“We must always set the bar high, otherwise, we do not progress”

Kylian Mbappe

All year long, we’ve had this race circled on our calendar as our grand finale. We visited Southern National earlier in the year for a Carolina Pro Late Model Series event, and were immediately impressed, knowing that we would come back sometime in the future. And what better way to come back than to witness history? The annual Thanksgiving Classic has always been a staple Late Model Stock race in the region, but this year was different. This year would pay an historic $50,000 to the winner. The biggest Late Model Stock winner’s purse ever recorded. And with such a big payday on the line, multiple big names are here to take a chance at victory.

The JR Motorsports duo of 2022 CARS Tour Late Model Stock champion Carson Kvapil is in the field along with 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Playoff finalist Josh Berry. Also joining the fray is last week’s South Carolina 400 winner Brenden Queen, driving the family car this time around. And oh, did we mention the current crew chief of Cup Series veteran Brad Keselowski and two-time winner of this event Matt McCall has come out of retirement? Connor Hall finds himself starting on the pole, with the whole field behind separated by only seven tenths of a second. Can Hall cap off 2022 with another big win? Or can second place starter Josh Berry grab his 100th career victory for JR Motorsports? Only time will tell.

Come race day, Mother Nature isn’t in the mood and decides to damper the party. But despite this, a great number of fans are still filing in, willing to wait as long as possible for on-track action. Around four hours after the scheduled green flag time, the sun has finally made an appearance, and the track is nearly perfect for racing. A fantastic crowd now fills the stands as the invocation is finally spoken, the National Anthem passionately sung, and the command to start the engines given. So, with the sun shining and the fans antsy with anticipation, Let’s Go Racin’!

LIMITED LATE MODEL FEATURE

The # 07 of Ronald Renfrow finds himself on the pole with the # 7 M of Bradley McCaskill starting second. Rounding out the top five will be the # 98 of J.D. Eversole, # 82 Mike Ganoe, and the # 7 of Brandon Clements. Renfrow would get the jump early as the # 50 of Ross “Boo Boo” Dalton charged through the field. After leading multiple laps, Renfrow would have problems, dropping through the field and giving Eversole the lead. But McCaskill would soon show his muscle, as he moved past Eversole with ease, gapping the field for a brief moment. But also charging through the field would be a very determined # 16 Robert Arch, overcoming an early mechanical gremlin to battle for the lead. McCaskill and Arch would trade multiple blows, getting each other sideways, but also giving enough room for the other to gather his machine up. After multiple laps of being nose to tail, Arch would finally get by for good, grabbing the huge victory ahead of McCaskill, Dalton, Clements, and the # 08 of Cody Bryant. After the race, it was revealed that Arch had battled fumes the entire race, becoming sick in victory lane, making the victory even more impressive.

LATE MODEL STOCK THANKSGIVING CLASSIC FEATURE

The # 77 C of Connor Hall turns in a scorching time of 15.386 seconds to take the pole position while the # 3 of Josh Berry will start second. Starting third will be the # 03 Q of Brenden Queen, followed by the # 51 of Matt McCall and the # 27 of Xfinity Series driver Jeb Burton. Hall clears at the green, but soon starts to save along with Berry. This hands the lead over to Queen. As he starts to pull away, Hall starts to conserve even more, dropping like a rock through the field. The # 77 of Michael Hardin and the # 2 of Ryan Wilson both take their machines to the pits, as they’re unfortunately done for the night. Soon, Queen starts to see what is happening behind, as multiple drivers have slowed their pace. He soon joins in, now giving the top spot to the # 14 of Jared Fryar followed by the # 1 of Southern National alumni Andrew Grady. Grady would eventually get by for first as the competition caution flies after fifty consecutive green flag laps. Fryar is the only frontrunner to pit as Grady will line up first for the restart. The green flies, but Grady doesn’t go, stacking up the entire field and especially holding up Queen as he nearly comes to a dead stop to avoid. Despite all of the chaos, the green stays out as Grady now brings his ride to the infield. This now gives the lead to a returning # 81 of Justin Johnson, as he seems to be running flat out for the moment.

In the middle of the pack, Hall continues to conserve, nearly getting spun numerous times in the process. Back up front, Johnson now has company in the form of the # 9 of Charlie Watson. Johnson holds the bottom, but Watson still slips his nose under, taking the lead away. As the frontrunners continue to swap spots, Carson Kvapil in the # 8 is also among those severely saving, riding around as the last driver on the lead lap. It nearly turns to disaster though as Kvapil is in Watson’s sights, not far from becoming lapped traffic. Thankfully for Kvapil, the second competition caution flies, ensuring the JR Motorsports driver stays on the same lap as the leaders. This time around, every driver in the field with the exception of Hall comes down pit road. Lining up behind Hall after all pit stops are done will be Berry and Watson. When the green flies, the intensity immediately picks up. Hall, Berry, and an emerging Burton go three wide for the lead, nearly wrecking in the process. After all is said and done, it’s somehow Queen who’s now back in the lead, taking advantage of the craziness around him. Further back, Hall’s car seems to be souring as he comes by drastically slow with a baritone engine sound. He goes into turn one and spins, bringing out the caution. The 77 slithers down pit road as one of the favorites is presumably done for the night. Meanwhile, another round of pit stops take place as most of the field make adjustments. Staying out though is Fryar, as he clears for the lead on the restart. But not so fast as Queen is there again as he sneaks under and by, placing his name at the top of the leaderboard yet again. The # 72 of Dean Shiflett goes around in turns three and four, bringing out another caution. Queen will remain in the lead for the restart as Hall has brought his battered machine back out to try and finish the race. When the green flies, Queen gets a great launch, but soon gets freight trained on the inside as Berry now leads for the first time tonight. But Shiflett goes around again, in almost identical fashion to the first spin. Another round of pit stops commence, leaving the # 17 of veteran Stacy Puryear now as the leader.

Puryear gets a fantastic jump on the restart but there’s trouble behind as the # 50 of Daniel Vuncannon and the # 4 of Jonathan Findley get together on the backstretch. Findley seems to be furious as he jumps out of his car, and precedes to walk down pit lane to have a discussion with Vuncannon. Words soon turn into fists however as now an all out brawl has broken out in the pits between Findley and Vuncannon, along with select crew members. The fight eventually fizzles out as Puryear will once again line up first. Also lining up in the top five is the # 10 of Kaden Honeycutt, as he has made an amazing charge through the field. Puryear once again gets a marvelous jump, and clears Berry. But Berry has decided that it’s no longer time to conserve, and muscles his way by Puryear. Puryear is now stuck on the outside as Berry begins to pull away. Fryar however has also decided to go full throttle, moving up to second and mounting a charge on Berry. But in a repeat of last year, Josh Berry crosses the line first and makes history, winning the $50,000 grand prize. Fryar crosses the line second, Honeycutt an amazing third, # 08 Deac McCaskill fourth, and McCall with a great fifth.

MY TAKE

Wow, what a night! Josh Berry sets a JR Motorsports milestone with his 100th career victory, albeit in a tribute to JR’s dad, The Intimidator. Now, we know what some of you are thinking. What a surprise, another Josh Berry win. But this wasn’t a cakewalk by any means. It was a high speed chess match. 250 laps on a track with limited to no rubber brought out multiple strategies. You had drivers like Berry, who wanted to ride until it was time to go, such as Queen, Kvapil, Hall, and Burton. You also had drivers that decided to get the most out of their machines as much as possible, such as Justin Johnson and Charlie Watson. But in the end, the cream rose to the top and Josh Berry set the bar once again, setting a JR Motorsports record while taking the biggest payday in Late Model Stock history. Speaking of setting the bar, how about Michael Diaz? Diaz took a huge leap as an owner/promoter, holding an event of this magnitude on a track that hasn’t run on a weekly basis for multiple years. Taking a gamble on a brand new race format, making strategy even more important than years before. And with the help of Solid Rock Carriers owner Kirk Ipock, Diaz would take the biggest leap of all, awarding the winner of the race $50,000. And for that, he was rewarded with a great crowd despite nagging weather and a fantastic race that came down to the wire, setting the bar for future big events in the future. It payed off for the fans as well, as they were treated to two great races with drivers putting it all on the line. And that brings us to our Blue Collar Racer Of The Week.

Like always, it was another tough choice, as multiple drivers threw their hat in the ring. First we have to look at the Limited Late Model winner, Robert Arch. Arch would engage in a fierce battle with veteran Bradley McCaskill, barely edging McCaskill at the checkered. All while dealing with fumes inside the car, causing Arch to put off his spotting duties for eventual Late Model Stock winner Josh Berry due to nauseousness and weakness. Speaking of Berry, we also have to mention his strategy as he passed multiple cars through the night, eventually holding off a hard charging Jared Fryar for victory. But when it was all said and done, it came down to three contenders.

Former Blue Collar winner Carter Langley started twentieth, but with patience and perseverance, moved all the way up into the top ten, finishing seventh overall after the various strategies played out. Gaining the most spots on the night was that of 2022 CARS Tour Late Model Stock Rookie Of The Year Chase Burrow. Burrow would turn in a disappointing qualifying run that slotted him 27th overall. But just like we’ve seen him in the CARS Tour all year, he would fight all night long, rooting and gouging his way through the field, just barely cracking the top ten in an amazing run. On any other night, Burrow would be the clear winner. But as we’ve stated before, the Blue Collar winner is the racer who works the hardest for the biggest gain. And there was one driver who’s no stranger to the award that did just that. Winning his unprecedented fifth Blue Collar Racer Of The Week is Kaden Honeycutt. Honeycutt started all the way back in the nineteenth position, just inside the top twenty. Honeycutt would take it easy in the beginning, saving tires and picking up spots whenever the time was right. But when it mattered the most, Honeycutt would charge through the field, slicing through his competition like we’ve seen many times before. Honeycutt somehow would crack the top five near the end of the race, and with just a handful of laps to go, would move up two more spots to grab a podium finish of third. A performance we just couldn’t deny. So congratulations to Kaden and his R&S Race Cars team as the 2021 Blue Collar Racer Of The Year adds yet another Blue Collar award to his resume, further setting the bar for future Blue Collar winners.

We would be lying if we didn’t admit our sadness knowing that the 2022 race season is over. But man, what a season it was. There was so much great racing throughout the year, further proving that the central east coast region hosts the best racing in the nation, setting the bar for everyone else. We leave Southern National knowing all of the history that has been made in the span of 24 hours. Josh Berry set the bar for all of his fellow Late Model Stock competitors with his 100th victory for JR Motorsports. Southern National and Michael Diaz set the bar with the biggest winner’s purse in Late Model Stock history, paying a whopping $50,000 to the winner. Late Model racing, along with all other divisions we covered this year, set the bar by dazzling us every week with outstanding racing. And, of course, you the fans set the bar as well, coming out in droves to watch the great racing we speak of. With that said, 2023 is right around the corner, and we can’t wait to see what the year has in store, and if it can set the bar even higher. So, until then, See You At The Track!

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