Easter weekend is a traditional weekend off for all of the upper levels of NASCAR racing. So what does a race fan do when there is no NASCAR to be had all weekend?
That is no problem at all; they get out to their local weekly short tracks and catch some of the best racing action in the country. There were certainly plenty of options for this writer, haul butt after work up to Hickory Motor Speedway for the PASS South Easter Bunny 150.
There was a regular weekly show at Cherokee Speedway (Gaffney, SC), or another at I-77 Speedway in Chester, SC. Oh, but wait a minute; the Carolina Crown makeup date was also scheduled for Saturday night at the Lancaster (SC) Speedway. Considering I already had a pit pass from the rain out three weeks ago, this became an absolute no brainer as to where I would be going.
After leaving my shop around 7:15, I high tailed it down to the track just in time to catch the last round of practice for the Super Late Models and crate late models. The place was absolutely packed with passenger vehicles, so I drove all the way down by the pit gate just outside turn one to park my car (never a good spot at a dirt track), exchanged my pit pass and hurried to the back pit opening. The supers were on track, and I was amazed at just how fast they were rolling at the ½ way point of the back stretch. Lancaster is one bad fast ½ mile racetrack…..
First event of the evening was the NDRA “Road Show” crate late models for a 40 lap main paying $3,000 to the winner. Ron “The Bull” Parker led all 40 laps with Dennis “Rambo” Franklin usually right behind him in second. Don’t let this make it out to be a lame race, as this was one of the best races I have seen in a long time.
Rambo blew up coming to the line letting Dan Breuer to slip into second with Rambo holding on to third, Donnie Austin fourth and Anthony Sanders fifth. The night air was getting pretty cool at this point, and the track seemed like it was in near perfect shape.
While watching the Vintage division feature, Phillip Michael Knight who works tirelessly for the speedway as a PR guy; introduced himself and we talked racing for a bit. He provided some Lancaster hospitality for me, introduced me to the operator of Carolina Speedway in Gastonia, NC; Mark Gibbons, and made me feel very welcome at the speedway. Mr. Gibbons also seemed a very passionate man about this great sport, and I look forward to getting down to his facility sometime this year.
The Super Late Models were next up for the $20,000 to win Carolina Crown feature. Jared Landers broke the track record here three weeks ago before the rains postponed the show to last night. Casey Roberts was the pole sitter by virtue of a heat race win and led the field to green.
If I thought the earlier race was great, I was treated to an even better one now. Several drivers took turns at the front, and you never could quite tell who had the fastest car. Attrition was pretty high all through the night, as many top runners fell out one after another.
With somewhere around 30 laps to go, Landers took the lead and started to look like he would be tough to beat. With 12 laps left there was a caution and Landers pitted out of the lead with a deflating right rear tire, handing Scott Autrey the lead. There were only six cars left at this point, so Landers was right on Autrey’s bumper in no time, however;
even with some of the most amazing driving I have seen, Landers would come up short at the line and Scott Autrey would take the inaugural Carolina Crown and the $20,000 pay check!!
It was really neat to see a guy that no one had counted as a threat to win, work his way from the back of the 23-car field and take the win against one of the hottest racers in dirt Late Models Jared Landers.
I was also very thankful that Mike Gault climbed from his Late Model unhurt, as he climbed the turn three wall, seemingly never lifting and crashing out into the pine trees outside of turn four. Just to show the full moon was in full affect, the night also included Chris Madden throwing his helmet at Donald Bradsher’s car (I think) after some contact on the backstretch.
I for one can only hope that this race comes back in 2013, bigger and better than this year. This was an incredible race night. You gotta love REAL short track racing……
Until next week, keep the shiny side up!!
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