EASTABOGA, Ala. — After a winless July, Michael Page of Douglasville, Ga., got back on track Saturday at Talladega Short Track, collecting $10,000 for his Governor’s Cup victory in Southern All Star Racing Series competition.
The third-starting Page took command from polesitter Dallas Cooper of Talladega, Ala., on the 12th lap and ran virtually unchallenged for a 60-lap victory, his first since June 29 and fifth career on the Tennessee-based series.
“It feels good. This place is very good to me. I love it. It was actually pretty fun,” Page said, but winced with pain in victory lane. “My left leg cramped so bad. I was having problems with my brakes, and (the cramping) really hasn’t stopped.
“It was fun. I was glad to get my stuff back rolling. I’ve been struggling the last couple of months, so it feels good.”
Page took the checkers ahead of Aaron Ridley of Chatsworth, Ga., while Cooper, the leader of Talladega’s Super Late Model division points was third. Georgia drivers Zach Leonhardi of Cartersville and Austin Smith of Rome gave the Peach State four of the top-five finishers.
While there was plenty of action behind Page — including a frontstretch-blocking accident among contenders with nine laps remaining — it was mostly uneventful for the winner although he wasn’t sure exactly which lane was the fastest at the third-mile oval.
“It didn’t really rubber like normal,” said Page, whose previous series victory came May 18 at Senoia (Ga.) Raceway. “I actually didn’t know where to go at the beginning and it was pretty good, and even there toward the middle (of the race), the middle (lane) come in and I needed to come down. You couldn’t see where you needed to be. It’s kind of nerve-wracking to lead.”
Ridley was glad to miss the lap-51 tangle sparked by a collision between Jason Hiett and Riley Hickman, a wreck that helped him to a runner-up finish.
“I really didn’t see what happened all that good there. I had a bird’s-eye view, but I was trying to drive myself and trying to stay out of it,” Ridley said. “I seen ‘em kind of rubbing on each other there, but I hate that for both of them. They both was definitely better than we were, but you’ve gotta put yourself in the spot to take advantage of the misfortunes whenever you can. I can’t be no more happy to be here and run second like we have.
“We’ve struggled a little bit the past two or three years. We just now kind of got back going. We just go this new Barry Wright and it’s been pretty good,” he added. “It’s been a big learning curve. … We’re just learning what to do with it and it shouldn’t do nothing but get better from here.”
Cooper led the first 11 laps and slipped back as far as fifth before securing the third-place finish, his best run with the Southern All Star circuit.
“I got out front early and I was trying to set a slow pace because I went on soft tires,” Cooper said. “I was doing good, but I seen when (Page) went by me, I said, ‘Well, I’ve gotta pick the pace up to keep up with these guys.’ It started getting a little rubber on the track and a couple got by me, but I’m just glad to be on this podium finish with this group of guys. I’ve always wanted to finish pretty good in one of these big races, and I got close.”
Several race contenders weren’t around at the finish.
After Page took control on the 12th lap, Ashton Winger of Hampton, Ga., moved up to challenge, but he pulled up lame on the 17th lap, giving up the second spot. Page, who had a cushion of three lapped cars before Winger’s exit, resumed his comfortable run out front before a lap-31 caution appeared for the slowing Neil Baggett of Columbus, Miss., and Ooltewah, Tenn.’s Hickman got up to second on the restart.
A turn-four scramble allowed Oxford, Ala.’s Hiett to break into the top five, and Hiett took the second spot from Hickman after a lap-36 caution when Mark Page, the winner’s brother, slipped over the turn-four banking.
Entering the race’s late stages, Hiett was able to stay within shouting distance of Page, and a lap-51 caution for a Ross Bailes blown tire set up a wild restart.
With Page out front, Hiett slid high exiting turn four after the restart and contact with Hickman sent both the second- and third-running cars into the frontstretch wall, blocking the track with nearly a dozen cars involved (Ridley and Cooper were among the few drivers sneaking past unscathed).
After the red-flag cleanup, Tanner English of Benton, Ky., held the fifth spot, but his machine — showing damage from the wreck — gave up just after the ensuing restart, ending his race.
The race ran clean the rest of the way with Page taking the checkers nearly a full straightaway ahead of Ridley.
Notes: Page is the tour’s first repeat winner. … All five of Page’s Southern All Star career victories have come in the last two seasons. … The race was the second of three Southern All Stars stops at TST this season. … Talladega Short Track has been on the SAS schedule every season for 37 years. … The series returns to Talladega on Oct. 12.