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Sayonara Southeast: WhoaNelly's Southern Racing Recap

I have spent the past 11 months in South Carolina soaking up all of the racing on offer and I want to tell you about it.
Sayonara Southeast: WhoaNelly's Southern Racing Recap

I have spent the past 11 months in South Carolina soaking up all of the racing on offer, and I was able to meet some great people like Aaron Creed, Evan of Dunewich On Dirt, Caleb Boatwright, Terry Radford, Chase Shaffer, Jack Cofer, Jay Warren of NC ProModer, and many others. Regrettably, the famous Racin’ Jason and I were somehow never in the right place at the right time to meet up, although we attended some of the same events.

Last August, I attended the Carolina Clash Shrine Race at Carolina Speedway, which happened to be my first dirt race in the state of North Carolina, and the first race my father and I attended together in probably 5 years. The air was like soup and bugs were aplenty at the rural Gaston County dirt track, but I was going to see Super Late Models in racing action for the first time in approximately a decade, so all was well. We sat in the small pit stands outside of turn four for the entirety of evening, becoming increasingly caked with a fine powder of dirt as the night wore on. Jordan Koehler looked primed for victory, but ultimately a flat tire gave Ben Watkins the opportunity to capitalize and he motored away to a $5000 check by over six seconds. Jeff Smith came home the runner-up in front of his famed father, Freddy, just a few short months before the legend’s untimely passing at the age of 76.

I checked off Florence Motor Speedway with a weekly show in mid-August, before visiting Lancaster Motor Speedway for another Clash race, where Ben Watkins dominated (again) at his home circuit. September was a busy month, with the PDRA event at Darlington Dragway, NHRA at Charlotte, and the Whelen Modified Tour at North Wilkesboro. My love of Pro Mods was in its infancy at Darlington, so I do not remember much, but I was able to meet the great Shirley Muldowney at Charlotte! I had never considered going to North Wilkesboro, but my good friend, Aaron Creed, was attending, and I always wanted to see a Tour-type modified race, so I dragged my somewhat reluctant fiancée along on the nearly three hour journey. We arrived just in time for Jamie Tomaino’s qualifying effort and navigated the incredibly tight grandstands to our seats, which The Creed had saved for us. The opening 602 modified event was quite the disaster, and was postponed to after the Tour race after just a few laps, but Terry Radford kept the crowd entertained on the mic. I can not say I remember a whole lot about the race, but “Money” Matt Hirschman claimed the first ever Whelen Modified Tour race at the famed North Carolina speedway. We said our goodbyes and picked up a series shirt on the way out, finding our car via phone flashlight.

My father and I attended the Carolina Class Racers Association event at Darlington Dragway a few weeks later, where the rain and cold kept the car count low. However, I wanted to mess around with my DSLR, so all was well, even if we were the only fans in the stands. Literally. Eleven days later I was back at a new dirt track, which was The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway, for the World Short Track Championship. The pits were packed with crate late models, UMP modifieds, street stocks, 4 cylinders, Northeast Sportsman modifieds, and Northeast Pro Stocks. I was mostly excited for the Pro Stocks, as my father and I always thought they were pretty bad ass. I roamed the pits for hours and snagged a few new racing shirts - Zach Vanderbeek, who was very much not in attendance, and recent Super DIRT Week Pro Stock champion, Luke Horning. The Horning shirt was not in my size, but ever a fan of the obscure, I needed the shirt. It was of recent design, as it celebrated his 2023 Glen Ridge Motorsport Park track championship. Horning prevailed in that evening’s 15-lap championship feature over the Canadians Marc Lalonde and Denis Gauvreau, while former European open-wheel road racer, Nelson Mason, barely held off Kevin Ridley in the Northeast Sportsman. I spent most of my time in the pits, but I also watched Kyle Strickler win the UMP Modified event over Justin Haley, Evan Taylor, Drake Troutman, and Mike McKinney, a real who’s who of UMP Modifieds. I had originally intended on returning to Charlotte for the next two days, but decided to take a bit of a break, since I had a lot of upcoming events.

I never planned on attending a race on Halloween, but feeling FOMO, I mad a mad dash to Cherokee, another new track, for the Prelude to the World Finals. The car count was not stellar, but I was able to see 410 sprint cars for the first time since approximately 2013! Tyler Courtney held off the hard-charging Zane DeVault, and Daulton Wilson dominated the Super Late Model race. Just two days later, I was back at Charlotte for the opening night of the World of Outlaws World Finals. Prior obligations meant that the Thursday show was to be my only night in Charlotte. A semi-truck accident on I-77 saw that I arrived well over an hour later than I intended, but I was back roaming the massive Charlotte pit area, filled to he brim with Big Blocks, Supers, and 410s. If you know me, I am a massive modified fan, and an even bigger Big Block modified fan. I tried to attend a Super DIRTcar Series event at Lernerville in 2009, but that event was washed out after the heat races. Seizing the opportunity, I claimed Adam Pierson and Billy Decker shirts for myself, while snagging a Ronnie Davis III shirt for the owner of DirtInfo, Josh! Without going into excruciating detail, Zeb Wise and Austin McCarl suffered massive accidents, while David Gravel, Mike Marlar, and “Super” Matt Sheppard won the night’s features.

I had a bit of a break after Charlotte, as I came down with a bad case of COVID, so my next race was the South Carolina 250 at Florence, the preliminary night of the South Carolina 400. I do not really remember much about this night, but Connor Zilisch won the 100-lap Limited Late Model main event. Still suffering the effects of COVID, I made the trek back to Cherokee for the Blue Gray 100, where I met up with Evan, Caleb, and Jack. Chris Madden did Chris Madden things at his home track, making his tires last the entirety of the race on the abrasive surface, and won yet another Blue Gray. My final race of 2023 was to be at yet another new track, Fayetteville Motor Speedway, for their Thanksgiving weekend Food Coma Comeback, featuring the I-95 Late Model Challenge Series, Carolina Outlaw Super Street Series, and the Mid-East 602 Late Model and Modified series. Dustin Mitchell claimed the I-95 event, while Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series regular, and Fayetteville native, Daulton Wilson, was victorious in his Super Street cameo.

2024 began at Dillon Motor Speedway’s New Year’s Bash, a 100-lap event for Street Stocks. The weather kept the car count lower than usual, but Jeff Sparks won the Crown Jewel race. Well, until he was DQ’d and Gary Ledbetter claimed his 6th Bash. I was back in the car a month later for the I-95 Cash Money South of the Border Showdown at Lake View Motor Speedway, a marquee event for the Northeast Sportsman drivers traveling down to Florida for the Short Track Super Series, and an attempt to jump start the class at Lake View. A number of heavy hitters were in attendance, with Brian Calabrese taking the trophy. At the time of writing, Calabrese just picked up his first 358 Modified win at Glen Ridge just a few days ago! Dustin Mitchell picked up where he left off in Fayetteville by winning the Limited Late Model race. A week later, I was back at Florence for the IceBreaker, where Carson Kvapil won the 125-lap Late Model Stock Car race. With limited options, I headed to Darlington Dragway for a backside no-prep race. It was cold, windy, and the car count was low, so I got my fix for a few hours and scurried back home.

March 2nd saw me back at Florence for Carson Loftin’s first career SMART Modified Tour win, where he passed Matt Hirschman for the lead. About three weeks later, I braved the rain in the area to finally see a race at East Lincoln Motor Speedway, a track I had hoped to visit for almost 15 years. The weather kept a lot of teams away, but I did not care, as the tight bullring kept the racing close. On the 30th, I recorded my first race chasing double at Florence and Lake View. I met Terry Radford for the first time at Florence, and he invited me up to the tower to play big time media guy. Casey Kelley won the 75-lap weekly LMSC race, one of many this year, and I floored it to Lake View for the Blue Ridge Outlaw Late Model Series race. The main event was certainly something, but Matt Long endured for the $3000 triumph.

In mid-April, I made the long journey to Rockingham Dragway for the first round of NMCA Pro Mod qualifying, where Bob Glenn took his roots-blown Mustang entry to a 3.64. I was so impressed that I purchased a shirt and headed back home. Glenn made it to the final round, but turned on the red light, handing the victory to Scott Wildgust on rained-postponed Sunday afternoon finale. This was the first in a string of straight-line races for me, as I headed back to Charlotte for the NHRA 4-wide Nationals. With his career in question following his terrible crash in Virginia a few weeks ago, I am very thankful that I was finally able to meet John Force. The highlight of the racing action was Bob Tasca setting the new Funny Car track speed record en route to his #2Fast2Tasty win. The next week, I was back at Darlington for the first day of IHRA Hot Rod Classic Pro Mod qualifying. With the threat of rain for Saturday, only 8 Pro Mods made the journey, but included heavy hitters like Brian Shrader, Tommy Mauney, and Tony Wilson. Shrader’s nitrous-assisted entry topped the qualifying sheet with a 3.701 after two rounds. The event was called after a deluge on Saturday and the Hot Rod Classic series was cancelled after just two attempted events, which makes me glad that I purchased an event shirt.

An extended break saw me back in action in early June at Florence, where Casey Kelley won yet another LMSC 75-lap race, and then, with my father, I made my final visit to Florence at the end of June for Twin Limited Late Model mains. Casey’s brother, Cody, claimed the first 35-lap affair and New York’s Darren Krantz Jr. dominated the second race.

I thank you if you have taken the time to read about my race and track chasing adventures in the Southeast. I am now off to Texas, where I have never attended a race. I will keep my social media updated with my intended schedule, and I intend to cover these races with more detail than I have over the past year. Additionally, DirtInfo is on the rise, so expect regular articles on this site by either Josh or I, including some possible guest spots.