, and Dean Lowder. Carolina Pro and Crate announcer Terry Radford has the honor of throwing the green for this restart, and we’re back underway!

Orlando holds the advantage barely and clears as Myers is by Dean Lowder for fifth. It’s a dogfight for third between Ogburn, McElearney, and Myers with Ogburn nearly spinning off of two! He gathers it back up, but the slip allows Myers to get by both for third. And now McElearney and the # 02 of Troy Young get together in turn two, bringing the caution out! Orlando keeps the lead for the restart, accompanied by Josh Lowder, Ogburn, Myers, and Dean Lowder. They’re dead even for the lead, but give it to Orlando as Myers takes third away. Behind, Dean Lowder spins on the backstretch, causing another yellow. We’ll resort back to the previous lap since we didn’t complete a full circuit, but there’s a bit of transponder confusion under yellow. In an unfortunate call that’s very uncharacteristic of the tour, your top five will be Orlando, Josh Lowder, Ogburn, McElearney, and Myers who gets moved back two spots. Orlando and Lowder are locked in a duel, with Orlando clearing. McElearney will get by Ogburn for third as Lowder looks to the inside of Orlando! Orlando hangs tough on the outside but just can’t hold off Lowder as Lowder will take the lead. McElearney gives some solid shots to Orlando for second, but Josh Lowder couldn’t care less as he’ll take the hard earned win ahead of Orlando, McElearney, Ogburn, and Myers.

CAROLINA PRO LATE MODEL SERIES COOK OUT 100

Keeping up his momentum from Caraway, Max Reaves in the # 88 wins the pole with a time of 14.895 seconds. As with the Crates though, there will be a redraw, which puts the # 4 of Vito Cancilla on the point. The # 51 of Carson Ware starts second followed by # 7 Tristan McKee, # 6 Evan McKnight, and the # 15 of Aiden King, with Reaves right beside in sixth. The pack of Pros slowly roll to the line and we’re green for the Cook Out 100! Ware spins his tires on the outside, allowing Cancilla to clear with ease. McKee gets by for second as Ware falls out of the top five. King takes third with McKnight falling back a spot in fourth and Reaves who makes up a spot in fifth. On a roll is Reaves as he’ll now dispose of McKnight and King, setting his sights on McKee and Cancilla. McKee starts to roll into conservation mode, allowing Reaves by as Hickory is known for its cheese grater like surface. Reaves is starting to close in on Cancilla as the lap thirty competition caution will fly, allowing the pack to catch their breath and prepare for the next seventy laps. Cancilla will lead Reaves, McKee, King, and McKnight on the restart as Cancilla and Reaves battle door handle to door handle. They stay side by side heading into three with Cancilla getting loose under Reaves, spinning Reaves around! In a move rarely seen in this region, Cancilla taps on the roof, admitting fault which allows Reaves to move into the lead position as Cancilla goes to the rear. McKee will restart second, King third, McKnight fourth, and the # 10 of E.J. Tamayo fifth. Race control doesn’t like the first restart but the second time around is good as Reaves and McKee make contact for the top spot! Reaves drifts up a bit, giving McKee the lead as the # 77 of Jonny Kay and Ware battle hard behind. In an instance very similar to Cancilla and Reaves, Ware gets loose underneath Kay and spins around in turn four, causing yet another stoppage. Your top five reads as McKee, Reaves, King, McKnight, and the # 2 of Hudson Canipe who makes his first top five appearance of the night. McKee gets a rocket launch of a start but here comes Reaves who gives McKee a shot in the bumper! The start is called back though, but it doesn’t matter to McKee as he still clears on the restart.

McKnight muscles around the outside of King and makes it work, grabbing third. Reaves is dancing in McKee’s mirror, sometimes gaining, sometimes losing, but McKee is holding serve up front at the time being. Back for fifth, Cancilla executes a near perfect bump and run on Canipe out of four, putting Cancilla back in the top five. A handful of laps later, Canipe washes up and into the turn four wall, somehow saving the car from spinning around and causing a caution. In the lead though is McKee, who’s built a big lead between he and Reaves on his way to his first career Carolina Pro Late Model Series victory. Reaves recovers from an early spin to finish second, McKnight will grab third, King gets fourth, and Cancilla rebounds for fifth.

SMART MODIFIED TOUR HICKORY HUNDRED PRESENTED BY DALE EARNHARDT CHEVROLET

“Money” Matt Hirschman in the PeeDee Motorsports # 60 hot rod qualifies on the pole with a breathtaking time of 14.126 seconds. He also has the luck of the draw as he grabs the number one chip, allowing him to keep his spot for the race. Joey Coulter in the # 02 starts second, # 24 Danny Bohn starts third, # 1 Burt Myers starts fourth, and the # 7VA of Luke Baldwin will start fifth. Dink Widenhouse’s vintage # B-29 machine leads the field as the flagman likes what he sees and we’re green for the Hickory Hundred! Hirschman will clear off of two as Bohn moves into second by Coulter. Baldwin grabs fourth as the # 23 of Carson Loftin follows through for fifth, with Myers dropping to conserve tires. You can put the entire top five under a blanket as they all ride, trying to lengthen the life of their Hoosier tires. Bohn peeks under Hirschman a few times, but Hirschman slams the door as Loftin will move into fourth, bringing the # 99 of Jimmy Blewett along. Coulter makes a bold move under Bohn and clears for second as the # 77 of Chris Pasteryak spins out of four, causing a yellow. We’ll have a four lap shootout to the end of the Bell Helmets Stage with Hirschman, Coulter, Bohn, Loftin, and Blewett your top five. Hirschman clears with ease as Jonathan Cash in the # 16VA moves into fifth. Loftin uses the outside to his advantage and motors past Bohn as Hirschman will take the stage win. The # 23NY of Bryce Bailey, the # 22 of Jason Tutterow, and the # 18 of Daniel Yates find trouble out of four coming to the line, but they all drive away with little to no damage. After the choose, Hirschman remains your leader with Coulter, Loftin, Bohn, and Blewett all looking behind. Hirschman launches out in clean air with Loftin rocketing to second. Coulter and Bohn battle hard in turns one and two and Bohn spins in front of the entire field! The talent of the SMART Modified Tour is shown on full display as everybody avoids Bohn’s machine. That changes the complexion of the top five a bit as Hirschman, Loftin, Coulter, Cash, and Blewett come to the line after the choose.

It’s the same song and dance for Hirschman as he clears without issue with Cash taking third from Coulter. Baldwin will assume fifth as Blewett falls to eighth, now ninth as Myers moves up a spot. Blewett will get a reprieve though as the # 01 of Brian Weber is stopped right before turn one. Another caution means another choose as Hirschman lines up first, Loftin second, Coulter third, Cash fourth, and the # 25 of Tom Buzze Jr fifth. Loftin gives Hirschman more of a challenge this time around, but it doesn’t matter as Hirschman will clear again. Buzze Jr is under attack with Baldwin and the # 12 of Jake Crum getting by. But Baldwin falls right back as Crum is fourth followed by Buzze Jr in fifth. Up front though, Loftin is under Hirschman! Hirschman turns the wick up though, building a bit of a gap between he and Loftin as Buzze Jr takes fourth with Baldwin following through in fifth. Loftin is back on the bumper of Hirschman, but Hirschman won’t budge. Loftin dives hard underneath Hirschman though, and he will clear one of the best in the business as the fans are on their feet. Buzze Jr finds his way around Coulter as Myers is back into the fray, muscling by Baldwin as the racing is fierce in the top five with lap traffic starting to play a big factor. And the caution is out! Debris has been found on the racetrack, with pit road becoming the place to be as almost the entire field comes down with the exception of a lap down # 8 Chris Finocchario. After pit stops and the choose is completed, Loftin will be your leader, looking for his unprecedented fourth win of the year. Hirschman lines up second, hungry for his first win of the year. Coulter will restart third, looking for a big confidence and momentum boost. Buzze Jr finds himself fourth, having never won a SMART race. And fifth is three-time and defending champion Myers, who’s been in situations like this countless times before. Who takes the checkered?

Loftin gets an amazing start as Coulter and Buzze Jr battle hard for third. Coulter hangs on as Myers will get by Buzze Jr, bringing Crum along. Myers has an amazing run! He gets by both Coulter and Hirschman, closing in fast on Loftin. He’s there! Myers makes a divebomb as they bump wheels for the lead! Loftin hangs on as Myers makes one last run, but it’s not enough as Loftin crosses the line first! But the caution lights are on as the leaders have already crossed the line, causing a lot of confusion. Either way, Loftin is your winner followed by a hard charging Myers, Hirschman, Coulter, and great run from Crum in fifth.

MY TAKE

First things first, since the rebirth of the SMART Modified Tour, we haven’t seen a driver show as much dominance as Carson Loftin has shown, especially this early into the season. And in this race, no matter what’s thought or said about the finish of the race, you can’t take away from the kid’s accomplishments this year. It’s been nothing short of outstanding. And with that now comes a flood of resentment for any driver that dares to dominate a series, much less a series with the lineup of talent a tour like the SMART Tour possesses. It’s common in the sport of auto racing. You will hear phrases such as “it’s the car, not the driver”, or “they better start teching that car a lot better”, or some sort of reasoning along those lines. As the father of a driver finding some great recent success told me recently, “They all love you when you’re running fifteenth.” He’s not wrong. I’ve seen and heard it all of my life. No one likes to see their driver get beat time and time again by the same opposing driver. But, the simple truth is, Carson Loftin is the real deal and this year he’s proving what he learned from his mentors is not going to waste. So let’s just be honest and get that out of the way first. Carson is a young driver, and so like it or not, people better start getting used to it.

That said, there was indeed some controversy in this one. Race Monitor has the race scored to lap 98. But, the last lap, or laps depending on who you talk to, wasn’t scored. Right behind the flag stand, we saw the flagman wave the white flag. And as the field came back around, we also saw the flagman, at least for a moment, throw the checkers and then bring it down, then throwing the caution afterwards. But, we also saw the leaders and the field race to the line as the checkers were being shown. Honestly, from our vantage point, there was a lot of confusion. So we did our due diligence and we sought out SMART Modified Tour director Chris Williams. Chris relayed to us that just before the leaders crossed the line, race director David Hoots called for the yellow, but, the flagman was delayed in getting the call. And since the checkers was shown to the leader, the race was called complete. To his credit, Chris Williams admitted the tour’s mistake, but he also said all things considered, in the end, it was the right call. Now of course, we can understand the frustration from some of the fans and teams on this one. Especially when it comes to second place finisher Burt Myers. As we talked to Myers after the race however, he showed the class and demeanor you would expect from a champion. “…I thought it was it was two to go but it ended up being one to go. The Hickory Hundred, and I think we ended up running 99 laps, but, champions don’t complain, they’re too busy working hard to get better. So that’s what we’re gonna do to make sure we’re the one in the front next time…”.

So we understand there are two sides of the coin here. That said however, we’ve spent the last few years not only watching the drivers and teams closely as they compete, but the tracks and series they come to compete at. And what we’ve learned, among other things, is that race directing is as hard a task as you can possibly imagine. The teams and drivers have a lot on their hands in the quest to win, or at least as good a showing as possible so they continue in the sport they love. But, they have one great advantage, and that’s turning their focus to that. Race competition directors have to keep up with all of them and the track itself. Sometimes it gets complicated and mistakes are made. It is what it is. But, even so, they have to keep it to a severe minimum for the fairness of the racing for all competitors. That’s no excuse mind you for any oversight. That’s none of our business by any means. Our part of the deal is to tell the story of what we see with no bias to the best of our ability. And what we’ve seen leads us to understand that a race director has to call the race as great as their team and themselves can manage, and deal with anything that presents itself, whether fault lies with themselves or circumstances. And, they must make their decisions with no regrets. All of the same can be said for the Carolina Crate race. Regrets will destroy you in this sport. You must always learn from any mistake. That’s just a truth of life itself. But you must move forward. Live and learn they say. But in the end, chalk it all in the experience box and try to be better in all you do. To that we give you some breaking news – the SMART Modified Tour has decided to take the engines from the top 3 finishers for in depth testing and dyno research. Something to keep your eyes on.

When all is said and done, no one can deny the work put in by the SMART Modified Tour. And the Burt Myers fans, remember who the defending champion is, and also remember, he’s not done defending that title this year. And our hats are off to the Carolina Pro Late Model Series and the Carolina Crate Modified Series as well. We see, and the fans should know the work put in to grow the Crate Modified Series. And, they should know the reasoning why. We haven’t had them on our coverage list since the beginning for nothing. SMART Modified competitors Cody Norman and Carson Loftin got their first major Modified wins in this series. And we can see right now that if young Slate Myers continues to run on this tour, he will most likely follow suit. He’s already shown great improvement taking the pole at North Wilkesboro last year and even with his top five this Saturday night. But we can only hope that as the southern Modifieds continue to rise due to the SMART Modified Tour’s growing and earned popularity, that a talent feeder Crate contingency will also gain strength to help secure the foundation of southern Modified racing far into the future. 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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