“The longer the road, the more memorable the journey.”Joshua Weatherman
21 years in the making, the 2023 North/South Shootout at historic Caraway Speedway was an easy coverage choice for us this past weekend. Highlighting the two powerhouse short track racing genres of Late Models and Modifieds, this event brings in some of the best short track racers in the country. Besides it being a tribute event for the Modifieds in the John Blewett III Memorial, it’s also an event held in the honor of Charles Kepley, the original promoter of the North/South Shootout who was lost in 2011. It was also the season ending and championship deciding race for the premier Late Model series in the region, the CARS Tour, set to crown their Late Model Stock and Pro Late Model divisional champions. But for ardent short track racing fans, it’s also one of the few chances to see the popular Late Models and hot rod Modifieds in one event. The best of both worlds if you will in a high speed exhibition of power and skill for high stakes on a track seasoned for the occasion. Let’s take a closer look at all the action that took place on Caraway Mountain in Sophia, North Carolina. The weather was perfect, the pits were packed, and excitement was in the air, so, Let’s Go Racin’!
CARS TOUR PRO LATE MODEL FEATURE
The # 96 of Caden Kvapil racks up another pole on the 2023 season with a time of 16.645 seconds. Starting second will be the # 6 of George Phillips followed by Jimmy Renfrew Jr in the # 28 Wilson Motorsports machine, # 77 Logan Jones, and the # 13 of Austin MacDonald. CARS Tour flagman Brandon Willard looks the field over, likes the formation, and we’re green one more time for the Pro Late Models in 2023! Kvapil quickly gets the jump as Renfrew Jr muscles past Phillips for second. MacDonald is able to get underneath Jones and take that spot, bringing the # 55 of Charlie Keeven along with him. Making a fierce charge through the field early is the # 51 machine of Kaden Honeycutt, as he makes quick work of Keeven to break into the top five. The first competition caution flies as 35 consecutive green flag laps have been completed. It’s a quick yellow with Kvapil remaining your leader followed by Phillips who takes advantage of the choose, Renfrew Jr, Honeycutt, and MacDonald. Kvapil again clears for the top spot as Renfrew Jr slots into second ahead of Phillips. MacDonald noses ahead of Honeycutt for a split second before Honeycutt gets him right back, now setting his sights on Phillips. Phillips gives Honeycutt a fit, but Honeycutt overcomes and now sits himself into the top three. And now there’s big trouble in turn one as the # 44 of Michael Lichtfeld, the # 8 of Rusty Skewes, and the # 7CT of Cory Casagrande crash hard. Skewes and Casagrande are unfortunately done for the day, but Lichtfeld is able to roll his battered car away. After the choose, Kvapil leads now followed by a hungry Honeycutt, Renfrew Jr, MacDonald, and Phillips.
Kvapil clears but Honeycutt cuts back to the bottom and challenges Kvapil for the top spot. Kvapil hangs tough but it’s not enough as Honeycutt takes the lead! Kvapil stays right in Honeycutt’s footsteps, right on his back bumper, but he just can’t get there to make a move. The field single files out behind as Honeycutt begins to create a gap. But here comes Kvapil right back! Kvapil tries to peek his nose under Honeycutt, but just can’t do it as Honeycutt crosses the line and grabs his first career CARS Tour Pro Late Model win. Kvapil comes home second, Renfrew Jr puts in a great debut performance in third, MacDonald gets fourth, and Phillips rounds out the top five. And by virtue of starting the race, Caden Kvapil wins the 2023 CARS Tour Pro Late Model Championship.
602 MODIFIED NORTH/SOUTH SHOOTOUT FEATURE
Luke Baldwin in the # 7NC puts down a pole lap of 17.407 seconds to notch the top starting position for the 602 Modifieds, starting on the front row alongside the # 77 machine of Lee Sharpsteen. Rounding out the top three will be the # 16 of Justice Calabro, the # 73 of Paulie Hartwig III, and the # 63 of Jaxson Casper. The flagman looks over the strong field of 602 competitors, approves the lineup, and we’re green! Baldwin is able to barely clear early as Calabro speeds by Sharpsteen for second. There’s nearly trouble in the middle of the field as Robbie Brewer in the # 41 nearly spins on the backstretch, but makes an amazing save. And now the caution does fly for the # 58 of Levi Holt who has stopped on the frontstraight. After the choose, Baldwin lines up first followed by Sharpsteen, Calabro, Hartwig III, and Casper. Baldwin takes Sharpsteen up high to retain the lead with Calabro now getting by and challenging for the top spot. Casper moves up to third followed by Hartwig III and Jeremy Gerstner in the # 11, dropkicking Sharpsteen to sixth. Baldwin is able to build another gap as now Hartwig III forces his way underneath Casper and grabs the third position as the caution flies for Gabriel Saavedra in the # 9 spinning in turn four. Another round of the choose sees Baldwin, Hartwig III, Calabro, Gerstner, and Casper as the top five. Baldwin gets a phenomenal restart as Hartwig III and Calabro battle hard for second. They touch wheels and now Calabro has a problem, stacking the field up in the process. He gets it righted as now Sharpsteen drifts in turn two, bringing the caution out. And now Baldwin is in the turn four wall, collecting James Blewett in the # 76 under caution! It’s chaos at Caraway!
After everything is sorted out, Hartwig III is now your leader with Cody Norman in the # 12N second followed by Casper, Calabro, and Gerstner. Hartwig III and Norman are dead even but it’s Hartwig III who gets the advantage. Now Casper looks underneath and they make contact, sending Norman into the wall! He barely scrapes it as Casper and Calabro get by, with Eric Hersey in the # 18 moving into fifth by Gerstner. Caution is back out though for the # 02 of Ryan Fisher spinning in four. Hartwig III and Calabro will share the front row back to the green with Hartwig III clearing himself on the backstretch ahead of Calabro. Cautions breed cautions, as now the # 40 of Chase Lewis pounds the turn four outside wall, destroying that car and bringing the red flag out. Thankfully Lewis is okay as now the front row will be Hartwig III and Casper, with Hartwig III again pulling ahead. Calabro moves back to second but now the field gets stacked up, allowing Hersey to take second as both Casper and Gerstner spin in turn four. Now Hartwig III will have to deal with Hersey. Hersey gets a great start, but Hartwig III gets a better one, but yet another wreck takes place in turn four, involving Sharpsteen, Casper, and Saavedra. It’s Hartwig III versus Hersey one more time. It’s a dead heat entering turn one, but Hartwig III clears once more as the field battles behind. Surviving multiple restarts, twelve year old Hartwig III takes the win ahead of Hersey, Calabro, Norman, and a great run from the # 98M of Sean McElearney.
CARS TOUR LATE MODEL STOCK FEATURE
Trying to garner as many points as possible, the # 03 of Brenden Queen wins yet another pole in 2023 with a time of 16.733 seconds. In an ultra rare occurrence, the # 22 of Landon Huffman lays down the exact same time in qualifying, but Queen has the faster beginning lap, giving Queen the top starting spot. The # 6 of Bobby McCarty will line up third, # 32 Zack Miracle starts fourth, and the # 81 of Mini Tyrrell rounds out the top five. Flagman Brandon Willard looks over the pack, likes the formation, and we’re green one last time in 2023 for the Late Model Stocks! Queen and Huffman battle side by side, but it’s Queen who will clear out of turn four coming to complete lap one. Miracle gets stuck on the outside, allowing Tyrrell and the # 7W of Dylan Ward to slide by. Now back in the pack, the # 75B of Coy Beard along with the # 59 of Heath Causey wreck in turn four, bringing the first caution of the race out. They’re both thankfully able to pull away and continue to race as Queen will remain in front followed by Huffman, McCarty, Dylan Ward, and Tyrrell. Queen quickly clears as Tyrrell races past Ward for fourth. Huffman pokes his nose underneath Queen, but Queen holds strong out front.
Further back in the field, points leader # 8 Carson Kvapil is struggling mightily, getting stuck on the outside as Kvapil just can’t find a rhythm early in the running. He’s finally able to slot into line thirteenth ahead of Ryan Millington in the # 15, trying to keep his head cool for a second consecutive championship. The first competition caution of the race flies as Queen continues to lead, trying all he can to win his very first CARS Tour title. He’ll line up first followed by Huffman, McCarty, Dylan Ward, and Tyrrell. Tyrrell has a mechanical problem on the start and stacks up the field, making an amazing save in the process, but he is unfortunately done for the day. Back up front, Queen remains the leader but now Chase Burrow in the # 8B brings out the caution, slowing in turn two, giving everyone a chance to catch their breath. They’ll try it again with Queen still the leader, Huffman second, McCarty third, Trevor Ward now fourth, and Dylan Ward fifth. It’s the same song and dance for Queen as he’ll clear with McCarty now taking second. But now Cameron Bolin in the # 67 has stopped out of turn two, bringing yet another caution out. He’ll get it back rolling after some help as another caution means another choose, with Queen first, McCarty second, Huffman third, Dylan Ward fourth, and Trevor Ward fifth. It’s no problem for Queen, with the # 03 clearing without issue as McCarty holds off a strong challenge from Huffman to remain second. Behind, it’s a battle of the Ward brothers as Trevor makes a little contact with Dylan to take away fourth. For the lead, McCarty starts to apply the bumper to Queen for the lead, but Queen hangs on. Behind them, Kaden Honeycutt in the # 10 is mirroring his Pro Late Model race, making a furious charge through the pack in seventh. Now Dylan Ward makes some contact with Trevor, trading that position again as Dylan makes the pass.
Queen locks up some more bonus points up front, this time for leading the most laps as Kvapil now rides in seventh after Honeycutt gets by. The final competition caution of the 2023 season flies with 36 laps to go. One last dash for a championship. Queen will restart first. McCarty second. Huffman third. Dylan Ward fourth. Trevor Ward fifth. Who takes the final victory? Willard looks the field over one last time, likes what he sees, and we’re green! McCarty edges ahead in the restart zone, which will call off the restart. The second time around is better as Queen gets another perfect launch. Now Huffman gets by McCarty as Trevor Ward moves into fourth followed by Jared Fryar in the # 14. Now move Fryar by Trevor Ward as McCarty regains second from Huffman as Queen pulls away. Trevor Ward continues to fall as the # 04 of Ronnie Bassett Jr gets by along with Honeycutt. But up front, it’s a clinic as Brenden Queen caps off the year with a win at Caraway. McCarty comes home second followed by Huffman, Fryar, and Bassett Jr in the # 04. And finishing in eleventh is Carson Kvapil, holding on to win the 2023 CARS Tour Late Model Stock championship, his second consecutive for JR Motorsports.
THE JOHN BLEWETT lll NORTH/SOUTH SHOOTOUT TOURING MODIFIED FEATURE
With a blistering lap of 15.889 seconds, Carson Loftin in the # 23 grabs the biggest pole of his career. Second place qualifier # 60 Matt Hirschman, along with the # 14 of Patrick Emerling, # 1 Burt Myers, and the # 17 of Kyle Scisco all take a Promoter’s Challenge for a chance at $5,015, starting in the rear and trying for a chance at the top five. That puts the # 63 of Josh Lowder starting second, 602 Modified winner # 73 Paulie Hartwig III starts third, Jake Crum in the # 12C starts fourth, and Ronnie Williams in the # 99 starts fifth. The flagman looks over the field, approves the lineup, and we’re green for the most prestigious and highest paying Southern Modified race! Loftin gets a great jump and clears early as Hartwig III gets around Lowder for second. The # 15 of Brian Loftin breaks into top five behind as he gets around Williams. Loftin keeps his momentum up, passing Crum for fourth. Crum now gets trapped on the outside, allowing Williams to regain fifth as Crum falls all the way to eighth. The four drivers who took the Promoter’s Challenge are all saving in the back of the pack at the moment as Loftin is inching in on lapping them. Lowder now gets back by Hartwig III as Jason Myers in the # 4 will move around Williams. Now, after a litany of yellows, pit stops, and a series of scoring errors, we’re going to skip ahead to the final twenty laps of the event. Hirschman lines up in the lead after some pit strategy followed by Emerling, # 25 Tom Buzze Jr, Burt Myers, and the # 70 of Andy Seuss.
Hirschman gets the jump but the caution will fly quickly as the # 21 of Riley Neal has spun in between turns three and four. It’ll be the same top five as before with Hirschman once again getting a fantastic jump. Burt Myers gets a run on the outside of Buzze Jr and takes that position away as Hirschman tries to pull away. The caution will fly again though, this time for a piece of exhaust that has found it’s way on the backstretch. And now Buzze Jr runs out of fuel! That will take him out of the running as Hirschman leads followed by Emerling, Burt Myers, Seuss, and the # 99NJ of Jimmy Blewett. Hirschman once again fires off flawlessly. But Emerling is there right on Hirschman’s back bumper but now Burt Myers is out of gas, bringing the caution out! It will be a sprint to the finish between Hirschman, Emerling, Seuss, the # 66 of Austin Kochenash, and Blewett. We’re back to green as Hirschman and Emerling touch wheels! It’s nearly disaster at the front of the field but both are able to right their machines as Hirschman clears. Blewett is able to take fourth as the # 77 of Gary Putnam follows through in fifth. But up front, it’s Matt Hirschman who takes his third consecutive John Blewett III Memorial North/South Shootout victory and ninth overall. He and Emerling will split $5,015 as Seuss finishes third followed by Blewett and Putnam.
So during our evaluations of this event, we were looking through the social media drivel and Josh looked at me and said, “The longer the road, the more memorable the journey.” It was a spot on and notable observation for this event as there was so much to the 2023 North/South Shootout that needs to be put into perspective. Paulie Hartwig lll came all the way down from Gallaway, New Jersey to take home the impressive 602 Modified feature win as ‘Money’ Matt Hirschman traveled down from Northampton, Pennsylvania to capture the Tour Type Modified victory. Notable is the fact that Hartwig III is 12 years young but this was not the first time we’ve seen him take the ‘big’ win as the young upcoming superstar is making a habit of it and is truly one of the best young talents coming up through the ranks in the Modified genre. Impressive is the word on this ‘kid’. Speaking of impressive, for Hirschman, this was his third straight North/South Shootout win and his ninth overall. And I could write a book on his achievements in the sport but I’m just going to say this now…and I’m saying it as a lifetime Modified racing fan – Matt Hirschman has a legitimate case for the label of ‘Best Of All Time’. And I mean that truly. With names like Jerry Cook, Richie Evans, Mike Stefanik, Ted Christopher, and even modern day drivers like Justin Bonsignore and Doug Coby, Matt Hirschman in my opinion could be the best ever. He’s that good. I’m sure there are those that would disagree and argue for the names I just mentioned, all great in their own rights, but to watch Matt Hirschman perform on the track is to watch greatness and there is no arguing that.
In the Late Model portion of this event, the CARS Tour season is a long road of it’s own and one of the greatest challenges in all of Late Model racing. We said before last year even ended that Brenden Queen was going to be a factor down the stretch in 2023 and this past Saturday he showed once again what a talent he truly is, taking the pole and leading every lap in the CARS Tour Late Model Stock feature. And although he came up just short of the championship, he put the tour on notice that he’s not done by a long shot, in fact, he’s only just begun. And if he has any luck on the tour next year, he will definitely be an even bigger threat at the 2024 title. But this year, in the long run, history was made as Carson Kvapil successfully defends the CARS Tour Late Model Stock Championship in the same year that brother Caden brought the broom and takes the 2023 Pro Late Model Championship in a tour Kvapil sweep. A note in the history books that won’t be touched for some time, well, unless they can do it again in the next couple of years.
And speaking of the long road, Kaden Honeycutt seals up the owner’s championship for MMI Racing in the ARCA West Series in Phoenix on Friday, and makes the long trip across the country to Sophia, North Carolina to start in the rear of the CARS Tour Pro Late Model feature only to take the win for E33 Motorsports on Saturday. And as we took a closer look at the driver and team performances from this event and narrowed it down to names like Queen, Hartwig III, Hirschman, and even Lanie Buice who put on quite the show in the Late Model Stock feature, in the end we couldn’t deny the 2021 Short Track Report Blue Collar Racer Of The Year yet another Blue Collar Racer Of The Week nod, as besides the impressive from the rear win in the Pros, he followed that up by starting in the back in the Late Model Stock feature as well and drove it to just outside the top five in sixth at the stripe, proving that Josh’s observation was indeed right on point, “The longer the road, the more memorable the journey.” Congratulations Kaden, E33 Motorsports, and the Mike Darne Racing team as they definitely put in the work that gets Kaden Honeycutt his sixth Short Track Report Blue Collar Racer Of The Week! And we can say, that although the 2023 North/South Shootout was absolutely a long event, especially with a Touring Modified race that featured nearly 90 caution laps, the most we’ve seen in any event by the way, it was still an outstanding premier short track race that we will remember for some time to come. Until next time, See You At The Track!
(Race write up by Joshua Weatherman. Intro and My Take written by Billy Weatherman. 2023 Copyright SHORT TRACK REPORT)