It’s totally true. Some athletes give up a little when they meet adversity or stiffer competition. But then again, there are those that rise to the occasion. And as we prepared to cover the Thunder Road Harley-Davidson 200 at South Boston Speedway, it was clear that with the competition level as stout as it is this year, it would take a stellar performance to win this race. One may have even said, it would take a little extra focus. You see, this was not your ordinary Late Model Stock event. This was the first leg of the Virginia Triple Crown. That may not mean so much to some. But for others, it can mean more than you’ll ever know. Truth is, the Virginia Triple Crown is simply one the best Late Model Stock open series event in the country. It’s a three race competition featuring three crown jewel races, each one carrying their own special challenges. Starting with the Thunder Road Harley-Davidson 200 at South Boston Speedway, to the Hampton Heat at Langley Speedway, and culminating in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway. It’s one of the things that elevates Late Model Stock racing in the central east coast to another level. This truly can’t be understated. And the only way to win it is to simply be the best. There are no points involved. To win the Virginia Triple Crown you have to have the best finishing average in the three crown jewel races. Considering the tremendous differences in the tracks in the Virginia Triple Crown, it takes nothing short of a championship mentality to pull it off.

This past Saturday the challenge began with the immense heat. But that didn’t stop the fans from coming out early to be sure to get a good seat. And it’s a good thing for most that they did because by race time it was standing room only. A testament not only to the race itself, but to the fans that were willing to endure some extreme summer conditions for a race they felt was going to be truly worth it. So, was it all that it was hyped up to be? Let’s take a closer look at the 2024 Thunder Road Harley-Davidson 200 at South Boston Speedway that kicked off this year’s coveted Virginia Triple Crown.

VSP HEAT HORNET FEATURE

The # 18 of Cameron Goble will lead the Hornet field to green ahead of the # 07 of Jordaine Penick, # 3 Steven Layne, # 24 Chris Penick, and the # 33 of Max Sangillo. South Boston Speedway flagman Brandon Willard looks over the eager field, likes what he sees, and we’re green in the always entertaining Hornets! Chris Penick doesn’t get going and stacks the field up a bit as Goble will clear for the lead with Sangillo taking over fourth followed by Landon Milam in the # 83. Milam is off to a hot and heavy start, taking over fourth as Layne now pressures Jordaine Penick. He’ll take the spot but here comes Jordaine with a crossover! She almost makes it work but it’s not enough as Layne will keep that position. Jordaine now falls into the clutches of Milam, losing another spot to the # 83 machine. Goble catches a web of lap cars, but gets through it with perfection and takes the win in front of the huge crowd ahead of Layne, Milam, Jordaine Penick, and Sangillo.

SOUTHSIDE DISPOSAL PURE STOCK FEATURE

Pure Stock veteran Johnny Layne in the # 9L rolls off first joined by the # 11 of B.J. Reaves, # 77 Zach Reaves, # 2 Kenny Mills, and the # 28 of Kendall Milam. Willard gives the thumbs and we’re underway! B.J. Reaves gets a great launch, but Layne’s is better as he’ll assume the lead early. But B.J. Reaves dives to the bottom, locking themselves in a dead heat. # 29 Colby Pool overtakes Milam, using that momentum to also get around Mills. Smoke flies behind as Milam goes around and collects the # 76 of Andrew Turner! # 66 Scott Phillips and # 9R Jeremy Ratliff also get caught up. This will unfortunately take Turner out of the race as we’re back going in no time, with Layne getting the advantage down the backstretch. But there’s more trouble! Mills and Pool collide, taking Mills into the inside wall while Pool spins! That will be the end of the road for Mills as Pool will file in at the rear of the field with minor damage. Those circumstances will change the complexion of the top five with Dillon Davis in the # 63 now rolling into fourth followed by an emerging Ratliff. Layne and B.J. Reaves are door to door with neither one giving an inch. Layne eventually gives way to B.J. Reaves as Milam has retaken fifth late in the going. Now Layne’s back to the inside, as the fans are on their feet for this battle for the lead! Layne gets the bite and clears coming off of turn four. That’ll be enough to create a gap and capture the victory tonight ahead of B.J. Reaves, Zach Reaves, Davis, and Milam.

BUDWEISER LIMITED SPORTSMAN FEATURE

Defending Limited Sportsman champion Jason Myers in the # 17 and Zach Peregoy in the # 12 will make up the front row followed by Drew Dawson in the # 8, Eric Winslow in the # 22, and Justin Dawson in the # 88. Willard approves the formation and it’s go time! We’ve already got trouble in turn four as Ross Mountcasel in the # 62 makes contact with the # 01 of Jared Dawson, sending Dawson around. It’ll be a quickie yellow as the top five now reads as Winslow, Peregoy, Drew Dawson, Myers, and Justin Dawson. Peregoy uses the outside and muscles around Winslow for the point as Justin Dawson and Nathan Crews in the # 75C make up fourth and fifth. Now Crews forces his nose under Justin Dawson, causing the # 88 to spin into the outside backstretch wall hard. Under the caution, Myers brings the # 17 down pit lane for select adjustments, rounding the field out coming to green as Crews is now in fourth followed by Cory Dunn in the # 75. The outside continues to be strong as Winslow retakes the lead up high. Don’t look now, but here comes Crews, already on the back bumper of Winslow. Jared Dawson has made a furious charge to fifth, but all attention remains up front as Crews gets around Winslow. Drew Dawson is having a fit trying to get around Peregoy, taking various lines in a great effort, but Peregoy barely hangs on as Nathan Crews runs away with the win ahead of Winslow, Peregoy, Drew Dawson, and a late charge from Jason Pittman in the # 51.

THUNDER ROAD HARLEY-DAVIDSON 200

With a phenomenal lap of 14.955 seconds, South Boston regular Kyle Dudley in the # 4 will head the front of the massive pack. Starting second will be Kaden Honeycutt in the # 17H, third will be Brenden Queen in the # 03, Bobby McCarty in the # 6 will be fourth, and rounding out the top five will be the # 05 of Mason Bailey. Flagman Brandon Willard anxiously looks over the amazing field, loves what he sees, and we’re green for the first leg of the Virginia Triple Crown! The entire field is side by side for the first lap as Honeycutt will get the advantage up high ahead of Dudley. McCarty moves into third as Bailey falls back to seventh with # 26 Peyton Sellers and # 00 Chase Burrow battling for fifth. Give it to Sellers as we’ve got trouble on the backstretch involving the # 1 of Andrew Grady, # 01G of Camden Gullie, and the # 25 of Jacob Borst. This wreck will unfortunately take all three out of the race, eliminating three drivers who could have easily made some noise at the end. After the choose, defending Sentara Health Late Model Stock champion Carter Langley in the # 5 will restart fifth as Honeycutt takes advantage of a bit of a botched restart from Dudley. Dudley gets himself righted and now McCarty gets moved out of the groove! Sellers is the big winner out of all of this, falling into third ahead of Queen and Langley. In the middle of the field, the # 22H of Connor Hall has somehow already climbed up to nineteenth after starting shotgun on the fied due to a tire change. The yellow lights flash again as the # 55 of Isabella Robusto spins on the backstretch with McCarty getting a piece as well. They both drive away for now with the choose putting Bailey back in fifth.

Honeycutt once again fires off like a rocket on the outside with Langley moving into fourth over Queen, sifting Bailey out of the top five. Dudley is relentless in his chase of Honeycutt, repeatedly toptoeing around Honeycutt’s left rear quarter panel. He can’t make it work as Honeycutt wins stage one, collecting a cool $250 for his efforts. Falling out of the race will be Robusto, stemming from her earlier incident. After all is said and done, your top five will be Honeycutt, Dudley, Sellers, Langley, and Queen. The outside is practically unstoppable on the restarts, meaning another stellar launch from Honeycutt. Sellers gets a great run and takes second as Mike Looney in the # 87 breaks into the top five. Dudley is back on the attack and retakes second from Sellers as Trevor Ward in the # 77W stalks the top five. Ward said earlier in the day that he and his team were focused on the long run, and he’s starting to show it now as Looney moves into fourth as the middle of the field looks like Talladega. And here comes Ward, taking fifth over Langley with Looney continuing to make gains, motoring into the top three. Up front, Dudley hasn’t left Honeycutt’s side, still right on top of him as they start to attack lap traffic. Said lap traffic will live to fight another day though as Timothy Peters in the # 51 brings out the caution, stopping at the top of turn four with a flat tire. Big development under caution as defending race winner McCarty will pull in for the night, an unfortunate result for the three time CARS Tour Late Model Stock champion. Honeycutt gets the jump as Ward jumps all the way to third, now looking for second! He and Dudley swap paint with Ward grabbing the spot. Also lurking in the shadows is Connor Hall! He’s right outside the top five as Honeycutt will collect the $500 halfway award while the caution flag flies. Every car will come down pit road for tire changes, adjustments, and anything else they think they need. The drivers will also get a chance to get out of their cars, take a deep breath, and a drink of water. Your top five when we get back going after the choose will be Honeycutt, Ward, Dudley, Looney, and Sellers. The fans are on their feet, the air is electric, and the final 100 laps are underway!

Honeycutt is given a challenge this time around as Ward is right there. The outside is Honeycutt’s best friend, but Ward has found a better friend on the inside as he’ll take the lead away. Sellers moves into fourth as an absolutely amazing run from Hall has turned into a fifth place for Hall. The fifth soon turns into fourth as Sellers falls into the clutches of Langley, a battle very familiar with South Boston fans. Langley makes it work as Ward starts to build a gap on the field. Mirroring the first half of the race, Dudley peeks his nose under Honeycutt, but Honeycutt keeps cool on the outside and continues to hold the high ground. As the laps tick off, the drivers get more uncomfortable in the miserable heat as Dudley loses a spot to Hall, who uses that momentum and also gets around Honeycutt for second. Trevor Ward wins stage three and some extra cash, setting the field up for a mad fifty lap dash. Hall gives Ward a fit on the outside as they’re door to door, but the caution comes out as Raymond Pittman spins around in the # 50. We’ll rerack and restack them as we go green yet again as the field goes wild behind. Looney dives to the bottom heading into turn three but hits the inside wall! A big pile up ensues collecting Looney, Bailey, Sam Yarbrough in the # 95, Matt Waltz in the # 2W, Landon Pembelton in the # 0, and Burrow. Thankfully everyone is okay but the same can’t be said for their machines as we’ll go under the red flag. But the South Boston track crew is up to snuff and the track is ready in no time. With under 35 to go, your top five for South Boston’s biggest race is Connor Hall who’s looking to continue a recent hot streak, Trevor Ward in search of another big Virginia triumph, Kaden Honeycutt who wants to avenge all of the close calls in 2024, Kyle Dudley with this being potentially the biggest win of his career, and Carter Langley who has plenty of experience winning at South Boston. The top five is set, and we are green!

Ward gets a great jump, but Hall is stuck to his outside as the two battle side by side for multiple laps on end. Langley slides around Dudley and begins to look on Honeycutt as up front, Hall jumps to the inside of Ward, drifting up in front of him out of turn four for the lead! A ferocious charge from the # 23 of Kade Brown begins to show it’s rewards as he breaks into the top five. But coming under the checkered flag is Connor Hall who collects the first leg of the Virginia Triple Crown! Trevor Ward comes in second followed by Honeycutt in third, Sellers guts out a fourth, and a hard earned fifth goes to Brown.

MY TAKE

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more flawless performance in the face of adversity. To go from starting in the rear of a stacked field full of elite Late Model Stock drivers and teams and march forward to the win with so much on the line is definitely rare in the modern Late Model Stock era. It’s virtually unheard of. But that’s what the 2023 NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Racing Series National Champion Connor Hall pulled off in the first leg of the Virginia Triple Crown. Truly impressive. I talked with last year’s Triple Crown winner Trevor Ward after his ninth place qualifying effort and he told me the team was going for a long run strategy. It was a strategy that nearly paid off, giving ward and his team a chance at the win coming down the stretch. But like Connor Hall’s statement win, Trevor Ward’s runner up finish was also a statement to the rest of the Triple Crown competition that he and the # 77 team are determined to defend the Virginia Triple Crown championship with all they have. Trevor rightly feels he is carrying the blue collar racer banner with him in these prestigious events, and he definitely won’t go down without a valiant fight. Also impressive were the runs of Kaden Honeycutt and Kade Brown. In a race this competitive, there were many standout performances. But it was Kaden Honeycutt setting the pace for most of the race, letting his competition know he was in it for the win and he was determined to keep the # 17 entry up front throughout, ultimately finishing 3rd ahead of four time Triple Crown champion Peyton Sellers in his bid for five. Kade Brown had an even tougher road starting eighteenth but finishing just inside the top five in fifth. He was a driver driven with emotion as his family has been dealing with a serious health issue regarding his father, and he was determined to fight his way to the front in a bid for the win in a remarkable performance.

But these teams weren’t just fighting with each other for this win. They were battling the immense heat as well, racing in a taxing environment that requires intense focus and physical stamina. Short track racing in the middle summer months is nothing short of brutal. But even with that hanging on their backs, in the 2024 Thunder Road Harley-Davidson 200, these drivers and teams put on an amazing performance in one of the very best Late Model Stock races we’ve seen to date. It shows the passion these drivers have to become the 2024 Virginia Triple Crown champion. A championship that has ten names on it’s list, with only two repeat champions. And only two drivers have won it coming from outside Virginia. Connor Hall and the Nelson Motorsports team would like to see it stay that way as they look for their first. And by the way, Hall is the defending winner of the Hampton Heat, which just so happens to be the second leg of the Virginia Triple Crown. Trevor Ward would like to see it stay that way as well but by bringing it back to North Carolina for the second year in a row. The Hampton Heat at Langley is sold out and if this weekends event was any indication, the Virginia Triple Crown winner this year will have to earn it each and every lap of the way from South Boston to Martinsville. 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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