Tri-County Speedway since it’s return to full time racing in 2021 has worked hard to become the showcase track it is today. With great car counts and a track surface that provides amazing multi-grooved racing, it’s no wonder that it’s fanbase is on the rise as well. And as we arrived at the track on Saturday, July 6th for the 4th annual Pepsi Firecracker 400 as the speedway celebrates it’s competitors, fans, and American independence with an infield packed full of racecars. And if you know the full history of the track, you can’t help but understand how big a story that really is. The ownership, officials, and crew of this facility are truly dedicated to bringing the track to it’s full potential, following up on the promises they made when the new ownership group took over. For the fans of short track racing in the region, it’s an exciting progression to see how far they’ve come in such a short time, providing not only a place for great racing action, but an inviting family friendly atmosphere to the venue as well. It’s no stretch to say that Tri-County Speedway is one of the best short tracks in the nation.

The Pepsi Firecracker 400 is, for all intents and purposes, the signature event here at Tri-County Speedway, making all the drivers and teams that came to race this weekend that much more determined to perform at the top of their game. You could feel the intensity in the air. But the drivers will have to battle more than just the competition, they’ll have to deal with the intense heat the summer months bring to the table. It’s hard for many to understand the effects a driver feels when he straps in the car on a day as hot as this in the mid summer months when the competition level is at it’s highest. It’s definitely not a sport for the weak and every driver will be tested here today. Who will be able to keep their focus, and more importantly keep their cool as the heat ramps up in the 2024 Pepsi Firecracker 400? Let’s take a closer look at all the racing action.

CROWN VIC FEATURE

Jason Ledford in the # 14 rolls off first for the always exciting Crown Vics followed by Thomas Day in the # 21 and Robert Diaz in the # 88. Ledford gets a great launch but already making his way up through the field is the # 0 of Jacob Hayes who finds himself in third after Day is kicked to fourth. For the lead, Diaz looks to the inside of Ledford and makes it stick, bringing Hayes along with him. Hayes is hungry, sidestepping around Diaz’s back bumper. The inside finally opens and Hayes takes advantage, clearing for the top spot. But Diaz is right back and crosses Hayes over! It’s down to the final lap with Diaz pulling away. Hayes throws one last punch heading into turn three and he’s into Diaz, spinning him around! That’ll give Hayes the controversial victory over Kyle Dubeau in the # 12 and Diaz, who gets it back righted for third.

FRONT WHEEL DRIVE FEATURE

The stout # 25 of Brandon Sutherland heads the front of the pack for the start of the Front Wheel Drive race accompanied by Skylar Brown in the # 2 in second, # 27 James Powell third, # 46 Jason Garwood fourth, and # 19 Mahlan Borkholder fifth. The beginning of the race looks like a scene straight out of Talladega, as the top four are two by two in a very tight pack. Brown breaks away from Sutherland, however a new challenger has appeared in the form of Garwood, who takes the lead with ease. Following closely behind him is Powell, getting by Sutherland as well with Borkholder losing fifth to the # 54H of Randy Hupp. Brown has some sort of issue and starts to slow, opening the door for Borkholder to reenter the top five. The field finally gets a chance to catch a breath as the # 10X of Bradden Matthews wrecks in turn four. Garwood will eek out on the restart but not for long as the # 12 of Kayla Powell wrecks on the backstretch along with the # 05 of Jonathan Goodwin. It’s the same song and dance on the next restart with Garwood clearing before another caution flies, this time for Brown spinning on the backstretch while the # 15 of Dalton Willard spins in turn three. Third restart is the charm for Garwood, pulling away from Powell while Hupp stumbles, shuffling the field a bit. Everyone starts to mind their P’s and Q’s as Powell stays in Garwood’s tire tracks. But there just aren’t enough laps as Garwood takes the victory ahead of the defending track champion Powell, Sutherland, # 48 Gary Willard, and the # 83 of Justin Ryan.

MINI STOCK FEATURE

Tonight’s Mini Stock field will be pointed by Jamison Whittington in the # 61, # 99 Dennis Holdren, # 50 Terry Torrence, # 24 A.J. Sanders, and the # 11 of Robbie Trivette. Whittington gets shot out of a cannon, but all eyes are on legend A.J. Sanders as he’s already up to second position in a duel with Holdren. Trying to make it three wide out of nowhere is the # 10 of Tim Canipe! Canipe will make it work as Holdren comes to the pits with an issue. That puts Sanders in third with Trivette getting around Torrence for fourth. Give the lead to Canipe as Trivette is all over Sanders, now engaging in a tight battle for third. Trivette will kill two birds with one stone, getting by both Sanders and then using that momentum to get around Whittington. Sanders hasn’t left his bumper though but now he slows! That’ll take out one of the favorites and cause a caution, setting up the top five to be Canipe, Trivette, Whittington, Torrence, and the # 98 of Darrell Foster. Canipe fires off perfectly but we’re immediately back under caution as the # 15 of Doug Hopper has an issue. The # 10 gets another great take off but Trivette is there. Now Canipe gets loose, allowing Trivette to get by! But it’s not over yet as Canipe peeks back under and soon enough they’re door to door! They stay this way for a handful of laps, but they have another challenge to deal with in the form of the # 00 of David Kanupp. Kanupp has nowhere to go and is right in the path of Canipe, allowing Trivette to prevail. Trivette takes the white flag with a miniscule gap over Canipe. And Trivette has an issue! He starts to stutter a bit, handing the win over to Canipe! Trivette nurses his car home to second, Whittington grabs third, Torrence is fourth, and Foster claims fifth.

STREET STOCK FEATURE

The # 3G of Greg Grindstaff, # 12 Mike Hatton, # 24 Mark Goin, # 03 Kevin Eby, and the # 55 of Johnny Reynolds make up the top five with Hatton already on the move, assuming the early lead. Reynolds’ car is very strong, motoring all the way up to second. Following him closely is Kevin Eby as he also slides around Grindstaff. Reynolds pokes his nose underneath Hatton and edges him out as Gene Griffey in the # 1 spins wildly on the frontstretch. That’ll bring the caution out and set up our first restart of the restart. The # 14 of Davey Smart moves up a spot on the choose but it’s a short lived restart as Goin has slowed. Under the second caution, Smart comes down pit road and is unfortunately done for the night. That brings the # 3 of Kayla Eby into the mix. Reynolds gets a phenomenal jump and tries to form a steady gap on the field. Behind him, Kevin Eby shows his muscle, grabbing the second spot away from Hatton all while bringing Grindstaff with him. Hatton won’t go down without a fight though, retaking second with authority. None of them have anything for Reynolds however as the # 55 will get to visit victory lane. Hatton hangs onto second followed by an eager Kevin Eby in third, a great run from Grindstaff in fourth, and a much needed fifth for Kayla Eby.

HONEY HUSH BOUTIQUE OUTLAW FEATURE

Give the top starting spot to Tyler Church in the # 1X who will lead the remaining top five of David Messer in the # 26, # 59 Isaac Harris, # 15 Sheflon Clay, and the # 92 of Martin Nesbitt. Church takes the advantage as Harris starts to poke his nose on Messer. Messer will hold serve for now as Lee Tissot in the # 27 moves into fourth ahead of Clay. The first caution will fly early with the # 7 of Andrew Patterson getting into trouble along with the # 16 of Tony Warren. That’ll cut Patterson’s night short while Church once again conquers the restart. Fastest qualifier Harris’ night now comes to a close, putting the Nesbitt machine back into the top five. Nesbitt wants to make some noise, searching all over the track for a way to get around Clay, but Clay isn’t having any of it. As for Messer, he’d love to grab his first career Tri-County Outlaw win tonight but Church is just too strong, taking the win in front of Messer, Tissot, Clay, and Nesbitt.

LIMITED LATE MODEL FEATURE

The # 25 of Graham Hollar has the privilege of starting on the pole for the ever growing Tri-County Limited Late Model division. In second is the # 25R of Taylor Reimer for Lee Faulk Racing And Development, third will be the # 55 of Matt Leicht, fourth is the # 59 of 2022 Limited Late Model champion Austin Harris, and rounding out the top five is the # 12 of Eric Wallace. The fans are on their feet, the field is ready, and we’re green! Hollar and Reimer have an absolutely fantastic battle for the lead with Reimer overtaking Hollar in the early going. Hollar starts to fall like a rock, getting stuck in an absolute hornet’s nest. The bleeding will he stopped for a moment for Hollar though as there’s a hard crash on the front with Zack Franks in the # 1 spinning into the inside wall hard. Thankfully he’s okay and even gets the car back going, but it’ll be a night ender for the former champion. Starting third on the upcoming restart will be none other than # 9 William Aldred, looking to throw a monkey wrench into things. Leicht will clear for the top spot with Aldred coming through for second. A battle starts to brew for fifth as the # 15 of rookie Hudson Sharp looks on Wallace. Sharp looks like a veteran, getting by cleanly while Leicht is under fire! Aldred is to his inside, and fantastic characteristics of Tri-County are on display as neither one gives an inch. Behind, Harris has found a path around Reimer, taking Sharp with him as Reimer slots into fifth. Up front, the battle never ends. Leicht is able to capture some breathing room for a split second, but Aldred doesn’t quit. He’s back to the inside and finally clears.

Sharp continues his upward trajectory, squeaking by Harris as Hollar’s car starts to come back to him. He and Reimer once again have a fantastic battle for fifth that sees Hollar prevail. Aldred looks to be on his way to the victory but the caution flies late! The # 51 of Garrett Freeman and the # 22 of Dustin Cooper collide in turn four. That’ll set up a sprint to the finish between Aldred, Leicht, Sharp, Harris, and Hollar. Aldred and Leicht are dead even, sometimes leaning on each other. Aldred will ultimately clear, but Leicht throws his car into the corner one final time and even makes a little contact! But it’s not enough as Aldred takes the victory over Leicht, Harris, Sharp, and Hollar. There’s a little confusion however as it seems the white and checkered were thrown one lap early, causing half of the field to slow while the other half is still at speed. All of the chaos leads to Coleman Chapman in the # 33C getting nailed from behind on the backstretch, sending his car hard into the inside wall. Despite the confusion, Aldred’s win stands in a thrilling finish.

LATE MODEL STOCK FEATURE

With a scolding time of 15.573 seconds, Darren Krantz Jr in the Chad Bryant Racing # 77 will start on the pole for Tri-County’s biggest local race of the year. Starting in second will be the # 12M of Austin McDaniel, third is the # 75 of last year’s zMAX CARS Tour Old North State Nationals winner Landon Huffman, fourth will be the # 17 of Brody Monahan, and rounding out the top five will be the three-time and defending winner # 17M Ryan Millington. Flagman Travis Louk looks over the talent-stacked field, loves what he sees, and we’re green for the Firecracker! McDaniel puts himself in the early lead with Monahan moving into second by Huffman and Krantz Jr in the # 77. The # 04 of Ronnie Bassett Jr is already making hay, giving Krantz Jr a fit for third place. Krantz Jr is a thorn in his side, but Bassett Jr is able to make it work and moves into third. Ahead, Monahan wastes no time and gets by McDaniel, bringing the fast # 04 of Bassett Jr with him. That leaves McDaniel to fight off Krantz Jr, which he successfully does. The caution will fly early as the # 18 of Anthony Adams spins in turn four. Everyone is able to get by but here comes Krantz Jr and he hits Adams! The polesitter has major damage and comes to pit road immediately. His crew works dilligently to fix his machine, but the choose is already taking place as Monahan lines up first joined by Bassett Jr, McDaniel, Millington, and Landon Huffman. Bassett Jr looks to have the edge off the jump, but McDaniel looks to make it three wide! They somehow stay clean as Bassett Jr takes the lead. Millington pounces on McDaniel’s lost momentum, chugging by for third. Trouble strikes again in turn four, this time for young upstart Dalton Hanes in the # 21 who spins. Under the caution, one of the favorites in Landon Huffman heads down pit road with an apparent issue. He’s able to rocket back out before the green flies, but he’ll have to drive from the rear, a feat that’s not easy anywhere, especially at a competitive track like Tri-County. That will push Mitch Walker in the # 15 forward into fifth as we prepare for the restart.

Bassett Jr takes the high line and makes it work, pulling away up front while Millington slides his way by Monahan. The racing is hot and furious early, as Walker’s car gets better with every lap ran, now getting around McDaniel. Millington starts to look on Bassett Jr, but a potential move will have to wait as the first competition caution flies. The first attempt at a restart is a no go, but the second looks good to officials with Bassett Jr leaving Millington in the dust for the time being. There’s a dogfight in the middle of the field for territory between the # 40 of Taylor Satterfield and the # 28 of Landon S. Huffman. Numerous bouts of contact are made but it’ll catch up to them as they crash in turn four. Satterfield’s car is bruised but raceable. The same can’t be said for Huffman, eventually nosing it into his pit stall for the night. Another restart, another amazing jump from Bassett Jr, but Millington is keeping him honest. Despite focusing on Bassett Jr, Millington’s focus has to switch over to Monahan as the # 17 is under Millington. Monahan knows he can’t waste any time and gets by Millington. Up ahead, Bassett Jr has caught lap traffic, and similar to the Mini Stock race, it’s giving him a massive headache. This grants Monahan a chance, and he’s now breathing down Bassett Jr’s neck. Bassett Jr starts to run out of options, and eventually starts to use the bumper. But he uses it a little too hard and spins Dillon Houser in the # 11 around in turn four! A returning Krantz Jr spins to avoid and we’re back under caution. This takes us to our last competition break, this time with an invert, putting Walker up front ahead of Bassett Jr, Millington, Monahan, and McDaniel. Walker uses the clean air and claims the lead, with Millington powering by Bassett Jr for second. Despite Walker’s best efforts at creating a gap, it’s all for naught as Millington starts to dive to the inside. Thankfully for Walker, he has the high ground and shuts the door on Millington every chance he gets. Big trouble strikes out of turn four as Kevin Leicht in the # 25 slams the wall hard. He fortunately walks away, but the carnage will set up another shot for Millington.

Walker briefly gets away, but Millington begins to look on the inside again. There’s another great battle for fifth as Landon Huffman has somehow made his way back to the front and is taking the fight to McDaniel. Now Millington is right up to Walker’s left rear quarter panel! They’re almost completely side by side but Walker has a right front flat! The caution will come out, a bittersweet moment for Millington knowing he’ll restart in the lead, but will have to deal with a strong # 04. Bassett Jr tries all he can to thwart Millington, but Millington has the grip and will pull away to win an unprecedented fourth Firecracker in a row! Bassett Jr comes home second, Monahan collects third, McDaniel gets fourth, and Huffman rallies to a fifth.

MY TAKE

It almost seemed like destiny. Although Ryan Millington was three for three going into to the Pepsi Firecracker 400, this was far from an easy win. It was a win that seemed much in doubt for the majority of the race. Ronnie Bassett Jr was dialed in. Mitch Walker was fast and determined. Newcomer Brody Monahan was lurking. But when it counted the most, Millington was right where he needed to be. Bassett Jr got the worst end of the draw, Walker had an untimely tire failure, and Monahan just couldn’t quite get into position. And although Ryan Millington has had some big wins, looking back, this one has to be one of the sweetest. It was a win that in many ways symbolizes Ryan Millington’s racing career. No matter where he shows up to compete he is a true contender, and many times against the odds. He is the youngest Late Model Stock champion in the history of Hickory Motor Speedway when many would have betted against him. But at just 16 years of age, Millington dominated with 10 poles and 9 feature event wins. Before that he gave an early indication of his competitiveness by winning multiple events in what many consider to be the biggest Bandolero/Legend event of the year, the Summer Shootout at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s quarter mile.

When Millington competes on the CARS Tour, he is a David against a bunch of Goliaths, but you would never guess how overmatched he truly is looking in from the outside. It’s no secret that the CARS Tour is the most competitive Late Model tour in the country. It has become a stepping stone to NASCAR’s premier series. With teams like JR Motorsports, Kevin Harvick Inc, R&S Race Cars, and Nelson Motorsports just to name a few, Ryan Millington and his family owned team have managed to not only compete competitively, but win. He also has 2 poles on the tour, 9 top 5’s, and 19 top 10’s. Tremendously impressive for a true blue collar racer. Earning respect on the track for his clean racing style, Millington is determined to do it the right way. He is becoming a master of not only knowing how to get the most out of his machine, but being in the right position to get the optimal results. All of this was on full display in the 2024 Pepsi Firecracker 400 at Tri-County Speedway. Positive streaks can be hard to come by in the most competitive sports. And while Ryan Millington is not alone on his climb to become one of the best racers in the region, on Saturday night in Granite Falls, North Carolina, Millington was the man on top of the mountain, sitting solitary as the only winner of the Pepsi Firecracker 400, not just on Saturday night, but in the history of the event, going 4 for 4. And truth is, we couldn’t think of anyone more deserving of that honor. Can he go 5 for 5 in 2025? After what we saw on Saturday night, I wouldn’t be against it. Until next time, 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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