Champions’ Advantage

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(Dale Nottestad, newly-crowned champion at Jefferson WI; Mark Melchiori/ mdmracepix.com)

It’s November, and that means there are two issues of Late Model Digest left in the season (after the one we have just released). That also means there will be plenty of track and touring series champions who will be profiled in those last two issues, set to be finished November 15 and December 7.

We realize that our coverage is often geared toward touring action, but this is our chance to tilt the scales the other way. A couple of those track champions are featured in the latest issue, because their stories went along with coverage of the Fall Finale at New London-Waterford Speedbowl and the Senator’s Cup Fall Classic at the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Look for at least a dozen more in the next issue, and one will be about the youngest-ever Late Model champion at a facility in Florida.

We’re always welcome to story suggestions, whether they’re about champions or those a bit deeper in the field or outside the box; contact us through this website or our Facebook page.

Thank you for your continued support!

Two for 400, 21 years ago

Right behind the Snowball Derby on the list of the most prestigious and historic Super Late Model races each fall are the Winchester 400 at the half-mile in eastern Indiana (see Page 8) and the All-American 400 at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tenn. (set for Nov. 3-4). And those are the only two 400-lap events scheduled for Late Models in 2018.

It’s hard to believe that 21 years ago there were a pair of 400s on the same day. On Oct. 19, 1997, the 17th edition of the All-American extravaganza was held at the Fairgrounds track, then called Nashville Speedway USA; it wrapped up that year’s NASCAR Slim Jim All Pro Series. A full day’s drive east on Interstate 40 sat the track now known as Southern National Motorsports Park in Kenly, N.C., home of that day’s season finale of the American Speed Association ACDelco Challenge Series.

ASA changed its cars from straight Late Models a few years earlier, so the two extended-distance shows weren’t drawing completely from the same pool of racers. But there were a few star drivers who probably could have found rides in either event. Another potential conflict was with television channel TNN; the network which was once a major player in motorsports broadcasting aired the North Carolina Sweet Potato 400 live and showed the All-American 400 a week later.

The two 400s were won by two of those series’ most accomplished drivers. Freddie Query made this All-American his first of two straight victories at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds’ signature race. Query, then sponsored by Plemons Insurance and the RaceCar College (which evolved into RaceCar Engineering) didn’t run a full schedule in 1997. The next season he teamed up with sponsor Greased Lightning and won nine times en route to a dominant All Pro championship campaign.

This 400 was Query’s only win of 1997 in the tour which later became NASCAR Southeast and ended after 2006. Query led more than 270 laps on the day, but it took a green-white-checkered finish for him to find the lead at the end.

One time zone to the east came the crowning achievement of Kevin Cywinski’s first ASA championship. The native of Mosinee, Wis., had the title clinched before his Scott LaFavre-owned team arrived at Southern National, and this was his fourth win of the year.

Cywinski took some time away from ASA in 1998-89, driving for Bob Brevak’s team in the then-NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, and rejoined LaFavre Racing in 2000. From that point on he ran every ASA race until the series folded after the 2004 year; he won the final two titles in the series which added “National Tour” to its official name near the end. His last recorded start was in 2007, ironically in the inaugural race for the ASA (now ARCA) Midwest Tour.

Both Cywinski, age 53, and Query, at 66, are active in the sport in street clothes and wearing headsets. After hanging up his helmet Cywinski went right into team ownership in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards. Win-Tron Racing has guided a number of drivers to their first ARCA victories, including James Buescher, Blake Bjorklund, Justin Marks, Matt Merrell and Brandon McReynolds. It’s still a single-car operation based in Mooresville, N.C., in an era where mega-teams are often out front. Gus Dean is the Win-Tron driver this year, and he scored a victory at, ironically, Elko.

The 2007 season was also the last in which Query tasted competition. Most of his racing near the end of his driving career came at Concord Speedway, a few miles from his home. When Concord’s Big 10 restarted for a few years, Query once again took center stage, as he did in the Big 10’s first iteration in the early 1990s.

Query continues imparting his knowledge on the younger generation. In recent years he has guided Dan Leeck to a Jegs CRA All-Stars Tour title and Kyle Benjamin and Harrison Burton to multiple Florida Speedweeks victories, served as crew chief at Snowball Derbies for Dan Fredrickson and 2010 winner Johanna Long, and headed annual winter seminars at Advanced Racing Suspension. His 2018 attention was most often focused on Northwest legend Garrett Evans and his son Jan, and he’ll be with Garrett at this year’s Snowball Derby December 1-2 at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla.

For current photos of Query and Cywinski, please see the LMD Facebook page.

We hope you have enjoyed this piece of Late Model history. Contact us for more information on Late Model Digest!

Jim’s Martinsville Musings

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Our latest mega-huge short-track show was the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway. I haven’t missed the biggest event in Late Model Stock Car racing in 14 years, but this season’s edition was probably the most frustrating.

(By the way, thanks to Porsha for this photo of the track as we were approaching it on the afternoon of the race. Call it the calm – or the love – before the storm. And look for a photo gallery from Martinsville on this website by Tuesday, October 9.)

Pretty much everyone in attendance has something they’d want to change or fix about this year’s race. The remnants of Hurricane Florence wiped away the scheduled test day Sept. 20, so the track and NASCAR officials scheduled the open practice for the Thursday before the race. But officials and racers can’t do anything about weather. No complaints from me, especially since I never go to practice day anyway.

Technical inspection was an issue this year, especially when concerning the popular Harrington Enforcer engines. At first NASCAR was going to add weight to the cars with Enforcers and remove their spacer plates, removing a perceived advantage for those powerplants. The spacer plates were allowed back onto them after the practice day, which was also affected by rain. It’s hard to imagine a change like that being implemented during a race weekend, but NASCAR’s hands were tied here. Plus as long as there will be motorsports, there will be parties on either side of a tech issue lobbying for advantages. Let’s move on.

Anytime there’s a wreckfest on a short track, people will wonder what has gotten into the drivers – at the front, middle or back of the field – that is making them run into each other much more frequently than they usually do. The answer is clear here: it’s Martinsville. The winner receives a $25,000 prize and a coveted grandfather clock. Sure, you want the drivers to calm down, but it probably won’t happen with anything short of a Rex Robbins-called timeout from the ASA days in the 1980s.

Here’s my beef with the race. NASCAR instituted a maximum of three overtime finishes for the event. Anywhere else in NASCAR touring racing, they’ll go as many green-white-checkereds as needed. There’s an overtime line at Martinsville, as in any other track on the NASCAR national schedule. In a Monster Energy Cup, Xfinity or Camping World Truck race, if the leader doesn’t get to that line and see the white flag before the caution comes out, the race isn’t over, and they’ll line up for another restart and two-lap sprint.

Under the rules of this race, if a caution came after the third overtime attempt, they’d go back to the line at the last completed lap to determine the winner and other positions. That’s what happened, and the decision went in favor of C.E. Falk and against Corey Heim. That wasn’t the problem, but the rule was. This was the headline event of the season for perimeter-framed Late Models, the prevailing short track automobile for tracks in Virginia and the Carolinas, plus Kingsport, Tenn. It deserves to be decided on the track and not via the rulebook. Falk, Heim and the others should have lined up for another green-white-checkered attempt – hopefully just one but it might have been more.

Meanwhile, I was really impressed by the positive attitude of Peyton Sellers, who finished fifth after taking a couple of overtime attempts from the front row in pursuit of his first Martinsville triumph. Sure, he had 5,000 reasons to smile, because he topped the Virginia Triple Crown points and earned five grand, but the damage incurred by collisions with Josh Berry, Bubba Pollard and Layne Riggs might cost his family team and sponsors that much or more.

Here’s the last thing Sellers told me before we shook hands and wished each other a safe trip home: “It’s about how you carry yourself. I’ve got a temper too and I show it occasionally. My dad spots for me, my brother’s the crew chief, and my mom’s up top filming the race and I’ll go home and watch it and learn from it. I’m fortunate to be in this situation. Besides, do you want to be anywhere else Martinsville other than leading?”

Maybe I’m a little biased in wishing well for Sellers, but there’s a reason. Three years ago at Motor Mile Speedway, Porsha and I found a flat tire on our car in the parking lot, and we were on an inclined area full of gravel. That’s not exactly the best situation to use a standard-issue Honda jack. Did I mention it was 1:15 a.m.? Well, Sellers and a couple of his crew members came out to the parking lot and used their professional Brunnhoelzl jack, and with that we had our tire changed in three minutes.

Racing is full of personal stories like this. Until the next time … enjoy short-track racing, and thanks for your support of Late Model Digest!

Looking ahead, and back

Recently our longtime back cover sponsor elected to give up that position. We want to give a heartfelt thanks to AR Bodies/ Aluminum Racing Products for years of dedicated support in that spot. AR Bodies still has a presence in Late Model Digest, with its banner ad over the first Track Report page and its ad in the business card section.

One advertiser grabbed the back page for the latest issue of LMD: Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola FL, which is the home track of the Southern Super Series presented by Sunoco. They’re advertising the September 22 SSS finale and Allen Turner Pro Late Model finale, the last competitive Late Model races at Pensacola before the Snowball Derby. There’s a chance that LMD spot will be taken again in some future issues as we lead up to the Snowball the first weekend of December, but we’re prepared if the page remains open.

For editions where no advertiser has the last page, we’re going to insert a Flashback on the Back Page. It’ll be a look back to either past special event(s) that took place on an LMD release date’s anniversary, or an insight into what a certain racer or past short-track personality is doing now.

In this case it’s both, looking back at two winners from big races in Canada on August 23-24 (exactly 10 and 16 years ago); the winners are well-known to Late Model fans in the States. Click on the link at the bottom of this blog entry to see it. Future Flashback pages will look something like this one, perhaps with a more elaborate banner on the top.

Thank you for your support. Have a fantastic and safe Labor Day weekend, and remember to flip all the way to the back page!

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“Experience” and a decision

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Hello again, LMD Universe!

Sometimes the choice on whom to put on the cover is an easy one. If the two-week period covered in an issue contains a marquee event such as the Snowball Derby or the Short Track U.S. Nationals, that winner will almost certainly catch a part of Page 1. If there isn’t a standout race, or if that winner has already been on the cover once or more in recent months (hello, Casey Roderick).

In the period from July 25 to August 6, the most important stories in Late Model racing appeared to be Brandon Setzer’s bounce-back from suspension and CARS Super Late Model win at Hickory NC and also J.R. Roahrig’s second Summer Sizzler triumph at New Paris IN. But we went a different direction this time. When 70-year-old Conrad Morgan won in Wisconsin and 61-year-old Sterling Marlin (pictured; Rich Corbett/ Left Turn Media) won at Nashville on the same weekend, we had to go with the old guys.

We hope you enjoy the cover, the photos and reports of Marlin and Morgan on the inside, and the other 40-plus pages of stories and features in the new issue, dated August 9. Among the special-importance topics this time are the PASS North touring stars and Maine weekly warriors preparing for the Oxford 250 in about two weeks, plus details on four specials and two returning veterans in the Northwest. And the Roahrig 1-2 at the Sizzler wasn’t the only interesting father-son sweep.

It’s back to work this weekend and next week for us. Have a good one, especially if you’ll be at the track!

A Badger State Boo-Boo

Hello again from a slightly embarrassed editor!

The most recent issue of Late Model Digest, sent to subscribers last Thursday (July 26), had two stories mistakenly left out. Both were from Dells Raceway Park in Wisconsin: the CWRA doubleheader from July 21 and a larger-than-expected Super Late Model special from one week earlier.

We hope you can read those stories here. Just click on the links.

We apologize for the error. Thanks again for your support of LMD!

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A Little Rain Must Fall

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     Yeah, there has been plenty of this going around. This photo was taken after a brief practice session for the ARCA Racing Series last Saturday at Berlin Raceway in Marne, Mich. (Rich Corbett/Left Turn Media). At nearby Kalamazoo Speedway, half of the scheduled Friday events so far this year have been rained out. And one of the biggest Late Model Stock Car races in the mid-Atlantic states, Hampton Heat at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Va., was called off because of weather; hopefully the August 18 makeup date doesn’t conflict with too many racers’ schedules.
     We were planning on seeing Hampton Heat, but actually having a couple of rainouts on the docket nationwide might have been a bit of a blessing for us. We were on a family vacation, and for five days on a cruise ship, work wasn’t a concern. Then the workload was hot and heavy until this morning trying to get caught up, although that workload was lessened a little with a few postponements.
     Fortunately most of those postponements were called well enough in advance to keep most of the racers from trekking to racetracks just to watch the rain. And two racers in the upper Midwest, whose exploits are covered in the latest issue of Late Model Digest, redirected their team haulers to other races and wound up taking checkered flags and ending long victory droughts (both at Wisconsin Dells).
     We wish all of you a happy (and on race weekends, dry) remainder of the season.
                                             Thank you for your support!