Dispatches: Madden, Marlar survive Madness
The latest notes and quotes from Dirt Late Model events nationwide from March 4-6, including the Ultimate Southeast/Iron-Man event at Smoky Mountain Speedway in Maryville, Tenn., Schaeffer’s Spring Nationals shows in Georgia and Clarksville (Tenn.) Speedway's Tuckassee Toilet Bowl Classic:
Cherokee Speedway has a long history with a nifty slogan touting its reputation: “The one your mama warned you about.” By now, drivers preparing tires for a day race at the Gaffney, S.C., track that opened in 1957 should know full well about the dark side of the 4/10-mile oval as well — the side that chews up tires and leaves would-be winners shaking their head.
Gray Court, S.C.’s Chris Madden knows both sides quite well. Madden blew a right rear tire with seven laps remaining in the 2020 Blue-Gray 100, handing a win to Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga. In 2021, Madden returned and made his tires last the full 100-lap distance to win the Blue-Gray for a bit of redemption.
In Sunday’s Southern All Star-sanctioned March Madness, Madden needed only to make sure his tires endured 50 laps. No problem. Madden took over when race-long leader Chris Ferguson of Mt. Holly, N.C., blew a right-rear tire and paced the final two circuits for his fourth career March Madness triumph and first since 2018.
“Today we had a great race car. I went out a little bit early qualifying and kind of got behind but was able to win the heat and put ourselves in position right there,” Madden said following his $10,000 victory. “You know, I knew it was going to be tire management and we had to just make sure we stayed in a second there and try to give Chris (Ferguson) a run at the end. And we turned up the heat a little bit there and it made him have to run a little harder and he didn’t make it and we was able to get the win here.”
Runner-up Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., started fourth, never passed a car, and finished second when both Ferguson and Overton, who was running second at the time, pitted with flat tires.
“I just didn’t get a good card dealt to me on the first start, you know,” Marlar said. “It was a little muddy and Jonathan (Davenport) and (Ferguson) got together. So we just had a real bad start and I fell back. After that I was a little bit loose on entry. So we just said, ‘You know what? At this place, Sunday afternoon race, you better just finish.’ So I just kind of chilled out there and saved my tires. Save, save, save, and then there at the end I could be close enough if something happened. So I was and didn’t have to pass anybody, but a couple guys had some problems.”
Marlar said he had one thought when he began to see fast cars in front of him falter.
“I was like, ‘Don’t blow these tires out.’ I could tell they were paper thin,” Marlar said. “And, you know, when you spin you catch a little rock or something and it’ll rip one of ’em. So we just had to just milk it there to the end and hope that mine outlasted (Maddens). So congrats to Chris there and (third-place) Jonathan (Davenport), and it was fun racing (them). Overton, you know, it’s kind of a bummer there, him (having a flat) because he was really probably the fastest car. He was really fast there. So anyway, fun race and we just milked it to the end.”
Flu sidelines Winger
Ashton Winger was expected to compete in Sunday’s Southern All Stars-sanctioned March Madness at Cherokee Speedway, but his mother Lynn Winger reported via her Facebook page that Winger was taken to the hospital early Sunday as a precaution when he “woke up this morning and couldn’t breath.” Lynn Winger continued that it was “nothing more than the flu” and that the 22-year-old Hampton, Ga., native just needed “a few days rest … to get him rehydrated.”
Winger, who has one World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series win on the year, competed in the Schaeffer’s Spring Nationals opening weekend Friday and Saturday, registering a fifth-place finish at Swainesboro (Ga.) Raceway and an 18th-place finish at Senoia (Ga.) Raceway after tangling with a lapped car. After traveling overnight to Gaffney, S.C., Winger was taken to be checked out at Cherokee Medical Center in East Gaffney where Lynn Winger reported that the likable Team 22 Inc. Motorsports driver “of course has new fans” now.
Winger shared his mother’s Facebook post on his Ashton Winger Racing page with the simple text, “No racing for us today. We will see you all soon.”
‘Super’ debut for Stevens
No one was more amazed to be standing in victory lane after Saturday night’s 50-lap Comp Cams Super Dirt Series-sanctioned Ronny Adams Memorial at Boothill Speedway in Greenwood, Ala., than Tyler Stevens.
It was, after all, the first-ever feature start in a Super Late Model for the 35-year-old driver from Searcy, Ark.
“Man, I ain’t gonna lie,” Stevens said, shaking his head as he attempted to grasp the significance of his $10,000 triumph. “This is my first weekend running Supers. I come from Crate (Late Models) last year … so we didn’t really know.
“We came into this weekend open-minded. We’re gonna run the Comp Cams deal (in 2022) … we were shooting for a top-15. These guys are as good as it gets.”
Stevens ended up not merely exceeding his modest expectations but blowing them away. He shot forward from the sixth starting spot to overtake B.J. Robinson of Bossier City, La., for the lead on lap four and never looked back en route to a convincing victory.
Making Stevens’s out-of-nowhere success even more memorable was the fact that he experienced an awful outing Friday in the opener of Boothill’s doubleheader. He failed to qualify after a qualifying incident damaged his XR1 Rocket car.
“We set ourselves up terribly last night and at that point I was ready to throw the towel in,” Stevens admitted. “My wife (Lindsey) and my crew guy Josh kept me going. We didn’t go to bed till like 4 this morning and we were back up at 7. This morning at about 9:30 the fuel cell was out of this car, frame was bent, but we got it fixed.”
Stevens roared back in Saturday’s finale, authoring a storybook performance to realize an accomplishment he had always imagined in his mind.
“When I was 5 years old, Super Late Models was my dream,” Stevens said. “Here I am 35 and just now getting the chance to run it.”
A winner 184 times in open-wheel modified and Crate Late Model action over the past two decades, Stevens credited his sponsors for “a tremendous amount of support to be able to run Supers.” He also gave a big shout-out to his buddy, World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series regular Ryan Gustin, who provided valuable assistance by phone on Saturday from his home in Marshalltown, Iowa.
And after pulling off the almost unthinkable, Stevens had just one answer when asked how it sounded to bag a checkered flag worth 10-grand.
“It sounds like it’s gonna be a long night,” he said, looking ahead to his pit-area celebration.
Fergy's offseason over
Chris Ferguson took off a reasonable three and a half months for his offseason, returning to action Saturday with an eighth-place finish at Smoky Mountain Speedway's Tennessee Tip-Off. But compared to the seven drivers who finished ahead of him — they've competed in an average of 14 events already this young season among races at Georgia-Florida Speedweeks and beyond — Ferguson found himself knocking off the rust, to a degree.
The 32-year-old Mount Holly, N.C., driver played it a bit safe in prelims and lost a few spots on a lap-51 restart, but overall he was pleased with an eighth-place finish at the 4/10-mile oval in a race won by Brandon Overton.
"I'm tickled to be right there with with these guys and they've been racing for two months now," Ferguson said after his 104-day break from the track. "We're back where we need to be and I think we're this is about how we started out the year last year hopefully we can just keep building on it."
In preliminaries, "I left a lot out there in qualifying," Ferguson said. "Them guys were really getting up there after it (near) the fence, and I really wasn't doing that."
And in his heat race, he had the opportunity to make an aggressive move to take the second spot from Tim McCreadie, but on his "first night out, we didn't want to tear nothing up. I didn't want to get into it with anybody. And we were right there where we needed to be."
In the main event, Ferguson started 10th and methodically improved to sixth. But he lost positions on the restart with nine laps remaining and settled for eighth.
On the restart, he found himself "in dirty air and (Kyle) Strickler went from the bottom all the way to the top. About the time I was checking up for him, Dale (McDowell) and someone else drove by me on the bottom, and then same thing in (turns) three and four. I'd (went) into the corner behind Strickler again and lost the nose," Ferguson said, calling the episode "a little frustrating" in a postrace interview. "Besides that, I didn't really make as many errors in the race I probably could've. I think I did pretty good not messing up. You know, I passed a lot of cars."
Overall he was pleased with his Team Zero Car's performance at a track where he's run as high as third in recent seasons.
"The changes we made over the winter with the car seemed to really help," Ferguson said. "We did something that I haven't done in a long time in the feature. I had way too much traction, and I was way too tight. It seems like the last five times I've been here, I've been way too loose in the feature. So it feels good to go the direction that we wanted to go. We went a little too far tonight." — Richard Allen
Fading from the pole
Camaron Marlar, with his car owner wanting to do "something big" for the 2022 season, was on the verge of it Saturday night at Smoky Mountain Speedway. The 26-year-old from Winfield, Tenn., captured the pole position for the $12,000-to-win Tennessee Tip-Off Classic, a Super Late Model event co-sanctioned by the Ultimate Southeast Series and Valvoline Iron-Man Racing Series.
Alas, after leading the first 11 laps, Marlar lost the lead to eventual winner Brandon Overton and then faded from contention, settling for a ninth-place finish at the 4/10-mile oval on a night when a talented group of drivers hit the track.
Marlar, the younger brother to former World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series champion Mike Marlar (who finished second at Smoky Mountain), was glad to have a good starting spot but disappointed with the result.
"I mean, I'm encouraged that I started on the pole. But anytime you go backwards, it's pretty easy to get discouraged," he said. "I didn't adjust (the car). I was comfortable after my heat race. It was the first night on that car. I haven't raced since September, so a lot of it was on me. I should've worked on it and probably should have done some things better driving it."
Piloting a Longhorn Chassis with a Pro Power Racing engine owned by Danny McGlothlin of Mac Metal Sales in Somerset, Ky., Marlar added that "we've just gotta learn how to work on it. I mean, to be honest. That was my fault. I was comfortable. It wasn't very fast, but we'll get there."
With his marriage to fiancee Mariah Massengale imminent, racing in 2022 wasn't even in Marlar's plans. But the connection with McGlothlin might give him a chance to not only race more but compete in major events.
"I lost a motor last year and I sold everything I had. (Brother) Mikey bought my Late Model, all the Late Model parts I had, all that junk. And I was done," he said. "I'm fixing to get married and all that good stuff. And I was like, I needed to stop spending so much money on racing, unfortunately."
But McGlothlin, a racer himself, was struggling to get a handle on his Crate Late Model and Marlar helped him get the car ironed out, getting behind the wheel and winning a few races. McGlothlin got interested in racing more with the youngster.
"During the offseason, he manned up and wanted to do something big next year — so here we are," Marlar said. — Richard Allen
Toilet Bowl sweep
Cory Hedgecock’s first visit to Clarksville Speedway was a productive one. Hedgecock, of Loudon, Tenn., backed up Friday’s fourth-place finish with a pair of victories in Saturday’s Tuckasee Toilet Bowl Classic, winning both the $7,500 Super Late Model headliner and the $3,000 Crate Racin’ USA Winter Shootout finale. It was a $13,000 night for Hedgecock who pocketed an additional $2,500 for wrapping up the CRUSA Winter Shootout title. While his feature winnings and the miniseries title winnings helped Hedgecock to a career night in earnings, he also garnered a pair of unique full-sized toilet trophies to take home.
“Man I’m tickled to death, this is awesome. I never thought I’d win (one), nonetheless (two), so I’m ready to take them home to Knoxville,” said Hedgecock.
Hedgecock, who made contact with leader Dennis Erb Jr. when he passed the Carpentersville, Ill., driver for the lead on lap 14, said he hoped Erb was “not upset about it.”
“I really hate I got into Dennis, but he was just leaving the door open so much and I know we was good,” Hedgecock said. “(The track) cleaned up some around the top and I think I found it down there before (Erb) did. He was entering in on it, but he was leaving down a little bit lower. I was able to just kinda maintain and leave me (room) to get in to (turn) three. That was the reason we got by him. It cleaned up. Looking at the right rear (tire) it looks like it feathered it a little bit. I don’t know what tire (Erb) went with, but we went hard and it paid off.”
Hedgecock had to skip a $12,000-to-win event 30 minutes from home to make the 225-mile trek to Clarksville, but it paid off handsomely. He said in victory lane that he’s consider returning next year to defend his throne.
“(Promoter) William (Scogin) puts on a good show here,” said Hedgecock, who now has four wins on the year. “I wish there was more cars, but down deep inside, I hate it, but I hope there’s only two sometimes whenever I’m racing. But it was a good field of cars. (Erb) wins World of Outlaws races and Lucas. (Oil Series) races and Tanner English is obviously dominant here, so I’m tickled to death to outrun those guys”
Dylan Knowles shines
Over the last half-dozen years or so, Dylan Knowles of Lanett, Ala., has been a standout racer in Late Model racing's various lower divisions, including Crate Late Models, with Senoia (Ga.) Raceway among his best tracks. But the 25-year-old made his biggest splash in Super Late Models so far Saturday with a runner-up finish in Schaeffer's Spring Nationals action at Senoia.
Knowles didn't have anything for winner Shane Clanton — the veteran from Zebulon, Ga., was untouchable in pocketing a $10,053 payday by ending a 13-month winless drought — but Knowles posted a solid runner-up finish at the 3/8-mile oval, fighting off third-place finisher Mark Whitener in the final laps.
"We had a good car, especially compared to the last time we were here for the Peach State Classic. We couldn't even line up," Knowles said on FloRacing's race coverage. "We busted our asses all winter trying to go to through the whole car, went to Talladega (Short Track in Eastaboga, Ala.) for the Ice Bowl and had a good, got caught up in wreck. Went to Volusia (Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla.) and had a good car with Crate. I think we got it got the car back going how it's supposed to be."
Knowles, whose upcoming schedule of races include the Comp Cams Super Dirt Series weekend at Talladega and the $30,000-to-win Crate Late Model event at Super Bee Speedway in Chatham, La. (he was ninth there last season), was excited to mix it up with Clanton, Chris Madden and Ashton Winger while contending at Senoia.
"I think we've got a 20 races for Super (Late Models) we're gonna try to do," he said. "Just to be running with guys like Clanton and Winger and Madden, man, I can't be more happy with my crew and the car. I'm tickled to death. And I'm wore out. I'm not a running-up-against-the-cushion kind of guy. I want to be up against the inside wall.
"I'll tell you, I about fogged my helmet up when I saw — I guess it was Whitener — get beside me on the last lap. I was like, 'Gotta go, gotta go!' I about got into the wall right there. I was like, 'If this race could just get over with, I'll be happy.' ... I'm very tickled about tonight."
Odds and ends
Cory Hedgecock of Loudon, Tenn., wrapped up the Crate Racin' USA Winter Shootout championship with Saturday's $3,000 victory in the tour finale at Clarksville Speedway's Tuckassee Toilet Bowl Classic. Hedgecock added Clarksville's famed toilet trophy to his Ice Bowl hardware in Jan. 8's tour opener at Talladega Short Track in Eastaboga, Ala. "Now we've got two cool trophies this year," Hedgecock said in victory lane at Clarksville, "and we'll see what the rest holds for us." ... Longtime Clarksville racer Caleb Ashby's team had a major scare and financial loss during Thursday's practice when the team's toterhome went up in flames in the track's pit area. Ashby's wife Lindsay wrote on Facebook of her appreciation for those who pitched in to help before firefighters arrived, writing "the way the racers and crew came together to help us was truly amazing." No one was injured in the blaze and Ashby captured Friday's 602 Crate Late Model feature. ... Cherokee's March Madness weekend is headlined by Sunday's $10,000-to-win Southern All Star event, but Saturday's action victories for Jeremy Steele of York, S.C., in the Southeastern Sportsman Late Model Series opener and John Ruggiero Jr. of Lincolnton, N.C., in the City Chevrolet Thunder Series event for 602 Crate Late Models. Steele stepped up to Limited Late Models after capturing six Crate Late Model victories in his rookie season in 2021, including a $5,000 victory at Cherokee.
Erb's Clarksville success
Racers whose careers hit the national touring stage typically skip those random eight-hour hauls to modest races at tight tracks. Dennis Erb Jr., as any Dirt Late Model aficionado knows, isn't typical. The 49-year-old Carpentersville, Ill., driver still makes annual trips to Clarksville Speedway because he's often cashing a winner's paycheck.
So it was Friday night at the William Scogin-owned quarter-mile oval on the opening night of the Tuckassee Toilet Bowl Classic weekend. The fourth-starting Erb overtook Rusty Schlenk on the sixth lap and raced to a $3,000 victory, making him a favorite to capture Saturday's $7,500 winner's purse.
How good is Erb at Clarksville? He's been on the podium in each of his last five starts. Five times he's been a winner during Toilet Bowl weekends and four times he's captured DIRTcar Summer Nationals races.
Dirt Late Model records being what they are, we're not sure exactly when Erb first competed at Clarksville (it appears to be in 2003 with a fourth-place finish in Summer Nationals action). The current World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series regular could've had a DNS or two in earlier years. But according to his team's records and other records from DirtonDirt.com and National Dirt Digest, we've accounted for 39 feature starts at Clarksville for Erb with nine victories, 21 top-five finishes and only two finishes worse than 10th.
He hasn't finished worse than third in Clarksville Summer Nationals action in his last five starts going back to 2014, and in his last 18 starts at Clarksville, he's been on the podium 11 times.
Now you see why traveling from northern Illinois to the Tennessee track a couple of times a year makes sense for the driver whose first Clarksville victory came in 2008. We'll see if he adds to his Clarksville success Saturday.
Happy to be home
Brandon Overton never gets tired of winning races in his home state.
The 30-year-old superstar from Evans, Ga., reveled Friday in his latest Peach State victory, a no-doubt-about-it, wire-to-wire triumph worth $10,053 at Swainsboro Raceway.
“It’s cool to be back,” Overton said with a smile in victory lane. “I cut my teeth racing around here.”
Overton, of course, has gone on to national glory in recent years, but he can always come home again. Racing at Swainsboro put him in the middle of so many familiar faces that he felt like the fresh-faced teenager who dreamed of stardom while knocking around Georgia’s bullrings.
“I got my whole family here and it’s cool to come back and see everybody,” said Overton, who noted that his fiancee, Heather Nicole Curry, was able to get off from work to join him at the track (his younger brother, Cody, was also on hand competing and finished 14th). “I try to do my best for you when I’m out there on the road … It’s humbling to come back and just see all the little kids (who used to visit him at his old stomping grounds). I see ‘em now and they’re grown.”
Overton’s fifth career Spring Nationals triumph was his fourth overall of the young 2022 season, following his recent Georgia-Florida Speedweeks scores at Golden Isles Speedway near Brunswick, Ga. (two Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series events) and Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla. (one World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series feature). It put him essentially on the same victory pace as his spectacular 31-win 2021 campaign, which saw him capture his fourth main event March 7.
Notably, however, three of Overton’s four triumphs so far this season have come in his home state. That matches his Georgia win total for the entire 2021 season when he had three Georgia successes, all at Cochran Motor Speedway.
Overton’s performance record in Georgia was decidedly better in 2020. He won 10 times in front of his home-state fans, spreading the checkered flags among Sylvania’s Screven Motor Speedway (three), Lavonia Speedway (two), Norman Park’s Needmore Speedway (two), Senoia Raceway (two) and Cochran (one).
Page wasn’t fast enough
Michael Page of Douglasville, Ga., summed up his runner-up finish in Friday’s 53-lap Schaeffer’s Spring Nationals feature at Swainsboro Raceway with one succinct phrase.
“We was nowhere as good as Brandon (Overton),” he said while standing a few feet away from Overton’s victory lane celebration.
Indeed Page wasn’t in the same league as Overton, who dominated from flag-to-flag in the regional tour’s season opener. Page ran second throughout the distance and had several restarts to challenge Overton but couldn’t stay with his fellow Georgian.
Page made a nifty move at the start of the race to shoot from the fourth starting spot to second, but that was the extent of the excitement he was able to create.
“On that start them guys kind of split it there,” Page said of the cars ahead of him. “I don’t know if they just couldn’t go, but I could go pretty good right then so I had to go for it. A hole opened so I’m gonna go in it.”
Page said he “can’t complain” about chasing Overton to the checkered flag in his first Super Late Model start since Jan. 8 when he crossed the finish first in the Ice Bowl at Talladega Short Track in Eastaboga, Ala., but later was stripped of the $6,000 triumph for using a tire that failed a laboratory test. What’s more, Page, who spent part of last month’s DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., helping his friend Tyler Millwood’s effort, also was pleased to log a strong run at a third-mile oval that has a special place in his heart.
Swainsboro, Page noted, is where he first met his car owner Troy Baird, who “gives me the opportunity to do what I need to do.”