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DirtonDirt.com Dispatches

Dispatches: Ultimate victory a relief for Bailes

April 21, 2024, 5:43 pm
From staff, series and team reports
Ross Bailes in Elkin, N.C. (Kevin Ritchie)
Ross Bailes in Elkin, N.C. (Kevin Ritchie)

Among latest notes and quotes from Dirt Late Model special and sanctioned events over April 19-21 action, including Ultimate Southeast Series action and developments on Hudson O'Neal's plans for the rest of 2024:

Back on track

Ross Bailes of Clover, S.C., felt like a new man as he stood in victory lane Saturday night at Ultimate Motorsports Park in Elkin, N.C.

“This is unbelievable,” the 34-year-old driver said after a dramatic $7,500 triumph in the 50-lap Ultimate Southeast Super Late Model Series feature. “It seems like my first win.”

Seeing one of the Southeast’s top talents emerge victorious certainly wasn’t a surprise in the big picture, but it was a giant relief for a driver who’s struggled to start the 2024 season and had been winless since a $20,000 Beckley USA 100 score last fall at Beckley (W.Va.) Motorsports Park. He needed a return to the limelight to feel good about himself again.

“I was starting to think I couldn’t do it anymore,” Bailes admitted in a postrace moment when he showed some emotion.

Bailes’s first month of competition this season didn’t provide much positive reinforcement. He logged two quiet outings (17th, DNQ) in January’s World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series-sanctioned Sunshine Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., driving the Warrior house car and made just three feature appearances in eight February starts between Screven Motor Speedway in Sylvania, Ga., and East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, Fla., piloting Danny Hatcher’s No. 6.

The veteran racer’s campaign began to head in a new direction, however, following Speedweeks. Bailes’s relationship with Joey Malone of Rock Hill, S.C., the president of Mid-Atlantic Roofing Supply in Stanley, N.C., and father of 12-year-old Dirt Late Model driver Beckham Malone, landed him a ride in a Longhorn Chassis fielded by the elder Malone starting with last month’s March Madness event at Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, S.C.

Bailes’s first four starts in Malone’s brightly-colored color — adorned with Bailes’s familiar No. 87 — showed some promise, including a third-place finish in March 16’s Carolina Clash event at Lancaster (S.C.) Motor Speedway. The dam then broke at Ultimate Motorsports Park when Bailes overtook race-long leader Jordan Koehler of Mount Airy, N.C., whose family owns and promotes the track, heading to the white flag and reached the finish line for his 13th career Ultimate Southeast victory but first since Oct. 22, 2022, at Cherokee.

“I gotta thank Joey Malone,” an appreciative Bailes said. “He got this car for me. He didn’t have to … and he worked his ass off this week changing motors.”

Bailes, who used a Randy Clary-rebuilt engine borrowed from longtime friend and supporter Benji Cranford, has been mentoring Malone’s young son. Beckham burst onto the Dirt Late Model last October when he captured the 602 Crate Late Model feature during the World Short Track Championships at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord, N.C., in his first-ever Dirt Late Model start as an 11-year-old.

Beckham Malone won again on Saturday in the 604 Crate Late Model division on the undercard at Ultimate Motorsports Park. The teenager congratulated Bailes (“My crew chief,” the youngster called him) after completing a sweep of the evening’s action for the Malone team — an occurrence that both Malones and Bailes would like to turn into a habit.

What’s O’Neal doing?

Hudson O'Neal has had the Dirt Late Model world wondering what his next move is going to be since leaving the Rocket Chassis house car team last month.

A photo posted on his Facebook racing updates page Saturday night has at least one piece of the puzzle solved. The reigning Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion teased he’ll be racing a Longhorn Chassis as part of his next full-time deal that’s yet to be fully disclosed.

From November 2022 through March 14 of this year, O'Neal had been the driver of Mark Richards’s venerated Rocket1 Racing team, steering the powerhouse Shinnston, W.Va.-based entry to four wins in nine races to start this season after first-ever titles in the World 100 and Lucas Oil Series during a 2023 season in which he piled up $1.2 million in earnings.

In an exclusive March 24 story to DirtonDirt.com while racing for Longhorn engineer Kevin Rumley in the interim, the Martinsville, Ind., driver confirmed his next deal would feature Longhorn Chassis and that “hopefully this is a connection (between he, Rumley and Longhorn) that will go on for the years to come.”

O’Neal, 23, also added, “I think we know the direction we’re going, we just have to put all the pieces together and see what happens.”

The 2019 season is the last time O’Neal had raced a Longhorn Chassis on a full-time basis. He won five times that year, including the Jackson 100 at Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway and a World 100 prelim at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway.

With Rumley, O'Neal got the chance to log six races in his preliminary return to the Longhorn brand, posting finishes of sixth, 22nd, seventh, sixth and two more seventh-place finishes at April 6-7’s XR Super Series Spring Thaw at Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tenn.

Sometime before Friday’s Lucas Oil Series return from its month-long break at Georgetown (Del.) Speedway, needless to say, is when O’Neal’s latest endeavor will be revealed.

Then from there, business will pick up on the tour as the Lucas Oil Series heads to Hagerstown (Md.) Speedway on Saturday and Sunday at Port Royal (Pa.) Speedway, the place O’Neal earned $55,000 with two victories last August — triumphs that snapped a two-month winless drought and gave him the momentum to win the World 100 and Lucas Oil Series title in the following weeks.

O'Neal sits fourth in the series standings, 75 points behind leader Ricky Thornton Jr. and 55 points ahead of Mike Marlar for the fourth and final playoff spot, heading to the Georgetown half-mile on Friday. — Kyle McFadden

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. 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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