Friday night’s Pro Late Model race at Bristol Motor Speedway had it all. It had fights, crashes, and even a rain delay to throw another curveball with eight laps to go. In the end, local driver Josh Reeves scored the checkered flag and won the JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour portion of the second Short Track U.S. Nationals.
“It’s unbelievable. It is unbelievable,” Reeves told Speed51.com. “To be honest, after qualifying 18th, I was pretty discouraged. I knew I bombed my lap. I knew we had a good race car. If we could just capitalize at the end, I knew we had a car that could contend for a victory. We stayed out of trouble. I just rode, bided my time, and I guess with eight to go the leaders got into it and I immediately let off the gas. I knew something was going to happen like that. Patience is such a virtue in these races. I just knew that was the key to us winning tonight. We were building and encouraging each other and that’s what led us here.
“This is the biggest win of my career, no doubt. Coming to Bristol, I was given an excellent piece of advice. It actually came from another driver, and it’s ‘you’re not here to race everybody else, you’re here to race the track.’ That was the mentality I had. We’re all David and this is Goliath, and we have to treat it with respect. That’s what I did.”
Originally from Martinsville, Virginia, Reeves recently moved to Bristol to work for NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team Henderson Motorsports. He was given the opportunity to drive Wade Lopez’s car at the Last Great Colosseum.
Previously, Reeves had made four ARCA Racing Series and one NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start, but he told Speed51.com that Friday night was his first time behind the wheel of a Late Model.
“The last couple weeks have been unbelievable. Just trying to prepare trucks and get them to where they need to be and working on this car also. This is my first time at Bristol and my first time running a Late Model,” he stated. “I had never ran a Super or a Pro Late Model or nothing. So, this is the first race I’ve ever been in this car, at this track and this series.
Friday night’s 100-lap race was a wild one from the drop of the green flag. The first incident took place on Lap 12 when RJ Norton spun on the backstretch, right in front of the lead battle between Joe Graf, Jr and Cole Williams. The side and roof panels were ripped off Graf’s machine before he hit the wall in turn three. Graf climbed out of the car and walked away under his own power.
Defending Short Track U.S. Nationals Pro Late Model winner Cole Williams and Corey Heim both received damage from the incident while running in the top five and were done for the evening.
Former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Mike Skinner had the car to beat in Thunder Valley after setting fast time in qualifying, but he also fell victim to Bristol Motor Speedway. While leading, Skinner made contact with Tyler Hufford while trying to put him one lap down. The resulting damage was enough to force “The Gunslinger” to retire from the event.
“I went to pass the guy on the outside and he (Tyler Hufford) washed up, so I had to let off the gas,” Skinner stated. “I come off of turn four over here and I got down really low and he hit me in the corner. I don’t feel like I had enough room, so I just waited and he washed up the track again and I hit the gas and had a clear run on the bottom. Apparently, his spotter told him he was going to give me the outside and he just turned left and just hit us. I feel like an idiot, we had a very fast car. His spotter told my son he was going to give me the high side, and by then I was under him and he tried to pull down and be a nice guy, so I really can’t blame him, it was my own fault.”
The biggest moment of the race happened on a restart with just eight laps to go. Jack Smith had led since Skinner’s mishap, but was involved in an accident after Justin South tried to make it three-wide into turn one. A scuffle between both drivers and their crews ensued on pit road, which left Smith with a cut on his forehead. He was not happy with how the race ended for him.
“I think it’s pretty much self-explanatory,” Smith said. “I got dumped there and it’s a shame. I know when I get dumped on purpose, and he just drove in there and dumped me. Whatever it was for, I’ve never had a problem with him, but he does now. That’s it, there really isn’t anything else to say. He dumped me and just ran me like an idiot.”
South, who finished fifth after being penalized by race officials, saw the incident differently from Smith.
“I’m not sure; I’m still trying to gather my thoughts on it,” Smith began. “I just hate to see tore up race cars because they’re expensive. I felt like I had a good run on him. Hats off on him, they put on a great race. It was eight (laps) to go and I felt like he missed the shift into the fourth gear. He came down like we were never there. I just barely clipped him and he turned left like we weren’t even there. I hate that for them and for us. I promise we work just as hard. Hats off to my guys, we started in the back and had to pull off to work on it.”
Josh Reeves inherited the lead after the incident, which was immediately followed by a passing rain shower. Despite the rain, Reeves’ team encountered an issue while sitting on pit road.
“That last caution, we ran over a piece of debris,” Reeves said. “When we came in for the rain, I was so excited because I thought we had won the race. Then I found out by accident. They weren’t going to tell me that our left rear tire was going flat. By the time we were getting ready to go back green it was completely flat. They let us put air in the tire per CRA rules. It started to go down in the last two or three laps. The emotions I felt in the last hour have been just so far up and down on opposite ends of the spectrum.”
It was a wild opening night to the Short Track U.S. Nationals, and there are two more nights of action still remaining in Thunder Valley. Features for the CARS Late Model Stock Tour, ICAR All-Star Modifieds and Vore’s Compact Touring Series will be held Saturday night. The Super Late Models and the CRA Street Stocks, who will compete in there features Sunday, will also hit the track for the first time this weekend.
Race fans can watch all of the action from Bristol live all weekend long via a pay-per-view broadcast on Speed51.com. Live video tickets can be purchased today by clicking here.
-Story by Koty Geyer, Speed51.com State Editor (IN & MI) – Twitter: kgeyer3
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / MoJo Photos
JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour 100 Unofficial Results
Bristol Motor Speedway (TN) – May 18, 2018
1 96 Josh Reeves
2 40 Jordan Miller
3 4X Matt Maurer
4 00 Brandon Curren
5 43 Justin South
6 89 Perry Patino
7 29K Mason Keller
8 23C Mandy Chick
9 28S Jack Smith
10 20D Jack Dossey III
11 5C Michael Clancy Jr
12 44 Colby Lane
13 5S Mike Skinner
14 5H Tyler Hufford
15 76 Jerick Johnson
16 23 Eddie VanMeter
17 15 Trey Craig
18 26 Harrison Hall
19 17 Josh Brock
20 46 Cole Williams
21 12 Joe Graf Jr
22 78 Corey Heim
23 69 RJ Norton
24 33 Wes Griffith Jr