TRI-COUNTY SPEEDWAY 2021 SEASON ENDING FINALE
They say that there is a light at the end of every tunnel. But truth is, that light is either the pathway to freedom, or part of an oncoming train. But, once in awhile, when the stars line up just right, it can be both. A freight train to freedom that only destiny and fate can provide. Such is the case for Tri-County Speedway. A track that at one time labored through the darkness toward an uncertain future. But the Higgins family was the freight train on the track to deliver the freedom the speedway so needed for it’s survival. And, they couldn’t have come at a better time for us as well. Most of our followers know the love we have for Tri-County Speedway, and they know the stated reasons why. But for transparency’s sake, we have been saving a little more clarity on our connection to the amazing fourth of a mile speedway. You see, destiny can be multi faceted with a depth that only fate can provide.
Me and Josh’s first visit to the track was for a Whelen Southern Modified event. I was continuing a tradition from my generation’s era, where we went to as many of the area’s tracks as we could manage to enjoy the racing diversity the region’s tracks had to offer. And we chose this race because I loved the Mods, but also because Josh wanted to see his first Super Truck race, and the track had one on the card that night. We left late because of my work schedule, and then as fate would have it, I also took a wrong turn that left us arriving even later than we would have. And little Josh (at the time), as you may expect, was not happy with his father as we arrived just in time for the Mods, but as the Super Trucks had just finished their race. And so, a promise was made, that we would return to the track together for some great future event. Of course I was at the time playing up the importance of the race we would return for, but I had no idea how important that future visit would be. When I speak of destiny and fate, it may be lost to some, but we have met them in ways that cannot be denied. And as it would turn out, me and Josh didn’t return to the track together until this year, and it couldn’t have been a more important and grand event for us. And as destiny would have it, it was after the track, and my family, had descended out of an uncertain darkness that could have been our very demise.
You see, the track was riding the Higgins family freight train that was rolling it out of the darkness, at the exact time that our family was rolling out of a darkness that almost took my son. And as the Higgins family was starting to bring the track back to prominence after rescuing it from near death, my family was rebuilding our life from a health issue that nearly costed my son his life which would have in turn been the death of me. No need to carry on about it now, but just to state that our first visit back, as fate would have it, could not have been at a better time. And sitting here now writing this article, it is astounding at the timing of it all. Tri-County was starting it’s first full season back since it’s reopening, and me and Josh were contemplating the start of Short Track Report. I had been covering races for a national short track racing coverage organization that was located in a different region that had different ideas on covering our region that I did, as I wanted to do much more than they would agree to. And in contemplating whether we should step out on our own, me and Josh had come back to Tri-County. It was a special night, where me and Josh saw what may be the best race we have ever seen. I’ve mentioned it before, but I can’t state how great a battle it was. It included three wide racing for many laps, some controversy, culminating in an epic finish. It was an amazing race. It inspired us. Though there were many other things leading us in the direction to start Short Track Report, it was the catalyst that in contemplation decided it for us, and not long after, Short Track Report was born.
And during the year, the track has become so important to us, that we took the unconventional action for a race coverage entity, and named it our home track. Unconventional? Sure. But I can promise you here and now that in our five year plan, conventional is not what we are going for. There are certain things we must do as a short track racing coverage organization in order to provide the coverage short track racing fans in our area deserve. We strive to be different on many fronts, as will become more obvious as our five year plan unfolds. And we are not lost on the fact that we have to remind people from time to time, that starting well after the 2021 racing season had already began, at the end of this year, we will not have even made a full season yet. We have only just begun.
And so, as we should, we spent this year looking to where we could make the most impact. We looked for where our support is. Where our values could be most utilized. Where we could make a difference, and where our highlights should be. Where we needed to be to provide our region and the nation’s short track racing fans the best our region has to offer. And we wanted to highlight the diversity of the central east coast racing region. That’s brought us already to the best tour and tracks in our area, but as we have already demonstrated, we have many surprises in store, and a lot left to accomplish. And so know, that you will find us also with those like us, people who love short track racing. For when you do what you love, the sky’s the limit, and great things are always on the horizon. An ever glowing bright light that guides us through the tunnel of great short track racing.
We were inspired to do what we do because despite the downturn in attendance at tracks all across this great nation from the top of the mountain that is NASCAR, all the way to your local short tracks that has led to many falling to the wayside, we see the resurgence of short track racing fueled by a new generation of race fan that has joined my generation at the track with the love that we share for the sport. And no more is that evident than here at Tri-County Speedway. Here you will find the seasoned veteran and the talented rookie who’s future will be shaped by that competition. The racing developmental driver and the Blue Collar racer who knows that hard work can overcome all obstacles in this sport. The open hauler and the corporate transport, with a track that follows it’s rules to an extent where teams have to meet in the middle, at least to the point that is possible. A track that loves the sport as we do to the point that we have not only become friend and acquaintances with the staff and teams, but have joined as a racing family. That is Tri-County Speedway today. And so we have also come to know the heart of the track, with an insight to their goals and aspirations. And so I can tell you now as the 2021 season for the Speedway has come to a close, that the future of the track, once walking through the tunnel of uncertainty, has stepped into the light of a grand future. The Higgins family, the track staff, and the competitors that compete here are all working for one goal. Growth that leads not only to great racing, but a show the whole family can enjoy.
This article will be a little different than the ones we have done on the track previous, as we want to focus on the amazing season the speedway enjoyed and was privy to instead of just a focus on one event, even as grand an event that it was, for this season was a groundbreaking one for Tri-County. It’s the start of a new era, and we know you are going to be excited on all that will soon be released about the track’s bright future. With the established local divisions, and the coming addition of the already popular Outlaw class to be released next year, to the exciting Tours and Series that will visit throughout the coming seasons, Tri-County is a growing staple of the central east coast region and beyond. And we look forward to following it’s progress well into the future. Yes, short track racing is in the beginning of a great resurgence, due in no small part to tracks like Tri-County who love the sport as you and I do, and are not lost on the fact that it comes down to one word really – FAMILY.
The weather has the track racing the clock despite the early starting time for this packed event, and the track works diligently to stick to the schedule, and so after qualifying and a short break for the teams to prepare for competition, the pre-race ceremonies begin. The crowd is addressed, the invocation given, and I would like to thank the Speedway for allowing me the honor of singing the National Anthem, a first for me at any race track, and a moment I will always remember. A great field of racers are all lined up for the first event, so, Let’s Go Racin’!
MESSER HEATING AND COOLING LEGENDS FEATURE
The # 43 Legend of Joshua Horniman would start on the pole for this one. Despite an early challenge by both the # 40 of Tyler Wolf and the # 44 of Nicky Randolph, Horniman would gap his competition and take home the emotional victory.
FRONT WHEEL DRIVE FEATURE
Gary Willard in the # 54 started first alongside points leader # 27 James Powell for the start. Powell would get by early and would lead most of the race. But after a handful of cautions, including a hard crash involving # 00 Mitch West and # X Jacob Hayes, the race would end due to the time limit expiring. Polesitter Gary Willard would find himself in victory lane. # 27 James Powell would come home second, securing the 2021 Front Wheel Drive championship.
PATRIOT JERKY RENEGADE FEATURE
Well known local wheelman Gary Ledbetter in the # 28 started up front with the # 9 of Klint Townsend starting second. Ledbetter would lead in the early stages, but the # 83 of Charlie Neill would quickly take the top spot. The race was slowed due to an abundance of cautions, but in the end, Neill would grab the checkered. But due to an infraction in post-race inspection, the second place car of # 6 Ricky Dennie would take home the trophy. The # 73 of Kyle Boice finished 4th, ultimately wrapping up the 2021 Renegade championship.
- IN THE MIDDLE OF THE EVENT, WE WERE MET WITH A RAIN DELAY THAT POSTPONED THE SECOND HALF OF THE SHOW UNTIL THE NEXT DAY ON SUNDAY
FOX PROPERTY MAINTENANCE STREET STOCK FEATURE
The # 56 of John Guker would start on pole for the Street Stock season finale with the # 03 of Kevin Eby starting alongside. Eby would grab the lead early, but Eby’s party would be spoiled by the # 10 of Kevin Townsend early on. But with only a handful of laps to go, Townsend would get passed by the # 14 of Davey Smart. Smart would eventually cross the line first and simultaneously clinches the 2021 Street Stock championship.
HERITAGE FINANCE LIMITED LATE MODELS FEATURE
The Limited Late Model feature would be one for the ages. # 65 Josh Goble found himself on pole with fan favorite # 5 Toni Breidinger starting second. The opening laps would play out like the last lap of a race at Talladega. Two and three wide everywhere. Before long, the # 41 of young gun Joey Braun and the # 27 of Eugene Norton found themselves out front. After a fierce battle, the two would eventually get together and spin. As Braun’s car was pretty much junk, Norton’s was still capable of running up front. Norton would come all the way from the rear and would cross the line first. Zack Franks in the # 1 would finish thirteenth after an early crash, but would still walk away the 2021 Limited Late Model champion.
LATE MODEL STOCK FEATURE
Accomplished Late Model Stock driver Mitch Walker started first in the # 6 while Justin Carroll in the # 57 would start second. The race was relatively calm as Walker would fall to second immediately as Carroll walked away from the field. Carroll would lead all 75 laps en route to the Late Model Stock victory. The # 2 of Lee Faulk Racing And Development driver Braden Rogers would walk away from the finale as the 2021 Late Model Stock champion.
The track ends it’s season with instead of a one night season ending show, a two day festival of speed. A Halloween bash if you will, including a track or treat on the first night. It turned into a two day event because of a race postponement halfway through due to weather. But, it was fitting really as the speedway ends it’s season with two nights of great racing.
We saw Joshua Horniman get his first win of the season in the Legends division after being so close all year. Well deserved I might add as he and Daniel Wilk had a great points battle all season, to the point that they are the only division champion still left undecided as the points are still too close to call at this point. And we saw Gary Willard pull off an improbable victory as division champ James Powell and Blake Walker had trouble after both at one point seemed to have the victory in hand. We saw Ricky Dennie get awarded the win after the driver who crossed the line first failed post race tech, something we’ve seen all year as the track strives to achieve an even playing field. We saw Davey Smart again put on an amazing show in the Street Stocks as he’s done all year, showing why he is the 2021 Street Stock champion. And we watched as Justin Carroll took yet another win on the season here at Tri-County, showing that he’s got this place figured out, having great finishes every time the team showed up at the racey track, and we watched as Eugene Norton got his first Limited Late Model win of his career, and well deserved as he and his team worked hard all season. But especially in this race. He had put the car up front but immediately came under a challenge by Joey Braun, as the pair went side by side lap after lap until Braun got a little too eager after getting frustrated with Norton who he thought was not giving him enough room, and the two had contact that sent both spinning in front of the field. But Norton used it as motivation, and throughout the rest of the race, he moved through the competitive field, and at the end found himself back up front as he crossed the line for his first ever win in the division. A performance that earns Eugene Norton our Blue Collar Racer Of The Week. Congratulations go out from us to Norton and his team for an outstanding performance, as he would not be denied in this event.
And so as Tri-County Speedway’s 2021 season comes to end, it was a little emotional for us as we rode back out of the tunnel to leave the Speedway. It’s been an amazing year for us, due in great part to our decision to head out to the track earlier in the year. It set a tone for us for the remainder of the season that led us to chase a dream that we are actively in the process of fulfilling. And during the season, Tri-County has been a reminder to us that anything is possible when you are willing to put in the work and come to what you do with love. We’ve said it all year, that this is the combination that leads to greatness, and this track has been an example of that all year. They have truly inspired us and have become part of our extended family in the process. And at this time, we would like to thank the Higgins family and all the great professional staff here at the Speedway, for not only embracing us and our dream, but for all they do for short track racing in our region and beyond. Thank you to everyone at Tri-County Speedway, and all the great fans that came out and supported them and us as well throughout the season.
And finally, we’d like to congratulate the 2021 Tri-County Season Champions:
LEGENDS CHAMPION: (Too close to call. We will send a shout out to the winner as soon as they are determined.)
FWD CHAMPION: James Powell –
“Feels great, especially to outrun a car like that # 9 (Blake Walker). Even though I had bad luck, it was all worth it. Really glad I could get the first Championship in the Front Wheel Drive division since the track reopened…just so special to me and my team.”
RENEGADE CHAMPION: Kyle Boice –
“It is awesome to be the Champion, but everyone that helps me are Champions as well. The guys that help me and my sponsors are the ones that have allowed me the honor of being Champion. We haven’t won every race, but consistency paid off.”
STREET STOCK CHAMPION: Davey Smart –
“Man it feels good. It’s been a hard year, but I’ve had good help and a good car. Kickstand Fabrications built this thing, I mean it’s just a pleasure to drive it, it drives itself, and I just want to thank all these guys who’ve helped me, and all my sponsors…it’s just been a good year.”
LIMITED LATE MODEL CHAMPION: Zack Franks –
“I tell you man, it’s been great. This year’s been tough with the tire situation that basically every track has had to deal with. Really glad it’s over, but it feels great. It’s been a long time since I’ve won a track Championship. Can’t thank Jody Chandler and Leapfrog Landscaping enough. It if wouldn’t have been for him, this wouldn’t have been possible. Big thanks to him and everybody else that’s helped me.”
LATE MODEL STOCK CHAMPION: Braden Rogers –
“This season has been great to say the least. The team and I set a goal at the beginning of the year to win the track Championship, and being able to accomplish that, along with 5 wins and 2 poles, is great. I can’t thank everyone at Lee Faulk Racing enough for their hard work, not only on the cars, but on me as a driver to help teach me each time we hit the track on how to be better. I can’t say thank you enough to my parents and sponsors for their continued support all season long. We look forward to a good race at Florence in a couple of weeks, and a strong year next season on the CARS Tour.”
And so in the end, we leave the track looking forward to next year at Tri-County Speedway, knowing it’s going to be another great and exciting year, and we move to wind down the season with two live events left on the 2021 season for us. So until next week, See You At The Track!