ROME, Ga. — Last year Austin Horton took advantage of a late-race caution, snuck by Chatsworth, Ga.’s Aaron Ridley to grab the lead with seven laps remaining and went on to win the Schaeffer’s Southern Nationals race at Rome Speedway. So what did he do for an encore? Repeat. That’s all. There was no need for such late-race heroics this time around however. The Newnan, Ga., driver simply crushed the field.
Leading every lap from the pole, Horton won Sunday’s Southern Nationals stop at Rome for his second career series victory and another $5,300 payday. Horton turned back an early challenge from Donald McIntosh of Dawsonville, Ga., before withstanding a mid-race charge from Michael Page of Douglasville, Ga.
But after Page slid high in turn four on lap 24 while trying to keep pace following a mid-race restart, Horton pulled away and was never threatened again. Page recovered to finish second, while Jason Croft of Woodstock, Ga., finished third. Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga., finished fourth and McIntosh completed the top five.
“I couldn’t ask for a better race car, this XR1 Rocket,” said Horton. “It was just fun to drive. I could put it wherever I wanted. I was finally glad to outrun Michael (Page). He didn’t have no flat tires or none of that stuff. I had a lot of heat behind me. To outrun ‘em all is a chore because most of ‘em get to do this for a living and I gotta got to work in the morning.”
Getting a great jump on the initial start, Horton quickly zipped away from McIntosh, but a caution for a spin involving Tyler Clem of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Bo Eaton of Blue Ridge, Ga., resulted in a caution — one of only two in the 53-lapper — and a complete redo.
On the second attempt, McIntosh fired much better, but Horton used the preferred inside groove to pull ahead again. For three laps, McIntosh worked the outside but couldn’t keep up with the leader. By lap six, Horton led by a half straightaway. He continued to grow the advantage until catching slower traffic on lap 14, allowing McIntosh to close to within two car lengths.
“My crew guys, Ashton and Blake, they did a good job telling me where to be on the racetrack and what time I needed to be there. I think what slowed me down was getting by some of them lapped cars,” said Horton. “They were a little treacherous. Once I got by them, they spread the (signaling) sticks. It makes you feel good when they can spread the sticks.”
“I was definitely concerned because those (slower) guys was racing so hard. I was trying to negotiate them, but I didn’t want to push the envelope too hard and take myself out of the race like Michael (Page) got taken out of the race last year ‘cause I knew we had a winning car. I didn’t want to get taken out. I knew if I let them block a lane and I was in the other lane, they’d have to take me out to pass me and I was hoping they wasn’t gonna do that.”
Once Horton cleared the lapped cars, he pulled away again. His advantage over McIntosh ballooned to nearly a full straightaway by the time the second caution appeared, this time on lap 20 for spin by Eaton in turn two. On the restart, Page took the second position from McIntosh and briefly made a bid for the lead. As Horton inched away, Page slipped up the track and into the crumbs above the racing surface. By the time he gathered himself, Horton had driven away and he was left to defend the runner-up spot from McIntosh, Overton and Croft.
“I was just trying to give him enough room and stay out of the wall and I missed it a little bit getting in,” said Page. “I got loose in and just missed the corner and slid up in the marbles and it just ate up my tire … all the rocks up there … it just chunked it out and it wasn’t no good after that. It’s just a fine line with that stuff. If you get just a half inch too much, you’re gone. And I know that. But he’s trying to use the racetrack up. He’s doing what he’s supposed to do and I’m just trying to find a way to get around him and it just didn’t work.
“It’s just so hard to pass here. It’s really crazy, you’ve got all this racetrack and you put a berm down there and it just narrows it up. It’s hard to pass (without getting into him), especially if the guy’s rounding it and using the racetrack. It’d be hard. Just like that … because I was pretty good and still couldn’t really pass.”
The third-starting Croft reclaimed the spot on the lap-20 restart as well. Coming off a victory on Saturday at Talladega (Ala.) Short Track, Croft kept Oveton at bay over the final 33 circuits to earn a podium finish. He was hoping he’d get another caution late in the race.
“We didn’t make quite the right adjustments to fire off there and it kinda came to me there at the end,” said Croft. “I’d liked to have seen a caution there late to see what we could do with them. We’ve made a lot of progress with this car and it’s good to have a podium finish tonight against this class of cars. We’ll just keep working on it a little bit at a time, a little bit at a time. We went to Talladega (Short Track) last night and got us a win there and a third place. We had two features. To get a third place tonight, we’ve had a good weekend.”
Notes: Horton finished 0.926 seconds ahead of Page. … He became the Southern Nationals’ first repeat winner at Rome in eight visits to the Swims family’s half-mile oval. … Fifteen of the 22 starters finished the race, with 11 completing all 53 laps. … Five drivers still have perfect attendance after five events. … Granger Howell of Kingston, Ga., scratched for the rest of the night after failing to start his heat. … The tour is off Monday before heading to Ray Cook’s Tri-County Racetrack in Brasstown, N.C., on Tuesday.
Preliminary notes and results:
Row 1: Austin Horton, Donald McIntosh
Row 2: Jason Croft, Michael Page
Row 3: Brandon Overton, Zach Leonhardi
Row 4: Cla Knight, Will Roland
Row 5: Tyler Millwood, Jake Knowles
Row 6: Matt Dooley, Austin Smith
Row 7: Tyler Clem, Mark Page
Row 8: Tanner English, Aaron Ridley
Row 9: Joey Armistead, Cody King
Row 10: Ahnna Parkhurst, Craig Greer
Row 11: Bo Eaton, Buster Goss
After turning back on outside challege from Austin Smith on the opening lap, Jake Knowles went on to dominate the second heat. Smith stayed to the outside down the back stretch, but tucked in behind the leader exiting turn four. Knowles pulled ahead to win by nearly a straightaway. Smith finished second, with Mark Page third and Aaron Ridley fourth. After failing to make a qualifying lap, Cody King started seventh and finished fifth, while Craig Creek beat Buster Goss to the line for sixth in the caution-free heat. With no provisionals needed, Goss will transfer to the feature also.
Finish (top six transfer): Jake Knowles, Austin Smith, Mark Page, Aaron Ridley, Cody King, Craig Greer, Buster Goss.
Polesitter Tyler Millwood beat fellow front row starter Matt Dooley into turn one on the first lap and led all the way to win the 10-lap first heat. Mnillwood pulled away to win by four car lengths. Dooley ran second throughout, just ahead of the third-place battle between Big Frog Motorsports teammates Tyler Clem and Tanner English. Clem held on to third, with English fourth. Joey Armistead and Ahnna Parkhurst completed the top six. Bo Eaton brought out the lone caution when he spun in turn one on lap three. With no provisionals needed, Eaton will transfer to the feature also.
Finish (top six transfer): Tyler Millwood, Matt Dooley, Tyler Clem, Tanner English, Joey Armistead, Ahnna Parkhurt, Bo Eaton. Scratched: Granger Howell.
Heat race lineups
(10 laps; top six transfer)
Row 1: Tyler Millwood, Matt Dooley
Row 2: Tyler Clem, Joey Armistead
Row 3: Tanner English, Granger Howell
Row 4: Ahnna Parkhurst, Bo Eaton
Row 1: Jake Knowles, Austin Smith
Row 2: Mark Page, Buster Goss
Row 3: Craig Greer, Aaron Ridley
Row 4: Cody King
Bouncing back from a DNF on Saturday at Screven Motor Speedway, Donald McIntosh of Dawsonville, Ga., set the overall fast time among Sunday’s 23 entries. Going out fourth in Group B, McIntosh stopped the clock at 14.737 seconds and will start on the outside front row of the 53-lap main event. The top four drivers from each of two groups are locked into the feature.
McIntosh was followed by Michael Page, Zach Leonhardi and Will Roland. On the outside looking in was Jake Knowles, who quaified fifth in the group and will start on the pole of the second heat.
In Group A, Austin Horton of Newnan, Ga., who won this event a year ago, turned the quickest lap and 14.859 and will start from the pole in the feature. Horton was followed by Jason Croft, Brandon Overton and Cla Knight. Tyler Millwood of Kingston, Ga., was fifth fastest and will start from the pole of the first heat.
The Schaeffer’s Southern Nationals Series rolls on with the tour’s fifth stop, a visit Sunday evening to the lightning fast Rome Speedway, a half-mile, red-clay oval located about 65 miles northwest of Atlanta. The series has made the turn back north following Saturday’s program at Screven Motor Speedway, the tour’s southernmost venue.
Despite a DNF at Screven, Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga., leads to tour to Rome. Overton, who has two series victories this season and 12 in his career, has led the series points standings since the opening race. He won at both Wythe Raceway in Rural Retreat, Va., and Smoky Mountain Speedway in Maryville, Tenn. Other winners include Trent Ivey of Union, S.C., who won at Cherokee Speedway in his home state, and Ross Bailes of Clover, S.C., who won Saturday at Screven.
Only six points separate Overton from his closest pursuer, Rome’s Jake Knowles, whose race shop sits only a few miles from the speedway. Georgian Donald McIntosh, Kentucky native Tanner English and South Carolina’s Cla Knight complete the top five in tour standings and are the only five drivers with perfect attendance as the series approaches the halfway mark.
Sunday’s Super Late Model program includes hot laps, time trials and a 53-lap, $5,300-to-win main event. Entries will be split into two groups for time trials with heats to follow.
Time trail results (unofficial)
Driver (car no.), hometown, time
Austin Horton (16), Newnan, Ga., 14.859
Jason Croft (9), Woodstock, Ga., 14.868
Brandon Overton (2), Evans, Ga., 15.023
Cla Knight (42), North Augusta, S.C., 15.168
Tyler Millwood (31), Kingston, Ga., 15.273
Matt Dooley (18), Fayetteville, Ga., 15.317
Tyler Clem (58T), St. Petersburg, Fla., 15.328
Joey Armistead (9), Senoia, Ga., 15.358
Tanner English (58), Benton, Ky., 15.451
Granger Howell (81), Kingston, Ga., 15.514
Ahnna Parkhurst (23), Evans, Ga., 15.532
Bo Eaton (3x), Blue Ridge, Ga., 16.214
Donald McIntosh (7), Dawsonville, Ga., 14.737
Michael Page (18), Douglasville, Ga., 15.055
Zach Leonhardi (24), Cartersville, Ga., 15.106
Will Roland (22), Jasper, Ga., 15.184
Jake Knowles (66), Rome, Ga., 15.216
Austin Smith (84), Rome, Ga., 15.235
Mark Page (5), Douglasville, Ga., 15.404
Buster Goss (24), Rome, Ga., 15.774
Craig Greer (7G), Cleveland, Tenn., 16.112
Aaron Ridley (81), Chatsworth, Ga., no time
Cody King (62), McDonough, Ga., no time
6:40 p.m. - Drivers’ meeting
7:15 p.m. - Hot laps/qualifying
- Crate Late Model hot laps
- 525 Late Model hot laps
- Super Late Model hot laps
- Econo bomber hot lap/qualifying
- Crate Late Model qualifying
- Sportsman hot lap/qualifying
- Super Late Model qualifying
- Stinger hot laps
- 525 Late Model qualifying
- Econo bomber feature (15 laps)
- Super Late Model heats (10 laps)
- Crate Late Model feature (20 laps)
- Sportsman feature (15 laps)
- Super Late Model feature (53 laps)
- 525 Late Model feature (20 laps)
- Stinger feature (15 laps)
Correction: Fixes first name spelling of Bo Eaton.