Mr. Modified. The Trussville Charger. King of the Mods. Billy the Kid. Around the Deep South, Billy Melvin is known as a lot of things, but an accomplished dirt racer isn’t one of them.
However, Melvin used skills learned on the red clay ovals of Alabama years ago to adapt to his ill-handling car Saturday at Montgomery to claim his first win of 2016 in the second race of the Modifieds of Mayhem season.
Melvin jumped to the outside of Jeff Letson on a restart with eight laps to go and made the high line prevail, thanks in large part to “dirt tracking” his car through the corners at the Alabama half-mile.
“My car is toed out about three-quarters of an inch from that big wreck and it wouldn’t turn in the middle. So I dialed all the rear brake in it and went in the corner and let it slide and then nailed the throttle to keep it sliding to drive it like a dirt car. It was the only way I could get it to turn. It turned out to get us a win.”
Melvin has made a handful of dirt late model starts in his career, and says it changed the way he drives his asphalt equipment long before Saturday night.
“I’ve ran about 15 or so Late Model dirt events in my whole career, but it made a different race car driver out of me,” Melvin said. “You learn car control on dirt, and how to set the car with the brakes and keep it turning with the accelerator. I had to overcome a handling problem by altering how I drove the car.”
Melvin’s bold, race-winning move was just one of several big moments involving the veteran racer. Prior to the last run, both Melvin, running second at the time, and third-place Donald Crocker were checked for oil leaks.
Officials forced Melvin to the pit area under caution to stop the leak, and his family-owned team was able to do so in less than five minutes. Melvin was given his spot back on the restart, allowing him to make the daring outside pass of Letson.
Earlier in the event, Melvin, Crocker and Jim Wall were involved in a wild wreck that saw Wall’s No. 91 machine ramp over the left rear of Crocker’s car before sending both towards the outside wall in turn one. Crocker was able to continue, however Wall’s damage ended his night.
Melvin suffered suspension damage from contact with both cars.
As he stood in victory lane, Melvin, who was visibly exhausted, surveyed his beaten and battered No. 145. The car had no hood, it was spewing smoke and leaking oil; however, he was a winner.
“This is as hard as I have ever had to work for a race,” Melvin said. “The fan belt blew off of it during the race, and right now the water temperature is 265 degrees. The motor is probably killed, but we got us a win. I ran 46 races a couple of years ago, won 39 of them and still lost $107,000. If you are in for the money, then you better find a new hobby.”
Letson led the first 42 laps of the race, but had to settle for second. Crocker finished third, while Gary Sanford, Jr. and Okie Mason rounded out the top five.
The Modifieds of Mayhem return to the track May 7 at historic Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville for the tour’s only Tennessee stop of 2016.
-By Ryan McCollough, Speed51.com Correspondent
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com