BROWNSTOWN, Ind. — Wednesday's Castrol FloRacing Night in America feature event was arguably a letdown for everyone watching the midweek 50-lapper at Brownstown Speedway, but in a race where passing was at a premium on the quarter-mile oval, Ricky Thornton Jr. was smiling nonetheless.
That's because the Chandler, Ariz., native who drives for Morganton, Ind.-based SSI Motorsports put himself in perfect position with a front-row starting spot and followed through with a flag-to-flag victory for a $23,023 payday and his second career Castrol tour victory.
Fending off an early challenge from Mike Marlar, Thornton pulled away and wasn't pressured the rest of the way as the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series points leader raced to his fifth overall Super Late Model victory of the season. He gave credit to crew chief Anthony Burroughs and Kevin Rumley of Longhorn Chassis for providing him a winning race car.
"Luckily, Burroughs works his tail off, him and Rumley, they really turned our program around here toward the end of last year," Thornton said. "I felt like if I could've still went a little bit harder there at the end. I slowed myself down and tried to give myself a two- or three-car-length gap, that way if I had to race, I had the room to at least improve my pace. So it worked out for us. I gotta thank Marlar for running us clean — I knew he would."
The fourth-starting Marlar, the previous night's Castrol tour winner at Ohio's Eldora Speedway, finished 1.859 seconds behind Thornton, who started outside the front row and jumped into the early lead over polesitter Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio. The fast-qualifying Moran settled for third with Hudson O'Neal of Martinsville, Ind.,, and Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., rounding out the top five.
While on a night when 56 Late Model teams packed the pits and nine preliminary races produced solid action, Thornton and other competitors had an inkling the track surface might develop the dreaded rubber strip in the main event. That meant Thornton knew getting the jump on Moran was critical.
"I was kind of watching that B-main there for the mods, and they were kind of around that middle," Thornton said. "So I knew I just had to get a good start and try to get myself out front and not give it away early. I figured it's gonna lock down, I didn't know exactly where. I was running right around the top and I moved down and then the lower I got, the better I got."
Thornton comfortably paced himself behind slower cars to protect his lead and, when the race's lone caution appeared on the 35th lap when Jordan Wever went over the banking, Thornton zipped away on the restart and completed his victory worry-free.
Marlar made a bid for his second straight series victory early, but his chances were extinguished by the flagging race conditions.
"You know, the track was really, really racy all night long. It was just a little bit too dry when we started to feature there," Marlar said. "But we had a heck of a race there for a while, then it just got one-laned and it was pretty much over. But up until that point, me and him was having a whole lot of run there. I enjoy racing with Ricky. He's a really hard racer, and he's really good. It's fun racing him there and I'm just happy to be up here racing at the front.
"We keep coming to these races with 50, 60 cars, they're tough fields. We'll never complain about second when we're running good, that's for sure."
Moran was disappointed in the track, too, but glad he found speed in his car after struggling in recent events, including missing the starting lineup for two features at Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tenn., last week.
"We've had a problem with the car, it ain't been running right. I talked to (engine builder) Jack (Cornett) and it was just a little bit of wiring and stuff we had to figure out," said Moran, who posted his beset finish since Feb. 18. "It felt like it ran a lot better and, obviously we got quick tonight so that was cool. Congrats to Ricky and Mikey and glad to be back on the podium."
After two midweek races, the Castrol tour takes a break before returning to action next month for Illinois Speedweek. Caastrol races at Banner's Spoon River Speedway and Lincoln Speedway are scheduled for May 10-11 with two Lucas Oil events completing the stretch on May 12-13 at Farmer City Raceway and Fairbury Speedway.
Notes: Thornton's previous Castrol victory came in the 2022 series finale at Senoia (Ga.) Raceway. ... Seventeen starters completed 50 laps. ... Jason Jameson was running 10th with two laps remaining but slowed with a flat tire. ... With a big car count, officials added two starters to the feature for a 24-car field. ... The third-year series made its third trip to the quarter-mile oval in southern Indiana. ... Among drivers failing to make the feature lineup: Billy Moyer, Ricky Weiss, Garrett Alberson, Garrett Smith, Shannon Babb, Ross Robinson, Chad Stapleton, Dustin Linville, Kent Robinson and Josh Rice, who missed his heat race after mechanical issues and failed to transfer through his consolation race. ... Brownstown's next Late Model special is May 27's unsanctioned Bobby Wilson Memorial, an event traditionally paying $5,000-to-win.