One of Hickory Motor Speedway’s signature events on its NASCAR Whelen All-American Series schedule is the Fall Brawl every October. This year, the brawl came to Hickory a few months early.
Chris Dilbeck won an eventful CARS Response Energy Super Late Model Tour event, celebrating on the frontstretch while chaos unfolded behind him on pit road.
However, Lessard would not take the win on the move. Brandon Setzer passed Lessard in turns one and two on the final lap to take the lead. On the other end of the speedway, Lessard and Setzer made contact, with Setzer spinning and Lessard receiving a penalty from race control.
“It wasn’t all me. I kind of lost it,” Chris Dilbeck told Speed51.com. “Raphael [Lessard] drove me a little dirty there. Roughed me up a little, and that’s not really the classiest way to race. My spotter and crew chief, Brett Ragan, he told me, ‘It will come back to you. Don’t worry about it.’ It did. [Lessard] roughed somebody else, and then another and another.”
This placed Dilbeck alongside Chandler Smith for a green-white-checkered restart. On the restart, Smith and Dilbeck traded the lead back and forth before Dilbeck came away victorious.
“We were able to race Chandler [Smith] for the win there,” Dilbeck said. “He raced me really clean. I’ll tell you what, Chandler, I’ve never really raced that close with Chandler, but he raced me world-class. We both did what we had to do. He did a hell of a job.”
Smith finished second, pleased with a clean race and hopeful he earned the respect of his peers on an otherwise chaotic night.
“We were just saving tires towards the end of the race. I might have used them up a little too early. Other than that it was a good race. Most of us drove pretty clean. We definitely got some respect out there because we could have dumped someone for the lead like something else happened tonight. Our left front fender got torn off when we got wrecked by another car, so I’m upset about that."
Dilbeck was making his first appearance with the CARS Response Energy Tour but unloaded with a fast race car which showed up on the timesheets throughout the day. Ultimately, Dilbeck believes the fastest car won the race.
“I feel like we had the best car,” Dilbeck said. We were able to back up to them a little bit, save our tires and pace ourselves. It may not have looked like it but we were pacing ourselves the whole race. It went really well.”
Lessard defended his actions in the closing laps, saying he was only racing others the way he had been raced to that point.
“Well, the restart before I got hit really hard,” Lessard said. “I just race guys the way they race me. I want to race clean. He almost dumped me twice. I raced him like he raced me. I ended up in the back, we both ended up in the back. That’s not very fun. I can’t thank my guys at Kyle Busch Motorsports enough.”
Brandon Setzer declined comment on the incidents.
While being the subject of some controversy, the caution waving on the final lap of the race following the incident involving Setzer and Lessard was consistent with previous CARS Tour races. CARS Response Energy Tour director, Chris Ragle told Speed51.com that the policy is in line with the rulebook, citing two instances from the 2017 season.
“It is consistent with what we’ve done, you can go back to last year,” Ragle explained. “Bubba Pollard at the Mid Atlantic Classic [at Orange County Speedway] last year, the Garrett Campbell incident [at Tri-County Motor Speedway], the leader must take the checkered flag for it to be an official race. If there’s a caution, it’s a judgement call based on safety, and we’ll re-do the white flag and make sure the race ends under checkered.
“It’s a total judgement call,” Ragle added. “They know that. Every week they get printed handouts with the rule stated in it. If it were the last couple of cars, nobody else is passing through their zone, believe me, I’d like to get races over.”
Another incident from last year, a post-race fight at South Boston Speedway in the Super Late Model division, led to disciplinary action from the sanctioning body. Ragle says he expects similar action to follow tonight’s brouhaha.
“Absolutely,” Ragle responded when asked about the potential for disciplinary action taken by the series. “Some people are upset, saying it’s a CARS Tour problem, this, that, and whatever. It seems like a Super Late Model problem. They just had the thing down in Pensacola in the Southern Super Series, and Nashville CRA. Amazing, great clean race in our Late Model Stocks. Usually the case in our Late Model Stocks. Maybe it’s a Super Late Model problem, with the way they race each other and respect doesn’t seem to be given and taken.
“My stance usually is, if two drivers want to discuss it and talk about it, that’s one thing,” Ragle added. “But when teams get involved outside of the two people driving the cars, it’s a different deal. Especially when one team goes all the way down to another team's pit, you can probably guarantee there will be some disciplinary action.”
“At the end of the day, I still think it was a great race, right up until everything afterwards,” Ragle concluded. “I’m sure we will sell more tickets, and at the end of the day this is entertainment.”
For an on-demand replay of Saturday's Trackside Now coverage presented by Lee Faulk Racing and Development, click here.
-By Zach Evans, Speed51.com Southeast Editor - Twitter: @ZTEvans
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com
CARS Response Energy Tour Super Late Models
Hickory Motor Speedway, Newton, North Carolina