Dog days … of January?

We can’t say that the dog ate our homework, but we may have said “b*!@#” or “son of a b*!@#” once or twice in the past few days.

Last Thursday we were finishing layout of the first issue of LMD, so that it could be released on the scheduled day, last Friday. One page was left to be transferred and fitted, and then came what we thought was a simple computer glitch. It wasn’t so simple, as evidenced by this notice on the screen.

Bad Screen Shot 2020-01-24 at 11.20.57 AM

You can save a computer document every two minutes, but when you get that notice you’re kinda screwed, because in this case it doesn’t matter how often you’ve saved it; every backup is also corrupted and can’t be opened. It means you have to start all over, and that’s a full day of work. And that was on top of a trip to SpeedFest at Cordele, Ga., plus travel time (and here’s a confession: I have an aunt and uncle about a 40-minute drive south of Crisp Motorsports Park and I wasn’t going to give up the planned Brunswick-stew supper with him the night before the SpeedFest features) and some family commitments the next day.

Maybe it was fitting that the last page that was originally left to be laid out was the Pit Notes page, which contained a number of obituaries from the short-track world from the past five weeks … because our hopes of a timely release of this issue died.

So that’s why the issue dated January 24 wasn’t sent out to our mailing list until January 27. By the way, you can now get on that mailing list for no charge, because we have made it free this year. This will mean greater exposure for our valued advertisers, in addition to other benefits for you and for us. Just contact us through this blog or the LMD Facebook page to be included!

Best wishes to everyone heading to Florida Speedweeks soon, or other winter racing events such as those in Irwindale, Calif., or Myrtle Beach, S.C. … and also to anyone who sees a non-reversible error message on a computer.

Every Silver Lining’s Got A Touch of …


If you believe that a racer is only as good as his last race – and I believe that’s a wrong way of thinking – then at least one driver improved by leaps and bounds in mid-October. This photo (thanks, Hunter Thomas/ The Fourth Turn) is how Taylor Gray’s ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway ended. Two weeks later at Hickory Motor Speedway, the younger brother of 2018 NHRA Pro Stock champion and 2019 NASCAR K&N Pro East Series race winner Tanner Gray found his way back to victory lane, at the Fall Brawl at Hickory Motor Speedway.

Now Taylor won’t have the stigma of just being the guy who rolled his car at Martinsville. That’s unfair anyway, because more than six months before Martinsville, he won in the CARS Late Model Stock Tour, also at Hickory. But it took young Gray only two weeks to shake off the bad label, for an incident that wasn’t really his fault in the first place.

Winning seems to cure almost everything in racing, and not winning leaves situations open for the wrong memories and images. Michael Simko and Don St. Denis are still known for the Glass City 200 windshield-dropkick incident from 2006, and not surprisingly neither have won features since that time (St. Denis races very rarely now and Simko now targets bigger races which are naturally harder to win). Georgia-based Late Model driver Gary Jones’ racing program and reputation never recovered from the event in which he went out of the ballpark over the turn-two wall at the track then called Peach State Speedway in the late 1990s. And it’s going to take something really good to happen for Garrett Smithley in NASCAR’s national series, because he has two incidents of wrecking frontrunners while laps down in 2019 and now he’s known as a backmarker weapon.

So anyone who was at Martinsville or keeping track of that early-October race can feel better for Taylor Gray. Here’s hoping all of you can recover from any rough moments, whether they’re in the distant past or recent weeks.

Caution … for some disagreeable photos

Hello, blog followers … long time, no update, huh?

We’ve been busy trying to get the issues out on a regular basis and dealing with family commitments (nothing to worry about, folks; thanks for your momentary concerns), so sometimes updating this blog falls down the list of priorities. Let’s attempt to rectify that.

In the latest issue of LMD, released to subscribers over the weekend, there were six photos which didn’t come through all that well. Technology can be fickle, can’t it? Anyway, here they are, with the captions and page numbers on which they appeared. We apologize for the imaging errors.

Enjoy your summer, racers and fans!

Shouting out to crews

We all know that racing is a team sport. The crews are most important, whether their major contributions come on race days, in the shop between races, or both.

Some of our favorite stories in LMD focus on crew chiefs and other wrench-turners and/or their relationships with their drivers. Looking deeper at the chemistry between, say, Connor Okrzesik and Mike Garvey, Derek Griffith and Louie Mechalides, or Gabe Sommers and Travis Sauter, adds to regular race stories that you’ll see on the screen/in the pages of LMD. And once in a while there’ll be a successful driver who has become his own crew chief, such as Indiana star Jack Dossey III (featured in the issue following the Rattler weekend, and again in the next issue after his win in the ARCA/CRA Super Series season opener at Anderson Speedway).

Look for more of these types of articles in future editions of LMD. In the meantime, check out this clip of two of Lee Pulliam’s crewmen watching their driver clear Josh Berry for the lead en route to $30,000 in Sunday’s CARS Late Model Stock Tour race at Orange County Speedway in Rougemont NC.

Best wishes for a great season!

Post-Speedweeks bonus

Hello and happy almost-spring,

The latest issue of Late Model Digest, featuring the coverage from the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway, has been released. It will be made free for everyone; just contact us through this website or the LMD Facebook page and we’ll zip it to you. All subscriptions will be extended by two weeks.

It’s possible that the scenes at Speedweeks can’t be properly shown in just 32 pages. Here are some extra looks at the New Smyrna festivities; click on the photos for descriptions and credits.

Enjoy the upcoming season, everyone!

Racing season’s unofficial start


Hello again, and Happy New Year again!

Late January brought the first major events of the pavement Late Model racing season: CRA SpeedFest in Cordele GA (co-headlined by the pictured Pro Late Model battle between #18 Casey Roderick and #71 Dawson Fletcher) and the Chilly Willy 150 weekend in Tucson AZ. Then the first weekend of February contained the SRL Winter Showdown in Bakersfield CA and the Icebreaker at Myrtle Beach SC. Of course there’s always action in the Sunshine State, where they really don’t know the meaning of an off-season.

The first 2019 issue of LMD meant a few pages worth of bonus stories and items, where we tried to give some racers across North America some extra coverage even though they didn’t win races in 2018, plus our annual track listing with any available scheduling and other pertinent information at a glance. But even though we enjoy doing them and they’re an integral part of our off-season, they could be construed as filler stories because there isn’t much going on.

Beginning with the next issue, to be completed this Thursday, the majority of the pages will be filled with the type of coverage you’re used to seeing in LMD, plus some short features to accompany much of this coverage. It’s what LMD has been doing since 1989, what I’ve been doing since 2000, and what has been in a digital page-flipping format since last summer. We’ll still have the regular features such as Catchin’ Up, Meet, Checkered Flag and occasionally a Sponsor Spotlight, but the bulk of the articles will be focused on what’s happening, how it happened and more about the people making it happen.

Thanks for your continued support. Have an enjoyable and safe season!

In case the Snowball Derby is still on your mind …

Hello and Happy New Year!

The first LMD issue of 2019 will be finished two weeks from now. In the meantime, check out a few extra photos from the 51st annual Snowball Derby December 2 at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola FL. Thanks to our contributors Buddy Bryan, Kim Kemperman and David Kranak.

Champions’ Advantage

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(Dale Nottestad, newly-crowned champion at Jefferson WI; Mark Melchiori/

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

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!