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DirtonDirt.com Dispatches

Dispatches: Hedgecock rises to 411 expectations

March 11, 2023, 7:01 am
From series, track and staff reports
Cory Hedgecock takes the checkers. (wellsracingphotos.com)
Cory Hedgecock takes the checkers. (wellsracingphotos.com)

The latest notes and quotes from Dirt Late Model special and sanctioned events during the March 11-12 weekend, including action from the Southern All Star Dirt Racing Series at Southern Raceway in Milton, Fla., and Comp Cams Super Dirt Series at Boothill Speedway in Greenwood, La.:

Rising to expectations

Cory Hedgecock loves racing at 411 Motor Speedway. His sterling resume at his home track — including multiple special-event victories every season since 2015 — makes that clear.

But as comfortable as the 30-year-old standout from Loudon, Tenn., is at the 3/8-mile oval, he can’t help but feel the hefty weight of expectations pushing down on him every time he pulls through the pit gate.

“I feel the most pressure at 411,” Hedgecock said, “because I feel like I'm expected to win at 411.”

Hedgecock made that statement on Saturday after winning The Tennessean, a 71-lap Schaeffer’s Spring Nationals event that yielded him a lucrative $15,000 top prize. It was the richest of the 21 combined Super and Crate Late Model specials he’s captured at 411 over the last nine years and proved again that he can handle having a target on his back.

“To win in front of a hometown crowd like this in a big event with these names here … it’s always good to win it at 411,” Hedgecock said through a megawatt smile. “I’m just happy, grateful, thankful, every which way and above. I can’t thank all my people enough.”

A $3,023 winner last month at 411 in the CRUSA-sanctioned Sweetheart event, Hedgecock flexed his muscle Saturday against a solid Super Late Model field numbering 45 entries. Once he realized the extreme inside of the track was the place to be he was virtually unbeatable as he overtook race-long pacesetter Dale McDowell of Chickamauga, Ga., for the lead on lap 39 and controlled the remainder of the distance.

“I thought I was running the bottom, and Ricky (Weiss) showed the bottom,” said Hedgecock, who drove a self-designed BMF Chassis. “I won some in the grass (edge of the infield) before – every once in awhile we’ve done that at Greenville, Mississippi — but never at 411, so definitely a different 411 than I’ve ever had.”

The only misstep Hedgecock felt he made on the way to his first-ever Spring Nationals triumph came on lap 10 when he grabbed second while making contact with Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn. The two Tennessee drivers came together in turn three as they were racing with Ross Bailes of Clover, S.C.

“I drove through Marlar, and I really, I say I didn’t mean to, but ultimately I did it,” said Hedgecock, who previous richest victories at 411 came in 2018 (World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series worth $10,000), ’20 (Iron-Man Series worth $10,052) and ’21 (Southern Nationals worth $10,0530. “I thought he had that guy (Bailes) cleared on the outside of him and I didn’t really expect him to go down. He kind of choked me down there and I was kind of committed, but hopefully he’s not too mad.”

Behind Hedgecock, runner-up Ricky Weiss of Headingley, Manitoba, and third-place finisher Jensen Ford of Johnson City, Tenn., couldn’t quite keep pace with the victor.

Weiss actually found the inside lane first but wasn’t able to parlay that into a checkered flag with his Sniper Chassis.

“On all of the restart I got put on the outside and Cory would get me,” Weiss said. “I seen him open the door a little bit so I got underneath him, and I didn’t plan on going quite that low and it stuck. I just kind of tried to bide my time there and hold that bottom line, but it seemed like every time I just kept getting shoved up, shoved up …”

Ford, meanwhile, climbed as high as second but didn’t have enough rubber left to stay there in his McCarter Racing MasterSbilt mount.

“I stayed down in the infield too long over there in one and two,” Ford said. “I made a line down in the infield over there and made some time up on them restarts and gained some speed there. I could hang with Cory, but I ate that left-rear tire off staying down in there too long.”

Don't hate me

Billy Franklin experienced some quirky emotions in victory lane after winning Friday’s 30-lap Battle at the Beach opener at Southern Raceway.

On one hand, the 48-year-old driver from Calera, Ala., was thrilled to have finally captured his first career Southern All Star Series event. On the other, he was disappointed that it came following the disqualification of apparent victor Ashton Winger of Hampton, Ga., because of an infraction at the scales.

“I’m really, I'm speechless,” Franklin said, a sense of confliction clear in his voice. “I hate that for Ashton. You know, he drove for me for a little while there (in 2020), and I gave him a hug up there and said, ‘You ain’t gotta hate me.’ ”

Winger, 23, led all but one circuit of the A-main and piloted his Jeff Mathews-fielded Rocket Chassis across the finish line a commanding 7.036 seconds in front of Franklin’s self-owned Rocket machine, but weighing in light put the youngster who ran Franklin’s cars on the World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series in ’20 last in the finishing order.

Franklin managed to hail his crew chief, Todd Pruitt, for the work he does daily on Franklin’s equipment and assert that “we were really good” in Friday’s feature. He otherwise struggled to process his ascension to the $3,000 checkered flag.

“I’m kind of shocked. I don’t know how to act, to be honest with you,” Franklin said. “I hate it for Ashton, but I’ll take it.

“I mean, that’s just one of the best drivers in the country. I couldn’t keep up with him. I mean, hell, I felt like I was chasing (Joseph) Joiner again down here, just different color car.”

Indeed, Franklin knows what it’s like to play second-fiddle at the 3/8-mile oval in Florida’s panhandle. He had previously been a runner-up three times in Southern All Star action, twice in 2019 and once last year — every occasion to Joiner, the Hunt the Front hotshot from Milton, Fla., who calls Southern his home track.

Franklin’s trio of second-place finishes at Southern were among his five bridesmaid runs on the Southern All Star tour before his long-awaited breakthrough. Entering the weekend he had entered 61 SAS features since 2017 (the year after he made his Super Late Model debut following off-and-on competition in the Crate Late Model ranks) while traveling as a regular with the series for the last four seasons (winning the championship in ’20, finishing second in ’21 and ’22 and third in ’19), but victory continually eluded him.

Though he’s still yet to officially lead a lap in a SAS feature, Franklin’s name is now on the win list. That fact is satisfying for a driver who noted that he’s contemplating reducing his time behind the wheel after this season.

“Oh, man, it’s big,” Franklin said. “You know, this might be my last year doing it, like, full time. That's why I got my kid (Kendall) a Super (Late Model) … (tonight’s) the second time he’s been in the Super (the 19-year-old finished 17th) and I’m gonna let him run some races with us and try to get him good at that. (And) I have my brother (Michael Franklin) here — he ain’t been racing a long time (he finished 12th) — and Austin (Franklin, Billy’s nephew), you know, he had surgery so he can’t really do nothing right now and I feel sorry for him because he’s miserable.

“It’s just like I tell everybody — man, everybody thinks this is easy, but it ain’t. You’ll get your butt kicked in a New York second right here every night. And I mean, somebody’s always fast. Super Late Model racing is not easy, I promise you."

No joy in winning

While Logan Martin walked away with Friday’s $5,000 top prize with the Comp Cams Super Dirt Series at Boothill Speedway in Greenwood, La., the reward wasn’t wholly satisfying.

The West Plains, Mo., driver charged from 13th for his first win of a season that’s been mostly spent paying dues as a World of Outlaws Case Late Models Series rookie. But contact with Neil Baggett in the lead battle on the last lap tarnished what could have been an uplifting moment.

“It’s a sucky deal. I mean, it’s not even worth celebrating,” a subdued Martin said in victory lane. “We’ll take the check. Me and Baggett, we’ve had run-ins in the past before. No excuse. Not even worth celebrating.

“Yeah, it’s good to be here,” Martin added in a follow-up question intended to lighten his tense mood. “Just wish it was under better circumstances. Congrats to everybody else. Looking forward to (Saturday).”

Martin’s misstep in turns one and two on the final lap that hip-checked Baggett up the banking and to an eventual stoppage against the outside wall wasn’t the only chaotic event of the 30-lap race. On lap nine, the slower cars of Jarret Stuckey and Chris Hawkins tangled in front of the leaders, swiftly collecting top-four runners Dillon McCowan, Kyle Beard, Garrett Alberson and Jonathan Davenport.

That put the fifth-running Baggett out front until his demise on the final lap. Spencer Hughes of Meridian, Miss., had also made his way to third with 10 laps to go before contact with second-running Morgan Bagley spiraled him down the leaderboard.

Jonesboro, Ark.’s Hunter Rasdon finished second despite running outside the top-five most of the going.

“We just kind of kept our nose clean,” Rasdon said. “Probably didn’t have a second-place car. It don’t matter sometimes.”

Davenport’s damage proved so costly that he and the Double L Motorsports team won’t partake in Saturday’s $10,000-to-win program at the Louisiana oval. That said, third-place finisher Rick Rickman of Columbus, Miss., was just glad to come away unscathed.

“Just tried staying out of trouble the best I could and ended up third,” Rickman said. “At least we aren’t demolished, anyway, like some of these other ones. … It was about time (we finished on the podium). It’s been a long time since we’ve had a really good, strong run in a Comp (Cams Super Dirt Series) race. We’ll take this and see where we can make it better tomorrow night.”

DirtonDirt.com Dispatches

In continuing to streamline our race coverage, we’ve added DirtonDirt.com Dispatches to our list of regular features on the site. The idea of the new feature is to spotlight key storylines of the weekend (and sometimes during the week), putting notes, quotes and accomplishments in context to provide subscribers a quick-hitting read on all the latest from tracks around the country. Bear with us as the new feature evolves. Our intention is to have a single file that’s regularly topped by the latest news, so check back throughout the weekend.

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