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North Georgia Speedway

Notes: North Georgia turnaround boosts R.J.

July 19, 2011, 8:12 am
From series and correspondent reports
Ronnie Johnson awaits a tire change after an opening lap pileup at North Georgia. (mikessportsimages.com)
Ronnie Johnson awaits a tire change after an opening lap pileup at North Georgia. (mikessportsimages.com)

Ronnie Johnson of Chattanooga, Tenn., wasn’t very happy with his qualifying effort in the time trials for the Schaeffer Oil Southern Nationals Series event at North Georgia Speedway. And when rain forced the race’s main event to be postponed from July 14 to Monday night, the Hall of Fame driver had all weekend to think about it. | Weaver wins at North Georgia

At a track where he recorded five special event victories in 2010, Johnson was disappointed he qualified so poorly.

“We came over here Thursday night and probably missed the line qualifying,” Johnson said at Monday’s rescheduled event. “We were the first car out and didn’t get to watch anybody. But I race here enough I should know where to qualify.”

Things didn’t get much better for Johnson on the start of the 53-lap feature when he got caught in an opening-lap pileup that sent him to the pits with a flat tire. But from there things finally started looking up for Johnson. He took advantage of a racey track surface and made his way from the tail of the field to the front.

“I was worried about what kinda track conditions we’d get, but man they had it in great shape,” Johnson said of the third-mile racetrack. “You could really race on it and run high or low.”

Johnson made it into the top five around the midway point of the race, but after moving to second with two laps remaining, he didn’t have enough time to run down eventual race winner Randy Weave of Crossville, Tenn.

While he settled for the runner-up finish, Johnson wished he had more laps to try and catch Weaver. “I sure wish we could have had a few more laps so I could have raced with him,” Johnson said.

The strong run gives Johnson a momentum boost as he attempts to break out of a mid-season slump. After the race, he was already looking forward to the next series event Tuesday night at East Alabama Motor Speedway in Phenix City, Ala., where Johnson earned $17,000 in October of last year for a three-division sweep of the track’s Alabama State Championship event.

“It kinda gives us a chance to try to rebound a little bit,” Johnson said of his runner-up effort at North Georgia. “We’d kinda got in a little bit of a slump there for two or three weeks. Any time you have a good run you’re ready to go to the next one, so I guess we’re off to Phenix City tomorrow night.”

Rear-end woes slow Madden

Johnson wasn’t the only driver who felt he had a car that could have won Monday’s main event. Two-time Southern Nationals Series champion Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., thought he was headed for a sure victory early in the race before a failing rear-end began slowing him down.

“We had a good car tonight; thought we was gonna have that thing hands down,” said Madden, who swapped the lead with eventual winner Randy Weaver multiple times early in the race before fading to third with the ailing rear-end.

“We had a rear-end come apart and started shaking like you wouldn’t believe,” Madden added. “It finally flew apart coming off of four on the last lap and I just coasted to the checkered flag and run third.”

While it wasn’t the finish he was hoping for, third was much better than any of his closest competitors in the series standings, and it gives him a comfortable lead heading into the tour’s final four events.

“Obviously we got some more points tonight and we’re looking forward to going into the weekend,” Madden said of the upcoming tripleheader in Tennessee following Tuesday’s race at East Alabama. “We’re definitely looking forward to coming back to Tennessee and racing.”

Bad luck strikes polesitter

While Ronnie Johnson’s luck improved from the race’s original date to its make up on Monday night, the same can’t be said for polesitter Mike Marlar. The Winfield, Tenn., driver discovered a problem with the engine in his Warrior Race Cars house car early in the night and had to drive Vic Hill’s race car without any practice.

“We had a little problem there with our engine. I guess I hurt it and didn’t realize it the other night racing,” said Marlar, who ended up 18th. “Vic let us go out and make some laps in his car. We started on the pole, but got a seat in at the last second and threw some seatbelts on and went out there without any hot laps or anything.

“We didn’t get (the car) tightened up and wasn’t too fast. I appreciate him giving me the opportunity, but it was just too little, too late and we didn’t get prepared like we needed to be.”

Odds and ends

Madden wasn’t bashful about the fact he wasn’t happy with a third-place finish. And that’s not just because the broken rear-end that knocked out of contention. He also wasn’t thrilled with the race car that finished one spot ahead of him. “That’s not a Super Late Model car,” Madden said of Ronnie Johnson’s CT525 crate engine-powered race car. “I’d rather be Super Late Model racing. That’s what we’re doing.” ... While Madden wasn’t happy to finish behind Johnson, hometown driver Chip Brindle didn’t mind finishing behind Madden in the fourth position, saying he took some notes from the veteran driver. “Madden, he’s pretty tough and a real good driver,” Brindle, a Super Late Model rookie, said. “You can always learn something following the 44 car.” ... Following Tuesday night’s race at East Alabama, the tour will head to east Tennessee for the final three events at Cleveland Speedway Thursday; Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tenn., Friday; and Tazewell Speedway Saturday.

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