The battle lines in the expanded Mason-Dixon MegaMeltdown 300 for the Pro All Stars Series Super Late Models are becoming more clear with each passing day, with pre-entries being split nearly evenly between competitors from the North and South, with a handful of ringers from the West also joining the fray.
Leading the march from the Northeast to the battlefield of Hickory Motor Speedway (NC) is two-time and 2017 PASS North champion Travis Benjamin. Despite limited experience driving in the South, the Morrill, ME driver is confident as the No. 7 Petit Motorsports team tows a new car to the MegaMeltdown in an attempt to get a leg up for 2018.
“I’m excited. We should run pretty good; we’ve had a nice year. We are taking a new car, which is a little scary I guess. But the Petit guys have prepared well, so I’m not scared,” Benjamin told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We haven’t had a chance to try this car this year so we thought it would be a great chance to see what it’s got and what we need to work on.”
Benjamin has a trio of appearances at Hickory, all in PASS competition. While it is a track he enjoys running, it is not one that has yielded great results, especially in time trial qualifying, which Benjamin is not accustomed to.
“I’ve been down there a couple of times, we’re always fast, but never raced all that good there. Time trials are the only thing that get me a little discouraged,” he admitted. “I haven’t done that much in the past five or six years. I think we may struggle with qualifying. I’m a little rusty but I think we’ll race really good, at least we’re guaranteed in with the championship up here, but hopefully we won’t need it.”
Joining Benjamin on the trek south of the Mason-Dixon Line is fellow PASS North champion and current national standings leader Ben Rowe. The two Maine drivers will be joined by fellow statesmen Glen Luce, Cassius Clark, Dave Farrington, Jr., Garrett Hall, TJ Brackett, Trevor Sanborn, Travis Stearns, and Dennis Spencer, Jr. Southern New England is also represented well with Derek Griffith, DJ Shaw, Derek Ramstrom, and Gabe Brown also throwing their names in.
“That’ll be fun to see how we stack up against the southern guys. I think the North guys are as good as they get. It should be interesting,” Benjamin stated.
Despite a stellar lineup, the northern invaders will have to deal with an equally stellar southern home guard. This includes the usual faces of Tate Fogleman, Jay Fogleman, Kodie Conner, Jody Measmer, Brandon Setzer, David Calabrese, and Chris Dilbeck.
Leading the defense is Matt Craig who is on the cusp of winning his second straight PASS South title and is determined to add yet another win to the eight he already has this year in the Southeast. He also wants to keep the trophy and check south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
“Hickory and the national points races always bring a lot of guys from up north with the longer laps and more money. It should be exciting,” Craig said. “The weight break has changed for the crate engines, it was 50 pounds, but I think it is less than that. I’m not sure how they’ll fair, but we’ll see.”
Craig’s experience at Hickory is already plentiful despite this being just his third full season in Super Late Models, notching his first win at the track in a 75-lap CARS Tour race back in May.
“If we do what we’ve done all year with the same setup we’ve had, just make a few small changes from track to track, we’re usually pretty quick. We won on the CARS Tour, but that was on a different tire,” he explained. “For PASS in the Easter Bunny, we were pretty good, just a little off, but we’ve learned since we’ve been there for PASS. It’s a long race, 300 laps with more strategy. We’ll probably save tires until 100 to go and see who is still around.”
Although Craig is gunning for the $15,000 prize, he also doesn’t want to do anything too foolish that could cost him championship ground.
We’ve had a good year. I think all we have to do is to take the green and get our starting points then nobody should be able to beat us. We just don’t need any penalties or fines like that, so we’re going to be conservative there and finish it out.”
Race fans will be able to watch the North vs. South battle live via a pay-per-view broadcast on Speed51.com. Live video tickets for the Mason-Dixon MegaMeltdown can be purchased today by clicking here.
-By: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA, RI & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo Credit: LWpictures.com